Friday Questions: An Interview with Doug Koop
Doug Koop is one of my Canadian heroes. For the past 25 years he’s served as editor of ChristianWeek, a Canadian Christian paper. He recently announced that he would be stepping down. I really appreciate the contribution Doug has made to the Canadian church, and I know I’m going to miss his work at ChristianWeek.
Doug was kind enough to allow me to interview him.
You’ve had a unique view on the Canadian Christian scene. What encourages you?
I’ve been reporting on Christian faith and life in Canada for 25 years, so I’ve had time to observe a number of encouraging developments.
Certainly we’ve seen a maturing of many evangelical institutions. The entire field of Christian higher education, for example, is much more sophisticated than it was a couple of decades ago. Many types of academic programs are now available in more places for credits that are officially recognized. Countless charities and congregations are also delivering services with greater professionalism and accountability.
Signs of increasing cooperation among Christians of many stripes also encourage me. In one very visible expression, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches currently communicate and collaborate with a level of comfort unthinkable in the 1980s. At least six denominations are full members of both groups. Denominational distinctives are significantly less divisive than in times past. Joint worship services and other demonstrations of practical unity are bringing worshipers together in many cities and towns. Ecumenism used to be a dirty word among conservative Protestants, but evangelicals are taking a lead in many of these efforts.
I’m also happy to report that the missional impulse is alive and well. While many formerly effective methods of evangelism and outreach are disappearing, the people of God in Canada are discovering countless new ways to engage the world in the name of Jesus. Lives are being transformed; neighbourhoods are being positively influenced; the entire world is being touched through the mission of Canadian Christians.
What concerns you?
The usual stuff: Christians caught up in materialism, consumerism and spiritual indifference. Nominalism, if you will. Perhaps I highlight these things because I struggle with them myself. Way too many church people show up on Sundays to get fix of religion that creates very few ripples in the rest of our lives. It’s as though church is the premium to pay for a celestial insurance policy, a dose of spiritual medicine in order to extend our comfort zone into eternity.
I’m also concerned about arguments. More specifically, I’m troubled by the polarizing tenor of public discourse—especially when church people are the agitators. It’s one thing to stand forthrightly for one’s convictions; it’s quite another to be belligerently assertive. Some of our efforts to retain elements of the Judeo-Christian ethic in the fabric of Canadian society have reinforced the largely unwarranted reputation of evangelicalism as cadre of angry social conservatives. Just about every year some situation prompts me to write an editorial lamenting or lambasting this reality.
Concerns? One more is the decline of biblical literacy, even among churchgoers. I’m constantly astounded that people who claim to value Scripture so highly seem to actually read so selectively, so infrequently and so condescendingly. Some of us hew to it like a talisman; others pretty well ignore it; some study it without devotion; some are piously literal to the point of absurdity. The irony is that no generation has had easier access to more good resources to help engage the Bible for all its worth. It’s worth a whole lot more than we manage to derive from it.
Twenty-five years is a long time to serve as editor. What are some of the ways you’ve seen yourself change?
Some years ago I bought an image a young photographer had captured on a river in Africa. It’s a picture of an eager-eyed young boy at the front of a canoe, peering inquisitively to see what’s around the next bend. At the back of the boat, slightly out of focus, is a serene looking man calmly using his paddle to keep their craft on course.
For many years at ChristianWeek, I was that young boy, bursting with curiosity about every new story that crossed my desk—keen, enthusiastic, raring to go. As time passed, however, I began to realize that most news is not really new. Things keep happening, of course, but patterns keep unfolding like bends in the river. And once one has traveled that way a few times, it’s easier to predict the course of events. So, increasingly I’ve identified with the man at the back, working to keep things on course without getting too wrapped up each time the “news” strikes someone else as new.
I hope this doesn’t too jaded, although that has sometimes been a temptation. It’s more like my experience of Christmas. I don’t get anywhere near as excited as I did when I was a child, but I love the season nonetheless.
I’ve also seen my vocational interests morph. I came to ChristianWeek with a desire to be a writer. That passion still burns strong, but journalism is no longer my favorite milieu. These days I’m more interested in producing longer works, both fiction and non-fiction. And I’ve learned that I have gifts and desire to provide spiritual and pastoral care.
I’ve noticed that you keep an eye out for new talent. What qualities do you look out for?
The first thing I look for is ability. Not everyone who wants to publish articles is capable of producing the quality of work that serves readers well. But many people do have a desire to write and are able to do so. I love connecting with them. Encouraging people with ability, providing a platform for writers to develop their skills, is one of the great joys of editing.
The second thing I look for is availability. Throughout the years I’ve worked with many writers, some for just a single article or a short season. The list of those who’ve contributed frequently is still rather long, but significantly shorter. We have needed people capable of being on site at events or well-connected enough to get the right story. We usually managed to find the right writer at the right time. The availability of reporters has been a factor in news selection.
I should also add that affordability is a factor. ChristianWeek has never had the dollars to maintain professional writers at professional rates. I am grateful that so many of our contributors have been so generous with their time and talent, and that they have often been very patient waiting for their honoraria to arrive.
Could you share how we can pray for you as you transition from ChristianWeek?
Well, I need to find a job. I am looking for an occupation that enables me to use my abilities both as a writer, and as a spiritual care provider. In the process, I do need to earn a living. Please pray that I connect with an opportunity that allows me to pursue my vocational passion and that supplies for my material needs. That’s top of my list just now.