For those who enjoy reading the advice to ‘read widely’ is probably something that they have heard numerous times. Indeed, it is likely a piece of advice which they act upon too. Yet, so often this is taken to mean read different authors, different topics, and different genres. Today I want to reflect on a brilliant piece of advice I heard in a sermon several years ago. His advice was to check who publishes the books you read. This is something that I have consistently kept an eye on as I attempt to read widely. In essence it is the same advice, read widely, but not just authors, topics and genres…also publishers. This is great advice for at least three reasons:
- Different authors on your bookshelf does not necessarily mean different points of view.
It is relatively likely that you can look at your bookshelf and count numerous different authors. Perhaps there are tens of different authors, or even hundreds. However, this does not necessarily mean you are reading widely. All publishing houses employ the service of numerous authors, but they all work for the same ‘body’ so to speak. Therefore, it is important to not only seek to read different authors, on different topics, but also to ensure you are reading books on the same topic published by different publishing houses. It is easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we read more widely than we actually do.
- Different publishing houses have different theological persuasions.
The reason why it is not enough to just read different authors is because many publishing houses hold to firm theological positions, and often promote material that agrees with their particular outlook. For example, the publishers P&R (Presbyterian & Reformed) naturally produce material from and in agreement with the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. If all your authors are published by P&R you’re reading too narrowly. On the other hand, all of your authors could be published by B&H, this publishing house favours Believer’s baptism. Therefore, many if not all of the authors published by B&H will hold to that position. Naturally, this view has implications on covenant theology, ecclesiology, church membership, obedience to the gospel, raising children, and so on and so forth. It impacts on numerous other areas of Christian living and thought. We are not reading widely if all of the authors we read hold to one particular theological position.
- Different publishing houses have different levels of content.
It is not only the theological persuasions that are important, but also the level of content. For example, if all of the authors you read are published only by university publishing houses (such as Sheffield Academic Press, or Oxford University Press) then you are only reading the most academically rigorous material. On the other hand, if all of the authors you read are published by Christian Focus or Zondervan then you are only reading the most popular and widely available material. Neither one is better than the other, they merely serve different purposes. Indeed, some publishing houses have identified this and so have academic wings to their publishing: IVP and Apollos, Baker and Baker Academic, or Zondervan and Zondervan Academic. We cannot claim to be reading widely if all the material we read is pitched at only one level.
In keeping these things in mind, I find that I have read books from numerous publishers. Some of them small and unknown publishing houses like Myrtlefield House, to the global giant Crossway. I believe my mind, thinking and Christian life is the better for it! Go check which publishers you have on your bookshelf…