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.