Cover Story

Out of the ghetto

"Out of the ghetto" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2005," July 2, 2005

Indeed, it is hard to accuse secular publishers of watering down Christian theology when Christian publishers have been churning out de-gendered Bible translations, Christless moralism, "have faith in yourself" tracts, and sentimental uplift-oblivious to sin, grace, and salvation-and all presented as Christian inspiration.

Publishing in this new environment may result in better Christian books for everyone. SaltRiver, Tyndale's line of books intended to reach the secular marketplace, publishes explicitly Christian books, but has a slogan not always associated with the genre: "intelligent, thought-provoking, authentic." Mr. Hough and Mr. Pape, the literary agents, say that the new marketplace calls for better writers. They defend the efforts to publish books on non-theological subjects-such as politics, health, and contemporary issues-as demonstrating that Christianity applies to all of life.

Mr. Arnold says that his WestBow line of fiction receives half of its sales from non-Christian Bookseller Association outlets, and has placed novels on both the CBA and the New York Times bestseller lists. "When you have a great story," he says, "the term crossover becomes irrelevant. You're not starting in one market and hoping to slosh over into the other somehow-you're selling well in both markets. When you have a powerful story, people embrace and buy it in all markets."

Mr. Arnold said many of the great fiction classics of past decades and centuries followed this exact model. "Great writers wrote from their Christian worldview and created novels that still sell today," he said. "They weren't trying to write Christian Fiction (which unfortunately is often a man-made list of do's and don'ts) but simply great fiction that reflected how they looked at life. That's what we're reclaiming today."

In one sense, Christian publishing is coming full circle. The secular giant Random House is owned by Bertelsmann AG, a German media mega-conglomerate that got its start in 1835 as a publisher of Bibles, hymnbooks, and revival resources. The King James Bible-including the dispensationalist Scofield Reference edition-was published by Oxford University Press. And most of the great Christian authors published their works through secular presses. This was true well into the 1960s, from Catherine Marshall's A Man Called Peter and Christy (McGraw Hill) to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters (Macmillan).

"Having our novels sell well in the general market is a way for us to be salt and light through the power of story," Mr. Arnold said. "We're supposed to be an influence in the world-not hide or retreat. People who view the general market success of fiction from a Christian worldview as something negative puzzle me. Why wouldn't we want more Christian artists and authors creating more masterpieces that are God-honoring in a sea of entertainment options that mostly are not? Why wouldn't we want our neighbors reading novels infused with a Christian worldview? Our goal with fiction isn't simply to evangelize evangelicals-but to create world-class literature and page-turning commercial fiction that has an impact on the world at large. The great news is we're succeeding beyond our wildest dreams."

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