|Editor||R. R. Reno|
|First issue||March 1990|
|Company||Institute on Religion and Public Life|
|Based in||New York City|
First Things (FT) is an ecumenical and conservative 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.
First Things was founded in March 1990 by Richard John Neuhaus, a 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.
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".
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, who converted from Judaism 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 have all worked as executive or senior editors. At present there are two senior editors: Matthew Schmitz and Julia Yost. Schmitz and Yost married in January 2018.
Contributors usually represent traditional Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant (especially Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian), and Jewish viewpoints.
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 philosopher, diplomat, and author 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.
Beginning in 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, wrote a regular column named Litvak at Large. In the August/September 2021 issue, Carmy's column was taken over by Liel Leibovitz, writing under a column named Leibovitz 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 editorial 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 (Latter-day Saint), 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, president of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation and former Chief Academic Officer and Senior Vice-President 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.