Looking Back and Moving Forward

I love history. And now that I’m 60, I’ve started to enjoy nostalgia as well. But I know that history and nostalgia are not the same.

Nostalgia is trying to relive something that is departed. Some things gain in our affections after they leave us. And thus nostalgia pays its wages in sentiment—though not necessarily in wisdom.

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History, however, pays off in wisdom and insight. It involves sober reflection on the past in a way that helps us know who we are, where we are, and how we got here. It gives us perspective on the present that helps us avoid taking the same unnecessary detours two or three times. Indeed, by being clear-eyed about the past, we are helped to move forward.

You are now reading the last issue of Christian History & Biography, at least as we know it. And I’m trying to avoid nostalgia and keep moving forward.

There have been a lot of great moments over the past 26 years since the magazine was first published by Kenneth Curtis as an adjunct to his filmmaking at Vision Video. After Ken screened a film he had made about Czech reformer and martyr Jan Hus for a couple of groups, including a group of seminary-educated pastors, he discovered that very few knew who Hus was.

(Even if you don’t know Jan Hus, you’ve probably heard about him: He was the goose in the saying, “His goose is cooked.” For more about that, look up Thomas Fudge’s article “To Build a Fire” on www. christianhistory.net.)

That experience led Ken to print a 16-page study guide to accompany the film. Every medium has its limitations, and motion pictures are best at grabbing attention and building curiosity. They are not as good as print or the internet at conveying information. That study guide about Jan Hus grew into a magazine that developed its own information-hungry readership.

What was a delight for Ken Curtis also became a burden that stretched the capacities of his staff, and after discussing the possibilities with Christianity Today Incorporated president Harold Myra, the magazine came here to its present home.

But even in a company where magazine publishing is our mainstay, we can’t always guarantee success when the business environment changes radically. We have now come to the point where we can no long publish a highly visual print magazine that carries only minimal advertising for a devoted niche readership.

But that economic reality does not mean that we are just going away. We are too passionate about church history to do that. Instead, we are embracing the still new (from a historical perspective) medium of the internet and overhauling our website to make it a more attractive destination for our readers. Our expanded web efforts will present you with delightful and engaging new pieces for church history lovers.

There will be fresh articles, interviews, book reviews, quizzes, and Christian History classics—all designed to keep you up-to-date and engaged with Christian history. So keep visiting us at www.christianhistory.net to see how we are continuing to change.

But why are we so concerned to keep history alive? Here is what Ken Curtis told then CHB editors Kevin Miller and Mark Galli when Christian History celebrated its 10th birthday in 1992: “History gives us hope that one person can make a difference. But it also gives us a humility that recognizes others have come before us to prepare the way and others will follow to further our work. ... [W]e each are just part of a larger tapestry of God’s handiwork.”

Here’s another lesson of history. Magazines come and go—and come back. Major newsstand titles like Life, Look, Colliers, the Saturday Review, and the Saturday Evening Post all went out of print (in a pre-internet era that offered few options). But several of those magazines came back in altered form.

Maybe we could too—someday. But as our founder said, “We are each just part of a larger tapestry of God’s handiwork.” And we accept our place in that fabric. CH

This article is from Christian History magazine #99 Faith & the American Presidency. Read it in context here!

By David Neff

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #99 in 2008]

David Neff is editor in chief of the Christianity Today Media Group.
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