Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jon Pott on Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Christian Century is currently running an interview, conducted by writer Amy Frykholm, with Jon Pott, the recently retired editor-in-chief at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

I will confess that I have received a rejection letter from Jon Pott on more than one occasion, but I have always admired Eerdmans and its publishing agenda.

I have always understood Eerdmans to lean "evangelical" in the books that they publish, but Pott suggests that they see themselves more as a "mainline Protestant" publisher.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Eerdmans is somewhat hard to describe: it has a Dutch Reformed background and is socially progressive and theologically rather conservative. It is intellectually rigorous but interested in a non­academic audience. How would you describe it?
I see myself as very much in line with the thinking of Bill Eerdmans and other predecessors. During my time as editor, Eerdmans benefited from and was able to nurture an emerging center ground between progressive evangelicals on the one hand and traditional mainliners on the other. 
Eerdmans has a long history of publishing evangelicals, but I have always seen its deepest roots as mainline. When I came in 1968, we were already publishing Dutch Reformed theologians like G. C. Berkouwer and their Dutch Calvinist counterparts in the United States. They were preceded by thinkers like Abraham Kuyper. We would soon also publish Karl Barth, if we weren't already. There was a strong European Reformed connection from the beginning, complemented by connections to, among others, American Presbyterians like B. B. Warfield at Princeton.
As the conversation grew in the 1960s between evangelicals and the mainline, we were deeply engaged with what  might be called the emerging evangelical renaissance, and we were well positioned to nurture it. On the mainline side, we saw the frustrations of people who felt that their traditions were being thinned out theologically, and we were able to reach out to them as well.
A lot of people might think of Eerdmans as an evangelical publisher that became increasingly mainline.
When I first took the job, one of the toughest tasks we had was to convince mainliners that we were mainliners. We were seen by many of them as almost exclusively an evangelical house, though that was not how we saw ourselves. 
It is less of a balancing act now. In fact, the two worlds have become much more intermingled. I am not sure how much sense it makes to talk in these terms. More or less theologically conservative does not translate into more or less evangelical or more or less mainline.
Eerdmans also had a long history of being culturally transformationist. One taproot goes back to Kuyper, who saw culture as something to be transformed, not averted. That had important implications for Eerdmans as it engaged the mainline and progressive evangelicals. 
What were some of the decisive books that Eerdmans published while you were there?
John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus was and remains an important book for us. It was tremendously influential not only in its own intellectual summons but for the connections it encouraged in the Radical Reformation tradition. One of those connections was to Stanley Hauerwas, who has been an important contributor and friend.
Another watershed book was Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square, which, like The Politics of Jesus, became a part of the vocabulary. It connected us with what became the neoconservative side of our market, and it contributed to the view that Christians had a responsibility in the public square.
Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind raised the question about where evangelicals had come from and where they were going. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son was certainly one of the most important pastoral books the company has ever done.