New Horizons

New Horizons at 40

Danny E. Olinger

Forty years ago, in December 1979, Roger Schmurr was scrambling to make sure that the inaugural issue of New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church would reach the mailboxes of members and friends on time. Seven months earlier, Schmurr had accepted the call to serve as general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education. Soon thereafter, the Forty-Third (1979) General Assembly assigned the Committee on Christian Education the task of publishing a denominational magazine, and Schmurr found himself named as the editor.

Schmurr knew what the framework of the magazine should be in light of the guidelines that the assembly had passed. The assembly wanted it to include news about the departments of home and foreign missions and Christian education; news about presbyteries, general assemblies, youth events, and diaconal service; a prayer calendar to encourage prayer for these individuals and ministries; and suggestions for stewardship.

The assembly had not, however, thought through all the details involved in producing a magazine from start to finish. There were obvious aspects such as choosing a name. At the October meeting of the Committee on Christian Education, the name Advance was put forth in a motion for approval. Member Paul McDonald then substituted the title that carried, New Horizons. More significantly, funding for all that was involved—from writing to art to line editing and layout—had been drastically underestimated. The same held true with printing and distribution costs.

But, Schmurr did have one great resource to teach him about the publishing process from kerning to artwork: Great Commission Publications art director John Tolsma. Tolsma agreed to set up the design of the magazine and lay it out in hard copy. Before Christmas, the magazine was ready, but what had not yet been done was registering the new magazine with the postal service. Schmurr, who had been working endlessly, was at the post office when he collapsed because of low blood sugar. He woke up in a bed at the local hospital.

Schmurr recovered, and Volume 1, Number 1, arrived in the mail by January for its readers. Tolsma punctuated the title on the cover page by making the second “o” in Horizons into a bright orange rising sun. On the second page, Schmurr presented the basic principles that would govern the magazine going forward. He emphasized that Orthodox Presbyterians belong to each other on every level of the church. Hence a local congregation shared in the ministries and oversight of presbyteries and in work on denominational-sized projects through general assemblies. New Horizons planned to report on this shared commitment. Letters to the editor were encouraged, but the magazine reserved the right to select and print in whole or in part on the basis of brevity, clarity, and propriety.

Behind the scenes, the Committee on Christian Education continued to flesh out policies that would govern the protocol. Views and opinions of writers did not necessarily represent the position of the magazine and/or of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The names in the prayer calendar would be limited to persons supported by the denominational committees. Other persons and ministries would be reported on as space was available at the end of the prayer calendar or in the “news” section on the back pages. The committee also decreed that there should be a “minimum of self-defense by the editor.”

New Horizons: Fortieth Anniversary

Almost all the decisions made that first year are still in effect as New Horizons celebrates its fortieth anniversary with this issue. Since April 2004, I have had the honor of serving as the fourth full-time editor of New Horizons, following in the steps of Roger Schmurr (1980–1988), Thomas Tyson (1990–2000), and Larry Wilson (2000–2004).

After editing a few issues, it was clear to me that the art in the magazine was inconsistent. We tried to use high resolution photos, but some photos of missionaries were clear and crisp, while others were a blurry mess.

I went to Harmony Press and met with Fred and Steve Grotenhuis to see if they had advice about what could be done to improve the quality of the pictures. They immediately recommended a different paper. In Fred’s words, “The paper that you have is indestructible. You can send it to China, and it will arrive in pristine shape, but it is not the best paper for pictures.” I agreed, but on a limited budget, I knew that the committee could not afford the higher quality glossy paper. Fred and Steve, whose father, Lewis, had started both Great Commission Publications and Harmony Press, told me that serving ministries like New Horizons was why they were in business and that they would give us the upgrade at their cost.

With a plan in place for new paper, I started to think about a redesign of the magazine. After a presentation at Covenant Church in Vandalia, Ohio, where I communicated my interest in a fresh layout for the magazine, Joe and Jan Tobias approached me. They sheepishly suggested that I might want to contact their son, Christopher, also an OPC member, whose specialty was cover design.

After viewing Chris’s work, and being impressed with his artistry, I asked him if he would work with me in giving the magazine a new look. He agreed, and we began working through this project. One of the design elements was lifting ink from the page to create more white space. We also decided to change the font and leading, that is, the spacing between the lines. We also added space for a photo of each author.

Chris then handed off the new design to managing editor Jim Scott. In 1992, editor Tom Tyson had hired Jim to oversee the layout of the magazine. Like clockwork, Jim would turn out every issue, assisted by proofreader Ali Knudsen, with near grammatical perfection. Implementing the new design while still producing monthly issues meant that Jim had to work around the clock to hit the January 2005 target date, which he did.

Every time an issue comes off the press, there is excitement in seeing the finished product. But, this was different. The January 2005 issue didn’t look like New Horizons, and the paper definitely didn’t feel like New Horizons. We were thrilled, and yet at the same time, we realized there was more work to be done. A special article that we had worked on for months with chaplain Christopher Wisdom, “Preaching in the Pentagon,” had a photo that had been inexplicably reduced. We couldn’t figure out when and where the software glitch had occurred since the picture had appeared normal in the proofs.

I was lamenting what we could have done differently with that one photo when Tom Patate, executive director of Great Commission Publications, called me. He told me that he had gotten the mail that day and threw New Horizons in the trash can along with his junk mail before realizing what it was. Glancing again, he picked it out of the trash and smiled approvingly at the changes that had been made.

Not everyone was happy with the changes, however. If the pictures were clearer, some believed that the words were less distinct and harder to read. At one congregation, a beloved member expressed great disapproval in that she now had trouble reading the print. “You hate old people,” she told me loudly. I received phone calls that winter expressing the same judgment. We made subtle changes that helped, but so did the advice that I would give our older saints that, with the newer paper, they may need to read the magazine in better light.

Writers

Still, as editor, I realized that the magazine could have the best design and look, but its purpose would be lost if it did not promote sound doctrine and faithful practice. A defining error of theological liberalism—one that J. Gresham Machen and the founders of the OPC continually fought against—was the belief that Christianity was practice and not doctrine. The historical confession of Presbyterianism was that doctrine and life go together. In fact, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “the Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” New Horizons is always focusing on this biblical dynamic. Some issues are more weighted to doctrine; other issues are more weighted to life. But, in every issue, there is the self-conscious attempt to be faithful to the covenantal reality that doctrine and practice flow into one another in the Christian life.

Such a goal requires gifted writers who are committed to the OPC as it seeks to be faithful in service to the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Over seven hundred individuals have graciously agreed to my request as editor to write an article, review a book, or report on a church event for New Horizons. Ninety-eight-year-old John Galbraith, a founding member of the OPC in 1936, wrote powerfully about the importance of Christian Education in the September 2011 issue, which celebrated seventy-five years of God’s goodness to the OPC. Distinguished Reformed theologian Richard B. Gaffin Jr. and Reformed historian George Marsden contributed significant articles, particularly Gaffin’s “Justified Now and Forever” (February 2007) and Marsden’s “My OPC Upbringing” (June 2006).

The writer I turned to the most during my time as editor is Patricia Clawson, who for thirteen years assisted me with the work of the Committee on Christian Education. Having worked previously as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Pat could handle any assignment with her dogged research and trademark clean prose.

Starting in 2008, I began to ask Pat to help me develop an issue a year devoted to family-related matters. The March 2013 issue was especially memorable. Doug and Susan Felch co-authored the lead article, “Unwilling Infertility.” For months afterwards, when I would visit congregations, someone would come up to me and thank me for how helpful that issue and article were.

One issue in 2019 that drew the attention of many was July’s “Disability and the Body of Christ.” The year before, at the Eighty-Fifth (2018) General Assembly, OP pastor Stephen Tracey had wondered if such an issue would be possible. He talked to me about how the experience of serving others with disabilities had changed his life and the lives of many members at Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine. I thought we should do it, but I didn’t know who to ask to write or on what topics. He said that he could help with that. The next thing I knew, through Stephen’s efforts, Joni Eareckson Tada had come onboard.

Ongoing Work

In November 2017, Judith Dinsmore became the managing editor of New Horizons. Three years earlier, having just graduated from Geneva College, Judith approached me about an idea for an article that looked at young millennials in the OPC. As it was both well written and well researched, I recommended to Patricia Clawson and my wife, Diane, that they might want to have Judith write a chapter for their book, Choosing the Good Portion. They assigned her the topic of women who had supported the OPC financially through its early years. Her chapter turned out to be superb. Judith has carried on that wonderful balance of research and writing as managing editor.

Please continue to pray for us as we seek with the monthly publication of New Horizons to serve Christ and that expression of his church that is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. After forty years, our goal remains the same: to inform readers about news in the OPC and to serve as an avenue for doctrinal instruction that is faithful to the Bible and the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the church. 

The author is editor of New Horizons and general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education. New Horizons, January 2020.

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