March 27, 2013
[Video] Andy Crouch on Institutionalism
We had a real treat last week: an in-person visit from Andy Crouch, the energetic and insightful executive editor of Christianity Today magazine. He's following up his 2008 IVP title, Culture Making, with a new book coming out this fall entitled Playing God. He was at the Press to lay some of his thinking on us, and it was great. Would you like to listen in?
In the following video clip, he was answering a question from my colleague Liz Klassen about whether the long — even multigenerational — lifespan of an institution can sometimes become an idolatrous grasping after immortality.
Since Andy had been (1) praising the God-given power of institutions and also (2) warning of our lust to set ourselves up as immortal gods, Liz's question was very much to the point. Andy addresses the danger of institutionalism: when an organization forgets its mission and pursues first of all its own longevity:
Good stuff, huh? And believe it or not, this snippet isn't even the best from the hour-long Q&A session we had with him. (We're putting together a highlight reel drawing upon the whole hour, so watch for that in the coming days.)
Why do I share this with you here at "Behind the Books"? Well, it's because publishers are institutions, and IVP is no exception. I love Andy's analysis that institutions offer a crucial vector for pursuing the Bible's cultural mandate to make the Earth flourish over the long haul. As they say, "Without individuals, nothing happens; without institutions, nothing survives."
But of course that means we need to take to heart Andy's warning about institutional self-centeredness, too. Did you notice his mention of times of stress? Did anyone else think of the publishing industry (and perhaps Christian publishing in particular) — or was it just me? There's certainly plenty these days for publishers to be stressed about:
But if we wallow in these threats, we're likely to forget we're on a grand mission. We might start focusing on the short-term (and short-sighted) objective of just staying afloat. And then we're in trouble.
But pursuing that mission to "pass on abundance" and "do the most good in the world," as Andy puts it — in IVP's case, to "publish resources that equip and encourage people to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in all of life" — has always been a challenging one, one that always needed more than quick-fix, Lone Ranger solutions.
That's what the history of IVP has been about. And believe me, we're working hard at it today: figuring out ways to bring authors and readers together through the medium of books, crafted and brought to market through the smarts and hard work of "missionaries" with expertise in the multiple disciplines of publishing, from copyeditors and designers to fork-lift drivers and Twitterati.
God help us if we lapse into institutionalism. But God help us if we don't use the power of this institution for all it's worth. Thanks, Andy, for bringing us the good word.