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by Elesha Coffman

A Long Ride on the Mainline

100 Years of The Christian Century.

Like most American success stories, The Christian Century had a humble beginning. According to the oft-retold official account, the intelligent but chronically insolvent periodical was about to go under in 1908. Impending mortgage foreclosure sent it to the sheriff's auction block, where Charles Clayton Morrison, a Disciples of Christ minister and editorial neophyte, redeemed it with a scraped-together payment of $1,500.

So began the saga of man and magazine, together rising to prominence over the next four decades. When Morrison stepped down as editor in June 1947, both Newsweek and Time recapped his career at the top of their religion sections. Newsweek called Morrison a "fiery, forceful man" who had increased from 600 to 40,000 the circulation of "the most important organ of Protestant opinion in the world today." Time lauded the Century as "Protestantism's most vigorous voice" and "a beacon of level-headedness in a fog of misty thinking." [1] Historians' praise for the Century has been just as lavish; Robert Moats Miller, for example, ranks it as "Protestantism's most influential periodical" and Donald Meyer commends it for "keeping the passion vital in the ranks of the ministry." Nearly 3,000 libraries keep the Century on hand for research and leisure reading, more than any other religious magazine can boast.

The centennial of the Century's rebirth marks a fine occasion to revisit its history. Because the Century's story in so many ways parallels that of the Protestant mainline, the narrative becomes a tale of two establishments, each shaping the other. The Century and the mainline grew up together. They speak the same language. Neither is easy to define, but they shed light on each other, illuminating a sector of American religion that—with some notable exceptions—is oddly ignored by contemporary scholarship.

Martin Marty, a contributor to the Century for more than fifty years, once reflected, "The turn of the century in American religion came not in ...

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