Former EPA President Paul Fromer Dies

Paul Fromer, president of the Evangelical Press Association from 1967-1969, died Sunday, Dec. 9. Fromer edited InterVarsity's "HIS" magazine from 1960 to 1971. He served on the faculty at Wheaton College from 1972 to 1998. He was deputy editor of Christianity Today from 1979 to 1988. The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by telephone March 7, 1997.

Q: Was EPA still meeting with NAE at that time?

Fromer: No, we copied the NAE statement of faith. There were still people in EPA who had been involved in the founding, or almost the founding. Larry Ward…. Norm Rohrer didn’t come in until later; he worked with Larry a lot. Russ Hitt was around then, I can’t say if he was around at the founding or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Russ was very involved. He is a past president. Mel Larson was around yet. They were all there. Joe Bayly was the president the first year that I went.

Q: How did EPA change in the years you were involved with it?

Fromer: There has become more emphasis on the ruling council and less on discussion among the members at the annual meeting than there used to be. It was very much a kind of Swiss democracy in the 1960s, and if the board wanted to do something it always went to the convention, and people would speak their mind.

It was very much a free time. EPA was always pretty much a mail-order operation. By having the conventions so involved it kept the smaller magazines involved with it. They didn’t feel the big magazines or the board was walking off with it. It wasn’t that the board took it to the convention just to get ideas, but it really went to get approval.

We incorporated in the late ’60s and said we had to do voting by individuals, because we didn’t want the IRS to consider us to be a guild. We wanted them to give us tax status so we could get gifts. But we agreed among ourselves that we would have one vote to a magazine.

Q: You mentioned that you came to HIS magazine with no real journalistic background, and I understand it was common for people producing evangelical magazines to have a seminary background but no publications training. How has that changed?

Fromer: What it has done in some cases is to go over and lay in the other ditch. Whereas you had many people with theological training and pastoral backgrounds in the ’50s, in the ’80s you wound up with people who had journalistic backgrounds, but very thin Bible and theology training. Now there are a lot more journalists without training in the Bible around EPA than there ever were in the 1960s.

They tried to remedy that in the late ’60s with the Wheaton Graduate School. You had to take both journalism and Bible, but they didn’t get enough people signing up for it, so they pretty well cut out a majority of the Bible courses.

Q: What effect do you think that change has had on EPA magazines?

Fromer: I’m sure that some journalists will get help from various theologians in their organization so they can gain their insight and meld it into their overall mix, but the shots are being called by editors who are trained in something other than theology.

The result is that you tend to have articles that are less pointedly theological. The articles tend not to ground in the Scripture the points that they make. It’s astonishing if you look around how many evangelical magazines are self-consciously trying to see to it that they lay a foundation in Scripture for any claim that they make. There are not too many.

Q: Why do you suppose that change took place?

Fromer: I’m sure that it’s the pressure of producing magazines. It tends to put a premium on production skills, interviewing skills, and the skills of formal journalism. People, almost in self-defense, had to go get that training in formal journalism. As magazines became more photographic, more art-oriented, more appearance-oriented, you needed people trained in magazine production.

The kind of people who came to EPA changed. You had more people with less Bible training, and more people who had more journalistic training. There was a different feel to the organization. Some of the magazines still have basically ordained ministers working with them. It used to be that people with a flair for writing were asked to be editors. Now it’s people who have training in it.

In those days we had a lot of meetings at the conventions that were training in various journalistic practices, from art to production, to advertising and circulation, all of those things were very important, because most people did not have much training in that, so anybody who had that kind of training was asked to lead a session in that.