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Witness to Hope

Dr. Frank Stanger, president of Asbury Theological Seminary; the Rev. Philip Worth, United Methodist pastor and chairman of the Good News Board of Directors; Billy Graham, and Dr. Charles Keysor, founder of Good News, discuss the second issue.

Dr. Frank Stanger, president of Asbury Theological Seminary; the Rev. Philip Worth, United Methodist pastor and chairman of the Good News Board of Directors; Billy Graham, and Dr. Charles Keysor, founder of Good News, discuss the second issue.

By Steve Beard-

Looking back upon the 1960s, Good News was launched in an era bookended by the smoking barrels of assassin rifles, the fleeting banter of “God is dead” dogma, a Cuban missile crisis, attack dogs lunging at civil rights protesters, flower children, Cassius Clay becoming Muhammed Ali, the Bible read from space, a six day war, and The Who destroying their instruments on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour television show.

The decade was anything but uneventful.

President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was assassinated in 1963 on the same day as the death of Anglican layman C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. Strangely enough, it was also the day of the passing of Aldous Huxley, author of a Brave New World.

In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Two months later Senator Robert Kennedy died in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles after being shot. The homicidal brutality and steely calculation of humanity’s original sin bared it fangs once again. It was a bloody decade – and not just for the famous and prophetic.

There was a reason that Timothy Leary simply said, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” With more meaningful contrition, however, the weathered bluesman would simply say, “Lord, have mercy.” The cultural mavens of that decade were trying to juggle the adrenaline of the counterculture, civil rights and race relations, budding feminism and women’s liberation, new immigration standards, the influx of alternative religions, and American young men dying in Vietnam.

The world was a chaotic place at the time. It probably always has been, but it seemed to be especially strung out and anxious. No wonder Andy Warhol turned a familiar and comforting symbol like a Campbell’s tomato soup can into a pop culture icon.

Modern, secular man. Charles Keysor was a journalist who had his life flipped upside down at a Billy Graham crusade. Although he was a church-going Methodist, Keysor was a modern, secular man – self-described as “self-sufficient, agnostic, ambitious, materialistic, and seen in church mostly at his wife’s urging.” Nevertheless, he would lay awake at night wondering if there was more to life than a good paycheck, a nice house in the country, and professional success. “I had heard about Jesus,” Keysor would admit. “But as I reached my mid-30s I could see no connection between His perfect life and my struggles; between His death on the cross and my growing inner confusion.” Where was a man supposed to find hope?

On business trips, he would dip into the Gideon Bible in his hotel room. “Jesus seemed to know me better than I knew myself,” Keysor said. “I desperately wanted a new and better life.” He responded to the invitation at a Graham crusade, “believing that Jesus could work a miracle if I gave myself to him.” Surrender. Forgiveness. Conversion. New life.

Graham represented a different spiritual and cultural strand during the 1960s – one that included preachers on television such Rex Humbard, Kathyrn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, gospel singers such as Jake Hess and the Statesmen Quartet, The Staples Singers, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and ministries such as Teen Challenge, Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and InterVarsity.

For Keysor, it was the commitment made at a revival that opened his heart – with all the fear and trepidation of making a counterintuitive career shift – to going to seminary and becoming a clergyman. He graduated from Garrett Theological Seminary in 1965, was ordained, and appointed to Grace Methodist Church in Elgin, Illinois – his home church, northwest of Chicago.

While he was working his way through seminary, theologians and philosophers were attempting to find ways to eradicate what they perceived as outmoded and traditionalist concepts of God and cobble together a new secular theology for up-to-date sensibilities. In 1961, Protestant theologian Gabriel Vanhanian made a splash with his provocatively titled The Death of God: The Culture of our Post-Christian Era. Five years later, William Hamilton and Thomas Altizer published Radical Theology and the Death of God. There were other writers of this era spinning a similar yarn. Like students dissecting a formaldehyde-drenched frog in high school biology class, theologians were pretending to slice open the chest of God to see if the heart was still beating.

As a journalist and seminarian, Keysor had been fully exposed to all the varieties of eclectic, faddish theologies and alternative religions. None of those academic contrivances, however, had changed Keysor’s heart or given him the answers to the questions surrounding his purpose in life. The experience of turning his soul, mind, and career path over to Jesus Christ rang truer to him than did the trendy notions of theologians who had become bored or exasperated with orthodoxy.

In 1966, Keysor was invited by Dr. Jim Wall, editor of the Christian Advocate, to publish an affirmation of the beliefs of Methodist evangelicals. Entitled “Methodism’s Silent Minority,” Keysor made a spirited defense of the elementary Christian basics: the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ. Of course, there was nothing revolutionary in what Keysor had affirmed. It was all found in our Articles of Religion. The stir that was created is that Keysor affirmed it sober – without a wink, without his fingers crossed.

The “Silent Minority” article hit the streets only a few months after Time religion editor John Elson wrote a lengthy cover story with the sucker-punch title “Is God Dead?” In addition to the 3,421 letters from Time readers, the title stirred up a tsunami of a national debate about God, faith, and culture.

In response to his own article, Keysor was also flooded with letters and long distance phone calls (a big deal back then) from Methodist preachers. Almost all told him the same thing: “Thanks for speaking up! I didn’t think anybody else believed the way I do.” A few of the writers and callers asked Keysor about starting a magazine to reflect their point of view.

Demonstrate a way. Two years before Keysor’s article, Bishop Gerald Kennedy of Los Angeles presented the Episcopal Address at the 1964 General Conference of the Methodist Church. “Kennedy is unquestionably among the four or five most dazzling preachers in the U.S. today — an oratorical genius with a commanding baritone, and the pace and timing of a Broadway pro,” wrote Time magazine in a cover story on Methodism’s identity crisis a week after the General Conference.

“This year many of the 858 Methodist delegates arrived at their conference with the deep conviction that their church had reached a turning point in history,” reported Time, “and with a scarcely concealed fear that the vitality that once burned in Methodism was lost when fiery evangelism gave way to today’s organized, institutional church.”

In his address, Kennedy told the delegates that the Christian task is “to pursue our ancient course of attacking our own imperfections, keeping our life open to God, and perfecting our society. We are not trying to sell a system, but to demonstrate a Way which is incomparably better than all others, and shines with the promise of a more abundant life for all men.”

Kennedy was surefooted; appreciated by conservatives and liberals alike. Although not narrowly categorized as an evangelical, he was the high-profile chair of Billy Graham’s three week crusade in Los Angeles in 1963 (final evening attendance of more than 134,000).

At that time, Kennedy was spearheading the fastest-growing area of the Methodist Church. It was a golden era of buying property, building churches, and extending the tent pegs of Wesleyan Christianity on the West Coast.

Cornering Kennedy. Shortly after a speaking engagement in Chicago, Bishop Kennedy got cornered by Keysor. The persistent journalist spelled out the plan for Good News magazine. “That sounds great,” said Kennedy, “Let me know if I can help.” The next day Keysor asked him to write an article for the launch issue about the place of evangelicals in The Methodist Church.

Landing Kennedy in the first issue of Good News in 1967 illustrated Keysor’s tenacity as much as it revealed Kennedy’s authentic inclusivity and respect for evangelicals.

“It must be said that there is no question in my mind as to their [evangelicals] being a legitimate part of the Methodist heritage,” wrote Kennedy. “They are Wesleyan in their basic propositions. Their emphasis on conversion finds an echo on nearly every page of John Wesley’s Journal. The truth seems to me to be that The Methodist Church has been, broadly speaking, evangelical in its understanding and interpretation from the beginning.”

Kennedy had had run-ins with both closed-minded liberals and irascible fundamentalists. Although the power structure of the Methodist Church was unapologetically reflective of the liberalism of the era, Kennedy believed in a beefy pluralism that included orthodox believers, especially the “brethren whose emphasis is on the unchanging and eternal verities of our faith.” At a time when evangelicals felt like unwanted third-cousins, Kennedy’s affirmation went a long way when he wrote that they “are just as legitimately Methodists as are these brethren who look down their noses at them and consider them outmoded.”

Of course, we live in a different era. A lot has changed in 50 years. There may be a temptation to view some of Kennedy’s words as less dramatic than they appeared in that first issue of Good News in 1967. Although Methodism appeared rich and strong, we had deep and painful fissures – not only with race, but also with theology, spirituality, and ideology. Kennedy’s words of inclusion were important.

Along these lines, there were two major events that took place in between Keysor’s “Silent Minority” article and the first issue of Good News that made Kennedy’s olive branch extension all the more significant.

• British believers gathered on October 18, 1966, for the National Assembly of Evangelicals in London to discuss theology, ecumenism, and unity. Before 1000 delegates, the two most well-known evangelical leaders – the Rev. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of Westminster Chapel and the Rev. Dr. John Stott of All Souls Church – had a major public rift about whether evangelicals should remain or withdraw from the Church of England. Lloyd-Jones argued that evangelicals are “scattered about in the various major denominations … weak and ineffective.” Stott, an Anglican, took umbrage and used his position as the chair of the event to fire back with animated rhetoric at Lloyd-Jones, his ministerial colleague and friend.

• One week later, The World Congress on Evangelism was sponsored in Berlin by Billy Graham and Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, founding editor of Christianity Today. The conference drew leaders from 60 denominations. “We discovered that we were all needy sinners – all alike before God in both our inadequacy and our unrealized potential,” said the Rev. Mike Walker, a Methodist pastor from Texas and Good News board member, in his report from Berlin in the first issue of Good News.

According to the New York Times reporting, there was discussion among the international delegates to starting a “new denomination or withdrawing from the central bodies of existing ones.” Henry is quoted as saying that evangelicals should “stay where they are and resummon their denominational brethren to the major task of the church, preaching the Gospel.”

This was, quite simply, part of the Good News vision.

God is not dead. For fifty years, Good News has faithfully worked within The United Methodist Church because people like Chuck Keysor believed God could offer renewed spiritual life to men, women, and children. “Orthodox Methodists come in theologically assorted shapes, sizes, and colors,” wrote Keysor in his “Silent Minority” article. “But, unfortunately, the richness and subtlety of orthodox thought are often overlooked and/or misunderstood. There lurks in many a Methodist mind a deep intolerance toward the silent minority who are orthodox. This is something of a paradox, because this unbrotherly spirit abounds at a time when Methodism is talking much about ecumenicity — which means openness toward those whose beliefs and traditions may differ.”

Good News has always believed evangelicals, conservatives, moderates, and traditionalists have an essential role within The United Methodist Church – and we wanted to make it a more faithful denomination by supporting missions and publishing trustworthy confirmation materials and Sunday school curriculum.

More importantly than anything else, we wanted Good News magazine to reflect our witness for the life-changing message of Christ with grace and truth. Jesus is the Good News – we are merely a movement and a magazine.

In the height of the “God is dead” hype, the Rev. Dr. James Cleveland, known as the King of Gospel Music, recorded a two-album set in Cincinnati featuring a pew-jumping rendition of “God Is Not Dead.” In the same year, Tennessee Ernie Ford released his album “God Lives!,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe played her sanctified blues at the Newport Folk Festival, Mahalia Jackson recorded “There is a Balm in Gilead” on an Easter Sunday album, and Elvis released his album “How Great Thou Art.”

“One reason for the persistence of gospel music is the people’s persistent interest in the Gospel,” observed Keysor in his “Silent Minority” article. In other words, listen to the singers and gospel choirs. Let their light shine. Let them play their part.

That is what Good News has wanted to do for the last 50 years – play our part. Keysor called it our “journalistic ‘mission’ to Methodism’s ‘silent minority.’” We remain grateful to God for this opportunity and to the men and women who sacrifice, contribute, and pray for us to press forward in our mission to see a renewed United Methodist Church.

In his Good News article, Bishop Kennedy wrote, “A great deal of this modern spirit is a passing thing, and after we have changed our minds a hundred times in the future, the great and fundamental truths of our religion will shine forth with continuing brilliance. With all the modern talk about Church having to keep up to date, it is great to have clear voices proclaiming that over against all the novelties there is the unchanging truth of what God has done for us through the Incarnation.”

It remains our vision to be a witness to hope for a life-transforming United Methodism and a clear voice that allows the continuing brilliance of our Lord and Savior to shine through the pages of Good News.

 Marking his 25th year, Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.

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