An Interview with John Maddex
Dn. Michael Hyatt · April 17, 2009
Ancient Faith Radio founder and Conciliar Media CEO John Maddex visits Dn. Michael's Sunday School class and Dn. Michael interviews him about his journey to Orthodoxy from a long career in evangelical Christian radio.
Deacon Michael Hyatt: The National Religious Broadcaster’s meeting is going on in Nashville. So, John Maddex, who is the founder of Ancient Faith Radio, and the new CEO of Conciliar Media Ministries, is in town for that. And he told me he was going to come to church this morning, and we’re going to go to lunch afterwards on the chairman of the board of Conciliar Media Ministries. So I thought, it would be kind of fun to interview him and for you to hear his story and some of what of Ancient Faith is doing and Conciliar Media Ministries. And what he sees is the future of Orthodox media. So, without further ado, John come up and join us. Delighted you’re here this morning.
John Maddex: Thank you. Good to be here.
Dn. Michael: Give us a little bit about your background and your own spiritual journey.
John: Sure. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad worked for the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for most of my early growing-up years. From the time I was four until the time I was 15, we hung around the halls of Moody Bible Institute. I even sang on the radio as a four year old back in those days on the KYB Club which stood for “Know Your Bible” with Aunt Theresa.
Dn. Michael: Is that recording still available?
John: Actually, it is, and you’ll never get your hands on it. [laughter] And so, I have fond memories of my early growing up, and we were in church every Sunday. It was typically a Baptist church, mostly the General Association of Regular Baptists or the Baptist General Conference and very active at Addison St. Baptist Church in Chicago near Wrigley Field. And had a brother and a sister. My dad was the Sunday School superintendent, the choir director, and chairman of the deacon board. I mean, just about every imaginable office. And so, just steeped in the church and the evangelical expression of that church.
Dn. Michael: Wow. That’s amazing. And then, you went to college and studied what?
John: Well, I actually—when I was graduating from high school, entered into the Air National Guard. This was during the Vietnam era. I graduated in ‘67 from high school, so I went right into the service and came back and started on-the-job training at the local Christian radio station in Springfield. So, I didn’t go to college and get a degree. I just started working in radio, learning as I go. I started off at WEEC in Springfield, Ohio as a staff announcer and served there for four years and ended as the assistant to the station manager. And then, I contacted Moody to see if they had any openings at their owned-and-operated radio stations. At that time, they had the Chicago station WMBI, and they also had a station in Cleveland, Ohio and East Moline, Illinois. And so, I applied for a job at Moody and was contacted by the station manager in Cleveland to come up for an interview. It was about three hours north of our home in Springfield. So, in June of 1973, Tonya, my wife, and our then two-year-old son Bobby moved up to Cleveland, and I began my Moody career.
Dn. Michael: Moody, for people that might not know what Moody Broadcasting is, how would you describe that in a sentence or two?
John: Well yes, it’s primarily a school. The Moody Bible Institute, some have called it the “West Point of Christian Service.” I mean, they have just a long and venerable reputation of training missionaries and pastors. Half of the missionary pilots in the world were trained at the Moody Bible Institute.
Dn. Michael: Hm, I didn’t know that.
John: They were a three-year school for many years, and then they—a diploma school—and they became a four-year accredited school issuing degrees. And they, early on back in 1926, got started in radio. They were the second Christian radio station ever to exist, and started adding stations then in the 50’s and 60’s, ended up, as of today, they have about 35 stations. So, back in 1973, when I began at Moody, there were just three stations and I was a staff announcer, and then became the assistant station manager four years later and the station manager in 1979. So we were in the Cleveland area for nine years.
Dn. Michael: And then if you fast forward in your career, you eventually were responsible all of broadcasting, all the stations?
John: Yes, the stations grew, and in 1982, I was asked to come to Chicago to oversee the group of stations and at that point, there were nine of them. And so, I became the manager of the managers, and during that time period, the network grew. We added stations all over the country, and when I left—I left Moody for three years back in 1986. At that point, we had 15 stations. I got an opportunity to work for Focus on the Family in California at the time, Dr. James Dobson. And I was there for three years as the administrative director of broadcasting. I had three departments: the media department, which was responsible for purchasing airtime for the radio program, the production department which actually produced and distributed the program, and the cassette duplicating department. Back then, it was before CDs. Remember cassettes?
Dn. Michael: I remember that technology.
John: Well, they had a huge cassette ministry, as you can imagine.
Dn. Michael: I remember that.
John: They had these duplicators and sending out thousands and thousands of cassettes. So that was my department as well. So, I was there for three years, and then Moody asked me if I would consider coming back to Chicago in 1989, and by that time, they were up to 20 stations. And so, I actually came back and worked with Moody then until I left Moody a year and a half ago.
Dn. Michael: OK. What was it that captivated your imagination about Christian broadcasting and the power of radio? I assume, you know, that this was a choice to be in this career and there was something about it that sparked your imagination. What was that?
John: It really was a choice, and I felt then and still feel that it is the most effective tool for evangelism that there is. Even more than television, no offense Joel, but radio is an intensely personal media. Everybody has a radio. Whether you’re driving down in a Mercedes or a beat-up Volkswagen, you’ve got a radio in the car. And you listen to the radio in usually a personal setting. And so, sometimes in the privacy of your car or in the bedroom, you can be touched by a message of hope. And we found it a very effective way to evangelize and to help people grow in their faith. And not to spin ahead too far, but spinning ahead to after I became Orthodox, there was just this desire to use that same tool to talk about and spread the good news of the Ancient Christian Faith.
Dn. Michael: But your career is going along, great trajectory, you have all this responsibility, you’re at a very prestigious Christian network, and something happened a few years ago. And I don’t know—and I can’t remember enough about your story, if there was some unrest or if it was Bobby, or how this transpired, but what happened?
John: Yeah, it is an interesting story because it does involve my children, my adult children. Our son, Bobby, is 37 and our daughter Molly is 34. And Molly went to the Moody Bible Institute after graduating from high school. Bobby went to Wheaton, and they both graduated from those respective schools. Molly began dating a young man at Moody by the name of Troy. Very fine, respectful young man, but she came home one day and said Mom and Dad, Troy has been kind of captivated by a very different church than what we’re used to. He learned about it in a Church history class at Moody. The professor told them that, well, the oldest Christian Church is the Orthodox Church. Chicago has a lot of Orthodox Churches; you may want to visit one just to see what it’s like. Well, Troy did visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral, OCA Cathedral, in Chicago and never turned back, and we found out probably six months after he had started attending that he was also taking our precious daughter with him. And she came home to let us know about this, and we were obviously very concerned about it.
Dn. Michael: Less than enthusiastic?
John: Far, far less. And at that point, you need to understand, I was pretty steeped in five-point Calvinism. I had just really gotten into Reformation theology and had been reading all kinds of books, and I was just absolutely convinced that the TULIP existed for the purpose of expressing five-point Calvinism.
Dn. Michael: Wow. I didn’t know this about you.
John: Yes. So, when she came home and talked about the Orthodox Church, we started just grilling her with questions, and the poor thing didn’t—she’s not into theology, she said well, I don’t know what they believe about that, and I said, do they believe you can lose your salvation? Well, I don’t know, I don’t know what they believe? Do they believe that we’re not saved? And, no, Daddy, I know they wouldn’t believe that! And so, tears and everything else, and it went on for really several months because she would come home and go all I know is these people are very serious about their faith. So, they broke up for a time, and so we were kind of relieved.
Dn. Michael: You thought it was the answer to your prayers.
John: I probably thought it was the answer to our prayer.
Dn. Michael: Little did you know.
John: But then they got back together and got serious, and after she graduated from Moody, he actually came over to the house and did the old-fashioned thing of asking for her hand in marriage. And I said Troy, you are a wonderful young man, we know you love our daughter, we think you’d make a marvelous husband for our daughter, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m not thrilled with your choice of church. And to think about our grandchildren being brought up in this church does not excite me at all. And he was very respectful, and he said would you be willing to read some things and learn more about it?
Dn. Michael: This is probably the most important question anybody can ask their non-Orthodox friend.
John: [laughs] Yes, and of course, I’m thinking, this is perfect because I’ll read his stuff, but then I’ll give him my stuff, and we’ll get this boy back on the right track. Well, it began kind of with a built-in bias against, of course, everything I was reading. And so, I was just looking for problems and my own proof-texts—I would go in to see well, what do they say about that?
Dn. Michael: What books were you reading? Just a couple.
John: Well, OK. The first one he gave me, obviously, was “Becoming Orthodox”, Father Peter Gillquist, which I thought was a very interesting story. It looked like it was a genuine search by a serious group of men who wanted to find the early Church. But I was thinking I’ve been there too. We spent some years in the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies, and of course, we were told that that was the expression of the early Church. That’s how the early Church actually worshipped. They had communion every Sunday, it was very informal, people would give out a hymn, or give out a prayer, and so, we thought, well we’ve been there, we know what the early Church did. But obviously, in that book, we found that it was quite a bit different. So, I ended up at the end of that book at least respecting the journey and the serious nature of the journey.
Dn. Michael: So you had a shift?
John: I had a little bit of a shift, not much. A little bit of a shift. And then he recommended that I read “For the Life of the World”, Father Alexander Schmemann. Well, of course, if you’ve read that book that kind of changes everything because suddenly you are forced to view the world in a totally different light through the lens of the Incarnation and the Sacraments. And I started just making more and more of a shift, and finally Troy got up enough nerve to say why don’t you come to church with us? I’d never been to an Orthodox Church before.
Dn. Michael: What was your first thought when he asked that question?
John: That I probably owed that to him. It’s kind of like criticizing a book you haven’t read.
Dn. Michael: So, for the sake of intellectual honesty?
John: Exactly. So, we went to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago which you need to understand, it was a very ornate and ethnic and the “full deal” of Orthodox worship. It was the bishop’s cathedral, and he was there that day. [laughter] And so, my first impression as we were walking in, “OK, well, first of all, we’re late. Things have already started.” [laughter]
Dn. Michael: Little did you know, it never stopped. [laughter]
John: Right. So, I was a little upset with Troy that he gave us the wrong time. But he assured me, no, liturgy starts at 9. And so then, what I’m hearing is somebody up in the corner just seeing how fast he can repeat the phrase “Lord have mercy.” And it was “Lordhavemercy, Lordhavemercy, Lordhavemercy, Lordhavemercy, Lordhavemercy…” And I said does this guy never stop? What is the point of this? And then that phrase was just repeated throughout the service, and I said I get it, but hasn’t the Lord already shown us mercy? I’m coming from a Reformed standpoint where you don’t need to ask over and over again to be saved. Once saved, always saved, the mercy has been shown to you, get over it. [laughter] So, that was a little off-putting, and then they sang everything, and they didn’t get the Lord’s Prayer right because they stopped too soon and had some unusual ending that wasn’t in Scripture that I didn’t see in Scripture. Where is “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever amen?” So, that was a little disturbing.
I said, well, at least I can look forward to the sermon. And at the end of the gospel reading, this elderly priest that didn’t speak very good English—I found out later that this venerable priest was actually persecuted for his faith in Russia and had survived the huge amount of persecution, escaped from Russia, and one of the holiest men I’ve ever met, but of course, I’m sitting in judgment of his preaching skills. And he preached for maybe five minutes, and I didn’t understand because he was very soft spoken and the accent was so strong, I couldn’t understand. So I thought, well that was a loss. [laughter]
So, we all went to brunch afterwards and Bobby and Molly, my son and daughter—Bobby and Paige, I’m sorry, my son and daughter-in-law, went with us that morning. So we’re all sitting around the breakfast table at this restaurant, and I’m loaded for bear because I’ve seen, you’ve asked me to see, I saw and now let’s talk. And I said Troy, I don’t get it. How in the world can you justify this? Where was the preaching, nobody had a Bible. They sang the epistle, they sang the gospel, and I think I know what they were singing, but I couldn’t quite understand because this very deep-bassed deacon started real low and ended up real loud at the end. And so, I looked around at the table because I figured I’d get some support from my Wheaton-grad son Bobby, and I said Bobby, jump in here, anytime! [laughter]
Dn. Michael: I’m drowning, help me.
John: And so Bobby says well, Dad, you need to know that Paige and I have been going actually with Molly and Troy, and we feel kind of drawn to this. [laughter] And so, I knew I’d get some help from Tonya, my wife, and I said honey, what do you have to say about this? You’re kind of quiet over here. And she said, “all I know is that I think I have worshipped for the first time in my life this morning.”
Dn. Michael: Wow.
John: And I said this is impossible! [laughter]
Dn. Michael: You’re surrounded.
John: What are you all seeing that I’m not seeing? And so it was really the old Chuck Swindoll book “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back”—this was more like two steps forward, ten steps back, and I was just not interested at all after that experience and was very upset with my family for being duped by this. But I continued to read and Tonya was also reading at the same time, and so we started…
Dn. Michael: Did you keep reading just because your family was interested?
John: I felt I had to. I had to get a handle on this. And so, I decided I have been determining my theological perspective kind of based on the wrong pre-suppositions. It was based on 1) what did the Moody Bible Institute believe, what was the doctrinal position of Moody? 2) What did my father believe, because I kept checking things when I would be challenged by something I didn’t really understand, I would keep checking it against either Moody or my dad because oh, they’d probably say this about that.
Dn. Michael: So, a sort of tradition?
John: Yeah. And I really realized that that’s really not the right way to go because I’m starting here, moving backwards to see when did they depart from what I believe now? Wouldn’t the better way to go is to start from the beginning and move forward to see was there any consistency in the first 100 years of the Church, what about the first 200 years? And I had never really read a Church history book to get a handle on what did happen in those early centuries, and I was given a book called “Evangelical is not Enough” by Thomas Howard. It’s a very small book, but it really was the turning point for me because he demonstrated very clearly that the very early Church was absolutely sacramental. You just can’t get around it. There is no non-sacramental expression, period, in the first 1500 years of the church. And I didn’t care too much about 1200, 1300, 1400, but I was very interested in 200, 300, 400 to find out—that’s the early Church. And if they are sacramental and I’m not, why am I not?
And it occurred to me, and I even got kind of angry about this, someone changed the rules because they were sacramental all of this time. At some point someone decided we’re not sacramental anymore. Who made that decision and what was it based on? Was it based on Sola Scriptura? Well, they had the Bible too. Even if you understand, as is true, that the Bible wasn’t completed until the councils in the early Church, they’re still trying to decide what goes in, what goes out, OK, go past that. After they had the Bible and everybody believed it, they were still sacramental. So I started asking some of my theological friends at Moody in the faculty, well, why aren’t we sacramental? “Well, we don’t think the Bible teaches that.” And I was thinking well, but everybody else was sacramental before us. It seems to me that it’s only been in the last 400 years or so that there’s been this shift and even that, we’re far different today than they were in Luther and Calvin’s day. They were sacramental. It seems like it was after that that somebody made a decision to change it. Who did that? And nobody had a good answer for me.
Dn. Michael: So, at this point, you’re really starting to open up? There’s a shift.
John: There’s a shift because my foundation has been shaken, and it was that decision to go back and move forward instead of start forward and go backwards.
Dn. Michael: Very interesting. Did you visit the church again?
John: Actually, no, but Troy called me one day, and he said Father Peter Gillquist is going to be speaking at another Orthodox Church nearby. It was All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church on the northwest side of Chicago, and I’ll go with you if you’ll go. So by this time I had read enough Church history that I said I can’t deny that there’s something here, so I did go, and Tonya went with me. So here’s Father Peter Gillquist with his Study Bible under his arm talking like an evangelical, and it was an expression and a way of communicating that I was far more accustomed to. And I started meeting people at All Saints who were former evangelicals, which 99% of them are. And well, where did you go to school: I’m a Wheaton grad, I’m a Trinity grad, oh I went to Moody. You went to Moody?!
And so, I started meeting and talking to people who had been on the journey, and it was before Father Pat Rearden came to be the priest, and there was an interim priest there who—it was Palm Sunday and we had been going for about a month, and he was talking about now next Sunday is Pascha and be sure to bring your Easter baskets and bring your red-colored eggs, and we’ll bless the Easter baskets with holy water, and we’ll have a nice little celebration, you know, with the eggs and everything. And so, I’m starting to sweat. And on the way home, I said Tonya, Easter baskets, holy water, red eggs, what are we doing here? [laughter] And Tonya, bless her heart, literally tears started coming down her eyes and she said “John, if this isn’t it, nothing is.”
Dn. Michael: Wow.
John: We might as well just give up.
Dn. Michael: So she was there.
John: She was absolutely there. And so, this is now Palm Sunday. We did not go to Pascha, we did not go anywhere for the entire summer. We thought maybe we could find a conservative expression of the Episcopal Church, we had heard about the Reformed Episcopal Church, so I started doing research because I loved the liturgy by that time, but everything else was really just disturbing to me. And we just didn’t find anything. So the next thing I know, I got an email from a friend at All Saints that said, hey we got a new priest, Father Pat Rearden, he’s an editor of Touchstone Magazine, I think you might like to meet him. So, I wrote back and I said, John, I have heard of Father Pat, I would like to meet him. I’m just not sure we’re there yet. How long can you audit this course? [laughter]
And next thing I know, I got an email back from Father Pat himself saying hi, I wanted to introduce myself, I’m Pat Rearden and I hear you’ve been here before but stopped coming. I saw your question about how long can you audit this course. John, Orthodoxy is in no hurry. Come and enjoy, learn, stay as long as you want. No pressure. So we did go back and we met Father Pat, and long story short, we started inviting Father Pat and Denise into our home, and I just grilled him with all of my questions, and this man has forgotten more Scripture than I have ever learned in my life.
Dn. Michael: He is amazing.
John: And he just absolutely amazed us with what he knew about Scripture and history and had the answers to our questions that we were looking for. So then we were ready, and so we said Father Pat, we would like to be chrismated. And he kind of looked at us and said, not yet.
Dn. Michael: Really?
John: I thought what?! [laughter] What do you mean not yet? And he said, well, let me ask you a question. Well, I had said at one point, “I don’t understand why I can’t take communion.” He said, “I know.” I said, “do you believe that I am a Christian?” And he said, “of course I do.” And I said, “is this the Lord’s Table or this your table?” And he said, “well it’s the Lord’s Table”, and I said “well, why won’t you give me communion?” And he said, “what do you believe about that communion? Do you believe that it is truly the body and blood of Christ?” And I said, “well, not exactly.” And then he said, “well we’re not in communion are we?”
And so until I had come to the point where I could realize that somehow, mystically—I didn’t have to explain it, I didn’t have to make it chemically change, but somehow God, through his Holy Spirit, came down upon these gifts and made this cup the precious Blood of his Christ and made this bread the precious Body of his Christ, changing them by his Holy Spirit. It wasn’t the priest doing magical things, it was the Holy Spirit coming down upon those gifts and making the change. That was the point that I needed to get beyond and just rejoice now that we have been received. It was 10 years ago, and the most wonderful, wonderful decision and experience we’ve ever made.
Dn. Michael: Wow.
John: And so we had started Ancient Faith Radio in our home, kind of a hobby. We had not really developed any podcasts. It was just streaming. And when I found myself with time on my hands in April of ‘07, we started developing the podcasts, and it just kind of grew from there to where now today we’ve got nearly 40 podcasts and the two stations. And it’s just been a wonderful, wonderful journey.
Dn. Michael: Well, it’s an amazing ministry. There are people that are sitting in this room just as I look around that are here today because of the ministry of Ancient Faith Radio and because of listening to those podcasts. And I know some people in this room, my wife to name one, can’t go a day without listening to her podcast. And it’s been incredible, just kind of the theological education and spiritual inspiration that she’s gotten from that. It’s an extraordinary ministry. And you’ve really seen it explode too, I think, in the last—well since you started, but more particularly in the last year.
John: Yeah, it has, and I think as people start to learn about it and then they put it on their blogs or they link to it on their parish website, you just get this viral marketing going on, and we literally have this—what Chris Anderson calls this long tail of niche programming that it’s growing, where now in December alone, we had 239,000 downloads of our audio podcasts.
Dn. Michael: That’s amazing.
John: That’s not 239,000 people because one person could download 50 programs, but it is a lot of downloads, and it just keeps growing, and we’re hearing from all over the world. We just got a gift in the mail, a seven-dollar gift from Russia two days ago.
Dn. Michael: Really? That’s fantastic.
John: And you think about the person putting their credit card down, probably at a 10-dollar gift or something, and by the time it came to us, it was seven dollars, and we are just so amazed at the stories that we’re hearing from all over the world.
Dn. Michael: John, we’re about out of time, but I just would like to ask. If somebody’s new to Ancient Faith Radio and they’re hearing this for the first time or maybe they’ve stumbled on the website, what should they do first? If you want to get involved in podcasts which sound a little scary to people with no technical background, what do you do?
John: Well, you know, we have a little button on the left side that asks the question “New to Orthodoxy?” And if they were to click on that button, it will actually take them to a series of teachings that you did here in this class talking about “what I wish I knew”, and the things that would help me in my first experience of Orthodox worship. It’s a very great place to start because it will prepare for you for what is happening, so it won’t be just totally strange when you first go. And then, as you explore around, you’ll just start to see a number of episodes on things like Sola Scriptura. What does the Orthodox Church teach about the Bible? And you’ll start to see we have a very high view of the Bible, but we think it is part of our great Tradition. It’s not opposed, it doesn’t contradict the great Tradition, but it is in the great Tradition, as are a lot of things. So, I think you’ll find, as you browse around, just about any topic you’re interested in, whether you’re a homemaker, a mother, or whether you are a theologian that’s looking for a different perspective.
Dn. Michael: This is the place to start.
John: This is a good place to start.
Dn. Michael: Yeah, it really is. Well, we don’t have time to talk about it this morning, but John is also the new CEO for Conciliar Media Ministries which is Conciliar Press plus Ancient Faith, and I think both of us believe—I serve on the board there, but believe there’s a huge future for the combination of those two media together, and what can be accomplished, and I would say we’re pretty optimistic about the future of Orthodoxy in America and about the role that Orthodox media is going to play in that transformation.
John: We really are. The opportunities are great because I think there is an openness that didn’t exist before into all things ancient. And so we’re looking for those titles, those books that will actually find their way into a Lifeway Christian Bookstore or a family bookstore that would maybe be on the endcap that would maybe give you a perspective that you haven’t seen before, from the ancient church.
Dn. Michael: Well, thank you very much for being with us this morning.
John: Thank you. Great to be here.
Dn. Michael: Always great to talk to you, and I wish we had—we could do this for a series, there’s so much more that we could say.
John: Well, thank you for your great podcast, from this class “At the Intersection of East and West.” We are getting great response to that, and I mean, the downloads—I just looked at the January downloads and you had something like 12,000 downloads just from this podcast.
Dn. Michael: Wow.
John: So when you look around at maybe 20 people, 15 people here, please know that there’s far more people actually attending this class with you.
Dn. Michael: That’s astonishing. That scares me to death. [laughter] John, thank you for being with us.
John: Thank you.