Editors are known to happily toil away in relative anonymity, but for maybe a name in small print on the publication’s masthead.
Joel Belz, founder of the WORLD News Group, who passed away last week at the age of 91, was one such man – but he was responsible for a lot more than simply writing and editing the widely respected Christian magazine.
An Iowa native, Belz first worked with the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, a missions-minded organization committed to evangelizing all around the world. He taught English at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and then helped found a Christian school.
The turning point in Belz’s life came in 1977 when he accepted the role of editing The Presbyterian Journal, a theologically conservative publication that helped birth the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).
It was in the midst of his work with the Journal that Belz decided to start a Christian newspaper for children. It’s God’s World was intended to help young people develop a Christian worldview. In addition to covering regular news, the eight page paper included puzzles and even an etymology feature. Before long, circulation surpassed The Presbyterian Journal – and adults began clamoring for a similar publication.
Enter WORLD Magazine.
“For the next five years, the goal was survival,” recalled Belz. “Could we publish one more edition? Could we pay one more week’s postage bills? Could we meet salaries one more time?”
Belz’s board weren’t convinced and cancelled the magazine after only 13 months.
The dream was dead – until it wasn’t.
In a surprising and sudden about-face, The Presbyterian Journal Board voted to shut down the Journal – and relaunched WORLD in April of 1987. It still wasn’t any overnight success, but Belz gave it everything he had and even included his family, who volunteered in the office. Because the family only had one car, his wife Carol would bring the kids on the bus.
Over the years, WORLD gained in popularity and reputation, growing exponentially thanks to the launch of a website and then a podcast. As some prominent Christian publications liberalized and compromised, Belz’s WORLD could be trusted to remain faithful to God’s sacred and unwavering Word.
“There is a perverse assumption now dominant among evangelicals that feelings, attitudes, and relationships are all more important than truth,” Belz recently wrote.
“Unity is higher priority than orthodoxy. Division, even for truth’s sake, becomes the most offensive of heresies.”
Joel Belz would go on to say that he didn’t point out theological error in someone’s actions because he hated them – but because he loved them.
I had the privilege of attending Joel’s 75th birthday celebration in North Carolina, a delightful evening punctuated by testimonies affirming one of God’s good men. He was lauded as a husband, father, grandfather, a sound theologian, a terrific writer, a sharp editor and a gentleman. He certainly was all that, but especially a faithful, loyal, quiet and studious man of the Christian faith who didn’t point people to himself, but to the one man who changed his life and could change theirs – Jesus Christ.
Joel Belz is survived by his wife, Carol, along with their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. But he is also survived by WORLD Magazine, the publication he founded, and which has educated, edified, enlightened, challenged, and witnessed to countless millions.
Never forget the Lord will use who He wishes, when He wishes, and how He wishes. We’re all blessed that He chose to use Joel Belz’s gifts to bless us how and when He did.
Image credit: WORLD Magazine.