Book Business

Publishers and Theology

One of the more complex aspects of publishing Christian-themed books is the publisher theological position or “grid” which covers whatever products they seek to publish.

Just like all churches are not alike, Christian publishers are definitely not alike. Some may have groups or “imprints” focusing on a specific theological perspective, but for sure, theology is an issue in their decision-making process.

Even though Christians might feel strong about unity in all essential things of the faith and desire to identify ourselves simply as followers of Jesus Christ, agents and publishers will want to know a little more information about authors. Depending on what you are writing (mainly non-fiction), one or more of these might be important for the decision maker to know:

Catholic or Protestant?

Mainline denomination or not?

Reformed or Arminian?

Charismatic or not?

Egalitarian or Complementarian?

Biblical inerrancy important to you?

Young earth or intelligent design?

What’s your view of eschatology?

Aside from the theological perspective, every publisher seeks certain types of books, authors and writing styles, but when the theological element is added back into the equation, it becomes much clearer why this can get complicated.

Every traditional publisher of Christian books has a perspective which informs everything they do. Don’t expect a publisher who disagrees with your position on something to publish your book.

And not just publishers of Christian books.

Maybe you have heard it said, “everyone is a theologian.” This means even an atheist or agnostic has a theology of life, just one which disagrees with Christian truth.

Every editor at every publisher views potential projects through the lens of a certain theological perspective. They might decline your proposal because they disagree with you. (And by the way, agents have theological opinions as well.)

More than a few times, an author contract has been cancelled before publication not because of a moral failing or some other contractual problem, but because the publisher could not resolve a theological disagreement with the author and their manuscript.

And it isn’t just non-fiction where this happens. Fiction can portray a theological perspective which might be deemed off-center as well. Books for children can be theological battlefields.

Christian publishers love creativity, but “creative theology” will raise red flags!

Often, I will smile when reading proposals from aspiring authors who feel led to write a book “correcting” an egregious theological error in the church, such as proving the falsehood of the Trinity or the virgin birth of Jesus, his deity or bodily resurrection.

Those things are deal-breakers for most every publisher of Christian books. There is no interest in publishing something they would disagree with strongly or that would harm their reputation among Christian booksellers. (And by the way, booksellers have a theological filter as well.)

Both authors and publishers are on a mission, but it might be a different mission.

Did you discover the date of Christ’s return? Don’t expect many in Christian publishing to clap their hands with joy over your new “discovery.” The rejection note might contain the words, “false prophet” which would be the tip-off you are not on the same page.

Theologically speaking, there is truly nothing new under the sun. If you find something new, it is either simply new to you or not true at all.

Your theological perspective matters. Not just for life in general, but in your writing as well. Your worldview matters since it will seep out in whatever you write.

After all, the industry in which I primarily work is not a wide “religious” perspective of multiple roads to heaven. Admittedly, the list of factors I mentioned above are mostly non-essentials, but every Christian publisher has a few filters which would preclude publishing a book based on one or more of them.

If you don’t believe this to be true, you might be in for a surprise.

Christian publishing is not a box of chocolates. For those who pay attention to it closely, you know exactly what you are going to get.


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