On publishing books in a world in turmoil

“When the foundations are thrown down,” asked the psalmist, “what can the righteous person do?” (Psalm 11:3). This question resonates for many in our own setting, when the props and stays of the old normal in so many areas—political, social, ecclesial, environmental—seem to be under assault and crumbling. Voltaire’s Candide rejected explanations that all the ills are for the best, urging instead, “We must cultivate our garden.” Social philosopher René Girard gently pressed a finer point when he told theologians who asked how we can respond to our apoca­lyptic times, “We might begin with personal sanctity.”

Such self-cultivation in a Christian mode is not solipsistic or even self-centered. As it looks inward, it also looks back to history, scripture, tradition; it looks forward to a reimagined future; finally, perhaps, after all due contemplation, it turns a critical eye and a prophetic voice on the surrounding culture. Thus it follows the psalmist (see 11:4) in bring­ing the chaotic or tragic or carnivalesque present, and our own anxious reactions to it, under the adjudicating gaze of one who is enthroned far above. And then it teaches and exhorts to stimulate reimagining and re-creating action.

When the world is a mess, what can a religious publishing house do? All we can ever do is try to discern the needs of our readers, find the best authors to address those needs, and publish another book. So in this catalog, in partnership with our authors, we offer resources for readers who wish to disengage from the here and now to look backward, forward, inward, and upward for a realignment that will enable them to reengage critically, constructively, and redemptively. We offer seeds and fertilizer for those who want to plant, water, and tend their minds in ways that may bear wholesome, even holy, fruit.

I was going to illustrate by pointing selectively to particular new titles that accomplish these things in the various areas in which we publish: biblical studies, systematic and historical theology, history and biography, practical theology, Christian living. At first it was fun, but then it began to become frustrating: I was finding too many good examples to fit into the available space! But frustration finally gave way to gratitude as I realized that, once again, while we were not looking, or were looking too desperately, the miracle had happened: after months of often exhausting effort and many moments of near-despair, what a joyful thing it is to see our wonderful authors’ work come to fruition in the gems that adorn every page of this catalog. It is our hope and prayer that these offerings will help you, our much-appreciated readers, to find timely and fruitful ways of cultivating your own gardens.

These paragraphs appeared under the heading A letter from the Eerdmans editor-in-chief in the Eerdmans academic catalog for Fall–Winter 2018–19.

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