I began my career twenty-five years ago at Messiah College (now University) by serving as one of their residence directors. Prior to arrival on campus, I was unfamiliar with CSR. Once a quarter, however, this compelling periodical committed to the integration of faith and learning across the disciplines appeared in the mailboxes of every curricular and co-curricular educator.
Senior colleagues I admired such as Ron Burwell, Susanna Caroselli, Rhonda Jacobsen, and Jake Jacobsen read CSR and often contributed to its pages. I thus followed their lead, initially assuming an unwritten policy existed, and I was to read each issue in full. Fortunately, following their lead not only cultivated a passion for the integration of faith and learning but an appreciation for the myriad of ways contributors sought to do so in the pages of CSR.
That debt of gratitude is just one I owe. When I was appointed as publisher, the journal’s mission was clear, its content was compelling, and its finances were solid. In academic publishing, none of those realities are to be taken for granted. Publishers such as David Hoekema strove to advance a compelling purpose while editors such as George Brushaber, Roger Olson, Don King, and Mark Bowald recruited exceptional reviewers, polished submissions, and curated the best of Christ animated learning. Managing editors such as Todd Steen not only kept everyone on task but also on budget which in academe is only slightly easier than getting cats to walk in a parade.
For the majority of its history, the overarching narrative in which CSR found itself operating within was relatively consistent. The integration of faith and learning, while ignored by a predominantly secular academic culture, was not only possible but necessary for the university to be just that—a university and not a multiversity as Clark Kerr had regrettably acknowledged eight years prior to CSR’s founding.
In the pages of CSR, scholars such as Mark Noll, George Marsden, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Alvin Plantinga, to name only four, lobbied with great success that the integration of faith and learning was possible and necessary. Professional associations such as the Conference on Faith and History and the Society of Christian Philosophers, to name only two, flourished. Work by Christian scholars found its way to almost every university press with several of those titles even garnering prizes of the highest distinction.
Just as the integration of faith and learning was becoming plausible, however, confidence in the overarching narrative which defined secular academe was eroding. Works as different as Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and Bruce Wilshire’s Moral Collapse of the University exposed ideological cracks through which lessons from Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Michel Foucault’s Power/Knowledge, and Jean François Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition found their way. The orthodoxy of secular academe would give way to the heterodoxy of post-secular academe. The set of rules Christian scholars once understood and even mastered were surpassed by new sets of rules. The opportunities those sets of rules offered also came with the need for wisdom about new challenges. In order to serve its audience well, CSR also needed to adjust its efforts in a couple of critical ways.
Compounding the need to find its way amidst the heterodoxy of post-secular academe, CSR wrestled with at least three forces posing challenges to almost any publication.
First, in 2007, Apple released its first iPhone and just a few months later Amazon released its first Kindle. Anxiety over the future of reading via physical newspapers, magazines, journals, and books had grown since widespread access to the internet began in the 1990s. The iPhone and the Kindle now placed seemingly unlimited access to virtual forms of those publications in the palm of one’s hand.
Second, in 2007, the burst in the US housing market bubble led to a global economic recession. The resulting financial anxieties and adjustments in spending fostered a psychology which lasted long after the market recovered. Colleges and universities accustomed to raising tuition at rates three to four times the consumer price index suddenly found themselves facing a public demanding a more immediate market return.
One response to those demands was a rise in tuition discounting. For example, the 2020 Tuition Discounting Study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found “361 private, nonprofit colleges and universities reported an estimated 53.9 percent average institutional tuition discount rate for first-time, full-time, first-year students in 2020-21 and 48.1 percent for all undergraduates—both record highs.”1 When combined with declines in the number of college-bound students, many colleges and universities faced cutting expenses beyond the mere trimming of excess.
Another response was an increase in students populating majors such as business, data sciences, and health sciences and a decrease in students populating majors such as education and the humanities. In essence, students were seeking degrees which promised more immediate economic return. As a result, faculty members in areas such as English, history, and philosophy on many campuses found themselves defending their offerings and even their positions as cuts in expenses were becoming more necessary.
Third, the insidious nature of political fragmentation leaves one wondering whether outlets for well-reasoned discourse are even welcomed today. Entertaining the thoughts of someone from across the political aisle is viewed as a compromise few are willing to make. While once an essential virtue in academe, charity—the habitual inclination to seek the best in another person—gave way to misguided and, at times, even misinformed insistences on ideological purity.
The responsibility for stewarding CSR’s long-standing commitment to honoring St. Paul’s admonishment to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5) amidst these challenges is fortunately one I do not make alone.2 Another debt of gratitude, as a result, goes to John Hwang. Prior to my appointment as publisher, Todd Steen wisely began working with John on building a new website which, in particular, would grant the journal with a platform that would allow it to thrive in today’s publishing climate. John and his colleagues at Public Platform are not only responsible for the platform which makes these posts possible, but also for leading the rebranding campaign which is available for the first time today on the website and with the forthcoming 50th anniversary issue of the print journal.
With that platform in place, the editors, associate editors, and institutional representatives then wisely appointed Perry Glanzer as editor-in-chief. While the print journal is the foundation upon which the journal’s credibility rests, someone needed to oversee the coherence of content regardless of format. In addition to that effort, Perry is directly responsible for these posts which, last month, set a new record of 48,400 views. Approximately 12,000 people receive them Monday through Friday and, more importantly, approximately 3,500 people click through them each day.
That same group also wisely appointed Margaret Diddams as editor. In partnership with John, Margaret updated the article submission and review process. She has recruited and empowered new associate editors and is now laboring to welcome submissions from scholars well-beyond North America. Such efforts are not only increasing the quality of submissions but also the quality of the reviews authors receive. In time, she is committed to seeing that contributions to CSR more fully reflect the created potential represented by a global appreciation for the body of Christ.
One final exercise of wisdom by those groups came in their appointment of Steve Oldham as book review editor. While only on the job for a few months, Steve is not only greatly increasing the number of reviews but is looking to close the gap between when a book is released and when a review is made available. Reviews will likely always be part of the print journal. However, the platform John helped create affords Steve with the option to post reviews on the day of a book’s release along with other relevant forms of content such as interviews with authors.
Time will tell whether the trust we inherited is one we stewarded well in the name of Christian scholarship. For now, we will pause, celebrate 50 years of efforts made by countless individuals, and then prayerfully develop a strategic plan designed to guide CSR for years to come.
- National Association of College and University Business Officers, “NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study: 2021 Tuition Discounting Study,” October 12, 2021, https://www.nacubo.org/Research/2020/NACUBO-Tuition-Discounting-Study.
- In celebration of the CSR’s 40th anniversary celebration, then editor, Don W. King, led the other editors through a process which yielded Taking Every Thought Captive: Forty Years of Christian Scholar’s Review (Abilene, TX: Abilene University Press, 2011). Inspired by the words of St. Paul and King’s selection of “Taking Every Thought Captive” as the primary title for that volume, CSR formally adopted that phrase during the rebranding campaign as its motto – “In Captivitatem Redigere Omnem Intellectum.”
Thanks Todd, as you provide a glimpse into a seasoned journal in a good season. I suppose the only thing I would add is that the CSR community is just that, a wonderful collective. And one other —one of the staples of CSR that helped attract many regular readers was the book review section under you and Perry. You set a standard that helps to the present. And amidst all you do for CSR, congrats on your several recent books (and forthcoming on Father Ted). Jp
Great work! Just a small note. It was Allan Bloom not Harold, who wrote The Closing of the American Mind. Easy to confuse.