Dec

19

2012

Kevin DeYoung|6:05 am CT

Some Thoughts on the State of Christian Publishing

Having spent several weeks trying to catch up on recent releases and thinking about the best books of the year, I thought I’d jot down a few reflections on the state of Christian publishing in general.

I’m not writing about sales trends or the rise of digital books. That’s not what I mean by the “state of Christian publishing.” I mean, what is Christian publishing doing well right now and where can it improve? No doubt, there are still scores of terrible books published by evangelical houses each year-horrible in style and worse in content. Thankfully, I don’t come across many of these books. But I do come across a lot of Christian books each year. Not only do I read many of them, as a blogger I get lots of free books from publishers. I also work with publishers from the inside as an author. So I do see a fair amount of what gets released in a given year.

With this limited, but not insignificant knowledge base, here are a few observations.

1. We have an embarrassment of theological riches in the English language. It’s simply astounding the books we can get by a click of the button on Amazon or WTS Books or CBD. And in recent years, we’ve witnessed an avalanche of “big books.” From Bavinck to Beale to Beeke there are brilliant books coming out every year-systematic theologies, biblical theologies, historical theologies. There is more good theology in some of these individual books than in many pastoral libraries. We should be thankful and get at least of few these big books.

2. I’ve been pleased to see fine dissertations having an opportunity to see the light of day. I included two in my list yesterday (Lister and Chapman). I’ve noticed several publishers (like Cascade, Reformation Heritage Books, and Crossway) are willing to give select dissertations a chance, even though the potential for profit is pretty small. I imagine most dissertations can’t be converted well for a broader audience, but as a pastor who doesn’t visit research libraries very often, I’m thankful for the readable research that can be made available in inexpensive paperbacks.

3. Cover designs are so much better than they used to be. But it can be hard to break out of familiar trends.

4. Too many books are derivative in nature. They quote the same books, cover the same ground, and say the same stuff. This is probably a problem in all of publishing. All I can speak to is the Christian world. Although we have more good books than ever before, I still see a lot of books (again, maybe my own?) that strike me as a poor man’s version of something Packer or Piper already said.

5. I’ve seen many books in the past few years that I would put in the category “Really good stuff, but I’m not sure it was book worthy.” These are books that might have been excellent sermons or terrific blog posts or could have been a wonderful long article, but a stand alone book they feel underwhelming.

6. Some topics continue to get a lot of attention (e.g., gospel, marriage, prayer, pastoral ministry, cultural engagement). But there is more important ground to cover. Personally, I’d like to see a deeply theological book about the nature of church unity. I’d like to see more careful “first principles” kind of thinking on politics and the relationship between church and state. I’d like to see someone publish (at a popular level) that go-to book on the doctrine of Scripture. I think we need a myriad of resources on homosexuality-medical, pastoral, legal, cultural, and apologetic.

But on the whole, I want this post to end on a positive note. We all owe Christian publishers a tremendous debt. Their is a business element do their work, but most in the industry consider publishing a ministry first and foremost. Take time to thank God for good publishing houses. Pray for their faithfulness and fidelity. Do what you can to support and encourage them. Think of how different we would be, how weaker our churches would be, how much less our discipleship and Bible study would be, without the Christian books we take for granted. After the Bible, the Spirit, and the body of Christ, has anything been more important in the history of the church than the printed page? Praise God we have more good pages around than ever before.

27 Comments

  1. For the go-to book on scripture, check out James White’s Scripture Alone. http://www.amazon.com/Scripture-Alone-Exploring-Authority-Authenticity/dp/0764220489

    Also, when you say unity of the church, do you mean the Universal church or the local?

  2. Each local church is a manifestation of the universal church, not a part of the universal church, so I’m not sure the distinction you’re raising is a real one, at least in terms of the NT’s way of treating its unity. That’s why the NT consistently calls each local body “the church” at that location rather than “a church” or “a part of the church”. The latter two expressions would be completely foreign to NT writers.

  3. Good post, Kevin. I feel like Christian apologetics hasn’t done as well publishing-wise as biblical theology or counseling in the recent past. Do you have a theory as to why this is?

  4. “I’d like to see a deeply theological book about the nature of church unity”

    Me too, brother. Me too. But when I wrote one I got yawns from the publishers (The Titus Mandate). John Armstrong recently published some books on unity: Your Church is too Small, and The Unity Factor (with Timothy George). Larry Osborne has written “The Unity Factor.” All of these books are important because they evidence the passionate desire for unity, even if we might not agree with all they say.

    In fairness publishers all work very hard to be responsible to publish books that not only meet their own criteria for acceptability but will keep their families fed. They too are fallible and must work within their own corporate cultures and changing economic pressures.

  5. Jeremy:

    “Each local church is a manifestation of the universal church, not a part of the universal church”

    Are you sure? Does that hold true for Laodicea: “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev 3:16)?

  6. Ted: Apparently, yes, since they’re addressed as “the church at Laodicea”. There are several ways to work that out theologically, involving different views of whether this spitting out is permanent, whether this manifestation of the church is going to be rejected as a manifestation of the church, whether this is potentiality being expressed as future tense that will not end up happening because they’re genuine saints and will repent (as the future-tense prediction in Jonah did not happen, because they repented), whether it is instead addressed to the present generation, which is the church, and a future generation will not be and will be spit out, and this is the warning to the present generation not to become that, whether the general address is to the believers there who are indeed gathered around the throne but the particular message of judgment is addressed to the majority there who are not believers, and so on. But it does seem as if Jesus is willing to call them “the church at Laodicea” rather than “the visible church at Laodicea who are not disciples” or something more precisely indicating that this is not an occurrence of the church.

  7. Jeremy,

    I’m talking about the church as it is represented in its various forms (Baptist, Presbyterian, RC, etc.) I want to know if Kevin is looking for a book that discusses working together in unity at that level, or church members of the same congregation living together in unity.

    Sure, the NT makes no distinction when talking about the two, but you’ve answered a question I didn’t have.

  8. But Jeremy, Jesus never threatens the universal church, saying, “I will spit you out of My mouth.”

    Quite the opposite.

  9. Tyler: Sorry, I think you can make a distinction there. I just don’t like the way of putting it that you used, one that’s fairly common but I think at odds with how the NT describes things. Your question makes sense, and hopefully Kevin will answer it.

    Ted: That is exactly what Hebrews teaches, according to a fairly common interpretation of the so-called “falling away” passages of Hebrews (that if memory serves is defended by Carson, Piper, Lane, Grudem, and I’m sure others, but I haven’t looked at the scholarship on those passages in a while). According to the view I have in mind (one that I think is correct), those passages speak of a problem that can arise for genuine believers, who because of their sin are, for all they know, in danger of having never been believers. Their current phenomenal experience is consistent with not having been saved. If they do end up persevering, then they were saved all along, but they cannot know this in their current stagnation in sin. If that’s right, then the warning is genuine, in a sense. Those who in their current state do not repent will be spit out. Those who do will not. I said in my previous comment that this is tied up in how potentiality-language works. There are those who refuse to tolerate potentiality language for something that God knows will not happen, but the Bible, in my view, does not restrict itself that way. And if my own interpretation of the Rev passage is right, then the message is directed toward every member of the church, who could find themselves exactly in that state of needing to be warned about being spit out. So I don’t see how this is a decisive argument against what seems to me to be the normal use of these expressions in the NT.

  10. Thanks for the article. I have noticed that most books on church health have been written by church planters. I wish there would be many more books written by men who are serving in a more traditional setting. The majority of churches that men pastor are declining. We need much more thought towards church renewal.

  11. [...] all the more important now that I realize my last blog post was on April 11.  But I was glad for this blog by Kevin Deyoung because his thoughts (as is so often the case) reflected some of my own. [...]

  12. Jeremy – warnings to individual believers – fine.

    But your original point was how each local church is a manifestation of the universal church. Not only does Rev. 3:16 undo that statement, but Rev. 3:1 does as well. My suggestion? Try reading ecclesia in 3:1 and 3:14 without the theological freight of the universal church – but perhaps in the sense of “gathering.”

    There is a place for “potentiality language” but you are overreaching to call it “normal,” a point your citation of the very difficult and challenging Hebrews warning passages makes admirably well. The language of potentiality needs clear markers in the context and are indeed evident in Hebrews. But these markers are lacking in Rev. 2-3. Jesus speaks to the churches exactly as they are, for it is He who walks among the lampstands with eyes of fire. He has no need to speak in potentialities.

    To take it one step further – the Hebrews passages are in keeping with one of that book’s themes – the reality of professing Christians leaving church (Heb. 3:13, 10:25). That reality is not stated in Revelation 2-3. It’s more like churches leaving Christ.

    We would be on firmer ground taking Christ’s future tense verbs in Rev. 2-3 as plain promises. When Jesus says, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne” (Rev 3:21) He doesn’t mean that those who overcome will potentially sit on a shared throne, but that they most certainly will indeed. I’m guessing you wouldn’t take Rev. 3:21 as potential.

    And if you don’t take 3:21′s future tense promise as potential but you do in 3:16 you have made yourself a judge over Christ. Imo it’s better that you to go back and re-examine your original statement about each local church being a manifestation of the universal church.

  13. A worthwhile post as year-end comes on.

    In several of the instances you cite, the weight of responsibility falls not on authors so much as it does on editors.

    If, as you say, too many evangelical books are _derivative_, surely there is an editorial failure to decline to publish duplicative material. An author is supposed to be able to demonstrate that the ground he proposes to plow has not been plowed before, or not plowed satisfactorily. Editorial teams that do not press for a demonstration of this distinctiveness are failing. The same, surely, is true of your concern that there are volumes which might have made good articles or blog-posts, but were not book-worthy. Again, this is about editorial judgment. Perhaps we see too little of this.

    It would also take editorial initiative to commission or to propose the writing of volumes on less-well-served topic-areas of the types you name.
    So, an extensive part of your plea here is, in effect, a plea for more visionary and incisive editorial direction.

  14. Pastor DeYoung,

    Thanks for your thoughts and sharing this with us. As someone who works for a publishing house, we greatly appreciate the input.

  15. > We have an embarrassment of theological riches in the English language.

    Many languages in this world don’t have a single verse of Scripture in their language. And for many people, even if their language does have, say, ONE Bible translation, they don’t have access to it.

    IMBALANCE!

    Love requires a shift in our priorities.

  16. Thank you so much. If I could add to the list, we need more books on the OT. It has been said by James White that it looks like evangelicals have left the OT to the liberals. Given the Peter Enns debacle, we need solid OT professors to write good books to educate us where the liberals are wrong. As a person who moderates some Christian pages, it feels like every time I go on-line, that inerrancy and sola scriptura are just seen as outdated, or even made up things that can’t be defended. We sorely need renewed writing and thinking on these issues. And I agree with what you said about resources on homosexuality. People need to know how to intelligently deal with this issue. I’m glad for books like A Queer Thing Happened To America, and The Bible and Homosexual Practice, but we need more pastoral and popular level books on the subject.

  17. Point 4 is absolutely correct. However, it is probably driven by the competition between publishers more than anything else.

  18. Jeremiah Ketchum

    I’d be curious to hear which books you thought belonged with point #5.

  19. [...] Some Thoughts on the State of Christian Publishing – Kevin DeYoung [...]

  20. [...] Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan since 2004.  Kevin blogs at the Gospel Coalition and this article is reprinted with his [...]

  21. [...] Kevin DeYoung on the state of Christian publishing: I do come across a lot of Christian books each year. Not only do I read many of them, as a blogger I get lots of free books from publishers. I also work with publishers from the inside as an author. So I do see a fair amount of what gets released in a given year. [...]

  22. [...] Some Thoughts on the State of Christian Publishing [...]

  23. I agree that there is a large percentage of books that had no business being books. They could have been amazing articles or blog posts. Maybe we should try and bring back the monthly/quarterly journal.

  24. Amen on the need for more resources on homosexuality. We are way behind on that one. Part of making up time on this pressing issue should include a simple yet diverse give-away book that is a collection of testimonies of homosexuals who have come to Christ, revealing an honest portrayal of their struggles and victories.

  25. I hear IVP UK are set to publish what looks set to be a great ‘go to’ book on the Bible in Spring 2013, from title’s something like ‘God Speaks’ … keep your eyes peeled. http://www.eden.co.uk/shop/god-speaks-4070040.html

  26. Thank you for this Pastor Kevin! I would also love to hear your thoughts on the state of Christian blogs/websites. Happy new year!

  27. [...] 31, 2013 By Nick Rynerson 1 CommentLast month, I read a helpful post from pastor Kevin DeYoung on the state of Christian publishing. The post itself was great, and I, like DeYoung, am thankful for the improved quality of (most) [...]

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