Thursday, June 14, 2012

G. R. Evans, her endorsers and the Christian academic publishing business

How do I decide to buy a new book? 

This is the question I asked whenever I come across interesting new publication. That's what I asked when I saw Gillian R. Evans' The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture.

To decide whether to buy, first, I have to find out who wrote it (if I'm not familiar with the author).

Evans is Professor Emerita of Intellectual History and Medieval Theology in the University of Cambridge, served as the British Academy Research Reader in Theology from 1986 to 1988. She has published widely through well known academic publishers like Cambridge University Press, Continuum, Blackwell and Routledge.

With such credential, the author is more or less credible, and her works reliable. However this alone is not enough because besides being credible and reliable, the standing of the book in the academia is also important. So, I checked up who endorsed the book, as this is one way to find out. 
"Briskly and breezily, but very efficiently, medievalist Gillian Evans here surveys Western Europe's changing and clashing views of Christianity from the fourteenth century through the seventeenth century. This large-scale introduction is certainly the best of its kind currently available."
(J. I. Packer, Regent College)

"This remarkable book interprets the long history of the Christian Church in the light of the Reformation, and the Reformation in the light of Church history. Broad in its learning, scope, and vision, it will undoubtedly stimulate and enthrall those fascinated by the question of how Christianity came to be as it is."
(Euan Cameron, Henry Luce III Professor of Reformation Church History, Union Theological Seminary, New York)

"G. R. Evans is one of our finest scholars, and she has written a superb book placing the story of the Reformation in the wider context of Christian history. Comprehensive, well researched and readable."
(Timothy George, general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture)

"The Roots of the Reformation is a book which does not just give an account of the Reformation but sets it in the context of earlier church history, showing where there is continuity and where there is radical change. This will be a welcome addition to the textbooks available."
(Anthony N. S. Lane, Professor of Historical Theology, London School of Theology)

"Far too many students have tried for too long to understand the Reformation in isolation from the long history that preceded it. Cambridge medievalist G. R. Evans has attempted to correct that unfortunate shortsightedness by placing the history of the Reformation in the larger context of its place in the unfolding story of early and medieval Christianity. Her informative book illuminates what is traditional and what is genuinely new about early Protestantism and reintroduces Protestant Christians to their own roots. Essential reading for any student of the Reformation."
(David C. Steinmetz, Kearns Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity, Duke University)

"The very title of Gillian Evans's book intimates her perception of the Reformation as paradoxical--severed from the long past and yet still associated with and deeply rooted in it in such a way as to ensure its future, continuous existence in various forms. This book has the distinguishing hallmark of Evans's approach to the history of Christianity, one combining breadth of vision with deep specialist knowledge. Not only that, her writing finesse ensures that this book will enhance accessibility to a critical phase of church history that is in danger of becoming remote for the modern Christian consciousness. Furthermore, the pedagogic value of Evans's book will be appreciated with the appended 'Handlist of Reformation Concerns and Their History', plus 'Links'--an inspired innovation."
(Ian Hazlett, Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Glasgow)

"As the introduction informs us, 'this book is written as an aid to understanding the way continuities have run through the changes of Christian history.' It is a lively and competent general survey of the chief problems and points of contention running through the history of Christian doctrine. The author, a specialist in late antiquity and the early medieval period, argues that the Reformation ought to be viewed as part of Christianity's age-old attempts to iron out these problems and smooth out the aporias. Accompanied by extensive quotations from primary sources and a handlist of chief Reformation issues in their wider context, this book will prove primarily useful as a manual for general courses in the history of Christianity. It also provides stimulating reading for more advanced scholars."
(Irena Backus, Professeur ordinaire of Reformation History and Ecclesiastical Latin, Institut d'histoire de la Réformation, Université de Genève)

"Erudite yet accessible, The Roots of the Reformation deftly navigates the waves of constancy and disruption in the medieval and early modern eras. G. R. Evans's command of the primary source material is breathtaking in its scope. She is an outstanding teacher and a superb storyteller, taking complex abstract concepts and making them understandable, fascinating and relevant. This is a book well worth reading for its rich exploration of the key themes of the sixteenth-century Reformation."
(Gwenfair Walters Adams, Associate Professor of Church History, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

"What really changed in the Reformation, and what remained the same? To answer this question, Evans places each major controverted issue against its background of development and dispute in the Christian West, from the first to the sixteenth century. The result is a refreshingly new and judicious assessment of the Reformation's true disjunctions and continuities."
(Denis R. Janz, Provost Distinguished Professor of the History of Christianity, Loyola University, New Orleans) 
A long list of endorsers! Some are highly respected scholars! Must be a good work then. So I placed it on my wishlist. Hoping that I could get it when I get my bonus.

Just now, pretty disappointingly, I found out that the publisher of this book, IVP Academic, announced: of the beginning of June, IVP has taken The Roots of the Reformation out of print and will no longer be shipping orders of this edition. Our goal is to publish a carefully revised second edition of the book by the end of August, in time for Fall semester classes. Further, IVP will offer a complimentary copy of the second edition, including free shipping, to everyone who has already purchased the current edition.
Reason is because this book is filled with inaccuracies (not mere typos!), as pointed out by Carl Trueman.

Read the whole story at Christianity Today.

Now I wonder whether did any of these endorsers REALLY read Evans' book? Or, this is a manifestation of the "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" (i.e. I'll endorse your book so that in return you endorse mine) in the Christian academia and publishing business? 

At the end of the day, are Christian scholars just like everyone else who are caught in the rat-race, in this case the secular publishing industry? It's all about getting published and selling books, while truthful reporting is secondary?

So now, how should we decide to buy or not to buy a book? Wait until someone review it?

But not everyone is Trueman...


a_seed said...

I think read amazon readers' review is a good way to know.

reasonable said...

Carl Trueman - true to the name :D

Alex Tang said...

Personally, I think Christian publishing is no different from secular publishing. That is why best selling authors has more emphasis than lesser known one. Saying that, I need to qualify Christian academic publishing from popular Christian publishing.

Academic Christian publishing is the victim of 'publish or perish' of the secular universities culture which has permeated into the seminaries. (Should seminaries be like universities?) Hence the rush to push into the public works in progress or even works in concepts. This has resulted in the lowered quality of publications in recent years. Ideas that should belong in a pier reviewed journal appears directly as books.

Now to endorsement. I suspect strongly that many people who endorses do not actually read the book or has skimmed through the book. Endorsements have become common and the more endorsements, the better the book should be. Right? Even local authors have jumped on the bandwagon. Again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

So thank you for Carl Trueman and Christianity Today for highlighting this dark side of academic Christian publishing.