Behind the Book

Brooke Ventura
Ryan Pazdur
Sunday, July 1st 2018
Jul/Aug 2018

Brooke Ventura Interviews Crossway and Zondervan

WHICH CAME FIRST, the publisher or the book? Well, the book, obviously—right? There were books long before there were publishing houses, but publishing houses have been around a lot longer than we realize. The Epic of Gilgamesh wouldn’t exist (as a book, that is) without the asipu (the scholar-doctor-astrologists) who recorded it; we wouldn’t have the Book of Kells without the Columban monks; and if Bloomsbury Publishers hadn’t accepted J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript (after twelve other companies had rejected it)—let’s be honest—would this world really be worth living in?

True, the publishing house of the twenty-first century is a far cry from the learned scholars of the ancient Near East or the scribes of the medieval monastery. Their aim was the preservation of human knowledge and wisdom; the goal of today’s publishing industry is necessarily much more complex. The socioeconomic and geographic aspects of the modern age have fundamentally shifted and reshaped the work of preserving and propagating ideas—the select group of scholars and students who would choose a particular oral tradition or codex for historical preservation and future study have been replaced by diversified organizations that are not only looking to maintain intellectual and narrative history, but to connect that history with current events and promote healthy discussion on the various topics that confront global society today (while necessarily maintaining a profit). This is not to hold up ancient publishing methods as better or more ideologically pure, but to emphasize the historical, social, and technological developments that make present-day publishing a much more intricate and multifaceted operation.

The Christian church has divided along Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Coptic lines, which means that the scope of Christian thought has broadened tremendously. Thanks to (nearly) universal elementary education, people of varying educational levels are not only able to read but also to utilize the opportunities provided by the Internet and digital platforms to bypass the industry entirely by writing, printing, and promoting their books themselves.

How does the twenty-first-century publisher promote communication and dialogue among people of different religious convictions, educational levels, cultures, and languages? Associate editor Brooke Ventura spoke with two representatives from two different Christian publishing companies—Samuel James, associate acquisitions editor for Crossway, and Ryan Pazdur, associate publisher and executive editor at Zondervan—to discuss how they and their colleagues work to provide good books to readers across the theological spectrum.


How does Crossway/Zondervan view its relationship with the author, reader, and broader Christian public? As an organization devoted to encouraging and edifying the people of God by endeavoring to speak to people’s felt needs while providing thoughtful, engaging content, navigating the waters between the various denominations can, I’m sure, be a challenge. How does Crossway attempt to negotiate that balance, while being mindful of the social and political situations Christians find themselves in today?

SJ: Crossway’s mission statement identifies four primary goals for all our products: that they would lead readers to faith in Christ; help the church grow in knowledge and understanding of the gospel; bear witness to God’s truth, beauty, and holiness; and glorify Christ in every way. This means that we view our identity and practices first of all from a vertical perspective—what does God say about this?—and then from a horizontal perspective—is this what the church needs right now? Both our relationships to authors and readers are gospel-centered, meaning that we believe that our authors and readers have the same fundamental need: to hear and believe and love the gospel. That commitment shapes every publishing decision we make.

That framework also allows us to concentrate on ultimate things. We have hundreds of authors representing many different denominational and liturgical traditions. Our confessional identity is bound up with Scripture and with the heritage of the Reformation. Within that identity are many different tribes and traditions, some of which disagree with one another, but ultimately all point continually toward the centrality of Jesus and the infallibility of Scripture. Our desire is that readers would see “Crossway” on a book and instinctively know that that book, whatever the topic or style, is going to exemplify a commitment to the gospel and to the faithfulness of Jesus’ church.

RP: Zondervan publishes evangelical and nondenominational trade, academic, and professional books primarily for Christian readers. As a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP), Zondervan is able to maintain its editorial independence and its evangelical integrity while having an avenue into the general and Christian markets. At Zondervan, we publish books with the intent of meeting the spiritual needs of people at all ages and all intellectual and economic levels. We seek to express our commitment to God’s truth with a philosophy of acquisitions, writing, editing, producing, selling, and marketing that is consistent with biblical faith, practice, and ethics. We determine a book’s worth by its contribution and content, the goal being not only to confirm readers’ faith and understanding but also to challenge and stretch their thinking. So, while Zondervan publishes books within the historic evangelical mainstream of Christian faith and practice, we do not hesitate to publish books that represent the various currents within that mainstream.

While we do not have a creedal or confessional basis for our mission, we are a values-driven company focused on fulfilling our mission to inspire the world by meeting the needs of people with content that promotes biblical principles and honors Jesus Christ. We operate under five core values: integrity, accountability, initiative, respect, and service. We seek to publish authors who profess Christian faith and whose character and lifestyle, so far as they are reasonably known to us, are consistent with basic biblical standards. Our intention is to publish Christian content that honors God and that sees humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God as revealed in the Bible.

Historically, Christians have accepted the Bible as their authority on those matters that it addresses. This means that we want our books to be consistent with the Bible and within the historic mainstream of Christian doctrine and ethics. These include such basic beliefs as the Creator God revealed in the Bible, eternally existent in three persons, the creation of all humankind made in the image of God, the Fall, the deity of Christ and his sacrificial death on our behalf and his bodily resurrection, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the literal return of Christ to the earth, the final judgment of all people, and biblical ethical and moral standards.

As Christians from different traditions, we recognize that this stream of Christian traditions contains a left bank, a right bank, and various crosscurrents. Overall, we want to be in the broad center of this stream; but as we seek to engage the culture and address the crucial and complex questions of our day, from time to time we may publish a bit to the left or right of this center or publish the various crosscurrents. We want to be a broker of ideas within the context of our commitment to biblical authority and the historic doctrines of orthodox Christianity.

As part of our broader publishing program at HarperCollins Christian, we encourage authors to write about a variety of topics—from politics to cookbooks, fiction to financial advice, children’s stories to memoirs—because we believe that Christians should write and explore many different facets of life, because God touches them all. We believe God can be experienced through all things, and we encourage authors to explore, debate, and then write about their journeys. Since all truth is God’s truth, this means that not all of our publications must be explicitly “Christian.” In some cases, books that promote wholesome values (Phil. 4:8) are consistent with the broader mission of HarperCollins Christian, even if they are not the primary focus of our mission. Our objective in partnering with authors is twofold: to spread their message and support God’s kingdom work. We accomplish this through our editorial excellence, our expansive market reach, our longstanding bookseller relationships, and our industry-leading insights into recent trends and developments in publishing.


Samuel, you mention that Crossway’s confessional identity is bound up with Scripture and with the heritage of the Reformation, which comprises many different traditions. How does Crossway negotiate the different needs of various churches within that spectrum?

SJ: The local church is near the heart of our mission. To that end, we try to emphasize (as much as possible) gospel-driven content that has tangible applicability within local congregations. Whatever is true for individual Christians is true for Christian community. Rather than thinking of our audience in terms of denominational identities (which are a good thing!), we strive to think in terms of local congregations, across denominational and liturgical traditions, which nonetheless have a gospel continuity about them.


The erosion of trust in institutions—political and social—is something that the publishing industry has had to reckon with of late. How does Crossway/Zondervan view its role as a trustworthy resource in a time when misinformation is a continual concern?

SJ: We talk often about cultivating a trust among readers. We will often hear from consumers that, even if they are not familiar with a particular author or concept that we publish, when they see the name “Crossway,” they know the book will be a faithful representation of the gospel and joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ. That’s a trust that is meticulously maintained with diligence throughout our publishing program, from the leadership of Lane Dennis and our board of directors down to the departments themselves. From editorial to marketing to sales, we try—prayerfully and with the Lord’s help—to always see our content and strategies through the lens of our mission. That kind of conscientiousness is, I hope, apparent to our readers in the doctrinal and doxological consistency in our products.

RP: Since the middle of the twentieth century, there has been a cultural pattern in American culture, a loss of trust, and a corresponding rejection of institutional authority. Americans lost faith in political institutions following World War II and throughout the latter half of the century. In the 1980s, a series of scandals rocked evangelical church leaders, followed two decades later by revelations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, and Americans lost faith in religious institutions as well. Over the last twenty years, alternative K-12 educational movements have grown, and American colleges have become seedbeds of identity politics, leading many Americans to lose faith in our educational institutions. In recent years, the news media has experienced a full-blown rejection of its authority as an institution worthy of trust. Proverbs 26:28 says, “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”Trust isn’t developed by telling people what they want to hear, and you cannot have a hidden agenda or ulterior motive—that’s manipulation. Trust is built by being clear about who you are and why you do what you do, and then staying true to your identity and mission.

As a publisher, Zondervan remains within the mainstream of evangelical beliefs and doctrines, but we make it clear that we do not identify with any particular stream within the evangelical movement. Our role is not that of a denominational press or a publisher that adheres to a confessional statement; because rather than promoting a particular theology, we view ourselves as a facilitator of broader discussions within the evangelical community. As I said earlier, our goal is not only to confirm readers’ faith and understanding but also to challenge and stretch their thinking.

There are books and resources we publish that some readers do not agree with. There are others they love. We try to be clear about our identity. We’re not publishing books to tell people what they want to hear, and we’re not publishing to manipulate them toward a particular agenda. We want to represent the variety of views in the evangelical stream, and we hope by being candid about our mission and our identity we can retain the trust of our readers and authors.

Samuel James is an associate acquisitions editor for Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois. He blogs at

Ryan Pazdur is an associate publisher and executive editor at Zondervan Publishers in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Sunday, July 1st 2018

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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