By the Book: Scholarly titles reach more than the academy Print
Written by Ken Walker   
Thursday, 05 September 2013 03:59 PM America/New_York

BakerAcademic-BonhoefferTheAssassinBooks that are ‘built to last’ have enduring value to many a thoughtful Christian reader

Eric Metaxas’ 2010 biography, Bonhoeffer, packed an unexpected sales punch for publisher Thomas Nelson. reaching New York Times best-seller status. Now, an October scholarly release on the legendary Dietrich Bonhoeffer likely will create retail interest beyond academic circles.

The reason: Bonhoeffer the Assassin? (Baker Academic/Baker Publishing Group) challenges the widely held view that the German theologian participated in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. 

“As the authors show, it is difficult to believe that Bonhoeffer would so quickly abandon his ethic of peacemaking demonstrated throughout his writing,” said Bryan Dyer, marketing manager for Baker Academic and Brazos Press. “The book is a needed corrective to a prevalent notion in the increasing popularity of this significant Christian figure.”

IVP-TheLostWorldOfScriptureThe book’s three authors— Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist and Daniel P. Umbel—don’t subscribe to the conspiracy view, but rather argue that Bonhoeffer maintained his commitment to peacemaking until he was put to death by hanging about three weeks before the end of World War II.

The Baker title will be followed next month by The Bonhoeffer Reader, a collection of Bonhoeffer’s theological writings. The title is from Fortress Press, part of Lutheran publisher Augsburg Fortress.

Gavin Stephens of Westminster John Knox Press (WJK) isn’t surprised by the recent proliferation of titles on Bonhoeffer, saying the increase “should help people see what a rich and complicated thinker he was.”

Not only does this interest demonstrate how scholarly inquiry can branch into wider circles, but Jeff Crosby, executive director of sales and marketing for InterVarsity Press (IVP), said reference materials possess considerable backlist potential. Crosby said it is not uncommon for second-year net unit figures for IVP Academic titles to be as high or higher than IVP’s trade books.

Moody-TheMoodyBibleCommentary“That results from it taking a bit longer to be recognized among the members of the academy, to garner peer reviews in key journals and to be adopted by professors,” Crosby said. 

“Some of the textbooks are slow out of the gate,” agreed Stephens, WJK’s sales and marketing director. “They reach sales momentum when they make it to the backlist. Other books—particularly big-idea monographs—can reach higher numbers in their first year.”

Chris Reese, a freelance writer and editor with Moody Publishers, sees a budding community of Christians outside academia who also are interested in apologetics. One of Moody’s forthcoming titles that illustrates that is The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters by J.P. Moreland, releasing in March 2014.

Some trade titles that may cross over into academic are How to Talk to a Skeptic by Donald Johnson (Bethany House/Baker Publishing Group, October); Big Bang Big God by British scientist Rodney Holder (Lion Books, Nov. 1); and iGods by Craig Detweiler (Brazos Press/Baker Publishing Group, November).

Zondervan-TheStoryOfGod“Their numbers and interest have grown in large part in response to the writings and media influence of the ‘new atheists,’ ” Reese said. “These kinds of books are more important than ever as Christians interact with ‘religious nones’ who have no background in the Christian faith.”



In an effort to help believers “rightly divide” the Scriptures, biblical explorations and expositions represent a mainstay of this genre, with numerous titles hitting the market this fall. 

Among these releases are The Psalms by Andrew Schmutzer and David Howard Jr. (Moody, October); The Old Testament is Dying by Brent Strawn (Baker Academic, October); and Feasting on the Gospels—Matthew edited by Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson (WJK Press, Volume 1, November; Volume 2, December). Other November releases are Biographical Bible by Ruth Tucker (Baker Books/Baker Publishing Group) and Visions of the Apocalypse by Bruce Chilton (Baylor University Press).

This month Zondervan will release the first two of its 43-volume “The Story of God Bible Commentary” series, which launches with two installments, The Sermon on the Mount by Scot McKnight and Philippians by Lynn Cohick. McKnight and Tremper Longman are general editors of the series, which will span a decade.

Barbour Publishing will release a pair of Bible resources during the first quarter of 2014: Navigating the Bible by Christopher Hudson (February) and The Complete Bible Companion (March), an updated volume of study helps, one-year reading plans and other tools. Other forthcoming titles are 100 Tough Questions About God and the Bible by Stephen Miller (Bethany House, April) and The Moody Bible Commentary written by the faculty of Moody Bible Institute and edited by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham (February)—a commentary five years in the making.

IVP Academic has two November releases that review the nature of evangelical biblical interpretation, The Lost World of Scripture by John Walton and The Future of Bible Interpretation by Stanley Porter and Matthew Malcolm. 

B&H Academic, an imprint of B&H Publishing Group, has a pair of November resources planned as well. Illustrated Bible Survey by Ed Hinson and Elmer Towns includes introductions to 66 books, photos, maps, charts and other study aids. An Introduction to Biblical Ethics by David Jones explains the nature, relevancy and structure of moral law as revealed in Scripture.

Those volumes follow October’s release of a revised edition of Theology of the Reformers by seminary dean Timothy George and The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists by theology professor Malcolm Yarnell. 



The kickoff of the school year and church programming makes fall a major season for academic books, observed Baker’s Dyer, adding that seminarians and pastors launching sermon series need thoughtful resources.

“Getting these books out in front of these customers is helpful not just for sales, but for making sure they have access to the finest resources created by the brightest minds in the Christian academic world,” he said. 

That includes such books as Baker Academic’s recently released third edition of Christian Theology by Millard Erickson, which Dyer said has had a huge influence on seminaries and churches.

Reese said two enduring titles that represent accessible introductions to theology for laypersons are The Moody Handbook of Theology and Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology. He also recommends retailers remember the “tribe” of evangelicals who gravitate toward academic books and such popular authors as John Piper, D.A. Carson and N.T. Wright.

Reese favors promotions aimed at students and academicians getting into the new school year.

“It’s rare to see a display devoted to academic books, but that would be beneficial,” he said.

These books are “built to last,” with higher price points and longer life cycles, said WJK’s Stephens.

 “Represent the core backlist well,” Stephens said, who believes a strong in-store selection “is crucial for driving traffic and will help stores differentiate themselves from online sellers.”