Marketing heresy?

National | Taking staff resignations in stride, former theological stalwart pushes ahead with publishing plans

Issue: "Forbes," Nov. 20, 1999

According to "open theism," not even God knows whether Baker Book House will release Greg Boyd's God of the Possible next March as scheduled. But even people with limited vision see that something strange is happening at a publishing company previously known for its solidly Reformed books. Mr. Boyd, a Bethel College theology professor, has claimed for years that God cannot know the future because we humans "create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don't exist." His teachings have rocked the Baptist General Conference, the denomination that includes the Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., where Mr. Boyd is senior pastor. Many publishers these days jump at books that attempt to shrink God. Baker through the years has remained immune to those trends, as indicated by the company's mission statement, which includes a commitment "to publish writings that promote historic Christianity." The company's website explains that founder Herman Baker was motivated by "the desire to preserve the best of the Reformed heritage." Baker acquisitions editor Bob Hosack, asked how Mr. Boyd's book fits within the company's traditional mission, said, "I really cannot do a service to the book. I'm not a theologian." John Piper, a noted author published by Baker and the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, told WORLD, "I am astonished that Baker intends to publish God of the Possible." Given that Boyd's open theism, if true, would severely reduce God's sovereignty, Mr. Piper said, "It is impossible that a publisher, driven by theological conviction, could be eager to disseminate open theism and at the same time promote the vision of God that I cherish." During the past six months Baker's academic editor, its head of the electronic division, and an academic consultant all resigned, in part over what they call a "change in direction and publishing policy." In late September Dwight Baker, a Calvin College graduate with an art degree who took over as president from his father in 1997, sent out a memo titled, "Editorial Policy for Baker Books." "Our role," it said, "is to affirm the varied streams that contribute to our common faith and to continually expand our vision to speak to the broadest church readership." Mr. Boyd clearly represents a stream. When his critics put forward a motion before the Baptist General Conference this June that God "foreknows infallibly all that shall come to pass,'" it was defeated, 270-251. But is that stream flowing within the banks of biblical Christianity? Another Baker author, Thomas Schreiner, a former colleague of Mr. Boyd's who now teaches at Southern Baptist Seminary, notes that "the Protestant church, the Orthodox church, and the Roman Catholics have agreed throughout history that God knows what will happen in the future." Baker plans to release Still Sovereign, edited by Mr. Schreiner, a month before it puts out God of the Possible. The company's goal appears to be to maintain a Reformed constituency while expanding sales to others. But David Frees, Baker's former academic resource consultant, is concerned that although scholars will notice "quite a few logical fallacies" and pick up on what he says is the professor's poor exegesis of Old Testament passages, the average Christian will not. Mr. Frees, when he still worked at the company, proposed a compromise: publishing God of the Possible as an academic book, not a trade book distributed to Christian bookstores. Baker chose the broader dissemination. Mr. Boyd was very happy with Baker's decision. "I had my own congregation in mind when I wrote this book," he told WORLD. "I thought, 'How can I make them understand how I came to my conclusion?' and wrote for the average Christian in the pew." Mr. Baker denies any inconsistency between his company's original mission statement and his policy that accommodates God of the Possible. "It's not a shift," he says. "We are committed to serving the Reformed, evangelical readership. It is not appropriate for us to publish outside the evangelical viewpoint." Open theism, he argued, is not necessarily "outside the evangelical viewpoint" because it has recently gained popularity among some evangelicals. "This is such a hot issue now," Mr. Boyd said. "I never would have written the book if it weren't for an ongoing battle to get me out of Bethel." He says controversy, both at the college and in the BGC, motivated Baker to publish God of the Possible. Mr. Boyd also said his book could match up with Baker's continued commitment to a conservative readership. "I think it fits in very well with a Reformation mindset in that the church is always reforming. Open theism is a motif of God's Word that was lost historically. Just as salvation through faith alone was rediscovered by Luther, the feature that God is open has been recovered." "There is no branch of the Christian church that has accepted open theism, ever," returns Mr. Schreiner. "This is not a minor thing; it is very frightening."

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