The First Evangelical Magazine
Before there was Christian History, there was Christian History.
Thomas Prince Sr. may have worried that the Great Awakening was fading when he and his son started the first evangelical magazine in 1743. But he wanted to publish a journal that would document the revival that had been spreading through the American colonies. Future generations could turn to the Christian History magazine and remember God’s faithfulness. He also hoped the periodical would keep the awakened community from fracturing, encourage recent converts, and perhaps even prompt a few new ones. Whether or not the Boston pastor succeeded in all his aims, we are indebted this progenitor of evangelical publishing, who inspired generations of journalist/historians to support the church by documenting the gospel’s progress.
“Where there had been no specifically evangelical periodical publication in the first forty years of the [eighteenth] century,” Susan [Durden] O’Brien observes, “by the last forty years such literature had become a normal means of communication and propagation for several denominations.”
Writing in the first issue, published on March 5, 1743, editor Thomas Prince Jr. told readers what they could expect. New England ministers would submit authentic, trustworthy accounts of the contemporary revival. He planned to publish extracts from the “most remarkable” revival stories in history. He solicited revival narratives from ministers in England and Scotland. And he excerpted letters between pastors from various locales, anywhere from Scotland to Georgia. This correspondence provided readers with the most reliable, recent news from the awakening’s front lines.
The first seven issues of the weekly magazine shared news from the contemporary Kilsyth revival in Scotland. “As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country: So Solomon observed in his day; and so we find it in ours,” Prince wrote in his editor’s preface. Indeed, revival leaders thrived on exchanging mutually encouraging reports across the Atlantic. They also exchanged strategies for defending the awakening. Like his allies in America, Scottish minister James Robe attacked the revival’s critics head-on. It’s not clear how many critics read this pro-revival magazine, but Robe gave them something to chew on. Critics regarded the crowds as deluded by the Devil, so Robe asked how ministers should respond. The crowds were approaching ministers confessing their immoral behavior and asking, “What must I do to be saved?” Should they turn the crowds away, telling them the Devil makes them see their sin as offensive to God? Or should they explain that Satan leads them to inquire about the state of their souls and seek relief from Christ? Of course, such a response would be cruel and ridiculous, Robe implied.
Prince ceased publication in 1745. But the legacy of the Christian History endures in name and also in the spirit of bringing evangelicals together to testify about what the Lord has done.
“Journals like Prince’s brought international evangelicalism to an important new stage,” Mark Noll writes in The Rise of Evangelicalism. “Revivalistic Calvinism was becoming a public matter, and in so doing was beginning to blur its boundaries with others in the English-speaking world who were uncertain about Calvinism abut nonetheless dedicated to revival. Evangelical self-consciousness increased measurably as articles from magazines were circulated, read publicly and reprinted in other papers.”