Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember David C. Cook, his ministry, and his legacy.

It is the 11th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Hey! I’m back! Welcome to the Christian History Almanac. I’ve been on vacation with the family for the past week, visiting Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon specifically. Well, we aren’t convinced it’s real, but it was amazing. Shoutout to the asparagus fries at Oakmont.

Anyone involved in any broad Christian ministry over the past few decades, especially children’s ministry, would know the name “David C. Cook.” Few names are as synonymous with children’s ministry as Cook, who was the father of Sunday School curricula from the time of his “Our Sunday School Quarterly” in 1875 and the David C. Cook Publishing Co., which has been amongst the premier names in children’s ministry publications since then.

His work would highlight a new ministry that developed in the 19th century—one that is so central to many ministries today but was a novelty in his day.

The invention of “Sunday School” and surrounding ministries followed the so-called “invention of childhood,” seen by some as a 19th-century response to the industrial revolution and the newfound status of “children” who were no longer expected to work as soon as they could walk and talk and contribute to the family.

By the 1870s, laws and programs regulating child labor and requiring education paralleled the rise of David Cook. He was born to Pamala and Ezra in 1850 in New York. Ezra developed what was then called “preacher’s throat” and had to retire from the pulpit. He eventually moved west near Wheaton, Illinois, where he would open a publishing house.

Young David would work alongside his father, learning the trade but also fostering a workplace that implemented “Christian principles” of service and charity—the Cooks wanted to give the world a “Christian example” of doing business as opposed to the cutthroat practices in the growing business sector.

This is an early example of the new “para church” movement, with employees doing so-called “secular” work (setting the type, changing the ink, mailing catalogs) for “ministerial” purposes. This would unleash a brand new world in employee classification and the definition of “ministry.”

David was especially concerned with the plight of Chicago youth in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Hearing of displaced people, churches, and children, David and his wife set about creating a catalog of Sunday school materials designed for those youth suffering the effects of the fire. The popularity of these works revealed a market for cross-denominational materials for young people, and the Cook printing press and employees were primed to corner the market.

David II was raised in the press and amidst the business and would take over from David Sr., who died in 1927. Under David Jr the business stayed the course- trying to stay on top even amidst the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the late 20s and 30s. The company continued to flourish in the interwar years and was then passed on to David Cook III, the next generation to lead the company- Cook III, grandson to Cook Senior, was born on the 11th of June in 1911.

Born on this side of the century, the divide would make a difference for the new young CEO of the company who took over after his father died in 1932. Cook III would not learn primarily as an apprentice but was sent to school and then college and business school. When he took over, the question was- can the old model of a “Christian business” work?  

Cook III would reorganize workers and stop being known for better pay, better work conditions, and a spirit of ministry. Cook III would claim that “Religion . . . is our business” and that religion would require sacrifice. Some workers would seek unions, but what would that mean for “Christian” work? Was there a “Christian” worker category in “ministry” that might avail itself of outside assistance with labor questions? The Supreme Court had developed “ministerial exemptions,” and the question arose about the compatibility of those and general practices for “non-ministerial” work. I can tell you, it’s been a hot potato in Christian, legal, and business circles and practices nonetheless reflective of a secular nation with deep religious convictions- and it would make sense that much of this would be highlighted by the behemoth of Christian publishing- especially in the world of the newly formed “children’s” and “youth ministry”- Today we remember the whole kit and caboodle on the anniversary of the birth of the 3rd David Cook- the chief at the helm for the majority of the 20th century he was born on this day in 1912.


 The last word for today is from 1 Peter: 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who lives closer to a Culver’s than me- a restaurant from Wisconsin without any in California- we enjoyed a butter burger on our trip- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who saw the Grand Canyon, and it made him want to play Red Dead Redemption II- a video game, because the physical/digital divide has been fully blurred- I’m  Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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