Friday, October 20, 2006

CT's Top 50 Books and the future of evangelical publishing

Many of the articles from Christianity Today's 50th anniversary issue are now available online, including "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals." This past February, I was invited to submit my nominations of five books I thought should make the list, along with a brief comment why. Here are the picks I sent to CT, along with my commentary and reasons why:

The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen: Not only is it a contemporary spiritual classic, it also modeled the recovery of art as an avenue for reflection and meditation.

Knowing God, by J. I. Packer: Still one of the best examples of biblical theology in service to the church at large.

Basic Christianity, by John Stott: A compact classic and a model of elegance and brevity in apologetic argument.

In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon: Despite its weaknesses in application and trivialization into WWJD? bracelets and knickknacks, it still motivated generations of Christians to live out their discipleship.

This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti: A book that reinvigorated the genre of Christian fiction and challenged evangelicals to take spiritual warfare and the supernatural seriously.

[If I’m not allowed to name Packer and Stott because they’re IVP books and I work for IVP, here are a bonus two.]

God Came Near, by Max Lucado: Before the pressures of cranking out a book every year made Lucado’s books start sounding all the same, this early work helped evangelicals reckon with the reality of the incarnation.

Jesus & the Victory of God, by N. T. Wright: This and others in Wright’s massive project competed with revisionist scholars on their own terms and modeled doing biblical historical work in service both to the church and public debate.

I was interested to see that three of my five main choices made the list. I was also pleased to see that eight of the top fifty were IVP books, including two of the top five - Knowing God came in at #5, and Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There landed at #4. I was surprised, however, that the top spot went to a book I had never heard of, Learning Conversational Prayer by Rosalind Rinker. CT managing editor Mark Galli's blog post explains some of the behind-the-scenes jockeying regarding the rankings. In the comments he reveals that C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity should/could have been #1, but got booted down for various reasons.

I was also quoted in the same issue for an article on "What's Next: Publishing & Broadcasting." When CT associate editor (and former IVP intern) Madison Trammel e-mailed me asking for my thoughts, I sent him the following:
Fifty years from now . . . Christian publishing will become both bigger and smaller. Christian publishers will continue to chase after the next big book and big-name celebrity author. But at the same time, dissatisfaction with monolithic evangelical publishing will lead to more independent Christian publishing that is more narrowcast than broadcast, more tribalized than mass culture, as indigenous outgrowths of non-traditional, post-emergent communities of Christians that have little historic connection with the structures of American evangelicalism. Just as evangelicalism will continue to fragment into multiple subcultures, Christian publishing and Christian media will likewise fragment and reflect multiple tribalized, post-denominational Christian subcultures.

A corollary - Christian publishing will become both more corporate and more independent. Media companies like Disney and Viacom will launch their own Christian divisions to compete with FoxHarperZondervan and NelsonBigIdea. At the same time, Christian editors and authors outside the mainstream will start their own alternatives to traditional publishers. As they do so, the definition of what is a "Christian book" will continue to morph and change. It may be that "traditional" Christian publishers end up publishing books that are horribly compromised by syncretism and consumer commodification, while indie books laced with profanity become the new spiritual classics.

Fifty years from now . . . Christian publishing will be more reflective of the multiethnic, global environment, with a truly international exchange of ideas and more scholarship from the Majority World church. Publishers continuing to focus on the white minority church, publishing only in English, will be more and more marginalized and irrelevant to the global church at large.

Fifty years from now . . . Publishers will still bemoan the decline of reading and literacy and try to reposition themselves as "content providers" and to "think beyond the book." At the same time, a post-digital cohort of neo-retro-evangelicals, tired of the transience of everything electronic, will champion a movement recovering the incarnational beauty of the sacred printed page, with a rediscovery of illuminated manuscripts, classical bookbinding and physical paper.

Fifty years from now . . . new Bible translations will replace stodgy old versions like The Message, which will be so archaic that it is only used in some conservative fundamentalist circles.

Fifty years from now . . . evangelical elder statesman Robert Bell of the Nooma Center at Wheaton College will commission a new generation of young leaders to take the gospel to every tribe, planet and dimension, using new string relativity technology to contextualize the message to those in alternate timelines.

Okay, now I'm just getting silly. I'm trying not to give the standard old boring responses like "Christian publishers will continue to take the gospel to those who need it, in whatever format people will be using, by all possible means to reach the most possible people," yada yada yada. I'm sure some exec or another will also talk about digital paper and e-books becoming commonplace, some sort of iPod/Blackberry equivalent of books.

Did you know that Rupert Murdoch bought So it's News Corp/Fox/Harper Collins/Zondervan/MySpace. An eBayAmazonBarnes&Borders conglomerate is not a big stretch either. Maybe fifty years from now the big corporate giants of the world will be Brazos International and KregelDoubleday.

1 comment:

Mark Goodyear said...

Very helpful information. Thanks for posting it! And I was glad to see someone voted for Max Lucado. I know he's a problematic figure in Christian publishing, but I thought his complete absence from the list was a little odd.

I guess it's time to read Basic Christianity. It's been on my desk awhile now.