Just because an author is a mature Christian, doesn’t mean they are immune from writing something containing shaky theology. In an effort to craft compelling phrases and stories, orthodox theology can sometimes be a casualty of creativity or even carelessness.
Most often it is entirely accidental. I referenced this issue in a post over a year ago.
A significant function of a traditional Christian publisher is to act as a theological accountability partner to their authors. Of course, some publishers have a very distinct theological bent to their books, while others will have a wider theological spectrum in which they operate. As agents, we spend quite a bit of time sorting out those differences, which can have a significant effect in how we deal with an individual publisher.
Suffice it to say not every publisher would agree with whatever theological stance you might take.
With a traditional publisher, your theological position or main point could even be strongly challenged by an editor. It is part of the collaborative editorial process.
My primary concern with self-publishing for Christian books is whether the book has been reviewed by a trained theological eye for possible error or if was truly “self” published in every sense. After all, many Christian books deal with serious issues.
Of course, some traditionally published books contain weak theology at times, but at least someone else reviewed it and agreed.
If you are a self-published author and do not submit yourself to some level of theological review, you might unknowingly take a stroll into theological left field. Every pastor has some trusted friends who challenge their teaching, so you should as well.
Here are some common traps resulting from not submitting to a theological review: (a couple are applicable to every book, Christian or whatever)
- Attribution – This applies to all books, but especially troublesome for Christian non-fiction. Someone else’ idea expressed without giving credit to the originator is troubling. “Someone once said” is not an attribution. A good editor would challenge you to find the original source or delete it. Also, never, ever quote a Bible verse without giving the specific reference. And quote it perfectly, giving the translation used in a footnote or somewhere obvious.
- Improper references – some verses from Scripture are not intended to explain others. There is context and flow to Scripture proven over the centuries. Don’t violate it. Random scriptural “mash-ups” are dangerous theologically speaking.
- Shallow reasoning – taking one obscure teaching out of context and building a massive theological structure on its foundation is a real problem. Prepare to be challenged at the proposal stage on this one.
- Error – Someone once said (I loved typing this) when it comes to theology, if it is new, it is not true and if it is true, it is not new. If you claim to have a new spiritual insight, make sure it is simply new to you, because if it is true, it is not Ever. The challenge for a writer of Christian works is to communicate bedrock eternal truth in a new way, not find new truth. If you truly believe you found something new, there are publishers for you, but not in the evangelical Christian market.
- English words – If you are going to explain a passage of Scripture and drill into the specific wording, get some sort of authoritative commentary, which can illuminate the original language text and intent. Placing too much weight on potentially inadequate English words can be dangerous. Greek and Hebrew are where it’s at. (Sorry for the poorly constructed sentence done for effect.)
- Unoriginal thinking – this falls under theological accountability but also could be a broader author faux pas as well. I am not speaking about anthologies. I am speaking about a book where the sum total of your point is to reference other author’s work. Books about books only lead to books about books about books, which are really uninteresting.
To be clear, your theological accountability partner should be someone who can tell you, “This is not right,” and you won’t be offended or defensive. Most often, this person is not a relative or close friend. They won’t be hard on you when it is necessary. Choose your TAP’s wisely.