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Secular or spiritual?

In 1986, I decided—or perhaps I de-sided—for WORLD


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Surely you can forgive an octogenarian some moments of reflection.

My brother Andrew constructed a wonderful wall display in our WORLD offices that shows all the covers of every issue of WORLD Magazine we’ve ever published. I overheard him tell a group of readers who were visiting, “This took weeks of work!”

I thought, “Took me decades.”

I’m grateful for him and for that display. Looking at it, I found myself drawn to the year 1986, our sputtering start, when we published the first 13 issues before taking a break and relaunching relatively stronger and wiser the next year.

I’m also going back and rereading. My colleagues are reading with me, and we all think some of our old work together deserves a second life. So together, we’re choosing some of my old columns we’ve agreed are worth sharing again here.

For the first in what I hope will be a helpful series, I’d like to go back to that momentous year of 1986 and reintroduce a piece I wrote that sought to explain the world­view that has animated this project we know as WORLD.

AN ATRIUM IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE architectural distinctives.

There’s something about getting rid of the ceiling and lifting my eyes that prompts my heart to soar. Some people like wide open spaces. I like wide open entryways and tall hotel lobbies.

To some people, of course, an atrium is a waste. Just think of all the square feet of space that could be used or rented out if it hadn’t been squandered on a high ceiling.

I am thankful—and I believe all Christians should be thankful—that the late Francis A. Schaeffer didn’t think that way. Although I never talked to him about the subject, I have a hunch Francis Schaeffer probably liked atriums.

For, you see, Schaeffer spent a great deal of his life as a one-man wrecking crew, tearing out the ceiling that had existed over the room where most Christians lived when he was young. By tearing out that ceiling, Schaeffer enlarged the room in significant ways. He stretched the vision of thousands of Christians.

Schaeffer’s ideas were by no means brand new. But he stated them at a time when a student generation was ready to hear them. And, especially when you consider how complex a man Schaeffer was, he stated the ideas with remarkable simplicity and clarity.

Francis Schaeffer spent a great deal of his life as a one-man wrecking crew.

Schaeffer explained that for the Christian there is no “upstairs” and no “downstairs.” We don’t deal with God in a loft at the top of a ladder, and then come down to deal with the real world. For Schaeffer, it was all one room. And the God Schaeffer served and witnessed to filled that room.

That concept, of course, is central to the mission of WORLD. Some people wonder: Is this magazine secular or spiritual? Can’t decide which side it wants to come down on? The best answer is that I have decided—or perhaps I’ve de-sided. There aren’t two sides. Just as there aren’t two floors. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

So what is this awkwardness our readers feel? Let me confess: I feel it too. It’s one thing to say that it’s all one room. But when we’ve been taught otherwise by centuries of tradition, habit, and practice, we don’t immediately know how to treat world news as if it all belongs to the Lord. We can’t, for example, afford to have the philosophers and the theologians upstairs while the scientists and math people gather in a little groups below.

Developing a Christian worldview is hard work and never an all-at-once achievement. We need each other to do it well—a getting-acquainted process that is made easier when we all are in one room.

—This column was published in WORLD, April 14, 1986, “Schaeffer: A one-man wrecking crew”


Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.

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