Patricia E. Clawson
“Jim Scott is the Cal Ripken of managing editors,” asserts Christian Education general secretary Danny Olinger, recalling the baseball player who holds the record for the most consecutive games ever played. “He never misses a deadline. He’s always prepared. His dependability is off the charts.”
When Dr. James W. Scott retires early this fall after serving the Committee on Christian Education for more than twenty-six years, he will have produced nearly three hundred consecutive issues of New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church—on time! The magazine has faithfully arrived in our mailboxes for more than a quarter century, even though Scott worked without backup, sometimes laboring through difficult situations, such as his parents’ deaths or when hospitalized.
But Scott provides more than reliability. “Jim combines his unrivaled grammatical expertise with his PhD in theology,” said Olinger. “I can trust that he is theologically sound and that the issue is in great shape.”
Scott’s grammatical prowess, his aptitude for laying out the magazine, and his computer savvy were largely self-taught. Back in elementary and secondary school, his language skills lagged behind math and science until a high school English teacher inspired him to develop those abilities. As he improved his own writing skills, he earned some money editing and typing papers for fellow Westminster Seminary students. After he received a PhD in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews (in Scotland), he was hired by Great Commission Publications to serve as the production editor for the revised Trinity Hymnal. While tackling that project, Scott learned a lot about graphic design from John Tolsma, who was the art director for GCP. Initially hating computers, Scott recognized that they were the future and studied computer magazines and manuals to learn about computer hardware and software, especially Macs.
The Trinity Hymnal project took longer than expected, so in the final months Scott had to work regularly past midnight and on Saturdays to complete it on time. His musical talents as a boy, playing the piano, violin, cornet, and bugle, helped him to manage the entire production effort, including the inputting of music. He figured out how to produce the entire hymnal by combining various software applications—the first hymnal to be produced entirely digitally. Roger Schmurr, then GCP’s coordinator of production, said that Scott handled the nuts and bolts of the revision. “To me, Jim has been a faithful servant to the church in the background.”
Scott also helped a joint OPC/PCA committee of ministers and theologians update the language of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which were included in the hymnal. Now the people in the pews who use the revised hymnal say “the living and the dead” rather than “the quick and the dead.” He also was responsible for preparing the Psalter responsive readings at the back of the hymnal according to their parallelism, rather than their versification.
In 1991, Scott accepted the part-time position as managing editor of New Horizons, at the invitation of Christian Education general secretary Thomas Tyson. Scott’s theological education helped him to edit content. Not only did Scott handle the layout of the magazine, “he helped me in deciding what articles were needed and by whom and what were not good ideas of what to put in New Horizons,” said Tyson. “I could talk plainly and fearlessly with him, knowing that his responses would be thoughtful, helpful, and, most importantly, truthful.”
The position became full time in 1994, when the other committees in the office agreed to use him on various projects and pay Christian Education for his services. Over time, Scott, who was given the additional title of publications coordinator, produced such things as the annual Foreign Missions directory and prayer cards, the annual OPC directory, and more recently the General Assembly minutes, not to mention the other publications of Christian Education. He has also worked for the Committee for the Historian, producing their books.
“Scott made it possible for me to do other stuff for the CCE, like all the music seminars, for instance,” recalls Tyson. “Those wouldn’t have been possible without Jim on the scene.”
As computer programs became more elaborate, so did his work with New Horizons. Originally only sixteen pages, the magazine today fills twenty-four pages, courtesy of more advanced software that allows layout and printing to become digitized. It previously took days to receive proofs from the printer; now it takes seconds after submitting files online. CCE publications that Scott once cranked out individually with a spiral binding machine have been developed into a series of printed booklets, many of which have been translated into an Asian language.
When Larry Wilson became the CCE general secretary in 2000, he had some reservations about the managing editor. “Tom Tyson told me that he believed that God had custom-made Jim for this particular job,” Wilson said. “As I worked with Jim, I came to agree.”
Wilson found him bright and theologically sound. “He’s good at distilling ideas without distorting them,” Wilson said. “Jim was good at gently, but firmly, questioning something that I had written or a decision that I had made in order to make me reconsider.”
Scott also has written for New Horizons and authored a CCE booklet, The Inspiration of Scripture. In retirement, he intends to devote himself to biblical scholarship as long as the Lord enables him to do so.
But first he has to complete the production of the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal. He expects it to be in print before the OPC General Assembly and the URC Synod meet in Grand Rapids and worship together—and hopefully sooner. He will also continue to produce various OPC publications. “We’re thankful he’s going to continue to help us with the production of books and booklets,” said Olinger.
“I have a job to do, and I do it,” Scott said matter-of-factly. “At the same time, I want our literature to be edifying and of the highest quality that I can make it.” His work behind the scenes has benefited the whole church, but he won’t miss the pressure of meeting New Horizons deadlines.
PHOTO: Jim Scott, Richard Gaffin, Danny Olinger