A Seismic Shift in Christian Publishing
I was born in London, then spent ten years in Malta in the dying days of the British Empire. I lived in Austria for 17 years, smuggling books and Bibles to Eastern Europe. My Finnish wife and I currently live in Slovakia. My son, who was born in Austria, speaks Slovak, German, and British English and presently lives in South Africa. He has cousins who are Finnish, English, and Australian. I have two sisters who live in Australia and one who lives in England. One is married to a Malay and the other to a Maltese. My parents, who live in England, come from Cornwall and Devon and have French and Norwegian roots. I work in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Europe, and my closest friends live in South Africa, Slovakia, Bulgaria, America, Austria, and England. My computer was made in Japan from ideas developed in California and Texas, with parts from Taiwan. My shoes were made in Italy of Brazilian leather and my jacket was made in Korea with New Zealand wool.
The Stunning Pace of Chance
These facts raise some deep questions for me. There are days when I am not sure where I am, who I am, or where I belong. Sometimes I find life confusing and the choices overwhelming. I live in a time of massive change. In the year I was born the population of the world was approximately 2.8 billion people; now it is more than 6.2 billion. In 1975 when I first began working we communicated using the postal service. In Austria, we waited two years for a phone line. The object of my coveting at that time was an IBM typewriter with an automatic backspace white eraser. Because of Bible smuggling I was blacklisted in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, two countries that no longer exist. I remember crying with friends as the Berlin Wall came down. Later, the first phone call I received from Eastern Europe was from someone hoping at last that no secret policeman would be listening. He started with the question, "Can I do this?" One of the participants in the first publishing house we set up in Czechoslovakia asked if it would really be possible to get permission to do it. Then we suddenly realized we did not need anyone's permission--if we took the risk.
In the 1980s we set up a secret publishing house in Bulgaria. Trying to give responsibility back to the local church community, we discussed book selection. One of the men said, "Bring us all the books and let us choose." He was dismayed when I told him there were some 60,000 Christian books in the English language. I could not even bring him all the catalogues. At that time, Christian titles in Bulgarian, including all editions of the Bible and songbooks, numbered only 100. He had no concept of the possibilities in front of him. His reality was limited by his experience.
Speaking to Deep Longings
Content that communicates truth to a hungry heart is what brings about change. We need publishers who put effort into content and substance and authors who recognize the times and speak truth in ways that grip the heart, letting people know they have been understood. We need to speak to those longings caused by the gap between the reality of God and our daily lives. In spring 2002 we had Russians, Ukrainians, and Slovaks with us for four weeks in our study community. All were converts of recent years and, for the most part, members of young churches. One of the reasons they were with us was so we could listen and come to understand their basic beliefs. We learned important lessons from those days. While many said they believed the Bible to be the Word of God, they did not refer to it much. It would be easy to think they did not know how and needed to learn. Our observation has been, however, that appeal to any authority is often rejected instinctively. It would be easy to publish books about the authority of the Bible or the Holy Spirit, but today's claims to authority by institutions, individuals, or even the Bible are often associated with strong negative experiences. These people were brought up under strong, even crushing authority. When the pressure was removed they found it hard to open up, to relate to others. After years of violation, they find they are affected by their past, with a strong emotional reaction to any authority. The state abused and manipulated them. Too often church leaders, following the Soviet model, did the same.
Christian publishers should not primarily be in the business of producing books. Book production is secondary to content. They should be in the ideas business. If ideas touch readers in ways that help them understand, in ways that move them, there will always be readers. What we're looking for is the place where anxieties, longings, and inconsistencies lodge and where life doesn't fit together. All people need to articulate their experiences, but not all are gifted enough to do this. Books allow someone else to speak for us, so that we can see ourselves accurately portrayed and hear our thoughts meaningfully articulated.
Listening to Readers
Only through the gift of listening can our readers be understood. As James 1:19 says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger." When we publish material that appeals to the hungry heart, we publish truth that touches people. But how can we understand those hungers? Through careful listening. We can call it market research, but I suspect it is much more than that. A Russian friend went to a church where they had all the answers, but they'd forgotten what the questions were. "Our problem as Evangelicals," he said, "is that we are often afraid of listening and asking questions. Maybe we're lazy, but maybe we're afraid of vulnerability. Proper doubt is the birthplace of learning."
Boundaries by Henry Cloud is an excellent book for Russians trying to discover how the individual is separated from the collective, but the book could be even more powerful if redrafted to fit the Russian context. John MacGregor of L'Abri said the following in a talk called "Generation X, the Lost Generation": "We must speak to the inner man. We must not be distracted by the facade. We must not be put off by cynicism. We must not pander to superficial felt need. Rather, we must address true need, speak to deepest fears, and touch the point of despair and lostness."
Articulating Undefined Beliefs
We have incredible gaps in our churches between belief and practice. We say these marvelous creeds, these wonderful words, but our practice doesn't reflect our words. Francis Schaeffer said, "All men have two creeds: What they say they believe and what they act on. And what they act on is what they believe." Very often what we act on is unarticulated belief and instinct. It is important to realize that when we join any social group, including the church, we pick up its vocabulary. In making the transition our underlying beliefs often remain unchallenged. Our readers need our help to articulate those undefined beliefs.
Does the book bridge the gap between the reality of God and daily life? Are our books beautiful? Do they reflect the Creator of the universe? Or does the content or the packaging make promises it cannot keep and thus increase cynicism? When God looks around my warehouse, does He recognize Himself in the product stored there?
Marsh Moyle is president of SEN, a Christian consulting and publishing agency based in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Excerpt published with permission from an address given by the author at the Evangelical Press Association Convention, Colorado Springs, CO, 29 April 2002. The unabridged text is accessible at http://www.citygate.org/friendsofsen/root/reports_/?fa=God%20who%20communica.
Marsh Moyle, "A Seismic Shift in Christian Publishing," East-West Church & Ministry Report 11 (Spring 2003), 12.
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