Today the news broke that Federal regulators cleared Mega-publisher Harper-Collins to purchase Tyndale House, one of the larger independent Christian presses. Harper-Collins, a non-Christian company held by Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp, already owned Zondervan, one of the largest Christian imprints and publishers of the venerable NIV translation of the Bible. With the $200 million price tag for Tyndale, Harper-Collins grabbed another large Bible distributor (New Living Translation) as well as an press known for fiction and non-fiction works.
This poses serious concerns for authors and those seeking to publish as the field of eligible presses just became much smaller. While Harper-Collins has agreed to operate Tyndale as, “an independent company with its unique editorial focus on inspirational and Christian content,” it would be right to question how long that will last.
Since the point of most publishers is to turn a profit, I would argue that the greater concern ought to be for the consumer headed to the nearest Christian Bookstore. Gone are the days when a believer might be able to trust traditional imprints to honor their evangelical moorings when those ultimately signing the checks have no stake in orthodoxy or orthopraxy, but selling you the latest product.
Here’s the deal. Christians need to use discernment at the bookstore. This should go without saying, but often Christians walk into their local Lifeway or the like and assume that everything there has been “sanitized for their protection.” Often we let our spiritual guards down while reading the latest “Christian” book or author never thinking the ideas might be harmful to us spiritually.
The irony in this is that people who like to read broadly often will digest a popular novel and screen the contents through their spiritual filters catching the harmful ideas of “secular” books and tossing them aside. But do we expect to do the same if the book came from a “Christian” store, press or author?
I believe the biggest challenge here is the underlying bifurcation we tend to create as we segregate items into “secular” and “Christian” spheres. This can be harmful to our spiritual growth and often creates artificial “safety zones” that prevent us from reading critically or consuming ideas thoughtfully. (This is a huge debate and we will have to return to this in a later post…)
Even before this merger, every Christian bookstore contained items that teach heresy (not just poor theology), worldly philosophies and worldviews that compromise the Word of God. With more presses losing their theological moorings in the midst of consolidation, I only assume that this will become even more the case. What are thoughtful Christians to do?
I offer these helpful suggestions before buying the latest book:
1.) Check out reviews of the book – From Christianity Today to Books and Culture or even Relevant, try to get a sense of what the book is arguing. Is it worth your time or your money?
2.) Google the author – It’s amazing what author bios or twitter feeds might tell you about the potential content of a book. If an author’s life doesn’t seriously square with Scripture, odds are the content may be askew.
3.) Look at the endorsers – What do the endorsers stand for? Are they proponents of ideas or concepts that might be in opposition to your faith?
4.) Ask your friends – Have they read the author before? Are they familiar with the book itself?
5.) Be willing to read with your spiritual filters engaged!
It will be interesting to see how presses like Broadman and Holman, Crossway, David C. Cook and others fare into the future. Questions may begin to circulate relating to how faithful Bible translation will remain in the hands of NewsCorp as Zondervan continues to publish the NIV and Tyndale publishes the New Living Translation and the Good News Bible.
It has always been the case that Christians should use discernment in the Christian book store (or any bookstore for that matter), but it may be more necessary in the coming days than ever before.
John Mark Yeats