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Behind the scenes: the editorial cast and crew of RP

When my class did job shadowing for a couple days, it wasn’t hard for me to answer what I’m interested in. If you were to stop by my house almost anytime, you’d find me in my room, behind my laptop, working on a story. Fiction writing enthralled me when I was just four years old, and I’ve been writing ever since. So who did I want to follow around for two days to experience what it’s like to work in their field? I quickly scribbled out writing/editing as the first thing on my paper.

I got the opportunity to learn about writing and editing at the office of Mark Penninga, the executive director of RP and also my uncle. I showed up that first morning eager to see what he would be able to show and tell me about his work.

Now if I’m not writing, I’m probably watching and analyzing films. I’ve seen over 45 hours of The Hobbit behind-the-scenes footage, which is why you won’t be surprised when I compare Reformed Perspective to the behind-the-scenes of a movie.

So what really goes on behind the scenes at Reformed Perspective? Who are the editing cast and crew? During my job shadowing experience, I got to conduct some interviews and dig a little deeper into the answer to those questions.

It all began in 1982

Jon Dykstra is the editor of RP. The organization was started in 1982 as a monthly magazine and relied on subscriptions to stay afloat, printing about 1,500 copies of each issue. Much has changed since then, but the mission remains the same: “to explore what God’s up to anywhere and everywhere,” explains Jon.

While others have been part of the crew for a year or two, Jon joined in 1999, back when the magazine sometimes still received hand-written submissions. Both easy-going and spirited, he is one of only two full-time workers at the magazine. He started out as a part-time editor, but his passion for the project and increased workload led him to where he is today.

While there’s lots of variety in his job, he mainly edits other people’s articles and often writes book reviews from his home office in Lynden, WA. For fifteen years he was the sole full-time magazine staff member (talk about tiring!) yet he enjoys his work, although maybe not the overflow of emails he deals with every day. “Words have such flavors,” he explains, “that when you’re writing someone and you’re not talking to them, there’s a lot of different ways they can misunderstand what you’re saying.”

Words do have flavor. Jon is a big fan of wearing shirts with interesting pictures or phrases on them, such as a saying to defend the unborn, to get the conversation going.

For over 23 years, he has been riding the RP roller-coaster of ups and downs, but the pressing need for articles written from a Reformed angle and the great opportunities with RP kept him motivated. Also, “It’s just fun … God is powerful, He’s gracious, and He’s just fun,” says Jon.

His experience has led him to give this insightful advice for aspiring writers/editors: Appreciate getting beat up (find someone who is willing to critique you), be an observant listener, it’s about stealing (imitating) from the best, and finally, write, write, and write some more!

Big changes; same mission

Mark Penninga is the executive director of Reformed Perspective. He’s filled with dedication and passion for the mission of RP. He joined the organization when it was struggling financially, coming in with ideas on how to get the magazine back on its feet. Now, RP prints about 10,400 copies each issue and is available not only as a magazine, but as a website, podcasts, videos, and more. The concept of being online helps fulfill the idea of being a light to the world (Matt. 5:14).

He has plenty of thoughtful advice for those who are into writing and editing, such as: Writing is a tool, meant to fill a need and to serve a bigger purpose. As Christians, that purpose should be an expression of love for our neighbor and for God; we have “a message of love … writing is a means to communicate that hope.” When motivated by a purpose, your writing will show more passion, conviction, and meaning. Don’t expect to get it right on the first try, rather, keep at it. “Try, try, and try again,” he says. Turn off your distractions and focus on writing.

A phenomenal amount of work goes into writing articles for RP. Some of the articles are submitted by people like you and me, while most are written by the crew. Imagine sitting behind a desk for hours, researching by means of the Internet, books, and phone calls, to create an accurate article from, as you can probably guess, a Reformed perspective. As I am writing this, my uncle is sitting in the room next to me, typing away. He’s in his cozy office in Smithers, BC, sipping a warm cup of tea from a large “Reformed Perspective” mug. Gentle strains of music float through the air, a mix of worship songs and background piano. Every once in a while he takes a break to gaze out of the large window at the snow-dusted peaks of Hudson Bay Mountain, enjoying the afternoon sunlight streaming through the glass.

It takes a team

But Mark and Jon aren’t the only ones breaking a sweat for the company. Marty Van Driel balances his full-time job as the CEO for a trucking business in Bellingham, WA, with being the assistant editor for RP. According to Marty, “the greatest joy is when it’s done.” I think most writers can testify to that.

Marty loves telling stories to his grandkids, and says he especially loves telling stories in a way that relates to how we can serve God as Reformed Christians.

To ambitious writers like myself, Marty has two pieces of advice: Writers write. As he phrases it, don’t get “stuck in a brain fog.” Discipline is important. Set a goal to write every workday and then stick with that goal. His second piece of advice is this: Keep yourself grounded in God’s Word. There is nothing more important than the Bible and it’s crucial to keep this in mind.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3: 23-24).

About a year ago, Jan Broersma from Langley, BC, joined the team at RP. Markings of red and blue cover her papers as she circles punctuation errors and notes details to doublecheck. She is the warm, friendly copy-editor for RP. Copy-editors focus on the technical, like tone, grammar, and factual correctness. Jan has always enjoyed writing, and decided to pursue a B.A. in English with some Creative Writing after high school, and then worked as a writer and editor before having a family. When her youngest child started Kindergarten, she had more time on her hands, spoke to Mark, and was able to get a job working part-time for RP. She loves the variety of the job.

Here is her advice to aspiring writers/editors: explore professional writing programs at college if you can, and if writing is what you love to do and is a talent God has given you, then it’s worth pursuing. Trust God will guide you.


After a peek behind the scenes of Reformed Perspective, I’ve realized it has come a long way since it first started. The only way that is possible is through generous donations and a hard-working group of people. The editorial team alone is composed of four dedicated individuals each using their unique, God-given talents to praise His name.

So open up that magazine on the coffee table and you can learn so much about God, His kingdom, and how we, as stewards, are to live.

And… cut!

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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Media bias

A call for Christian journalists: an interview (of sorts) with Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky has been many things – the Editor-in-Chief of World magazine, a journalism professor, the author of more than 20 books, and a baseball fanatic. Two of those books lay out his radical notions concerning journalism, on how it used to be a Christian enterprise, and how it can be again. This is an "interview" with those two books, and the text in bold are his words as they are found in Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of American News Media and Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism. **** JON DYKSTRA: Let’s start with the title of your first journalism book. What does Prodigal Press refer to? MARVIN OLASKY: The title refers to the relationship that today’s secular press has with the Christian journalism of yesteryear. Though few know it, American secular journalism is the wayward son of Christianity. JD: Do you mean newspapers used to be Christian? MO: Yes, indeed. For example, the New York Times was founded in 1851 by Henry Raymond, a Bible-believing Presbyterian. Throughout the City of New York there was at one time fifty-two magazines and newspapers that called themselves Christian. JD: A Christian New York Times? That is pretty hard to believe. MO: It was a great Christian paper! It became known for its accurate news coverage and for its exposure in 1871 of both political corruption (the “Tweed Ring”) and abortion practices. A reading of the New York Times in the mid-1870s shows that editors and reporters wanted to glorify God by making a difference in this world. JD: The 1800s seemed to be a good time for Christian journalism. Is that when it all started? MO: Oh, it started much earlier than that. You could even say that Luke was one of the first journalists. At that time published news was what authorities wanted people to know. The Acta Diurna, a handwritten news sheet posted in the Roman forum and copied by scribes for transmission throughout the empire, emphasized governmental decrees but also gained readership by posting gladiatorial results and news of other popular events. Julius Caesar used the Acta to attack some of his opponents in the Roman senate – but there could be no criticism of Caesar….The Bible, with its emphasis on truth-telling – Luke (1:3-4 NIV) wrote that he personally had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” so that Theophilus would “know the certainty of the things you have been taught” – was unique in ancient times. New Testament writers comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. JD: But if journalism had a Christian origin, what happened to change things? Most journalism today could hardly be called Christian. MO: There were a number of reasons for the change. First newspapers started shying away from tough stories. Evil unfit for breakfast table discussion or considered unfit to print was ignored and thereby tolerated. Several generations later it was embraced. More importantly, just as Christianity was being attacked by ideas like evolution and materialism, Christianity in North America underwent a period of revivalism that emphasized individualism. Many were saved thankfully, but this emphasis on personal faith did not stress the importance of a Christian worldview. So instead of confronting all problems from a biblical perspective, newspapers pushed Christianity to the sidelines. Furthermore, many Christians began to believe that the general culture inevitably would become worse and worse. They thought that little could be done to stay the downward drift. Christian publications should cover church news, they thought, and ignore the rest of the world. JD: So instead of responding to these attacks, Christian journalists just retreated? MO: Exactly. JD: When did this shift take place? MO: It’s hard to put an exact date to it, but by the 1890s things were underway and by the 1900s journalism had turned rather vicious under the leadership of men like William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. JD: But weren’t Hearst and Pulitzer giants in the newspaper industry? MO: Yes they were, but you wouldn’t want to get on their bad sides. Hearst, for example, was the first journalistic leader to assault regularly those who stood in his path. When Hearst could not get the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904, he called Judge Alton Parker, the party’s nominee, a “living, breathing cockroach from under the sink.”  JD: Nice. Well, if we’ve lost our way, how can we make journalism Christian again? MO: For too long Christians have contented themselves with singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” all the while forgetting that a fortress was an offensive as well as defensive weapon: From it soldiers could make sorties. We have to go out boldly and engage culture, and contrast our Truth with their opinion. JD: But don’t we already have a number of Christian columnists who do just that? MO: We have columnists, but not many journalists.  We need to have people covering the day-to-day news from a biblical perspective. Too often Christian newspapers fill their pages with warmed over sermons rather than realistic stories of successful independent schools or corrupted churches and thereby miss an opportunity to teach boldness. We need to confront culture boldly! JD: Boldness is the key then? MO: Well…no. Boldness alone won’t do it. In fact, none of this will make much difference unless Christian communities view journalism as a vital calling and Christian journalists as ministers worthy of spiritual and economic support. The picture of Marvin Olasky has been modified from one found here, and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. A version of this article first appeared in the March 2008 issue....