In a handwritten note dated June 15, 1956, titled "Goals for next 20 years," Ken Taylor listed two things under Spiritual Goals: "Digest magazine" and "Needed: Further vision (ideas) to be praying about and interesting people in."
Taylor's hands-on work with magazines began in 1943 while editing Child Evangelism Fellowship. He followed up by becoming editor of His magazine, published by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, a job he considered a "joy." Then, after a short stretch at Good News Publishers, Taylor was hired by Moody Bible Institute, where he became director of both Moody Press and Moody Literature Mission.
As his family grew, so did Taylor's children's book credits, such as My First Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. He used an "in-house" focus group—his own children—to help him ascertain whether the simply written Bible stories were understandable. Success! More than 50 years later, My First Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes still is a bestseller.
Creating a Living Bible
By 1955 Ken and his wife, Margaret, had eight children. Especially concerned with the older ones' ability to grasp biblical truths from the King James Version, Taylor began working on a paraphrase of Paul's epistles. He started his rewriting experiment with the book of In verse 4, the KJV reads: "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." Carefully studying each word, Taylor wrote: "As Christ's soldier do not let yourself become tied up in worldly affairs, for then you cannot satisfy the one who has enlisted you in his army."
When Taylor read the rewritten chapter to his family, he received immediate affirmation. For the next five years, from 1955 to 1960, the man who had struggled with reading and understanding the Bible himself as a boy made it come to life. Two days after Christmas in 1960, Taylor's gift to himself was jotted on a scrap of paper: "Finished final revision of paraphrase … with praise to the Lord." He called it Living Letters.
When publishing companies Taylor contacted over the next year did not share his passion, he prayerfully formed his own company—Tyndale House Pub-lishers—launched with 2,000 copies of the book.
The first months' sales consisted mostly of a copy here, a copy there. In the fall of 1963, Billy Graham used Living Letters as his first-ever book giveaway for people watching his televised crusade. Graham's organization had asked to print 50,000 copies, but ended up sending out 600,000 to fill the requests.
The rest is publishing history. Taylor continued paraphrasing, unveiling The Living Bible in 1971 which went on to sell more than 40 million copies.
That 'digest magazine' idea
That spring of 1962 when Tyndale House was formed, Taylor's thoughts returned to that "digest magazine" idea. A chance meeting with friend and editor Ted Miller, who'd been thinking along the same lines, seemed a go-ahead from God. The two unveiled The Christian Reader magazine the following year.
Initially the magazine was sold through bookstores and to individual subscribers, growing the circulation to 20,000. But Taylor had a different goal. In January 1965, in a cold garage, he told God all the reasons he should boost the circulation to 100,000 subscribers.
An hour after the prayer, Taylor received a phone call from Bob Hawkins, a bookstore owner in Portland. Hawkins thought that the magazine could do well if it was offered as a bulk subscription to churches. Within a year, using Hawkins's sales strategy, the goal of 100,000 copies was reached—and eventually exceeded.
In the succeeding decades, Tyndale House Publishers focused on publishing Bibles and Christian books. So in April 1992, The Christian Reader was sold to Christianity Today, Inc., where it eventually became Today's Christian.
In 1989, enlisting the expertise of 90 evangelical scholars, Ken Taylor began the revision of The Living Bible because "even good things can be improved." In 1996, 25 years after publishing the familiar green Living Bible bestseller, the Holy Bible, New Living Translation was introduced. Soon after, in an effort to further its textual precision without sacrificing its readability, another team of scholarly reviewers devoted eight years to fine-tune the New Living Translation to "communicate God's word powerfully to all who read it." It was one of those "further vision[ary] ideas" that Ken Taylor prayed about, in hopes of interesting people—a goal well accomplished.
Bonne Steffen is an associate editor with Tyndale House Publishers and a former editor of The Christian Reader.
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