Murdoch corners 50% of Christian publishing

HarperCollins is part of the media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also among many other properties owns Fox News.   HarperCollins already owns Zondervan, the world’s leading Bible publisher.  Now Christianity Today reports that HarperCollins is also buying Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publishing company.   This will give Mr. Murdoch control of 50% of the Christian publishing industry.

See HarperCollins Buys Thomas Nelson, Will Control 50% of Christian Publishing Market | Liveblog | Christianity Today.

Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?  Or by a mogul like Murdoch, who also publishes racy tabloids?  What will this do to the smaller publishing companies like Crossway and denominational houses like CPH?  Or will e-books, the Kindle, Amazon, and viral online marketing make even HarperCollins obsolete?

Swedish mysteries

We’ve been talking about Swedish literature–particularly, Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God.   This would be a good time to discuss the latest outbreak of Swedish literature on our shores, the publishing phenomenon of Swedish mysteries.  The biggest sellers are by the late Stieg Larsson, whose “Millennium Trilogy” has sold millions, with the first title  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being made into what looks like a blockbuster movie that will be released December 21.

I started reading these as vacation diversions last summer and have to admit that I enjoyed them immensely.  I’m interested in the genre and the conventions of mystery stories.  As with all artistic forms, it is possible to follow them mechanically, resulting in merely conventional writing.  But they can also become the framework for infinite variations and fascinating applications.  These Swedish mysteries are especially complicated and absorbing:  There is not only ONE mystery to solve, there are several related mysteries.  And there is not only ONE detective trying to figure everything out.  There are several, working both together and at cross purposes with each other.   (This is true of the Larsson books, and it is also true of another Swedish mystery that I read,  The Hypnotist  by Lars Kepler.  Perhaps someone can say if these features are true of Swedish–or perhaps Scandinavian– mysteries as a whole.)  Also, the alliance between the rumpled but idealistic journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander advances the tradition of unlikely partners in detection that began with Holmes and Watson.  And Lisbeth is a truly compelling character, another eccentric-to-the-point-of-being-mentally-ill detective (think Adrian Monk) whose problems give them their advantages.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo even makes use of the famous “locked room” plot and then completely, we might say, deconstructs it.

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a really good mystery, combining also elements of the suspense thriller.  The subsequent ones,  The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, not so much.  They are thrillers, but not really mysteries.  One reads them just to see what the characters will do next.  And I would say those other two lay bare the over-the-top sensationalism that is also in the first one, but that is compensated for by the mystery.  After awhile, things get ridiculous.  But you can’t help but keep reading anyway.

Don’t read them, though, if you can’t imaginatively handle violence and sex, which in these novels are not presented in a pornographic way but in a disturbing way.   Here is one of my complaints about Larsson:  His villains are sexual transgressors.  Sex trafficking, sadism, pedophilia, prostitution–these are definitely presented as bad things.   But his good guys have open marriages, cohabit without marriage, experiment with bisexuality, and have a completely casual attitude towards sex that is also transgressive and yet belies how we are supposed to feel about what the bad guys do.

The Swedish settings are also interesting, and these novels are so immersive that you feel like you are in Scandinavia.  Here is a completely secularized society that nevertheless has Christianity as its cultural religion.  Everyone orients themselves according to the church year–such as Advent and St. Lucy’s day–and feels free to consult the friendly liberal pastor of the state church.  Some of the young people, though, are attracted to “fundamentalism,” which their parents don’t approve of, but tolerate because it’s their kids.

The over-riding question is this:  In a society so tolerant, so prosperous, and so welfare-statey, why is there so much evil lurking beneath every surface?  And why is everybody so depressed?  And why is everyone so guilty?

 

More discoveries of Bo Giertz

Justin Taylor, editor at Crossway Books, has a great post–entitled “The Best Christian Novel You Have Never Heard Of”– on the Swedish Lutheran novelist Bo Giertz.  He quotes Leland Ryken, a Wheaton professor I have known for a long time who is one of the top evangelical literary critics:

Bo Giertz’s fictional work The Hammer of God is one of the best literary “finds” I have ever made.

I discovered this novel-length series of three novellas while co-authoring a soon-to-be-released, co-authored (with Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson) book entitled Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature. Initially Giertz’s book came onto my radar screen as a candidate for the handbook section of our book on the portrayal of pastors in the literary classics, but once I started to read the book I could hardly put it down. My son quickly agreed that The Hammer of God merited a full-scale chapter and not just an entry in our handbook section.

The story of the author is nearly as interesting as the masterpiece of clerical fiction that he composed in a span of six weeks while serving as a rural pastor in Sweden. At the age of only 43, Giertz became a bishop in the Swedish Lutheran church. The best-known biography of Giertz calls him “an atheist who became a bishop.” The publication of The Hammer of God in 1941 brought Giertz immediate fame.

The design of this trilogy of novellas is ingenious.

Each of the three stories follows a young Lutheran pastor over approximately a two-year span at the beginning of his ministerial career, all in the  same rural parish. The overall time span for the work as a whole is 130 years.

Each of the three pastors arrives fresh from theological training and decidedly immature (and perhaps a nominal rather than true believer).

Each of the three attains true Christian faith through encounters with (1) parishioners, (2) fellow pastors, and (3) assorted religious movements that were in fact prominent in Sweden during the historical eras covered.

There are thus two plot lines in the book: one recounts the “coming of age” spiritual pilgrimages of the three young ministers, and the other is an episodic fictional story of a rural Swedish parish.

No other work covered in Pastors in the Classics covers more issues in ministry than this one, and it has the added advantage of being packaged in three manageable units.

via The Best Christian Novel You’ve Never Heard Of – Justin Taylor.

Read Justin’s whole post.  He also quotes ME, drawing on an article I wrote  on Giertz’s literary qualities as compared to what we see in conventional Christian novels.

(That article was based on a presentation I made at a conference on Giertz at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne.  It was published, along with the other presentations–including one by this blog’s commenter Bror Erickson–in one of the few books on Giertz in English, one that all Giertz fans will want to have: A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz.)

Fleeing from a victory already achieved

“Who am I?”

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (March 4, 1945)

Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who am I?” in Letters & Papers From Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1953/1997), 347-8.

via “Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Tolle Lege.

HT:  Ryan Gilles

God is Red

On Monday night, the dissident Chinese author Liao Yiwu gave a reading on my campus.  He read a poem, “Massacre,” about the killings of the pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. For writing that poem, Liao was tortured and imprisoned for four years.  This led to his writing about his fellow prisoners and documentation of more government abuses.  He now lives as an exile from his homeland.  He also read from his latest book, God is Red, which is about the rise of Christianity in China, despite horrendous persecution.

Here is a review of the book by my colleague, David Aikman, a former correspondent with Time Magazine who covered what was going on at Tiananmen Square who is currently a history professor at Patrick Henry College:

Every so often, you come across a narrative of courage under suffering that is so well reported, so restrained and sensitive in its intelligence, that you are momentarily altered by the experience. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had that effect upon millions, both Russians and foreigners, in 1962. The publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novels—like Cancer Ward and The First Circle, for which the Russian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature—even contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

It is far too early to guess whether Liao Yiwu’s latest book, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China (HarperOne), will have any long-term impact on the author’s homeland. But readers will surely come away inspired by the landmark account of Chinese Christians living under the vicious political campaigns of the Mao era. (No stranger himself to political persecution, Liao was imprisoned during the government’s post-Tiananmen Square crackdown. He described his prison experience in Testimonials, an expanded version of which has just been published in German.)

Two ingredients, in particular, make God Is Red such a powerful account of Chinese Christians’ perseverance. First, Liao acknowledges that he is not himself a Christian, so he cannot be accused of trying to persuade anyone of anything religious. And second, the quality of his reporting is simply excellent.

The drama of the reporting derives from the fact that much of it takes place in remote areas of the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The characters Liao focuses on are men and women of extraordinary saintliness: the indefatigably beneficent Dr. Sun, for example, a man who turned down prosperous positions in China’s cities because he wanted to help the poor and outcast in China’s remote rural areas; the elderly nun persistently appealing for the Communists to return confiscated church property.

Some of the narratives are historically fascinating. There is the story of the martyrdom of Wang Zhisheng, an ethnic Miao executed by the Communists in 1973 and commemorated today by a statue in London’s Westminster Abbey. Almost as fascinating is the detailed story of the suffering of Yuan Xiangchen (Allen Yuan). A patriarch of China’s house churches, Yuan spent two decades in labor camps (as did his friend, the legendary Chinese evangelist Wang Mingdao) for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-controlled church. Yuan died in 2005, but I can still remember visiting his house, which served as a house church, in the center of Beijing in the 1990s.

Like all good reporters, Liao lets his characters speak for themselves, without adding superfluous commentary. From hip-hop youngsters in Chengdu to seasoned old saints in Yunnan come varied stories of how each one became a Christian. From the same people come powerful recollections of the pitiless and evil tyranny of Communism as it struggled to dominate all of life in China. If you want to read one book that sums up the glory of the Christian witness under persecution and the tragic 20th-century story of China’s Christians, read God Is Red. Brilliant and immensely moving, it will, if anything can, inject new backbone into your own Christian life.

via Profiling Christians Who Have Suffered Under Chinese Communism | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Some memorable lines from Liao, who spoke through an interpreter:  “To survive under a dictatorship, you have to lie.”  When asked about contemporary China, he said that Americans are so concerned with making profits that they are neglecting their traditional values of standing up for freedom and human rights.  He said that his father always told him that if you are confronted by a wolf in the mountains, be sure to look it straight in the eye.  If you don’t, if you look away, the wolf will tear out your throat and drink your blood.  He thinks we are avoiding looking China in the eye.

I think it was good for our students to be in the presence of someone who had been tortured for his political beliefs.  I think it was good for them to hear about Christians who were killed for their faith.

When I came to the event, an elderly Chinese gentleman came to the door about the same time I did.  I opened the outer for him, but then he insisted on opening the inner door for me.  We smiled and I welcomed him to our campus.  It turns out, it was Dr. Sun, one of the book’s heroes, a saintly physician who led Liao into his exploration of the Chinese church.  I don’t know his story, if he too was driven out of China, but I want to find out.  It was remarkable that he showed up for the reading.

Seeing people like Liao and Dr. Sun in the flesh turns abstractions such as freedom, persecution, and martyrdom into powerful, tangible realities.

Buy the book here.

Manliness: A Contest

One of my former students, Nathan Martin, had worked with Reagan culture czar Bill Bennett on his sequel to The Book of Virtues, a collection of classic and contemporary readings entitled  The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.

It explores the traits and virtues of manhood, some arguably lost in our feminized and gender-neutral age, using stories, poems, and reflections from authors ranging from Homer and Shakespeare to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan.  (Luther even makes an appearance!)  The book is divided into chapters  dealing with Man at War; Man at Work; Man in Sports, Play, & Leisure; Man in the Polis; Man with Woman and Children; Man in Prayer and Reflection.

The Acknowledgements credit not only Nathan but also a slew of other Patrick Henry College products:  Christopher Beach, Olivia Linde, Brian Dutze, Shane Ayers, and David Carver.  That’s virtually the whole research team, drawing on their background in the Great Books, their perceptive thinking about these issues,  and their writing and editing skills.  So I’m very proud of them.

Nathan is also a fan of this blog (you might also recognize some of those other names as occasional commenters) and of the discussions that we have here.   He sent me two copies of the book, one for me and one to give away on my blog.

So I will celebrate my birthday Hobbit style:  Instead of getting a present, I will give a present.  Well, actually I’m not giving it; Nathan is.  And it won’t really be a gift.  Unlike God, I am making you earn it.   I’d like to start one of our famous discussions.  And the person deemed to have made the best comment will receive the free book.  (I haven’t quite determined how this will be decided yet.  Maybe it will be obvious.  Maybe we’ll vote on it.)  The comments, for the purposes of the contest, will be closed at midnight Eastern time on Sunday.

So here is the topic for discussion:  What is “manliness” in your thinking and in your experience?

I’d like to hear from women (what are the masculine traits that you look for in a man?) and men (when did you have to “act like a man,” and what did that entail?), and from people in various stages of life (boys, youth, husbands, fathers, and old guys like I have now become).

By the way, if you don’t want to hold out for a free book, you can buy one by clicking the links.

 


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