The ministry of a simple magazine

The August-September edition of Banner of Truth is always something of an occasion – a significant increase in the heft of the envelope flopping on to the doormat, extra features etc – but the current issue has been particularly engaging. In the opening editorial Jonathan Watson hands over the reins of the magazine to Ian Hamilton, and in the process showcases a number of favourite articles ranging across the publication’s history. Intermingled with these elements are snippets from the first numbers of the Banner magazine speaking to some of the hopes and aspirations which the original editor(s) harboured for their work.

The September 1955 edition speaks of the desire ‘to send out sound words of truth, with the conviction that there can be no greater matter of concern to the church of God than the truth of God’. A November 1957 editorial suggests that ‘this magazine is not a periodical published at fixed intervals but is designed rather as a booklet which can be of permanent usefulness and reference’. From the outset, then, this was a publication with purpose, with conviction, with measured ideals.

This retrospective has stirred my own thinking about the Banner of Truth magazine. Recently I was undertaking one of my periodic tidies of the study, and took some time to look through one of the thick binders which keep my past numbers of Banner in one place. The first copy of the magazine which I received was in January 2003, five months into my first pastorate. I can still remember the sense of excitement that encountering the articles contained within it evoked in me. I was coming face to face for the first time with a fundamentally Reformed way of studying Scripture, understanding the world, perceiving the church, and reading the times. The names and books referenced within the magazine led me on a journey which ultimately resulted in the formation of my own theological and pastoral understanding, one for which I will be eternally grateful.

There are many reasons why the magazine continues to hold appeal, here are a couple:

1. Content has been placed high above form in the list of priorities: the one thing which the Banner magazine won’t provide is gloss, or anything slick. From its diminutive A5 format, to its utter lack of illustrative input, the magazine announces right from the off that it is concerned with content. Each month carries a cover picture which can be of an individual or a significant location, and that, along with a few adverts for Banner books inside the front and back covers, is the only colour you’ll encounter. I don’t think that the editors have any desire for the magazine to be a celebration of drabness, but they are serious about wanting to produce a magazine which is valued for its reading material. This is refreshing in a world where style so often trumps substance.

2. Core issues are placed high above current issues: the Banner magazine has enough versatility and bite to engage the world around it with clarity and integrity. Over the years I have particularly benefited from some of the cultural engagement which articles written by Peter Barnes have provided, as well as articles of a similar stripe by other authors. But current affairs is not the mainstay of the magazine’s content. Instead, the Banner earths its contemporary reflections in eternal truths, and is unabashed in offering pieces which handle what others might view as more obscure areas of theological thought and reflection. This is so refreshing. If, as a young Pastor, I had found the January 2003 edition of the magazine bunged with applause or critique of the British Prime Minister, or overflowing with praise or denunciation of the American President I would quickly have tuned out from what it had to say. Instead the Banner surprised me then, and continues to surprise me now, with the sheer depth of material which it offers in a small span, and the variety of pastoral and theological issues which it manages to handle.

I have subscribed to the Banner magazine every year since 2003, having my copies mailed to Perú when we lived there as a family. I have bought gift subscriptions for friends and loved ones, and I will continue to welcome its arrival to our home with gladness and expectation. Ian Hamilton will be in my prayers as he takes the helm of a simple magazine which has ministered to me and thousands of others in untold ways.

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