First Things is an ecumenical, conservative and, in some views, neoconservative religious journal aimed at "advanc[ing] a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society". The magazine, which focuses on theology, liturgy, church history, religious history, culture, education, society and politics, is inter-denominational and inter-religious, representing a broad intellectual tradition of Christian and Jewish critique of contemporary society.
Published by the New York-based Institute on Religion and Public Life (IRPL), First Things is published monthly, except for bi-monthly issues covering June/July and August/September. The journal's name is often abbreviated to FT.
First Things was founded in March 1990 by Richard John Neuhaus, a prominent clergyman, intellectual, writer and activist. He started the journal, along with some long-time friends and collaborators, after his connection with the Rockford Institute was severed. Neuhaus was ordained a Lutheran minister in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and was later affiliated to the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the American Lutheran Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, before converting to the Catholic Church in September 1990 and entering the priesthood in September 1991.
With a circulation of approximately 30,000 copies, FT is considered to be influential in its articulation of a broad Christian Ecumenism and erudite social and political conservatism. George Weigel, a long-time contributor and IRPL board member, wrote in Newsweek that, after its founding, the journal "quickly became, under [Neuhaus's] leadership and inspiration, the most important vehicle for exploring the tangled web of religion and society in the English-speaking world." Ross Douthat wrote that, through FT, Neuhaus demonstrated "that it was possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian".
|Editor||R. R. Reno|
|First issue||March 1990|
|Company||Institute on Religion and Public Life|
|Based in||New York City|
Richard John Neuhaus, the journal's editor-in-chief until his death in January 2009, wrote columns called "The Public Square" and "While We're At It". Three editors served under Neuhaus: James Nuechterlein, a Lutheran, from 1990 to 2004; Damon Linker, a Jew converted to Catholicism, from 2004 to 2005, when he left over disagreements with the editor-in-chief (he later published The Theocons, a book very critical of Neuhaus); Joseph Bottum, a Catholic, from 2005 to 2009.
After his death, Neuhaus was succeeded by Bottum, who had come back from The Weekly Standard. Bottum served through October 2010, when he was forced out after a controversy about the future and the funding of the magazine, and Nuechterlein returned from retirement to become interim editor. R. R. Reno, a professor of theology at Creighton University who had been involved with the magazine for over a decade and was a Catholic convert from the Episcopal Church, became the magazine's third editor in April 2011. David Blum, David P. Goldman, David Mills, Midge Decter (ad interim), and Mark Bauerlein were successively executive/senior editors. Since 2017 Bauerlein was backed up by two senior editors, Matthew Schmitz and Julia Yost, who married in January 2018.
Frequent contributors in the magazine's first year (1990) included Catholic jurist Mary Ann Glendon (later United States Ambassador to the Holy See), rabbi David Novak, Catholic theologian Michael Novak, Lutheran-turned-Catholic historian Robert Louis Wilken, Catholic scholar and papal biographer George Weigel, and Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilaender. Others appearing included Gary Bauer, William Bennett, Peter L. Berger, David Brooks, Robertson Davies, Avery Dulles (later Cardinal), Jean Bethke Elshtain, Robert P. George, Stanley Hauerwas, David Horowitz, Peter Leithart, Martin E. Marty, Ralph McInerny, Mark Noll, and Michael Wyschogrod.
Frequent contributors in recent years have included many of those writers, as well as Mark Bauerlein, bishop Charles J. Chaput, Mary Eberstadt, Anthony M. Esolen, Timothy George, David Bentley Hart, Peter Hitchens, Wilfred M. McClay, Robert Royal, Roger Scruton, Wesley J. Smith, and Carl Trueman.
Since May 2017 Shalom Carmy, an Orthodox rabbi teaching Jewish studies and philosophy at Yeshiva University (where he is Chair of Bible and Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva College and an affiliated scholar at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law) as well as editor of Tradition, has written a regular column named Litvak at large.
The magazine publishes articles every day in the Web Exclusives section of its website.
The journal is run by the board of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which is chaired by Robert Louis Wilken (who also serves as its president) and whose members include, among others, Mary Ann Glendon, Russell Hittinger, David Novak (vice president), and George Weigel, as of January 2018.
As briefly mentioned, similarly to Neuhaus, Wilken is a former Lutheran minister converted to the Catholic Church. The pair first met at the Lutheran Concordia College of Texas in 1953, became friends, graduated in 1955, and earned the Master of Divinity at Concordia Seminary in 1960.
Former members of the editoral board include neoconservatives Gertrude Himmelfarb and Peter L. Berger, who resigned in November 1996 amid "The End of Democracy?" controversy, and Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who resigned in February 2002 in protest with the journal's stance on the War on Terror. Both Berger, a Lutheran, and Hauerwas continued to publish articles in the journal also after their resignation from the editorial board.
The journal used to have an advisory council (appointed by the institute board). In mid 2017 it included, among others, neoconservative writer Midge Decter; historian Wilfred M. McClay; philosophers Hadley Arkes and Robert P. George; political scientist Timothy Fuller; Christian theologians or biblicists Gary A. Anderson (Methodist), Thomas Sieger Derr (Congregationslist), Timothy George (Baptist), Terryl Givens (Mormon), Chad Hatfield (Eastern Orthodox), Robert Jenson (Lutheran), Peter Leithart (Presbyterian), Cornelius Plantinga (Dutch Reformed), and Ephraim Radner (Anglican); Jewish scholars David G. Dalin and Eric Cohen, founding editor of The New Atlantis; physicist Stephen Barr; and Mark C. Henrie, chief academic officer of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Until his death in February 2017, the council included also theologian and writer Michael Novak, who, along with fellow Catholics Neuhaus and Weigel, was part of the so-called "neoconservative trinity", according to critics.
Former members of the council include Jean Bethke Elshtain, Ernest Fortin, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Suzanne Garment, Bruce C. Hafen, Carl F. H. Henry, Leonid Kishkovsky, Glenn Loury, George Marsden, Gilbert Meilaender (who still contributes to the journal), and Max Lynn Stackhouse.