Dreamed any impossible dreams lately? What about changing our culture by turning three into four?
Right now, a variety of Christian publications exist at the media margins, sometimes occupying important niches. But I cannot think of any newspaper or magazine with a circulation over 200,000 that consistently supports a biblical worldview. The Wall Street Journal and several other newspapers partially do so on their editorial pages, but not in their general news coverage. Several style magazines emphasize traditionalism, but that's not necessarily biblical.
In other words, Christian publications are preaching to the choir, and I don't knock that: Singers who don't listen to preaching go off-key theologically. I also don't minimize the temptations that come with expansion attempts: Church growth is great, but the quickest way to achieve it might be to have shrine prostitutes ready to minister to attendees.
The ghettoizing of Christian publishing is fine within a separationist mindset, but it gnaws at those of us who still have hopes for biblical understanding transforming our culture. It doesn't require great prophetic ability to forecast the downfall of a culture in which its major publications all promote anti-biblical patterns of thought and action. Nor is it hard to see the gains that would come if a biblically oriented publication could somehow make a breakthrough into the general market, while maintaining its religious distinctives.
Let me bring this discussion closer to home. I'm 50 years old, and since I first became aware of weekly newsmagazines in 1960 we've always had a big three: Time (which now has a circulation of 4 million), Newsweek (now at 3 million), and U.S. News & World Report (now at 2 million). In 1990 I joined the board that oversees this magazine, which was struggling heroically but not gaining any traction. Virtually every meeting included discussion of whether to chloroform our equivalent of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, that wonderful institution in It's a Wonderful Life.
Now, much has changed. WORLD has 120,000 subscribers, which gives us a bigger circulation than The New Republic, The Nation, The Weekly Standard, and so forth. As far as I know, our little Building and Loan is now the fourth largest general newsweekly in the country. Obviously, we're still small in relation to Time and the other big boys, but it's time to ask the question: Over the next decade, with God's grace-we know that with Him, nothing is impossible-can we turn the big three into a big four?
The liberal media world sees that as unlikely and unhealthy. Some Christians also fear that a WORLD entry into the major leagues means we'll toss out our biblical saltiness along the way. Every change we've made in recent years has provoked among some readers concern that the end is near-but I gather from the letters coming in that our core subscribers generally consider us to be stronger than ever. To them I say: Please continue to pray for us, but don't worry as we reach out to non-Christian readers. We continue to believe in biblical objectivity, not neutrality. Our message will be sometimes overt and sometimes implicit, but we will always stand on biblical truth, for we can do no other.
Professionally, in my writing and editing, I've had two main dreams over the past decade. One was that compassionate conservatism would take root and begin to transform American culture and politics. That's now beginning to happen. I thank the many readers who have asked if I'm going to Washington to work in the Bush administration, and this column is my answer: No. The administration of George W. Bush's father was troubled by "the vision thing." This Bush administration won't be. All it has to do is perform, and capable people with governmental experience are ready to turn into reality what I and others have dreamed. WORLD will support the Bush administration when it does right, while remaining free to criticize wrong turns.
The other impossible dream involves WORLD itself. There's no way I can give up on the hope of three becoming four. Besides, the new Bush administration will have vast resources, but here I'm with, as Henry V put it, "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers." I've worked closely with Nick Eicher and Mindy Belz since the early 1990s and most of our other key staffers since the mid-1990s, and I've never been with a finer bunch of people. Washington is tempting and journalism has its irritations, but to work with those you like, doing what you like, where you like, in the service of a possible dream, and to feel God's pleasure as you run-nothing could be finer.