I'm old enough to remember The Plain Truth in its heyday.
Most latter-day COG publications attempt to clone the formula. UCG's Good News is probably the most successful while LCG's Tomorrow's World is just plain ugly; even a rank amateur could improve the design with a judicious choice of fonts. But the truth - dare one say the plain truth - is that time has moved on, and so has the art of magazine design, and the slavish imitators have been left far behind the cutting edge.
There is some irony then in the fact that the most imaginative packaging of the the COG product you'll find between two covers comes from one of the most conservative groups: the Church of God, an International Community: the David Hulme sect.
Vision is without doubt the most impressive periodical from the COG stable. Produced quarterly, it's imaginative, visual, and even looks good on a coffee table.
And - almost unbelievably - the content is not too bad either. There is a veneer of learning, the intimation of competence, the suggestion of sophistication. If you didn't know better you might deduce that this was a mildly scholarly journal.
The latest issue - an anthology - reinforces that impression. But a casual reader will be left wondering: why is it so hard to get hard data on the unknown church behind the journal, and why does publisher Hulme ostentatiously wear his PhD on his sleeve? Insecure?
The more informed reader will have questions too: the carefully cultivated image and seemingly balanced journalism hardly mesh with a group that restricts outsiders from attending its services and appears to hide information from non-members.
In a catch-22 situation, Vision has marketed itself over the heads of most prospective members. Who is it trying to impress? Or, given the structural nature of the beast, who is Hulme trying to impress? Most restrictive religious sects actively avoid any dalliance with the world of scholarship.
The Plain Truth, even at the height of its influence and circulation, was an ad man's confection: a monument to form over substance. Far more effectively than the clones, Vision is The Plain Truth of the twenty-first century. Its Achilles' heel may simply be that it is addressing the wrong audience.