03 December 2014

Reflections on Christian Publishing

I've only been in the industry four years, but I continue to ponder what Christian publishing is.

Here are a few reflections I jotted down this week. 

1. We live in an age of blushing abundance of biblical and theological and churchly resources. Jonathan Edwards died with 300 books in his personal library; most of us surpassed that by the time we finished school. Not only in print but also, now, digitally, for a modest price, or often for free, I can learn about any point of doctrine or any passage of the Bible or any ethical issue or any point of church history or any theological development easily and promptly.

2. This embarrassment of riches is both a great boon and a great challenge. It is a great boon because biblical and theological ignorance is now only a choice, not a necessity. Anyone can become an expert on anything—they need not travel to Rome or become a monk; all they have to do is get off Facebook and put down the remote. It is a great challenge because the richest are often the poorest: the millionaire lives off junk food and dies early, the pro athlete succumbs to substance abuse due to its sudden pervasive availability and torpedoes his career prematurely, the everyday Christian is overwhelmed at Barnes and Noble and stops reading anything at all, the budding scholar is paralyzed by the mass of secondary literature and retreats into hyper-specialization.

3. What is the calling of Christian publishers in this golden age of publishing? (By "Christian publishers" I have in mind, quite generally, publishing companies in North America and around the world, whether for-profit or non-profit, that are not only operated by regenerate believers but also seek to publish resources that promote Christian faith as defined, at the very least, by Nicea and other early Christian creeds.) The calling of Christian publishers at the present time is to be a steward—that is, neither to wipe our hands off and close up shop because there’s already so much out there, on the one hand, nor to get caught up in frantically pumping out more resources just for the sake of activity, on the other. Instead we are to wisely discern what is most needed and publish it in a beautiful way.

4. But what is most needed? Here is where different Christian publishers begin to diverge. Seems to me that what is most needed is that which will do the greatest good. And the greatest good in this miserable, exhausted world is Jesus Christ, the Friend of Sinners, and the good news of his reconciling work, through which the soul is delivered and sanity restored and peace descends and the entire created order is guaranteed eventual restoration. So what is most needed in Christian publishing is resources that give us that good news, not resources that dance around the periphery.

5. But this gospel, as Kuyper and Schaeffer and others have taught us so well, while about a very specific thing, speaks to everything. How I write an email is informed by the gospel. How I treat my kids, what I do with my money, how I handle my body, everything. Our entire lives are now under the lordship of Christ, and the entire created order will one day be restored to Eden 2.0. Conclusion: Christian publishing appropriately centers on the gospel, but produces resources on everything, from art to technology to physical disability to mathematics to sports. The gospel is the sun of a Christian publisher’s solar system—the blazing center, but also shedding light on all else. For us at Crossway that means publishing the Bible (the book that gives us the gospel in God's own words) and a host of solid books and other resources grounded in the Bible (books that communicate the gospel in various authors' words).

6. To come at things from a different angle: Christian publishing is doing a very specific thing: communicating heaven-sent truth. It is a truth industry. We are merchants with a ware, and this ware is not cell phones, or silverware, or paper, or contact lenses, or tractors, or vacations, or software, or shoes, but truth. Publishing is not even competing with preaching. Preachers are called to shepherd a specific congregation, to herald the gospel in the weekly event of pulpit proclamation. Christian publishers come alongside the local church and flood the believing community, both clergy and laity, with help in understanding truth. Christian publishing exists to take our perplexing, opaque lives and map those lives onto solid truth, making the opaque clear. It exists to enable sinners to make sense out of their lives; to bring truth to a truth-starved world, preeminently with the gospel and then to a thousand gospel-informed elements of life.

7. From yet another angle: God created language. In the beginning, God spoke. Then he made us in his image, as speaking creatures. Then Christ came as the Word. Language is built in to this universe; language is at the very heart of the meaning of the universe. And of humanity: we are word-creatures. Christian publishing exists because of this. We seek to supply small, boxy objects called books that give people coherent, organized words that help them coherently organize their world, around the Bible’s revelation of truth, and supremely around Christ.

8. Christian publishing, to be healthy, requires two things: healthy publishers and healthy authors. What is a healthy publisher? A publisher who functions essentially not out of desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian publishing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. What is a healthy author? An author who functions essentially not out of a desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian writing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. When an author driven by love partners with a publisher driven by love, that project will have the kiss of God upon it. Christian publishing is an act of love.

9. Christian publishers and authors must hold justification by faith alone before their eyes in all their work. Publishers must remember they are justified not by number of employees or high-profile authors or respect among literary agents or visibility at conferences or annual net sales. They are justified by Christ alone through faith alone. Their okayness, their "matter-ing," is entirely alien to them. And authors must remember they are not justified by copies sold or glowing endorsements or rave reviews or big advances, but Christ alone. They too draw their total (total) significance from heaven, not earth.

10. Just as with every human endeavor to lift up Christ and spread truth, so in faithful Christian publishing, Satan hates it. He will do what he can to mute our efforts. In the early church, Satan tried to stop the gospel first by inflation (an appeal to pride, Acts 3), then by persecution (the Jewish authorities, Acts 4), then by corruption (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5), then by distraction (squabbling widows, Acts 6). So too in Christian publishing, Satan would be delighted to inflate us when our books sell well, persecute us when we take a stand against (say) same-sex unions, corrupt us through immoral employees, or distract us by taking our eyes off the mission at hand. So one goal of Christian publishers, among others, is to infuriate Satan by publishing humbly, perseveringly, purely, and single-mindedly.

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