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A simple missional strategy: subscribe

These are dicey days in the periodical publishing business. Last week, Books & Culture, the review magazine published by Christianity Today, announced that it would be ceasing print publication after the current issue, and ending its online run at the end of 2017.

A simple missional strategy: subscribe

These are dicey days in the periodical publishing business. Last week, Books & Culture, the review magazine published by Christianity Today, announced that it would be ceasing print publication after the current issue, and ending its online run at the end of 2017.

Among my own subscriptions, Books & Culture is the most recent magazine to announce the end of its run, though it certainly won’t be the last. Its end has hit me harder than most, though. No doubt all of us – dedicated CC readers that you are – have an affinity for the printed word, and we see the obvious benefits of a broad array of thriving publications. But we probably have our favourites, too. Books & Culture was one of mine.

That’s undoubtedly because it just seemed to get what I value so much about the Reformed approach to literature and culture. A love of big ideas. A critical exploration of culture that treads the loamy ground between the ditches of disengagement and uncritical acceptance. And maybe most importantly: a steadfast recognition that you not only can, but ought to love God with your mind. Books & Culture excelled at these things, and I fondly recall the articles that have helped me along the way.

As the news of Books & Culture’s end broke, a disillusioned editor of another magazine tweeted that someday, some historian of 21st century Christianity would discover that in 2016, Christians found the money for the execrable movie God’s Not Dead 2, while they shuttered Books & Culture. According to Wikipedia, the movie’s budget was five million bucks, a sum that would, I suspect, fund B&C for years to come.

So I’ve been wondering: how did we get to this point? And I don’t just mean how we got to a place where publications like B&C are eking out their survival – there’s lots of postulation out there about that.

What concerns me more is something deeper: we are in the midst of a rapid divestment of many of our most hard-earned institutions. Institutions that have taken decades to build are floundering, being sold off for parts, or otherwise languishing with no clear sense of where they’re heading next. This is true of our publications, but also our institutions of higher learning, and even some of our ministries.

Foster resilience
I won’t pretend that I have the most accurate diagnosis of what’s going on here. I do have some theories, though, and maybe you do too. Chief among them is that we’re living in a profoundly cynical time, where we’re skeptical of the value of the institutions we’ve inherited (while, ironically, benefiting from those things in ways we likely don’t even recognize). I hear this cynicism in the jaded voices on Twitter, from weary International Development professors on campus, and – at its worst – in a trendy revolutionary fervour that says we oughta burn things down and start over. (Trumpism is the most egregious example of this).

Most curiously, I feel some of this cynicism from folks in my own circles, especially from folks who bear the “missional” mantle. Being “missional” is a current preoccupation of church leaders, and for the most part, I think it’s great. But it does seem to value the hyper-local, it does seem to have a short view of history, and it does seem to be particularly susceptible to trends. Those can be good things, allowing for ministries that are nimble and relevant to a particular context. But I do wonder how durable a foundation they’re capable of setting down.

Of course we want to be relevant. But we should seek to be resilient, too, right? And I think supporting our well-weathered and durable institutions can be one of the ways we foster that resilience. So, maybe a great missional strategy can be as simple as this: renew a subscription, and maybe buy a gift subscription for someone else. Support the humble print institutions that have nourished us for years already, that have fostered broad community, that have amassed the wisdom of years gone by for the sake of the years to come.

About the Author
A simple missional strategy: subscribe

Brian Bork, Review Editor

Brian Bork is CC’s Review Editor and a CRC chaplain at the University of Waterloo and Sir Wilfrid Laurier University.