Review: The Pastor as Public Theologian

Pastor as Public TheologianThe Pastor as Public Theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.

Summary: The authors contend that at the heart of the pastoral calling is a vision of doing theology with the people of God, pointing them to what God is doing in and through the Christ, and how they may participate in that work.

The central thesis of this book addresses something I’ve long thought–that there is a growing divide between those who teach and write theology, and those who teach and shepherd the people of God. Many theological works on issues that are actually important for the life of the people of God read as written only for the academic guild of theologians. Meanwhile, pastors increasingly are viewed as those who are church growth technicians, counselors, and inspirational worship leaders. The authors contend rather that pastors are public theologians, in that they communicate the truth that is in Christ to the people of God, who then bear witness to Christ in every sphere of public life.

The authors then develop this thesis using four of the disciplines that classically define the theological academy: biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theology. They seek to show that the core of what is taught in these disciplines is in fact not something to be confined to the academy but is vital to the life of the church.

Under biblical theology, they consider the prophet, priest, and king roles as they find fulfillment in Christ and are expressed in pastorates that are prophetic, telling forth the word of God; priestly as those who minister grace in the message of the gospel; and kingly in both speaking wisdom and serving diligently as did the servant King.

With regard to historical theology Owen Strachan traces the pastorate from the earliest days, through monasticism and scholasticism, into the reformation and the Puritan and Edwardsian expressions in early America, to the professionalization of the pastorate, and an Evangelical recovery in the twentieth century. In this section, it seems the reformers, Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards are held in highest esteem as approaching the model of public theologians the writers envision.

Then Kevin Vanhoozer turns to systematic theology. He makes a startling contention here: that pastor-theologians both cultivate life and cope with death and that much of their work is helping people who inevitably will die understand how to live in light of this. It is a ministry of teaching the indicatives of theology: what is already reality for us through new life in Christ. It is ministry of the word: cultivating both biblical literacy and a biblically-informed cultural literacy. And it is the ministry of the imperative: how we should then live in light of the realities true of us in Christ.

Finally, Vanhoozer discusses practical theology, and the work of pastors as artisans in the house of God through the work of Evangelist, proclaiming what is in Christ in counsel, visitation, and sermon; the work of Catechist, as teaching what is in Christ through careful instruction of new converts and all of God’s people; the work of Liturgist in worship, prayer, and communion; and the work of Apologist, demonstrating what is in Christ against the alternatives that are in error.

Each section of the book is concluded with testimony from one of twelve practicing pastor-theologians. These are a highlight of the book in many ways in practically translating theory into theological practice. It was striking how many emphasized the priority of study and wide reading as essential to the life of the pastor-theologian. Lastly, the book concludes with fifty-five theses that essentially are a summary of the main points of the book.

If I were to have any reservation with this book, it would be that it should more accurately be titled “The Male Reformed Pastor as Public Theologian”. Both authors and all twelve contributors are men writing and, in the case of the twelve, pastoring churches in the Reformed tradition. Yet I would contend that this theological perspective is not central to the contention the book makes, with which I would heartily agree, but it may serve to limit the book’s audience. I would contend that Martin Luther King, Jr. was just as much a public theologian as Harold John Ockenga, and King’s leadership in the civil rights movement is perhaps the signature example in the twentieth century of the impact public theology can have both upon the people of God and the public square. The contention these authors are making for the noble role of pastor as public theologian, indeed public intellectual, is vital both for the equipping of a people of God saturated by a secular culture, and for the engagement of that culture. I hope it can contribute to a wider conversation throughout the church of the vital role pastor-theologians can play in equipping the church for a witness both cogent and charitable in a world that desperately needs it.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ohioana Library: Ohio Writers, Ohio Subjects

ohioanaWhat do Sherwood Anderson, Anthony Doerr, Wil Haygood, Toni Morrison, Louis Bromfield, Arthur Schlesinger, David Webber, and James Thurber all have in common? They are all Ohio authors. What about David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin? They’ve written on Ohio subjects (the Wright brothers, and William Howard Taft respectively). And all of their works can be found in the Ohioana Library, located just north of downtown Columbus, sharing a building with the State Library of Ohio and the Columbus campus of the Kent State University School of Library and Information Science.

Until my wife called my attention to an interview with current director of the Ohioana Library, David Weaver, I had not known such a thing exists. Yet the Ohioana has been around since 1929, founded by Martha Kinney Cooper, who at the time was Ohio’s first lady. It was established to gather a collection of books and other materials written by Ohioans or about Ohio. Currently there are over 45,000 books, 10,000 pieces of sheet music and 20,000 files of biographical materials on Ohio authors. Sheet music? One of the most famous pieces, at least for died-in-the scarlet and gray wool Buckeyes is Frank Crumit’s Buckeye Battle Cry, written in 1919. Materials do not circulate but are accessible for research use by the general public.

The Ohioana doesn’t simply preserve the works of Ohio writers, artists, and musicians. It also is dedicated to promoting these works. There are two principle means by which they do this. One is the Ohioana Quarterly, which highlights and reviews new books added to the library and features literary events throughout Ohio. All members receive a copy but back issues can be accessed in .pdf format online.

The other way the library promotes Ohio authors and artists are through the Ohioana Book Awards, annually recognizing outstanding literary accomplishments in poetry, juvenile and young adult literature, fiction, non-fiction, and works by non-Ohio authors on Ohio subjects.

Last of all, The Ohio Library sponsors the Ohioana Book Festival in the spring of each year. The next Festival is scheduled for April 23, 2016 at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel on Capitol Square. There are seminars on various literary subjects and genres throughout the day, chances to meet a number of Ohio authors, children’s activities, food trucks (!) and of course, books!

As a native Ohioan, I would argue that our state has a rich but often under-estimated cultural heritage. The mix of urban and rural communities, of peoples from so many different ethnic heritages, the vibrant support of the arts throughout the state, and cutting edge library systems in many communities fosters a rich cultural life, and I believe a vibrant cadre of writers and artists past and present.  So it was a delight to learn about the great work the Ohioana Library is doing to preserve and promote our Ohio literary heritage.

I hope I can get down to meet the folks doing this work soon. Look for a follow-up on this one!



Review: God and Race in American Politics

God and RaceGod and Race in American Politics, Mark A. Noll. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Summary: This text explores the interwoven story of religion, race, and politics in American history, with a concluding theological reflection.

Mark Noll makes the observation in this book, derived from his Stafford Little Lectures at Princeton University in 2006, that we have one of the most enlightened political systems in human history and yet we have failed signally in the matter of race. From our beginnings we accepted the slave trade that treated forcibly seized Africans as cargo that were simply one more asset to serve American interests. After the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, we settled for systemic injustices in the form of Jim Crow laws that a number would argue continue in some form down to the present.

What Noll does in this “short history” is look at the interplay of religious influences, shifting party affiliations and voting patterns and the continuing saga of race in America. As a careful scholar, he documents his narrative with numerous tables on denominational populations and party voting patterns by various states and populations.

He begins by looking at how the Bible was used to argue both for and against slavery. Interestingly, those who were pro-slavery held back from arguing for White slavery, revealing the racial animus behind this issue. In this racial divide he traces the origins and rise of African-American churches who would be a critical factor in years to come in civil rights advocacy. He concludes this chapter (2) with these prophetic words by W.E.B. DuBois:

“This nation will never stand justified before God until these things are changed….Especially are we surprised and astonished at the recent attitude of the church of Christ–on the increase of a desire to bow to racial prejudice, to narrow the bounds of human brotherhood, and to segregate black men in some outer sanctuary” (cited on p. 59).

The book traces the the failed efforts of Reconstruction (“Redemption” in the South) and the alignments of southern Whites (comprised of large Baptist and Methodist populations) with the Democratic Party while Blacks who could vote as well as northern Protestants aligned with “the party of Lincoln.” He recounts the rise of Jim Crow and the failure of the courts and political processes along with the lack of engagement (and some complicity) of white Evangelicals with these injustices.

Meanwhile, an African-American church was rising in organizational strength and the training of its pastors. Noll traces the antecedent influences on King and other civil rights leaders and how central the religious voice was to this movement.

A significant turning point came in 1964 with the passage of sweeping civil rights legislation under Democrat Lyndon Johnson. A major political realignment began, where the once Democratic white south became Republican, and the Democratic Party became one of northern liberals, mainline Protestants (a declining group) and ethnic minorities while Evangelicals and some Catholics identified with the small government, morally conservative policies of the Republicans.

One fascinating sidelight Noll observes is the emergence of southern Evangelicals on the national stage in this period. Having come out from an apparent identification with racism as a result of civil rights legislation, denominations like the Southern Baptists and figures like Jerry Falwell (and Bill Clinton) gain national platforms.

Noll concludes the book with a theological reflection. He notes the mixed history of Christian complicity with racial injustice and advocacy for civil rights and “the beloved community.” While not justifying the evils, he argues that in Christian theology’s understanding of both human evil and the redemptive arc of the gospel, there are the resources to help us neither be surprised by evil nor the acts of so many who selflessly pursue justice. It is a theology of realistic hope rather than starry-eyed optimism or pessimistic despair.

This is a book for anyone engaged in issues of racial reconciliation or who are trying to understand the complex interplay of religion and American politics around these issues. As in so many things, understanding where we’ve come from is critical to understanding where we are and discerning the road before us. This book can help.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Airports


Aerial view of Youngstown -Warren Regional Airport

I wonder why I’m thinking about airports today? Perhaps it has to do with writing this (on Friday) while sitting in an airport in Austin, Texas.

I’m not such a big fan of flying these days, just something I have to do with my work. But I remember a time when I was a kid and my parents or grandparents would make the 10 mile or so drive out of Youngstown, and park by the fences on Route 193 and watch the planes land and take off.

There seemed to be lots of flights in and out of Youngstown back then. The airport at one time was served by United,  US Airways (and its predecessor Allegheny), Northwest and its predecessors) and even Pan Am. Back then, I suspect there was much more company travel on commercial aviation. For a time when my dad was a department store buyer, he flew regularly out of the airport.

That brings me to one of my favorite flying memories–the first time I flew. My dad was on a buying trip to Washington. I don’t remember much about the actual flight, which was on a turbo-prop plane. I got to go to dinner with all these business types and then hung out at the hotel while my dad did some business. Then we had all day Saturday to tour Washington. This was back in the late 60’s when no one worried about security threats. He had to stay in DC so I flew back alone–my first flight alone!

That’s actually the only time I flew out of what was then Youngstown Municipal Airport. I do remember one time when my grandparents went out to see Barry Goldwater during his 1964 presidential campaign. He got off the plane, made a short speech, talking about how we should send LBJ back to his ranch to toss beer cans out his window!

The airport had its beginning as a WPA project in 1939, opening a year later. It was not Youngstown’s first airport. That distinction belongs to Lansdowne Airport, on the northeast side, which opened in 1926. It’s longest runway is just over 3000 feet and it did not have the room to expand to accommodate the larger planes. On the other hand, Youngstown airport’s longest runway is over 9,000 feet long and can accommodate planes as large as a Boeing 757.

Air travel declined in the years after the mill closings and in the early 2000’s there was no scheduled service. In 2006 Allegiant Air started serving the area. Just under 7,000 people flew out of what is now called the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in 2005. By 2014, that number was up to 60,000, along with charters to destinations like Atlantic City. Nevertheless a large part of the airport traffic is still general aviation and military, with the Youngstown-Warren Air Reserve Station a major user of the airport.

Will air travel ever come back to what it once was in the heyday of the airport? I kind of doubt it. Under today’s air system, it is far easier to go to Cleveland and Pittsburgh where one can get a direct flight to many destinations. Apart from favorite vacation locations, there are few routes that would warrant the traffic except possibly a flight to a hub.

Nevertheless, the airport is still an important part of the greater Youngstown economy, between the general aviation and military use and Allegiant’s presence. And Lansdowne? The airport was part of a scheme to bring in a blimp company in the 1980’s that never flew. My understanding is that it is owned by Boardman Steel and still used for general aviation but is in poor condition. The AirNav website indicates the asphalt is breaking up in places and advises calling the airport manager before landing to determine the pavement condition. I’ve seen online discussion of converting the airport to an industrial park, which given its location near I-80 would make sense.

Like other aspects of Youngstown redevelopment, the use of the area’s airport space calls for intelligent and entrepreneurial decisions driven by real economic demand and not “pie (or blimp) in the sky” fantastic schemes. Hopefully the experiences of the last 40 years can lead to some wiser choices.

What are your memories of the Youngstown Airport? Did you ever fly out of there?

Review: Faith-Rooted Organizing

Faith Based OrganizingFaith-Rooted Organizing, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: Most advocacy and activism efforts have been organized around secular principles. The authors explore what organizing and advocacy work that is deeply and thoroughly rooted in Christian principles would look like and illustrate this from their years of experience.

Many community advocacy efforts have been organized around principles first developed by Saul Alinsky in the 1930’s. They hinge on an oppositional model that sees the other as “enemy” who needs to be forced or compelled to act justly by law or the pressure of a people movement.

Salvatierra and Heltzel do not deny the place of these efforts and in fact talk about both “serpent” and “dove” power as Christians make common cause with other activists. But they also contend that Christians have deep resources in their faith in which their organizing activities ought and may be rooted.

They begin with a historical survey of three justice movements: the civil rights movement, justice movements in Latin America and Cesar Chavez work in advocating for migrant crop workers. And one of the revelations of this book to me was to learn what a deeply spiritual man Chavez was, regularly fasting, and living at the level of those for whom he advocated.

The book then takes each step in the organizing process and re-roots it in faith-based practices:

  • Goal setting as dreaming God’s dreams.
  • Starting place: hearing the call of the poor, which if done well results in a dance of solidarity between poor and privileged.
  • Strategy: discerning the kairos issue at the root of the deep lies that perpetuate injustice and combating these with the truth. This also means addressing issues of power and hope and speaking prophetically.
  • Recruitment: what does it mean to both practice and mobilize Christ-centered community, mobilizing all the gifts of that community.
  • Leadership development: this not only involves discerning the gifts and calling of others but modeling the servant leadership crucial to organizing.
  • Sustainability: the importance of cultivating the deep spiritual practices and rhythms that sustain hope and energy.

As mentioned in the summary the authors illustrate their principles with stories from their years of organizing. At the end of each chapter, Alexia addresses a “letter” to her daughter and another young woman that sums up the chapter in her hopes for their organizing work.

It has struck me increasingly that a significant form of gospel witness is when Christians come alongside others making common cause around matters of justice and human flourishing and thoughtfully and graciously contribute the distinctive perspective that is shaped by their faith. Salvatierra and Hetzel give us a marvelous example of what this looks like in the nitty-gritty of organizing.


Review: A Great Idea at the Time

A Great Idea at the TimeA Great Idea at the TimeAlex Beam. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008.

Summary: Beam narrates the story of the Great Books movement from its beginnings with John Erskine, Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, to the publication of The Great Books by Britannica and rise of Great Books groups, the “core wars” and the remnants of this movement still hanging on today.

I have probably been intrigued and tempted by the Great Books idea all of my life. I remember looking with envy at the Britannica set acquired by a friend of mine and was probably saved from acquiring one myself only by my wife’s very sensible questions: “where are you going to put those?” and “are you going to read them?” Still, along the way, I’ve attempted to read at least some of these, usually in annotated editions (the Britannica set is not), guided by Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book and Clifton Fadiman’s Lifetime Reading Plan.

So it was with some interest that I picked up Alex Beam’s book which is neither hagiography nor hatchet job, but a highly readable, and a times humorous, look at the Great Books movement and particularly its two principle lights: Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler.

The book traces the beginnings to various “great books” lists, most notably Charles Eliot’s at Harvard, which eventuated in the Harvard Classics, Adler’s initial inspiration. Adler was mentored by John Erskine, who advocated for the great books at Columbia in the General Honors course, which eventually Adler taught as a graduate student in the 1920s. Erskine, Adler, and Clifton Fadiman also taught courses for working adults beginning the dual character of Great Books promotion in the academy and in “middlebrow” circles among working people seeking a broader perspective on life.

Then enters Hutchins who invites Adler to Yale in 1927, and then to the University of Chicago, when Hutchins became president in 1929. Together they sought to reform undergraduate education around a Great Books curriculum and later promoted Great Books groups among the public culminating in the Great Books Foundation to promote these groups. Within four years (by the late 1940s) they claimed there were 2,500 such groups meeting across the country.

William Benton’s involvement was a key moment in the Great Books movement. A consummate salesman and member of a Chicago Great Books group, he acquires Encyclopedia Britannica and proposes publishing a collection of “the Great Books”. Adler, Hutchins, and Erskine oblige and Beam narrates the sometimes hilarious process by which certain books were included or excluded by this committee of white males, selecting largely a collection of books by white males. He also gives a detailed account of Adler’s signature contribution to this project, The Syntopicon, an index of 102 ideas with references to where they arise in the Great Books. Beam describes the questionable marketing techniques used to lure middle-class families to acquire an impressive looking set of books most would barely read.

The rest of the book is an account of the gradually dwindling sales and disappointments of both Adler and Hutchins, the “core wars” which eliminated many of these works from college curricula at most universities, offset by the narratives of those whose lives were profoundly touched by the Great Books, and the collegiate holdouts, like St. John’s in Annapolis and Santa Fe, where the Great Books are the curriculum. He concludes with describing Great Books weekends where, although he is “of a certain age” he is the youngest person in the room.

One wonders in reading this if Adler and Hutchins had two principle faults: inflexibility and codifying the Great Books into a published set. Beam contrasts this movement with Oprah’s book club (which probably has Adler and Hutchins turning in their graves). I would add the attention book recommendations receive from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Neither are recommending fluff books and there is always a spike in books sales around their recommendations. While it is true there are many adults who only read a few books a year, and that mostly contemporary popular fiction, there are those who recognize that something was missing in their education, and are looking for help in enlarging their horizons.

What if, instead of pouring their efforts into dubious marketing of the Great Books sets, Adler and Hutchins had worked to develop annotated works, and good discussion guides, and maybe excluded some of the more challenging and obscure ancient mathematical and scientific works? What if they had shown a more enlightened approach that recognized great works like W. E. B DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk and other works by those not in the “dead white male” tradition? Might they have forged a literacy movement that would have embraced all Americans and avoided the “core wars?” Maybe not, and it is clear that this just was not their vision. What Beam’s book makes clear is that it was this truncated vision, and not the American populace that was to blame for their disappointments.

Review: When Athens Met Jerusalem

When Athens Met JerusalemWhen Athens Met Jerusalem, John Mark Reynolds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Summary: The Christian message advanced in a Greco-Roman World prepared in many ways by both the failure of the Homeric gods and the classic philosophers. This book explores the intellectual antecedents to the gospel in pre-Socratic, Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian thought, culminating when Jerusalem meets Athens when Paul preaches on Mars Hill.

In the third century, the Christian Tertullian asked the questions, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians?” For many Christians, this has been the last word on the matter and they have decided there is little or nothing of value in studying the Greek philosophers of the Classical tradition preceding the advent of Christianity.

John Mark Reynolds would argue to the contrary pointing out both how Greek philosophy prepared the way for the gospel as it groped for something beyond the gods of Homer and tried to explain why there is cosmos rather than chaos. It gave us the humility of wisdom in Socrates who knew that he didn’t know. It gave us the dilemma of the cave and the question of what is the really real. It gave us the Aristotelian mean in ethics and the cultivation of virtue. And yet it failed to deliver Greece from the power hungry Alexander, the decay of its civilization, its lapse back into pagan deities and gnostic mysteries that failed to illumine and give hope. It prepared the way for the Apostle Paul to appear on Mars Hill to speak of the “unknown God” who has revealed himself scandalously in the resurrection of his son.

The book is a useful and sympathetic survey of classical thought. Reynolds begins with the pre-Socratic philosophers in chapter 1, Socrates in chapter 2, Plato in chapters 3-7, Aristotle, the pupil of Plato in chapters 8 and 9, and finishes with the neo-Platonists, Epicureans, and Stoics in chapter 10. The end of chapter ten concludes with the preaching of Paul addressing a culture, prepared by this lineage.

If I had any criticism, it would be that this book is long on Athens and short on Jerusalem. Perhaps Reynolds felt that this is all he could do in a book of this length. Yet it seems that the whole book intentionally builds toward the intersection of Athens and Jerusalem. Reynolds spoke of giving us a whirlwind tour through the classical Greeks. I think he could possibly have given us a tighter summary and explored more of the engagement between Greek philosophy and Christian theology. Clearly this has shaped Western Christianity to the present, but the shape and critique of that engagement is sparse in this book. It is clear that Reynolds is more favorable to the Greek philosophers than either Tertullian or many moderns. Perhaps it is because he so loves his subject matter of the Greek philosophers. A more in depth discussion of that engagement could have been a valuable contribution.

This is a useful secondary text for students, particularly Christian students, reading the classics. Reynolds provides helpful context and commentary and helps show the relevance of the questions these philosophers were asking as well as the thought world Christians encountered as the gospel established a beachhead in Europe during the missionary journeys of Paul. It also serves as a helpful review for some of us who read these classics many years ago and need a “brush up.”

Interview: Robert A. Fryling, Publisher, InterVarsity Press: Part Two

Robert Fryling IVPYesterday, I posted the first part of a conversation I had recently with the publisher of InterVarsity Press. As the interview went on we discussed changes in the publishing world and reading habits, and some of the most significant publishing milestones of Bob Fryling’s tenure. Here’s the second part of our interview:

During the time you have been publisher at InterVarsity Press, how have you seen reading habits change, your target audiences, how have you adjusted to some of the changes you are seeing in the market?

That’s a question we are always trying to answer because things are always changing. A good example of this you would be familiar with is Jim Sire’s The Universe Next Door. That used to be a general book that was sold in Christian bookstores and lay people and students would read that. Now it is primarily an academic text, a secondary text, and most Christian bookstores do not carry it.

You can see the effect of people not reading serious non-fiction at the same level they would have twenty years ago. It’s not so much a “dumbing down” as people not having the time or attention span to focus on thoughtful non-fiction. There has been a lot of increase in fictional reading in the general Christian market and inspirational reading.

It takes work to think through well-honed arguments and issues and so our market has changed from more general readers to pastors and people in ministry and parachurch ministries and Christian colleges and seminaries. So now about fifty percent of our books are academic books [IVP has a sub-imprint IVP Academic] or reference books whereas twenty years ago it would have been about twenty percent. There is a very intentional group who read, and read your blogs, but it is a shrinking group of people and it does tend to be more those in ministry or the academy rather than general lay people.

Could we talk a bit about the role of InterVarsity Press as part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and how you’ve seen the role of supporting student and faculty mission continue to develop and change during the years of your tenure?

I think there are two major areas in which IVP is particularly appreciated by staff. One is for the public relations value. Often staff find that pastors and donors know about InterVarsity Press and not InterVarsity and so it can be a nice bridge because the name is the same. In fact, in the publishing world we are often just referred to as InterVarsity. Jim Lundgren [Interim President of InterVarsity/USA] was saying sometimes he has been with donors and they thought he was representing IVP because that was the “brand” that was known. Staff use books a lot with donors and pastors. We are glad we can do that and provide a sense of culture, of who InterVarsity is as a thoughtful engaged ministry.

The other area obviously is in its teaching. We publish books that support the core values of InterVarsity — life of the mind, evangelism, discipleship, world missions, vocational stewardship –all the aspects that are part of InterVarsity’s identity. IVP supports and sometimes leads InterVarsity as staff read some of these books, and then teach and lead students in some of these issues. One of the big differences that you would probably appreciate was that at one time staff would have booktables and buy lots of books and sell them to students. Now staff will get the books and teach them to students. We are getting less sales to students. Many staff are also using IVP books as part of their own education and training.

Looking over the nineteen years of your tenure at InterVarsity Press what are some of the publishing projects that you take the most pride in, that you’ve had a chance to oversee to publication?

Without a doubt, the most significant one was the publication of The Ancient Christian Commentaries on Scripture as a twenty-nine volume enterprise that was started before I came here but was published after I started at IVP. I was involved in choosing the cover design and the latter aspects of that and working with Tom Oden who was the general editor with whom I worked for fifteen years as that project was coming about.

The second thing was the development of the Formatio sub-imprint, focusing on spiritual formation. At the time we started that, spiritual formation wasn’t even used as a term among most evangelicals. Now that obviously is very widespread and I think we’ve had a hand in promoting spiritual formation issues in general evangelicalism, whereas before it was limited to mostly Catholic audiences or mainline audiences. I think that has been a tremendously successful project that I’m very grateful for. We’ve not so much cornered the market, but authors come to us because they realize that for evangelicals looking for spiritual formation books, IVP is the place to go.

The third thing I would say is we have developed a lot of partnerships, for instance with the Apprentice Institute with James Bryan Smith. We’ve done some things with Veritas Forum and Veritas Riff and with Ruth Haley Barton and the Transforming Center. We probably have about twelve or thirteen different partnerships with different organizations. CAPS [Christian Association for Psychological Studies] with psychology is a significant area of partnership. We are grateful for these partnerships as they help us connect with their audiences.

The other thing I might add which is very different is that we have been very intentional in trying to recruit minority authors and women authors and so we’ve had a series of consultations where we pay the full freight for unpublished authors to attend. We had one for African-American authors, for Asian-American authors. This year we are having one for Hispanic leaders. We do one for women in the academy. We bring people together for a few days and tell them about publishing, the editorial process, the marketing process, and really try to encourage them to write for us as their voices need to be heard within evangelicalism. We have published roughly 160 books over the last fifteen years by minority authors.

In wrapping up, I wondered what you could share about your plans after retirement?

Actually, I don’t have any right now. It feels like a time to wait on the Lord. I plan my life, I am a planner and I’ve been doing that for all of my life. It just seems that this is a time that I’m not to be anxious about that but to see what might come about. I have about another eight months or so before I retire. I’m not trying to find another job or do things but just see what might come about. I feel very open-handed about that right now.

Any writing plans that you might have?

That would be a category of things I might pursue. Right now I am so busy with our business as such that I haven’t had much time to think about that but after Urbana [InterVarsity’s triennial conference on world mission at which InterVarsity Press has a significant presence] I will probably start thinking about those things. I might indeed write something after retirement but at this time have no specific plans to do so.


Postscript: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bob Fryling, not only for the time he took for this interview, but also for all those books that have been part of my own “education and training.”

Interview: Robert A Fryling, Publisher, InterVarsity Press: Part One

Robert Fryling IVP

Robert A. Fryling, Publisher, InterVarsity Press

Recently, Robert (Bob) Fryling announced he will be retiring as publisher of InterVarsity Press (IVP) in June 2016. Bob Fryling also serves as a Vice President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Out of his leadership experiences, he published The Leadership Ellipse in 2009. Recently we sat down via Skype for an interview in which we discussed his career, his tenure at InterVarsity Press, how IVP relates to its parent organization, changes he has seen in publishing, and what publishing accomplishments he thought most significant during his time at InterVarsity Press.

This interview has a bit of a flavor of an “inside conversation” due to the fact that Bob Fryling and I are both employed with InterVarsity/USA and have had a long association, Bob Fryling in the publishing division and I in Collegiate Ministries. I have inserted clarifications in a few places where a reference might be particularly unclear to an outsider. Otherwise, this is a very lightly edited transcript of the conversation. I should also mention that Bob on Books is a private endeavor, and not an official social media outlet of InterVarsity Press or InterVarsity/USA. With that, here is the first part of the interview:

You’ve had a pretty interesting career before you came to the publishing world. Could you recap for us your career before you came to InterVarsity Press?

I started off as a Campus Staff Worker in New England responsible for thirteen campuses in New Hampshire and Maine. I spent a lot of time driving on the turnpike. That was a great experience. I had large state schools like the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire and smaller schools like Colby and Bates. It was a great way to learn about ministry and to be involved with InterVarsity. I became a team leader and then Area Director in New England and then Regional Director for the Northeast.  In 1980 I moved to Madison and was national Director of Campus Ministries. I lived in Madison for seventeen years with two stints as Director of Campus Ministries and with a stint as Director of Human Resources in between. I started our NISET [National Institute of Staff Education and Training] program and led a lot of our management training. I came back to Campus Ministries when asked by Gordon MacDonald when he became President. I served in that role for a total of 14 years. I moved to the Press in 1997. It will be nineteen years by the end of June of 2016 as IVP publisher.

What was the biggest change or transition in moving from the collegiate ministry world to the publishing world?

A number of interesting things. I wasn’t asked to speak as much! As Director of Campus Ministries I spoke often at student and regional staff conferences. Somehow the publisher’s role was not seen as a ministerial role in the same sense. I had a lot to learn about the publishing industry. The publisher role was more of a CEO role. I was able to be in more of a leadership role without having to process things through three or four levels of people spread across the country. We have a lot of process at IVP but having most of the people in the building makes the process easier and the pace of decision-making was much, much faster because we have to get books out on time and sign authors. It was figuring out how to marry a ministry and a business. With Collegiate Ministries you don’t have the sense of the business aspect in the sense of time or urgency or money, although there is fund-raising, but it is not the same thing as making financial decisions every day as to how your business is going to turn out. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of bringing together both parts and that business is a ministry, too.

One of the things I’ve heard about InterVarsity Press is that you’ve won some awards for being a great place to work. I wonder if you could talk about that and what makes it such a good place to work?

I can answer the second part first. We have a lot of great people here. People come because they appreciate the books that we publish. We have been recognized by the Best Christian Workplaces Survey, I believe it is six straight times, and one of the questions that is asked is, “what do you most appreciate about IVP?” Usually the top answer to that across the whole company are the books that we publish. People are attracted to that. People are affected by the books. You can’t edit books and mark up books that don’t affect you as to its content. So that’s a big piece.

We have a strong leadership working team. Five of us have been together for eighteen years and so we’ve been able to benefit from each other’s gifts. We are fairly transparent in our leadership. We have a daily sales record so everyone in the company knows where we are on our sales on a day to day basis. We give quarterly financial reports and we share everything about what’s going on. I think people feel a high sense of ownership for IVP, a great deal of loyalty, great communication, and fine people. It sort of all comes together.

One of the things that may be indicative of this is that we have office meetings on a regular basis but we only have them when we need them. So we try to avoid perfunctory meetings but when we get together, everyone is expected to be there, so there is this sense of real community. We celebrate anniversaries, we share announcements, there may be times when we have authors that visit and usually those meetings are a morale boosting time and celebration time when we are together.  We have special Christmas parties, we honor people when they leave, when people get married, when they have children. We try to celebrate each other, we try to celebrate our authors and our books and that creates a very positive environment.


In Part Two of the interview, which will appear tomorrow, we will discuss how InterVarsity Press has responded to trends in reading and publishing, how IVP continues to support the collegiate ministry of InterVarsity, what Bob Fryling sees as IVP’s most significant accomplishments under his tenure, and his plans for retirement.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Movie Theaters

Palace Theater. Photo by Steveovig

Palace Theater. Photo by Steveovig

Do you remember the first movie you saw and where you saw it? For me, it was Babes in Toyland at the State Theater. I also remember seeing King of Kings there, one of those biblical epics on the life of Christ.

This was just one of the big movie palaces in downtown Youngstown, first opened in 1929. The oldest was the Liberty, later renamed the Paramount, opened in 1918. The beautiful Palace Theater, just off the Central Square, where I think I may have first seen Bambi as a child, was first opened in 1926 as the Keith-Albee Theater. The grandest of them all was the Warner, opened in 1931 by the Warner family whose roots were in Youngstown before Warner brothers Albert, Sam, and Jack moved to Hollywood. Sam died in Hollywood and the Warner in Youngstown was built in his memory. No expense was spared on a theater filled with marble-etched mirrors, terrazzo floors, silks, velvets and more.

As the city grew, theaters opened in the different neighborhoods throughout the city. My dad told stories of his first date with my mom at the Mahoning Theater in the late 1930s. Later this became the Mahoning Follies, a very different theater to say the least! We often went to matinees at the Schenley Theater further up Mahoning Avenue, near the Gran Bowling Lanes. When I stayed with my grandparents on the southside, the neighbor boy and I used to go to double features at the Foster Theater. My first time in the Newport Theater was to see The Sound of Music. I fell in love with Julie Andrews on the spot! In high school I remember an English class field trip going to see Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet at the Uptown. We kept hoping they’d make a mistake and show us the uncensored version. No such luck! Later when I was dating the woman I’m now married to, we went to see Earthquake there because they had a sound system to handle the special effects.

As people moved into the suburbs, so did movie theatres–the Wedgewood plaza, Liberty plaza, Boardman plaza and later Southern Park Mall (where we saw The Poseidon Adventure) and Eastwood Mall. I was around to see the demolition of the Palace Theater, which showed its last movie in 1964. The Warner closed in 1968, to be saved by the Powers family, whose gift led to its renovation as the home of the Youngstown Symphony. During college, we went to a huge wedding in its great hall, literally dancing the tarantella up and down the steps of the theater. What a night! Now it has enjoyed further renovations and additions and is known as the DeYor center and is part of Youngstown’s downtown renewal.

Neither the State nor the Paramount lasted. The State was a rock venue for a time before being torn down in 2008, followed by the Paramount in 2013, although its last first-run show was in 1970.

Many of the suburban theaters have followed–the Schenley and the Newport among them. The Uptown Theater building, which was sold in 2015 survived a fire in the uptown area in August 2015.

The great old movie theaters reflected the rich cultural heritage and industrial might of Youngstown at one time. The suburban theaters reflected its growth. Today, all of these have been replaced by multi-plex cinemas in Austintown and Boardman. Thankfully, the DeYor Center survives as a living monument to the movie palaces of the past.

What are your Youngstown movie-going memories?