Publishing companies are in business to make money. That includes Christian publishers—and not all Christian publishers are run by Christians.
If a book about angels gets lots of attention, suddenly everyone rushes to write/publish about angels. And any topic that gets traction leads publishers to capitalize further by creating related products to sell.
Since it’s mostly about money, what if the first run of a Christian book brings criticism from readers who point out false teaching? It would be super expensive (and embarrassing) for the publisher to completely pull the book. So what if they just delete the questionable parts and do a second printing?
It’s my guess that’s what happened when the how-to for the occult practice of astral projection was removed from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (originally published 1978, Harper & Row). In the first printing but removed in later printings is this instruction: “In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. … Go deeper and deeper into outer space. … Listen quietly … [to] any instruction given” (p. 36).
Here are some more examples that seem to illustrate this:
The first printing of Jesus Calling (publisher Thomas Nelson) described how the author had been influenced by a book titled God Calling. But that note got removed later. (God Calling was written by anonymous people who listened to unknown entities and wrote down messages that came to them.)
Also in Jesus Calling, a reference to Abraham and Isaac was later changed to Jacob and Joseph. But wait. If these are actually the words Jesus spoke to author Sarah Young, why would Jesus need to be edited? It seems dishonest not to be clear about such things. Though, granted, it would be icky for the publisher to announce: “Dear readers, in checking against the Old Testament, we realized that Jesus was mistaken right here, so we fixed that for him.”
I once listened to a couple of sermons from a well-known speaker/writer. Later I read a book into which those sermons had been incorporated. What was in the book, though, had been toned down from the way things were said in the audio sermons. And the changes were not just what I would call grammar or clarity issues. It felt to me like the most controversial views were being softened to be palatable to the largest audience possible.
Readers getting the sanitized versions of books have no way of knowing that those writers might be into some wonky theology they wouldn’t knowingly support. Call me picky, but that doesn’t seem quite up-front to me.
And there was the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey (father and son). The book was published in 2010 (Tyndale House) and then pulled as untrue in 2015 … followed by a lawsuit. Son Alex said the story was made up, that he knew nothing of the book, wasn’t consulted, and received no royalties.
A Publishers Weekly report said that this book was released amid a trend of “heaven tourism” books (like the wildly popular Heaven Is for Real). See? Maybe the publishers were overly anxious to get on a “trips to heaven” bandwagon? (And isn’t it ironic that the author’s name is spelled exactly like the word malarkey that means “bunkum,” as in “a bunch of malarkey”?)
Another prong to this topic is that, sadly, some editors at Christian publishing houses aren’t necessarily spiritually savvy.
- A commenter to a blog post about The Message Bible reported: “When I confronted Peterson’s publisher about several wrongly translated texts, here was part of his reply to me by phone: ‘Does anyone really know what any of the Bible really means anyway?’” (Read this critique of The Message Bible, available on the “More from Lynn” page.)
- I know of a roundtable meeting of Christian editors, during which there was a suggestion to publish a book about world religions. The suggester meant that such a book would expose the error of those teachings. But the company president misunderstood the proposal, believing it was to tout the benefits of the world religions—and he thought this was a good idea.
- Years ago, in my work as an editor, my company had contracted to use some magazine articles from a very famous Christian publisher. As was my custom, I was double-checking facts and looking up Scripture quotes. Many “facts” were in error. And not a single Scripture “quote” was from any known Bible version. Yikes! That experience put me on super alert never to just swallow something that came from that source.
If you hadn’t known about these sorts of things before … well, now you do.