Christianity in a Nutshell?

Christianity in a Nutshell? July 25, 2013

I probably should have saved this until Christmas, and called it “Christmas in a nutshell” – with or without the question mark. But the picture appeared on Reddit, and came to my attention today, and so I thought it best not to wait. Surely it is always worth asking – and especially at a time of year when one cannot be accused of interfering with the Christmas spirit – whether the infancy stories are in any sense central to Christianity.

Closer to its release date, I will be blogging about a wonderful forthcoming book by Andrew Lincoln that deals spectacularly well with this topic: Born of a Virgin?: Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology. I expect it to be for our generation what Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah was for the previous one.


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  • Brian J Henry

    I’m excited for Born of a Virgin? but that cover…yikes.

    • Ian

      Yes, the days when even reputable publishers would consistently hire book designers is passed, unfortunately.

      • Brian J Henry

        That’s ridiculous. It took me only ten minutes to make this:

        Maybe I’m just cocky, but I think it’s a significant improvement. Is there a step I don’t know about that makes it so much more difficult?

        • Ian

          Yes. There’ll be a graphic designer somewhere who is paid to do loads of book covers. They got the gig because they quoted peanuts, and they mostly use simple templates and a trip to iStockPhoto. They typically get the sketchiest briefs from the marketing dept (often not even the editor) and they absolutely never get the book to read any more. They have little skill and don’t care. They won’t hand-kern or set a title, will use only default typefaces, will not color match to an image, and so on.

          It used to be that publishers invested in the design of the book, and paid a good graphic designer to do it right. Now that is very rare, and really only happens with high profile books they are putting a marketing budget into. Most books are slush-marketed – the marketing department has a big list of books they try to sell as a whole, with no accountability for the performance of any individual title. There’ll be a cursory marketing plan somewhere for each title, but these days it is very common to get the authors to write the marketing plan, and even when there is one, it won’t be followed.

          This is all a result of the margins in the publishing industry getting squeezed.

          When I wrote my first textbook, ten years ago, I got taken out to dinner by my editor who understood the area well enough to ask me intelligent questions about the content, the advance was about minimum wage for the 9 months work I put in, I exchanged emails with the book cover designer, and got to check and edit the ebook edition. It sold its print run three times and they commissioned a second edition, which is doing well also.

          My last book (last in both senses), a few years ago, I had to write the marketing plan, the cover designer was incompetent (I ended up modifying his design myself), the copy-editing was cursory, and they published the ebook edition before I saw it, and all the mathematical formulae (all 500 of them) were typeset wrongly. They reduced the royalty by 1/3 and I got a fifth of the advance. (Most professional or academic authors get no advance, btw, which is perhaps reasonable if you have a university job and your publishing is considered part of your role). All this by Elsevier — hardly a small or back-street operation — by an author who’s books have sold half a million dollars in product for them.

          So, yes, there’s a big blockage: the industry is panicked, quality of production is getting the chop, and the people who care about it (like my first editor) lose their jobs to be replaced by graduates who are willing to drive costs down to zero for their bosses and who really couldn’t care less about the books themselves.

          So yes, expect to see more reputable publishers producing books that look like they were self-published. Unfortunately, there is often not much difference.

          I have also got some horror stores on what qualifies as ‘peer review’ too…


  • Michael Carrell

    The Christ child in a manger is a metaphor for the Church as a feeding trough, where the lambs are fed the word of God and the bread blessed and broken, for the Christ has been born into the hearts of those who believe as the Lamb of God and Suffering Servant referred to by being wrapped in a shroud. Blessings, it is central to Christianity.

  • Ryan Hite

    Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated than that especially with the larger and more developed doctrinal churches.