5 Myths about Christian Publishing
This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Myth #1: Sales are the most important thing.
The gospel transforms everything in the universe, including publishing. Christians believe that God owns everything, that any and all we have is a gift from his hand, and that we are accountable to love him supremely by the way we use his gifts. This means that money, success, awards, and notoriety, while certainly good gifts to have, are not more important than knowing Christ and reflecting His worth and truth and beauty.
What does this mean for Christian publishing? It means when Christian publishers consider a project, their first and most important question is, “Does this book accurately and beautifully express the good news of the gospel?” If the answer is no, then the sales potential of that book—a famous author, a trending topic, etc.—is irrelevant. This is the mindset that Crossway brings into every publication meeting and every review of a book proposal. A book might project to sell a million copies in the first 12 months, but if it doesn’t faithfully or beautifully express the reality of the gospel, it’s not the right project for us.
This doesn’t mean that sales are irrelevant. As mentioned above, God is the giver of all good gifts and we are accountable for stewarding his resources well. But sales should always be considered downstream from the centrality of the gospel.
Myth #2: Christians don’t want theology, just practical advice.
“Doctrine divides, Jesus unites” may be a catchy slogan, but it’s actually nonsense. Theology is simply what happens when thinking carefully and deeply about what God has told us in Scripture. Doctrine is not a stumbling block but a rock solid foundation on which to base our hearts and minds. Jesus says that true worshipers worship in “spirit and in truth.” That means that in order for Christian readers to truly worship God they must think truthfully about him, and that means doing theology.
Thankfully, many evangelicals desire theologically rooted books. The flourishing writing ministries of John Piper, Jen Wilkin, Kevin DeYoung, and many others signal a vibrant thirst for books that take the Bible seriously. While theologically shallow books might appear to dominate the best-seller lists, millions of Christians and thousands of local churches are being strengthened and encouraged by books that think seriously about the gospel.
There is no book like the Bible. Even the best, most helpful Christian books are not alive with the Holy Spirit.
Myth #3: If a book communicates truth, that’s all that matters.
God is not just a God of truth but also of beauty. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” (Ps. 84:1). “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4). Of course it is of urgent importance that Christian books say true things about God, the Bible, people, the world, etc. But it is also vitally important that Christian books say true things in a way that magnifies Christ’s loveliness and beauty, rather than obscure them.
This is why literary skill matters in Christian publishing. A book could be filled with theologically true things, but exhibit little or no literary skill in saying them. The best, most helpful books are those that bring together skillful writing and Scriptural content, communicating truth in a beautiful, arresting way that engages the reader’s spirit.
Myth #4: A good author should have a lot of social media followers.
This myth is tricky because it contains a nugget of truth. It’s true that the best way to prepare to write a book is to write regularly somewhere else, and for many people today, that “somewhere else” is often a blog or social media platform that attracts readers. But quite often, there is an untrue assumption that a high amount of blog traffic or number of social media followers qualifies one to write a book, or that a low number of the same disqualifies one.
This isn’t true. What matters far more than digital platform is how well an author communicates, how qualified they are to write on their topic, and how well their book meets a need. Rather than focusing on growing an online platform, a better approach is to focus on mastering a particular topic and sharpening one’s own voice.
Myth #5: Reading lots of Christian books can be a substitute for reading Scripture.
No one actually says this myth out loud. Rather, it’s a mindset that many of us can fall into. Christians, especially American Christians, have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gospel-centered books. There seems to always be something new and helpful to read. The sheer rhythm of keeping up with what our favorite authors are doing can lull into a false sense that daily time in the Bible is unnecessary or redundant.
But there is no book like the Bible. Even the best, most helpful Christian books are not alive with the Holy Spirit. They’re not inerrant. They don’t speak for God. Even the most exceptional Christian books fall short of the truth and beauty and transforming power of the Scriptures themselves.
There’s no substitute for the Bible. The best Christian books always leave us with that reminder.
Samuel James serves as an associate acquisitions editor at Crossway. He blogs regularly at Letter & Liturgy and contributes to the Gospel Coalition website, First Things blog, desiringGod.org, and others. He lives with his wife Emily and son Charlie in Wheaton, Illinois, where they are members of College Church.
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