June 21, 2011
The Story Behind the Quiet Bestseller
For more than two generations, Quiet Time has been introducing readers to one of the most basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life—spending some time alone with God each day. Originally the piece was written by several campus staff members (called traveling secretaries) of the British Inter-Varsity movement.
A publishing program had developed in Britain to support the ministry at universities there. In the early 1940s the American InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) had begun distributing those British books to support the work of its campus staff members, before eventually starting a deliberate domestic publishing program in 1947. As the story is told in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.
Almost immediately IVCF felt the need to contextualize literature from England for the North American setting. In 1941 Stacey Woods, who by then was the first head of InterVarsity in the United States with the title General Secretary, wrote to his counterpart in England, Douglas Johnson, about editing the pamphlet Quiet Time (a guide to daily devotions) so it would conform more to the colloquial speech of the United States and Canada. Johnson was agreeable as long as the meaning was not changed.
But on December 1, 1941, Johnson wrote with some further thoughts. Apparently permission for a publisher in another country to produce an adaptation had resulted in a disappointing edition. So if any revision was to be made, Johnson asked that all names of original contributors be removed. “Perhaps,” he wrote Woods, “you do not realize the amount of horror with which some queer expressions from our friends overseas are received! We should not like any of our more aged contributors to fall dead on the spot if they saw that they had actually said ‘Gee, boys, I guess you sure oughta have a Q.T., come along now, yes siree’!” Perhaps these comments reveal something of the (usually friendly) sibling rivalry that was already forming between the two movements as well as British perspectives on America of that era.
Douglas Johnson, as well as the aged contributors, need not have feared. A very mild edit was undertaken. But as requested, the piece was published anonymously, and still is to this day.