IVP - Behind the Books - Christian History Archives

June 15, 2012

A Week in the Life of Corinth Giveaway!

We're giving away FIVE copies of Ben Witherington's recent book, A Week in the Life of Corinth.


Follow a fictitious man named Nicanor through an eventful week of business dealings and conflict in first-century Corinth. In his portrayal of life in the famous Biblical city, Ben Witherington presents an unforgettable introduction to life in a major center of the New Testament world.

Tim Challies recently called this book, "quite a useful little volume." And Nijay Gupta says, "If I ever teach a course on 1 Corinthians, I will probably add this into the textbook mix because it is short, entertaining, and very, very interesting!"

Check out our website for more information and reviews from our Goodreads readers.

To enter to win 1 of 5 copies of this book, leave a comment below. Post "I want to win!" to our IVP Academic Facebook page to enter a second time. Winners will be announced on Monday, June 18. Don't forget to include your email address when you comment so we can contact you.


The results are in! Congratulations to our five winners:

  • Blake Atwood
  • Larry Gales
  • Jon Keel
  • Hilary Porritt
  • Joanna Holman

Thank you so much for entering this giveaway and for following IVP! Stay connected for future chances to win!

Posted by Leah Kiple at 3:45 PM | Comments (66) are closed

May 30, 2012

An Interview with James Emery White, author of A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom


James Emery White takes his readers on a pilgrimage to some of the most important sites in the history of Christianity in his new book Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom. From Martin Luther's Wittenberg to The Eagle and Child Pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other Inklings met, this book reflects on the Christian life across the world and throughout past centuries.

Get a closer look at this unique book through this Q&A with Dr. White:

What is the significance of this book being a "traveler's guide"?

It carries something of a double meaning. Each chapter is rooted in a place of spiritual significance that I take the reader to, and then each place/chapter introduces a bit of a traveler's guide to the Christian life through that place. Pilgrimages have long been significant to Christian life and thought, as have mentors. This is something of an attempt to combine the two.

You have written Serious Times, Christ Among the Dragons and A Mind for God. Why did you decide to write this Traveler's Guide and how does it compare with your other books on Christianity and culture?


I've always had my feet in several camps: the church and the academy, culture and apologetics, and spiritual formation. I wrote a book called Embracing the Mysterious God that won several awards--and was later released as Wrestling with God, also through IVP--on life in Christ. This is something of a return to that. But in truth, I reject separating life into compartments.We can't engage culture apart from a life in Christ; we can't journey with Christ apart from our minds. It's all one thing.

Why do you say that place matters, particularly as it pertains to this Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom?

From the beginning of human history, we have invested certain places with significance and meaning, sometimes because of their historical significance, sometimes because of their symbolic significance. To this day, people travel to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked. Or to Dachau. Or Iona. But it's not simply what happened at these places, or the personalities involved. It's the meaning of what took place. And that it took place. So in the book, when we "travel" to St. Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai, it reminds us that there is a God, and he has not been silent. He has been making himself known from the very beginning. Our God is the God of Moses. Our God is the God of Sinai. Our God is the God of the burning bush. Our God is the God of everything, and everyone, you read of in the Bible. Standing there conveys that with a weight unlike any other experience; so yes, place matters to us as humans.We are temporal, earthly creatures. It's difficult to underestimate its power.

Give us a glimpse of what we learn from Iona Abbey in Scotland.

That particular chapter explores the spiritual life proper. I have traveled to many places that seemed "spiritual." I have never been quite sure whether it was because it was steeped in religious history or full of mystery, or whether my soul simply resonated with the atmosphere. All I know is that Iona is, for me, a spiritual place. It feels like you are standing on the edge of the world, alone with your spirit before the Spirit, in nature's great monastery where buildings are only a part of the cloister. There are few places on the planet that call us to such powerful reflection and interaction with God. In the book, I explore the idea that we don't really have a spiritual life.We just have our life, and it is meant to be lived spiritually. Then I explore the myths that surround the life we pursue in Christ--and there are many--and the realities of how to truly develop an intimate relationship with God.

What are three things you hope readers take away from this Traveler's Guide?

Obviously an appreciation for these places. Our Christian history is being lost. A life such as Corrie ten Boom's, and her "hiding place," is virtually unknown to many younger Christians. Places like Iona, even Dachau, must be remembered. Second, I would hope for a sense of what the journey with Christ is meant to hold for us, and how it can hold it for us--again, the mentoring element. And finally, to see that we are creating history with our own lives in our own day, creating places and living lives that may inspire future generations, if we will prove faithful.

Posted by Leah Kiple at 4:00 PM

May 4, 2012

Picture This: The Reformation Commentary on Scripture

Thanks to Brannon Ellis, project editor for the Reformation Commentary on Scripture, for writing this post.


What’s it like to read the Reformation Commentary on Scripture? How does it feel? I think one way to get a good handle on the character of the series is the metaphor of a conference or seminar.

In my own mind, I picture a room full of leading lights from the Reformation era (along with influential peripheral figures). The Volume Editor is the moderator or chair of the conference, and the reader has been invited to eavesdrop on the proceedings. So, in the case of Galatians, Ephesians, we might picture that Gerald Bray (volume editor) begins the current meeting by projecting a Powerpoint slide of, say, Galatians 2:15-21:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ …

After shushing the attendees — this is a fairly rowdy bunch, after all — Bray offers a few opening comments setting the scene, before opening the discussion to all.

Martin Luther stands up first, as usual, and points out that it’s crucial to recognize that for Paul both Jews and Gentiles are equally worthy of judgment in God’s sight, because they’ve both rebelled against him—one side against his explicit commands, and the other side against what they implicitly know to be right and good. Both must realize they are sinners, in order that both may realize their need of Christ. Just about everyone in the room claps or says “Amen!”

Johannes Brenz waits for Brother Martin to finish, before offering quite a lengthy explanation of why it’s so important to continually emphasize the doctrine of justification by faith, since we naturally kick against it, either in self-righteous legalism, or in distrust or despair of the wholly free mercy of God. Again, most in the room express their hearty agreement (although a few grumble quietly about reminding people of the importance of good works, too).

And so it goes, under the careful direction of the moderator, the participants usually on the same page (though not always), leading the listener deeper into a theological engagement with and understanding of the meaning of the biblical text, the rich history of its interpretation, and its myriad pastoral implications and applications.

rcs.jpgI’d love to sit in on a conference like this, wouldn’t you? What’s remarkable is that, in reality, nothing quite like this ever happened. The RCS, I believe, is the closest we’ve ever gotten to being in such a room, experiencing the excitement of Luther battling it out with Zwingli, or the surprise when the Reformed and Reform-minded Catholics draw similar exegetical conclusions, or the epiphany that the Anabaptists may have had something worthwhile to say about the Bible after all. Gathering together so many fruitful Reformation-era thinkers, wrestling with scripture in one place with a unified purpose would have been just a thought experiment—until now.

Join our RCS program to save over 40% on each volume and receive the 1st volume for just $9.99 and Reading Scripture with the Reformers free: LEARN MORE. And don’t forget, the newest volume on Genesis 1-11 will release in August 2012!

Posted by Leah Kiple at 12:10 PM | Comments (1) are closed

December 20, 2011

Christ, Our Light


A special thank you to Cindy Crosby, co-editor of the Ancient Christian Devotional series with Tom Oden and compiler of On the Way to the Cross.

Every summer I work at a wilderness island, Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior close to the Canadian border. One thing I love about living so far north is the seemingly never-ending amount of daytime. I rise with the sun at 6 AM, and then watch the last glow of sunset around 11 PM. It's a season of light.

There's no cell phone coverage, no roads, no cars. My groceries arrive every two weeks on a small boat. Here, I am forced to slow down, make do, and get by with what I have.

On my hike to work at the ranger station each morning, I might snack on wild raspberries, or stop to enjoy the fog wisps over the harbor. A moose and her twin calves may block the trail, and I marvel at their gawky grace. Wolf tracks imprint the shoreline. The quiet is broken only by birdsong and wind in the birches.

isle royale sunset 2.JPG

As I relax into the rhythms of creation each summer, week after week, I find myself remembering something deep in my bones. In wilderness, I feel connected to the one who created it all. And, I love the days... filled with light.

At home, just outside of Chicago, it's the Christmas season. I find myself sucked into the tyranny of the must-dos. There's holiday baking, Christmas cards, and shopping for my self-imposed ideas of the perfect gifts for friends and family. I dash to the grocery store each time I run out of shortening or eggs, and I find myself in the car more than I'd like, driving on endless errands. Horns blare, "Santa Baby" plays on store intercoms, and jets roar overhead.

I wake up in darkness, and by afternoon I'm snapping on lights around the house to fend off the twilight. The sense of connectedness to something deep that I felt in the summer is almost obliterated by now, victim to white noise and busyness. I miss the light.

It's now, right before Christmas, that I remind myself to slow down and spend time remembering. Remembering how to be quiet. How to pay attention. And, remembering to soak up some light.

One way to go deeper and slow down is to spend time with the prayers and writings of the church fathers and mothers, and the scriptures that frame the Advent season. It is in these ancient words that we remember our connections to something deeper than the passing whims and demands of the moment. It's a way to be quiet, and pay attention. And it's a reminder of the light that has illuminated our faith.

As I compiled the Ancient Christian Devotional series during the past five years for IVP, I fell in love with some of the writings of Ambrose of Milan. He lived around 333-397 and was known as a pastor of souls as well as a scholar. When I meditate on his words, I can understand why. His writings from so many centuries ago remind me of whose child I am, and of the deep roots of my faith. His words bring me back to the light.


One of my favorite Ambrose passages is excerpted in the Christmas week readings in the Ancient Christian Devotional (Lectionary Cycle C). Ambrose writes of Jesus:

    He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, so that you may be in the altar. He was on earth that you may be in the stars... He chose to lack for himself, that he may abound for all.

Such ancient words! But they still illuminate the darkness.

As I paged through old prayer books and stacks of Ancient Christian Commentaries, looking for writings and ancient prayers to include in the devotional series, I came across this prayer from a Celtic abbot, Columbanus. He wrote, "We ask nothing other than that you give us yourself. For you are our all: our light, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your spirit."

"You are...our light." This Advent season, amid the tumult of to-do lists and self-imposed expectations, I'm trying to slow down and connect again with those ancient words. I am reminded of the light, even when the season dictates that these are the darkest days of the year. I rejoice with the familiar lines from the ninth chapter of Isaiah that open the readings for Christmas week:

    The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who lived in a land of deep darkness---on them light has shined... For a child has been born for us... and there shall be endless peace...

Posted by Leah Kiple at 1:31 PM | Comments (1) are closed

September 12, 2011

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture is Here!

Thanks to Nick Liao, IVP Academic sales and marketing manager, for today’s post.

In 1995, theologian Tom Oden contacted InterVarsity Press about an idea for a unique biblical commentary - one that would present the writings of the church fathers on Scripture to a contemporary audience, with excerpts arranged by the books of the Bible. The result was to be the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS), a 29-volume commentary series which was completed last year.

Looking back on that initial conversation, the conception of the ACCS now seems like a stroke of publishing genius - the kind of runaway success that most publishers spend a great deal of time chasing, and often with little success. More than 500,000 volumes have sold to date. John Wilson of Books and Culture hailed the series as “the most important project in religious publishing at the end of the second millennium.” Ecumenical in scope, the ACCS was acclaimed by scholars, pastors and students of Scripture spanning a diverse range of traditions, including Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox. Perhaps most importantly, the series contributed to a renewal of evangelical interest in the early church, a phenomenon that shows little sign of abating so many years later.

2950.jpgThough it looks like a tough act to follow, our hopes are high for the anticipated Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS). Edited by Timothy George and Scott Manestch, the RCS is projected to be a 28-volume commentary that brings the exegesis of the Protestant Reformation into view for a new audience. The inaugural volume, Galatians, Ephesians, was officially scheduled to release later this month, but has just arrived in our warehouse!

Those familiar with the ACCS will discern obvious continuities between the two series. Like the ACCS did with patristic writings, the RCS will give readers access to biblical commentary from the leading lights of the Reformation era. Many of the selections published in this series will also be appearing in English for the first time. And other similarities abound, including the familiar double-columned format, the attractive typeset and cover design.

George.jpgSo why a series on the Reformation, and why now? As series editor Timothy George writes in Reading Scripture with the Reformers, modern biblical studies with its fixation on historical-critical method to the exclusion of other insights has languished by neglecting the robust theological interpretation that the reformers themselves practiced. The Reformation was a revolution that aimed to recover the transformative power of Scripture for the life of the church. By sending readers back to the insights of the reformers, and therefore back to the Scriptures they so revered, we hope preachers and scholars will encounter the Word of God afresh as the reformers did in their own time, thereby revitalizing the contemporary church’s preaching, worship and witness. In this way, the RCS echoes the Reformation cry of ecclesia semper reformanda est! - the church must always be reforming.

More recently, there’s been a big to-do about the comeback of reformed theology, with the “Young, Restless and Reformed” on one end of the spectrum and seemingly everyone else on the other. We hope that the publication of this series will enrich that conversation by illustrating the breadth of the Protestant Reformation through the diverse cast of figures who were at its forefront. The Reformation was not merely about Calvin and Luther, as important as they were, but it was a time of creative theological ferment as exemplified by figures such as Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, John Owen, Katharina Schütz Zell and Hans Denck. Exposing the wider public to these writings, we believe, will help shed more light than heat on a contentious topic.

We also believe this series will be of value to the church catholic, not just those who belong to a Reformed tradition. As Timothy George notes, the Reformers did not stand apart in history but read Scripture and theologized in dialogue with the tradition and church fathers that preceded them (even if that meant reading the Bible against them at times). Their writings often evinced a deep familiarity with and high regard for the rule of faith as summarized in the ecumenical creeds. Even those most forearmed against reformed theology will find much to appreciate and be challenged by in these volumes as they compare how the reformers read Scripture with the church fathers. And they’ll likely find themselves surprised by the diverse range of opinions and the humor contained in some of these selections.

A team of first-rate scholars is currently hard at work compiling these volumes, which will be published steadily over the next decade. It will take time to say anything definite about the legacy of the series, even though it’s already being enthusiastically greeted by a number of noteworthy individuals. Nonetheless, the series motto, “Retrieved for Renewal,” expresses our optimism that the RCS will accomplish its goal of recovering the wealth of Reformation-era commentary for the sake of the church’s identity and mission. As with the ACCS, the RCS demonstrates our conviction that history is our lifeblood, and that we stand in the company of those who have gone before us. In more ways than one, we’re building on a great tradition.

See what the RCS has to offer for yourself! View the first chapter of the inaugural volume, Galatians, Ephesians, here.

Posted by Leah Kiple at 3:45 PM | Comments (2) are closed

April 18, 2011

William Wadé Harris and Other Christians You've Never Heard Of


When Clouds of Witnesses, the new book by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, appeared on my desk recently, I was intrigued by the premise: an up-close look at seventeen Christians from Africa and Asia who lived remarkable lives of faith and leadership. I scanned the chapter list and was also interested to note that I had not heard of any of them. This was not the usual roster of Western heroes of the faith.

I have the extraordinary privilege of attending church with Carolyn and Mark, so I was excited to learn that they would be leading a six week Sunday School class based on the content of Clouds of Witnesses. After just one class I was hooked!

We explored the fascinating life of William Wadé Harris, an African evangelist/apostle who traveled the Ivory Coast during the early 1900s making converts to a unique brand of Christianity that sprung from his own mixed background: a combination of native religion, Methodism, Anglicanism—and a visit from the angel Gabriel in which Harris was supposedly commanded to wear a long white robe, burn all his tribal fetishes, perform Christian baptisms, carry a long cane, preach Christ everywhere and become a prophet like Elijah. He was eventually instrumental in establishing hundreds of churches along the Ivory Coast, many of which still survive today as “Harris churches.” He is also considered by many to be one of the originators of today’s prosperity gospel.

Harris is a controversial figure. Historians ask, “Was he truly Christian? Was he sane? (His wife thought not.) How did African indigenous religion and culture shape the Christianity that Harris practiced? What good did he accomplish? What evils resulted? How did his influence shape African and now global Christianity?”

After hearing Carolyn describe his life and legacy in more detail, I find those questions all the more perplexing. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story for me was this: when Harris moved on from one town to the next, he would create “churches” to continue his mission, appointing 12 apostles, often from recently converted fetish witch doctors. He instructed them to build churches and to “wait for a white man with a Bible,” someone who could come and explain to them the meaning of their conversion more fully.

And here’s the amazing part: they did—by the thousands! Imagine the scene when, after World War One ended, white missionaries began returning to Africa to resume their pre-war work:

“Ten years later British Methodist missionary W. J. Platt was among the early white arrivals on the scene. In town after town he found church structures full of people waiting for ‘teachers of the Book.’ In the meantime they had learned a few hymns from store clerks; some of their leaders had walked great distances to hear a Christian sermon, then walked back to repeat it as best they could to their own people. One of their few readers would select a single verse from the Bible and explain it over and over to those who listened. By 1924 thousands of people waited in and around these buildings for missionaries to continue the work that their Prophet Harris had begun.”

I get chills just thinking about it. And I ask myself, am I as hungry as they were to learn from the Bible? They waited for a decade for someone to teach them about God's Word. I have access to all kinds of resources and teachers, and yet I have to remind myself to study the Bible regularly.

I can’t say for sure that all of Harris’s theology was sound (at least by today's theological and cultural standards). He did get some major things wrong—like polygamy, for instance. But I believe the Spirit of God used him, with of all his syncretism and imperfections, just as he uses the strange blend of cultural influences and theology we all carry with us. It’s encouraging to think that if God could use a character like Harris, then he can use a broken, imperfect character like me. And it's humbling to realize how unaware most of us are of the history and contributions of the non-Western church, and how much they have to teach us.

There are many other fascinating figures just waiting to be discovered in Clouds of Witnesses. Ever heard of Watchman Nee? Yeah, he’s not in there. But the Chinese revival preacher Dora Yu, who was instrumental in Watchman Nee’s conversion to Christianity, is. I hope you’ll take the time to read about these more obscure—yet no less important—figures of Christian history, these stories behind the stories. May their lives give you cause to think, pray, marvel and hope in the God who is always at work bringing people to himself and accomplishing his purposes through vital Christian faith lived out in a diversity of global contexts.

Posted by Rebecca Larson at 2:52 PM

March 17, 2008

When God Shows Up on Campus by Don Everts

Don Everts is the author of a number of IVP books, including the widely read Jesus with Dirty Feet, the recent One Guy's Head series of postmodern apologetics, and the forthcoming I Once Was Lost with Doug Schaupp. He has been on InterVarsity staff in Colorado for over a decade, and he has just written the history of InterVarsity in the Rocky Mountains region. That history, When God Shows Up on Campus, is available for sale at Lulu.com as a print book, and it's also available for free download as a PDF.

The IVP connection to this is that there's a shout-out to IVP's very first book, Discovering the Gospel of Mark by Jane Hollingsworth. Back in the mid-1940s, college student Gene Thomas was waiting to pick up his date from her sorority. While in the foyer, he happened to glance at a magazine that was sitting on the coffee table. The magazine was called HIS, and it was published by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As he leafed through it, he happened across an ad for a book called Discovering the Gospel of Mark. Even though Gene was not yet an active follower of Christ, he was intrigued enough to order the book. He later got together with several guys from his dorm and used that book to start studying the Bible. Through that study, assisted by Hollingsworth's book, Gene encountered and was gripped by the dynamic person of Jesus Christ.

Gene eventually became a fired-up, committed, evangelistic Christian, and he went on to pioneer InterVarsity chapters at universities all over the Rocky Mountains. His legacy continues on through the generations of Christians who have had active witness throughout the region, including people like Don Everts today. Thousands of people have come to Jesus through InterVarsity's work there, and IVP is glad to have played a part in the process.

So take a look at When God Shows Up on Campus. Not only does it provide a nice summary of IVP's first book, it's an invigorating story of entrepreneurial campus ministry and God's providence and direction. Check it out.

Posted by Al Hsu at 3:24 PM | Comments (1) are closed

February 14, 2008

Recovering the Christian meaning of Valentine's Day

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm reposting a blog entry from my Suburban Christian blog that ran a year ago.
Yesterday on a Christian radio station the host was talking about things to do for Valentine's Day with your sweetie, and it just seemed like an extended commercial with specific brand-name product placements for this or that kind of candy or flowers or whatnot. And it struck me that while Christians have long bemoaned the commercialization and secularization of Christmas and Easter, we haven't had as much of an outcry against the commercialization and secularization of Valentine's Day.

I think this is probably because many of us haven't really seen it as a Christian holiday. But it really is. As I mention in my book Singles at the Crossroads, St. Valentine (or Valentinus) was a priest and physician in third-century Rome. According to church tradition, Valentine was known for doing good deeds, caring for the poor, healing the sick. He was arrested during a persecution of Christians, and the Roman emperor Claudius Gothicus handed him over to a magistrate. While in custody, Valentine healed the magistrate's blind, adopted daughter, and the entire family was converted to Christianity. Upon hearing this, the emperor had Valentine beheaded--on February 14th.

From then on, Christians have commemorated this day in memory of Valentine's life of selfless service and ministry. And note what is missing from this narrative - it's not all about romantic couple love. Rather, the emphasis is on love of neighbor, agape service love, not romantic love. The romantic emphasis didn't come until the Middle Ages, and then of course it was heightened by 18th-century Romanticism and now exacerbated by modern Hollywood mythology and Western consumer culture. I think Valentine's Day should be reclaimed by Christians with a more holistic, trinitarian, agape understanding of love, not this narrow emphasis on romantic couple love.

After all, in Christian tradition, romantic love is not the highest love. Greater love has no one than this, that we lay down our lives for our friends. For much of church history, friendship love was acknowledged as the highest form of Christian love and service. And actually, romantic love was viewed suspiciously because it tended to be overly emotive, irrational and could create an idolatry of the love interest. So while we certainly should love and honor our spouses and significant others on Valentine's Day, we should only see this as one particular expression of the greater love that is agape love of neighbor.

Last night my wife said that she hadn't gotten me anything for Valentine's Day, and I said, "Great! Don't get me anything." Don't buy into the commercialism of the secularized holiday. I told her that if she really wanted to get me something, she could make a contribution to Compassion International, World Vision, Samaritan's Purse or something else, or find some other creative way to share God's love with the world. And instead of spending lots of money on an expensive date out, we're exercising stewardship by having a quiet date night at home. Not to diss romance entirely (both of us are NF romantic saps on the Myers-Briggs), but this is our modest attempt to celebrate Valentine's Day more Christianly.

So commemorate Valentine's Day by being other-centered and honoring others in the spirit of Christian love. Get a pack of children's valentines and give them to your friends and coworkers. Use the day as an opportunity to call, write or e-mail someone you haven't heard from for a while. Honor Christ by serving him in the spirit of St. Valentine. Happy Valentine's Day!

Posted by Al Hsu at 9:22 AM | Comments (4) are closed

May 30, 2007

New Book Technology Again: Ancient Scribal Blogs Discovered!

On my May 9 post I said I’d give my laptop for a peek at some ancient scribal blogs. Well, I’m going to keep my laptop and have my ancient blogs too. Here are some.

The first is a scribal blog from an ancient Assyrian royal scribe who is having his annual job performance review:

"I have not been treated in accordance with my deeds . . . if it is befitting that first-ranking scholars and their assistants receive mules, surely I should (at least) be given one donkey." (See “Non-Israelite Written Sources: Assyrian,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, p. 725)

Continue reading "New Book Technology Again: Ancient Scribal Blogs Discovered!"
Posted by Dan Reid at 10:25 AM

May 21, 2007

N. T. Wright on C. S. Lewis

I don't typically read Touchstone much, but they ran an article by Tom Wright, author of our recent book Evil and the Justice of God. The article is an appraisal of Mere Christianity that is quite interesting, not just for Wright's take on Lewis but also for what Wright models, a spirit of generosity that says, "I don't quite agree, but Lewis's contribution is still good, even if he doesn't exactly say things the way I [Wright] would." Here's a snippet:

I owe Lewis a great debt. In my late teens and early twenties I read everything of his I could get my hands on, and read some of his paperbacks and essays several times over. There are sentences, and some whole passages, I know pretty much by heart. Millions around the world have been introduced to, and nurtured within, the Christian faith through his work where their own preachers and teachers were not giving them what they needed. That was certainly true of me.

. . . One of the puzzles, indeed, is the way in which Lewis has been lionized by Evangelicals when he clearly didn´t believe in several classic Evangelical shibboleths. He was wary of penal substitution, not bothered by infallibility or inerrancy, and decidedly dodgy on justification by faith (though who am I to talk, considering what some in America say about me?).

But above all, it worked; a lot of people have become Christians through reading Lewis and, though, like me, they may have gone on to think things through in ways he didn't, they retain, like me, a massive and glorious indebtedness.

For more, click here.

Posted by Al Hsu at 7:12 AM | Comments (3) are closed

May 9, 2007

New Book Technology: The Story Behind the Book

Did you enjoy the YouTube movie “short” on “New Book Technology” the other day? There is a serious side to that, you know. Early Christians were in fact at the forefront of the early introduction of the codex, or what we call the “book,” in place of the scroll. Not that they abandoned the scroll (or roll), nor did Christians invent the codex, but there is a great deal of evidence that the codex early became the preferred medium for Christian Scripture. Why? We are not certain. But for the most recent codex, er . . . book, on the subject, take a look at Larry Hurtado’s The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. No, this book is not from the IVP scriptorium, but it’s irresistible fodder for a “Behind the Books” blog, and it has some info that editorial types can geek-out on. (Another interesting book is Harry Y. Gamble’s Books and Readers in the Early Church.)

Hurtado explores several features of the actual physical manuscripts of early Christian texts as a neglected resource for understanding early Christianity. Chapter two is devoted to “The Early Christian Preference for the Codex.” This is definitely a technical, scholarly study that is careful to avoid unwarranted conclusions, but I’ll hazard losing some nuance and offer some tidbits here:

For the most part, up through the second century the codex was reserved for texts Christians regarded as Scripture, generally those that would eventually make up the Christian canon. Other Christian texts too could be in codex form, but the preference of the codex for “scripture” is markedly pronounced. Up until the third century, more than 98 percent of non-Christian Greek books are rolls. But for that same period, nearly all Christian books are codices. By the fourth century, the rest of the world had caught on.

The early Christian preference of the codex for their texts is so pronounced and widespread that it requires some explanation. It wasn’t just the handy form of the codex that dictated it. It wasn’t ease of production, since the codex was more difficult to make than the roll. It wasn’t economics that drove it, since the savings (maybe 25 percent) were not that great. It wasn’t social status (a codex for common folks, rolls for literary folks). It seemed to have signified something, to have “semiotic” value. It almost appears that if in the second century you saw Urbanus walking down the street with a codex in hand, you’d take notice and assume he was a Christian.

Well, so how did it get started? In fact, how did it develop? As for the latter, it’s evident that Christians were experimenting with the technology of making a good codex, and particularly with the aim of jamming more scriptural books between two covers. So it’s not like the technology was just dropped in their lap fully developed, having been perfected in the big publishing houses of Antioch or Rome. At this point we can only speculate about the initial impetus for the “Christian” codex. Was it the form in which the first collection of Paul’s letters or a Gospel was “published”? Was it preferred by some technologically innovative and influential early Christian leader, maybe a geeky apostle? Did it have its origin in using these texts in early Christian worship? We just don’t know! It’s interesting to consider though, and maybe time and further research will answer these questions.

Meanwhile, think about this: In a significant respect, we owe our present-day book form to the initiative of the early Christians. Anyone want to go back to the scroll? Well, actually, I’m scrolling down a computer screen as I write. Is this an improvement? What has been lost? What has been gained? And notice how today we are experimenting with the best ways of using this new technology—but the goal is to emulate the printed page!

Now for a little self-indulgence: editors and publishers of Christian literature have a long history, and a cloud of unnamed saints in our tradition. I for one would love to meet some of them, and I’d give my laptop for a peek at a second- or third-century “Behind the Books” blog from a Christian scriptorium in Antioch, Alexandria or Rome.

Posted by Dan Reid at 7:59 AM

Get Email Updates

You'll get an email whenever a new entry is posted to Behind the Books

Subscribe to Feeds

Got a Book Idea?

Please follow our submissions guidelines. We cannot respond to book proposals or inquiries within the context of this blog.