This has been cross-posted on my Ticker blog, and the same note at the end applies to my postings here as well for the time being.
You may have seen billboards for a ministry that uses the title, “I Am Second.” It’s a sort of collection of personal testimonies, and we’re to presume, I gather, that the meaning is that God is first. I’m certainly not here to disagree with the general thrust of that sentiment, but I will be borrowing that ministry’s catchphrase to celebrate, with a certain amount of humble trepidation, a milestone that I never expected to happen when I first sat down at a computer to debate Skeptics on AOL debate forums in 1996.
By 1998, many of you may remember, I was part of another online ministry called the Christian Apologetics Bookshelf. Somewhere in that time period, someone suggested to me that I might try submitting an article to the Christian Research Journal (CRJ), the leading apologetics magazine. My memory is somewhat dim on the chronic details; I seem to recall that by then I had already been approached by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International to write something for their journal.
(By the way, Dr. Sarfati has remained a good friend ever since; we’ve even had him over for dinner, and once took him to Outback Steakhouse, where we had a ball passing him off as a sort of ambassadorial inspector who was visiting from Australia to make sure that the chain was “properly representing” his home nation. The look on the server’s face when Dr. Sarfati whipped out his Australian drivers’ license was priceless.)
I had some hesitation about submitting something to CRJ, and hedged for a bit. The stellar names who wrote for that august publication were an imposing lot, and I had very little thought that I would pass their rigorous standards for publication. Still, I was encouraged by various parties to give it a try, and I did so. The result was an article titled, “Celsus Strikes Again,” which was all about how the ancient pagan critic Celsus made the same arguments that modern critics of Christianity do. I packaged it up, sent it off, and waited.
I didn’t hear back.
Naturally, I assumed that my work simply hadn’t passed editorial muster, and I moved on to other things, including more work for CMI.
Then, sometime I think in early 2000, I got a phone call. On the other end was Elliot Miller, the editor of the Journal. I remember very little of the exact words of our conversation, but what it amounted to was, they had found my article in a file somewhere, and wanted to publish it. The few exact words I do remember were me saying, “I can’t believe this is happening” – more than once. And in turn, Elliot Miller replying: “It’s happening.” And indeed it did.
After that it was a sort of snowball effect. Bob Passantino, who was then associated with CRI, called me about a year later after reading my analysis of Dennis MacDonald’s Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. He wanted me to create a condensed version for the Journal. That was the first time someone there called me to write something for them.
The next two articles were my own submissions: A look at popular Mormon apologetics works (like those of Barry Bickmore) and a discussion of how evangelism in the book of Acts was actually a form of apologetics. One assignment shortly after that was a particularly sad one. Bob Passantino called me again, asking me to do an article on The DaVinci Code. He passed away soon thereafter, and as far as I know, I’m the last person he called to give a writing assignment.
From there it went on with an eclectic mix of submissions and assignments: Several book reviews, a few “departmental” articles, and several “feature-length” articles. My memory of most of them, at this later date, is fairly dim, such that I can re-read them today and not even recall writing them. Tekton readers will recognize some of the topics as related to favorite themes of mine: E.g., an article on how to deal with people who suffered from “the Dunning effect”; on the question of Hitler’s religious beliefs; a review of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes; an article on how “inerrancy” is to be defined, and a review of the Zeitgeist movie.
(That last one is the butt of a special joke among friends of mine. I had pledged, at one time, to never watch the Zeitgeist movie, and Nick Peters, my junior ministry partner, along with his friend David Sorrell, started a running gag asking when I would review the Zeitgeist movie. When I finally did watch it, in order to write the article for CRJ, the terms of the joke changed, but the joke itself didn’t.)
CRI also made use of my knowledge in other, more specialized areas. In 2005, knowing that I had worked for many years in the Florida prison system, they asked me to do an article on religious movements in prisons. In 2011, I used my background in library science to compose an article which in many ways I consider my favorite and most technical: it was about how the Internet affects the human brain, and how this relates to the performance of apologetics. Also in 2011, I submitted an article that was all about how to create online videos.
It was about that time, in 2011, that something first occurred to me. I had been averaging between 2-3 articles for CRI each year, and it made me curious as to whether anyone else had kept that kind of pace with them. So I started with the contents of the magazine from 1978 (when it was still called “Forward” magazine), counting the number of articles attributed to each author, excluding anyone who was an editor.
Much to my surprise, I was on pace to become CRI’s second-most prolific non-editorial writer within a few years. And now, with the publication of an article in the latest issue, titled “Jephthah’s Bloodless Sacrifice,” that is exactly what has happened. Formally, I have now authored enough articles for CRI to pass James White and say, of this category, and with the same humility that puts God in first place: “I am second.”
I say this, again, with a certain amount of humble trepidation, much like those on that personal testimony website. It was an unexpected privilege to find myself in this position, and I will forever be grateful to Elliot Miller, as well as Melanie Cogdill (the managing editor at the Journal) and Hank Hanegraaff for making this possible. I never expected to get that first article published; and even after it was published, I certainly never expected to receive any more assignments. To be at this stage, now, is a surprise of such magnitude that I find myself repeating that same phrase I pronounced to Elliot Miller: “I can’t believe this is happening.” It is. But I still can’t believe it even as I have that milestone issue lying on the desk beside me.
Elliot in particular has been a special blessing to my wife and I, and you’ll note that I refer to him by his first name, as though to a friend. That is exactly what he and his wife Corinne are to us. A few years back, they moved to the southern part of Florida, and proposed a get-together in person. Much to our delight, we found in them a couple of kindred spirits who appreciated many of the same things we do: Nature walks, museums, and zoos, for example; and naturally, we talk shop about apologetics. We now have an established biannual ritual where we visit one another in our respective hometowns: They come see us in May, we go see them in December. The friendship of the Millers has been, in many ways, the most treasured reward that has come of my work with CRI, and I look forward to many more years of serving that publication and visiting with our special brother and sister in faith.
And so this post is offered to memorialize this happy occasion, which I never in my wildest dreams expected to happen. At the same time I’m celebrating this milestone, though, there’s also a crueler and darker mechanism at work which it is time I said a great deal more about, though I alluded to it back in February. Someone has outright made it his purpose to destroy all that Tekton has worked for, and he’s not in the least ashamed of his tactics. I’ll save that, though, for another posting; and that one posting, when I make it, will be the only one to be made on the Ticker in coming weeks until I get certain matters resolved.
In close…I guess you’re wondering, if I’m second, who’s first, and when will I catch up to them? If you’re interested, I’ll tell you by email who’s first; regardless, I won’t ever catch up to him, nor have I made it my goal to do so. The man in first place has been writing for CRI for ten years longer than I have, and he’s got more the double the writing credits with them. I won’t even try to catch up to him, and I actually prefer to be “second” behind a far more august name like his.
After all, my original expectation, back in that yesteryear of 1998, was that I’d never be on that list at all – and who am I to ask for more than this great blessing that I now have?