One of the curious aspects of my work as an editor is regular exposure to the bewildering intellectual diversity of Christianity—global Christianity to a certain extent, American Christianity predominantly. Since Wipf and Stock is not a confessional publisher and makes no effort to instantiate a singular, distinctive theological vision in the list of books it publishes, the authors we engage and the conferences we attend run the gamut from liberal Protestant to conservative Catholic, pentecostal pacifist to dispensational militarist. Of course, as editors we have to make decisions about what to publish and what to reject, and if we decide to publish something, we have to determine under which imprint will it appear, and so on and so forth. Each editor operates with de facto standards—theological, scholarly, and so forth—and we bring them to the table when evaluate new proposals. So not being a confessional publisher does not mean we operate in a theological or intellectual vacuum. Yet when engaging a new proposal our question is not first and foremost, “Is this the sort of book I would write or endorse on this particular topic?” but rather, “Do we have evidence that this piece of writing is worthy of publication?” How we answer the latter question is perhaps a subject for another day. But the difference between the questions ultimately means that we have an incredibly diverse population of authors and ecclesial communities that we serve.
At times, the daily exposure to Christians making so many different arguments from so many different perspectives—often at odds with each other, but just as often totally oblivious of one another—can feel like over-exposure. While it can certainly help one to clarify one’s own views on a particular topic, it can also lead me, in my more cynical moments, to say, “Why bother?” So many cantankerous theological debates seem, at least to someone hailing from a different ecclesial zip code, like weird street ball being played out in uninviting ecclesial cul de sacs. “Why was that neighborhood built in the first place?!” I often want to ask.
But it dawned on me recently that I should think about these matters differently. If we know the tree by its fruit, it’s only fair to the tree to judge its fruit at its very tastiest. Eat a pear before it’s ripe, and it’s horrible. Get a pear from Southern Oregon at just the right time, and it’s among the most delicious things you can put in your mouth, elevating the lowly pear tree to greatness. Just ask Harry & David.
So the fruit analogy is meant to suggest that I should probably approach the bewildering diversity of the Christian intellectual world not by cynically dismissing the sour fruit in the mix—Lord knows there’s plenty of that—but rather by trying to figure out what makes for the ripest fruit in the diverse forest of Christian life.