By Mark A. Taylor
“Do you still have a job?”
The text came to my phone Friday evening from a friend cross-country who had just read the news about David C. Cook’s purchase of Standard Publishing assets.
I assured him I’m still working at CHRISTIAN STANDARD, even though most of Standard’s product lines went with the sale.
David C. Cook, an evangelical publisher with almost as many years of service as Standard Publishing, has acquired Standard’s complete line of Standard Lesson Commentary products as well as our Heartshaper Sunday school curriculum and related teaching resources for children.
The purchase effectively ends the existence of Standard Publishing. Remaining is a new company with a new name, Christian Standard Media, comprised of CHRISTIAN STANDARD, The Lookout, the 2016 Vacation Bible School course “God’s Deep Sea Discovery,” and several VBS-related products created by Beth Guckenberger.
This follows the acquisition some time ago by Tyndale House of Standard’s successful Happy Day Books for children and popular line of stickers used by teachers and individuals. About that time Standard’s management decided to get out of the trade book publishing business.
Longtime Standard Publishing employees living with these changes can’t help but feel grief, or at least nostalgia. It’s not only that people are losing their jobs (in this latest move, some employees are now working for Cook; some will work for neither company). The bigger reality is that we’re seeing the end of an era.
Decades of Change
It’s an end that’s been coming for some time. I arrived at Standard 39 years ago when many Christian church leaders still viewed Standard as “their” publisher. In spite of the fact that Standard was selling a wide variety of materials to every stripe of church, including Roman Catholics, the special relationship between Standard and the independent Christian churches was strong.
This was because the whole company had grown from CHRISTIAN STANDARD magazine, published since 1866 and “devoted to the restoration of New Testament Christianity, its doctrine, its ordinances, and its fruits.” When heirs of the magazine’s first editor, Isaac Errett, sold the company in 1955, a Publishing Committee was formed to guarantee the doctrinal integrity of the company.
But between that time and the second sale of the company to the private equity firm Wicks Group in 2006, much had changed in the church and in culture. Christian churches were more concerned about a wide variety of pragmatic concerns (“Does it work? Is it fresh and fun and colorful? What does it cost?”) than about doctrinal purity. Through the years a growing number of Christian churches and churches of Christ chose Sunday school and VBS materials from other publishers.
Meanwhile, Standard Publishing itself did too little to nurture, lead, and serve the Christian churches. Sometimes this was because of budgetary restrictions imposed by a for-profit owner. Sometimes this was because it could not figure out how to tell a denominational world, “Our true-to-the-Bible materials are for you” while also insisting that the same material was especially suited for independent Christian churches.
A similar tension exists today in most colleges and many parachurch ministries started by members of Christian churches, as well as with both national conventions serving this group. Fewer and fewer “Christian church” ministries are surviving with the support of Christian churches alone.
Maybe this is good. In an increasingly secular culture, Christians are finding new ways to work together instead of staying and standing apart. The goal of the Restoration Movement has never been to create another denomination but to call all Christ followers to unity based on truth and committed to evangelism.
What unique ground should Christian churches and churches of Christ hold in today’s climate? How can we work effectively with other believers with whom we agree on so much without sacrificing our unique positions on the place of baptism, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and the role of the eldership? How do we build on our heritage without being enslaved to it?
Those are issues we’ll continue to address at CHRISTIAN STANDARD. Neither that publication nor The Lookout has any plans to cease publication.
Maybe the opportunity will come for these magazines once again to be owned by those in the Christian churches. Or maybe someone outside that group will see in these magazines potential to serve a wider audience. In any case, it seems likely that in the current climate of constant change, something different will happen with these publications someday soon.