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Touchstone’s Twenty Years of Friendship & Proclamation
Touchstone turns twenty this month. When it began in 1986 as a newsletter, no one planned to publish it for twenty years, but only to follow God’s leading in the particular ministry we believed he had given us. The magazine met a need, and grew quickly from a newsletter to a quarterly, then to a bimonthly, and finally to a monthly. All along we have tried to use wisely our limited resources to publish what we think needs to be said.
Touchstone’s rise is due in part to the changing religious and cultural landscape. Just where did we find ourselves in 1986? Close to twenty years out from the end of the Second Vatican Council, the beginning of the Charismatic movement and the Jesus Movement, and a decade or so after the end of the Vietnam War, the end of “the Sixties,” and the first Baby Boomers reaching adulthood.
Catholics had endured twenty years of post-Vatican II syndrome; many Protestant mainliners were unsure about how far down the slippery slope of theological liberalism their churches had gone; Evangelicals were still reacting to the summer of love, finding the Canterbury trail, or discovering seeker-sensitivity; and the mostly invisible Orthodox had barely begun to emerge from their ethnic preoccupations.
Turmoil & Unity
Yet an unexpected effect of the turmoil was a new unity among faithful Christians that extended across established denominational and confessional lines. The Second Vatican Council had encouraged Catholics to a new ecumenical engagement, and other Christians had responded. The Charismatic movement had brought together Catholic, Protestant, and even Orthodox Christians looking for a deeper experience of their faith. The Jesus Movement brought together many young adult Christians outside of their denominational homes, while increasing numbers of Evangelical Christians identified with various parachurch organizations.
These and other movements—pro-life activism after Roe v. Wade, the increasing secularism of much public education, and the rise of the homeschooling movement, for example—brought together divided Christians in a shared work and gave them a new sense of identity. The movement came to be known as “the new ecumenism” and “the ecumenism of the trenches.” It was a movement distinct from, and in crucial ways far more effective than, the official ecumenical efforts.
The effects were obvious. The popular Allies for Faith and Renewal conferences, for example, presented Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox trios, such as Chuck Colson, James Hitchcock, and Thomas Hopko, to speak on issues of common concern. Conservative Christians within the increasingly liberalizing mainline churches met across denominational lines for mutual support and encouragement.
The first Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement would be published just a few years later. Catholics began learning Bible study from Evangelicals, and Evangelicals began learning about spiritual disciplines and worship from Catholics. Both Catholics and Protestants began to engage their Orthodox brethren and draw the Eastern tradition into the conversation.
Contribution & Calling
Touchstone made its own contribution to the new ecumenism at the 1995 conference at Rose Hill in Aiken, South Carolina, which to everyone’s surprise attracted 200 people. We offered a similar conference in 2001. InterVarsity Press published a book of papers from the first ( Reclaiming the Great Tradition), and the special issue of Touchstone (July/August 2003) in which we published the papers of the second proved to be one of our most popular issues.
And of course the magazine itself quickly became a place at which divided Christians met, and has remained one of the few places in which divided Christians can speak together both about the things that unite them and the things that divide them without the temptation to water down the differences. In doing so, we have found ourselves becoming—and this has been crucial to the enterprise—not just allies but friends.
In Touchstone, Christians from various traditions engaged our differences but engaged them through the Great Tradition we shared. The small circle of Evangelical Christians who started publishing Touchstone twenty years ago did not focus so much on the “culture wars” and theological liberalism as on recovering this Great Tradition that we felt our own tradition had neglected.
We knew that we needed the help of other Christians to recover it, and so we spoke of “mere Christianity” and “ecumenical orthodoxy” to define our work. The Chicago Call of 1977, which had called Evangelicals to a more robust appreciation of the historical tradition of the Church, helped point us to the importance of tradition, and that has been our main orientation.
Although the group responsible for the magazine has grown to include a diversity of traditions, with editors each firmly committed to his own, we remain committed to a common work within the shared Christian doctrinal and moral tradition rooted in the Christian Scriptures. This has meant a deeper exploration of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and has given us the continual pleasure of finding out how deeply we agree and how many friends we have.
Our commitment to the Great Tradition has also meant that we oppose modern innovations accepted by some in misguided efforts to be pastorally sensitive, culturally relevant, or biblically “prophetic.” These innovations include “Christian feminism” and sexual egalitarianism, the abortion and contraceptive cultures, the revision of orthodox trinitarianism, the assertion of biblical skepticism, and the market-driven repackaging of Christianity.
Friends have suggested to us that some of our positions are “losing issues” and we would do better to abandon them and enlarge our understanding of mere Christianity to include the ordination of women and other innovations. We have not accepted such innovations because they seem to us denials of the heritage we have been given to guard and pass on through Touchstone.
We are determined to hold to a classical Christianity that would be recognized by the Christians who gave their lives in the days of the Roman Empire, who suffered for the faith under Islam, who in every generation have given up everything to go into the world and preach the gospel, and who, throughout history, have simply loved the Lord and served him quietly wherever they were, going to church, helping out as needed, talking to their friends about the faith, raising children in the fear of the Lord—all those who passed this faith on to us.
Our Good News
This heritage is not ours to give up. It is the Good News that has changed the world, and indeed changed the life of everyone who works on Touchstone.
We view this work, then, as a charge to keep, requiring a steady defense and a proclamation of a precious gift delivered “once and for all to the saints,” however many or few the saints may be at any given time in history. We are grateful that we have been able to publish for twenty years. We ask your prayers, as we pray regularly for all who read this journal, for the Lord’s guidance, for the wisdom from above, and for that grace of the Lord we need for salvation, a grace that also empowers us to speak the truth in love to all who will hear (and read) it.
— James M. Kushiner, for the editors
The Chicago Call can be found at www.growcenter.org/ChicagoCall.htm,
and the papers given at our 2001 conference can be found at.