January 15, 2013
John Stott's Peace Offering
"Fie upon you, IVP."
I'm still shocked, fifteen years later, that John Stott uttered these words at our office gathering during an event in which we honored him in 1998 for fifty years of publishing with us. We had at that point sold over five million copies of over forty of his books, booklets and Bible study guides. Many present had said what his books had meant to them. He voiced his appreciation. Then toward the end, even with a slight tinge of humor, self-consciously overstating his sentiments, he clearly expressed that, nonetheless, he was upset with us.
What had we done? Published heresy? Wandered far from our publishing mission? Perhaps we had altered some of his writing without his consent? Insulted the Queen? No, none of these.
Rather, we had turned down the book (OK, I had turned it down) that was closest and dearest to his heart--The Birds Our Teachers. Stott was a birder from his youth, and a serious one. Over the decades he had traveled to the four points of the globe to see, for example, penguins on South Georgia Island and the Snowy Owl of the Canadian Arctic. No book was more personal than this one. And I had cast it aside. Had this consummate diplomat, this scion of British reserve ever rebuked anyone else more sternly? If so, I would not like to be that person.
How do you tell an author that you may be doing him or her a favor by turning a book down, that another publisher might do better with it? How do you explain that four-color books are not a strength of our program and that there are others that have ready markets and an established track record with such a genre? How do you say that the decision really has nothing to do with its quality or worth? How do you deal with authorial disappointment in the near term to fend off deeper disappointment after a weak or failed publication? Obviously, we did not succeed (OK, I did not succeed) in explaining any of these things convincingly.
Nonetheless, a year later, when the book came out, I received a bound copy from Stott inscribed with his wide-nibbed pen as follows:
I promised to send you
one of these when published,
as a peace-offering, and
with my heartfelt good wishes
It was an offering of peace I gladly accepted.
Posted by Andy Le Peau
at January 15, 2013 9:27 AM
I glad you cleared this up publicly, Andy. I couldn't understand either, why you didn't publish it. Now I'm satisfied. Ever so gracious, he sent you his peace offering. My hero!
Paul, thanks for returning the book and reminding me about the inscription and bringing the whole story back to mind.
There are reasons and there are reasons why things do not go as one expects or hopes - even for folks at the top of the heap (and how much more for those at the bottom). Stott would bless his readership in a variety of ways, including that of birdwatching, beholding the beauty, the awe-inspiring flash of wing, sudden freezes of joyful poses on a handy plant, beautifully designed heads and bright eyes, filled with wonder that fulfills its purpose of adding to the world of fascination that was clearly created by Divinity, no less. Ah! Well, you can't have everything in this world, not even a small amount of it for very long. And now the birdwatcher has, like the birds, departed to behold other things. Surely better and far more beautiful.
Beautifully said, Dr. Jim. Stott would approve.
Andy - I remember this day and Uncle John's comments very well. I recall our drive up to your offices and our conversation of how he loved IVP, but was disappointed that 'the bird book' wasn't an IVP title! He enjoyed teasing folks a bit - and I sensed that his 'fie on you' words were spoken with tongue in cheek! As one who worked with Uncle John closely as we launched the Langham Partnership, I had the joy of traveling with him regularly. I wrote about this in a book IVP did publish: "Portraits of a Radical Disciple: Recollections of John Stott's Life and Ministry"! Thanks for another memory of a very dear - and sorely missed - brother.
Andy, I was Stott's personal study assistant at the time this book was published. CandleBooks ended up being a great publisher for this book.
Another funny story- Stott pubished a second accompanying volume also with Candle, called People our Teachers. Also full of his own photos, it documents his travels around the world and the figures that have influenced him. Stott knew that I enjoyed drawing and painting, and asked me to paint a full color world map displaying his travels around the world, that could be printed inside the front cover of the book. I spent many hours on it. Then, just before it was published, Candle politely communicated that they could not include the map: "we just don't do things like that," they said. I was miffed. Your story makes me think I should send them a peace offering too.
Corey Widmer. Richmond, VA
David, yes I remember our drive in the car as well. I really do appreciate that John respected and thought so highly of IVP that our saying no was a disappointment. That truly is a complement I take to heart.
Corey, that's a great story. Thanks for that. Yes, a peace offering. John continues to be a model for all of us.
I also want to thank you for sharing this story!
In addition to turning him down perhaps you might have included in the rebuff a DVD edition of Alfred Hitchcocks's The Birds!!!!
This brings back memories of many years ago when I moved into an apartment where Dr. Stott was the former resident. Sadly, none of his greatness rubbed off onto me via the walls.
If only other evangelical leaders could express their disagreements in such restrained terms! My dictionary defines the word 'Fie!' as 'obsolete or facetious: an exclamation of mock dismay', so perhaps John's tongue was indeed in his cheek. I know he was certainly pleased in the end with the way Candle produced the book.
I write this from The Hookses, John's writing retreat in Wales that Corey will remember well (where he possibly painted that ill-fated world map), and in the book-case behind me there are two shelves of all John's books - including the many IVP ones, and The Birds Our Teachers lined up with the other full-colour ones from Candle. Such a privilege! The property is now owned by the Langham Partnership and continues in its own way to serve the ministries John invested himself in
Chris, I've never made the pilgrimage to the Hookses. Sometime I'll have to do that.
I'm glad Dr. Stott made peace with you.
One line in your post prompted a question: Why does IVP publish heretical material, from authors like Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock? Numerous orthodox theologians have labelled Openness theology "heresy" and have accused Boyd, Pinnock and others of promoting a false god, who is not the God of the Bible. Sometime, I'd like to see a post explaining this policy.
Jason: InterVarsity Press has a doctrinal basis which can be found here: http://www.intervarsity.org/about/our/ministry-overview#/our/doctrinal-basis. We carefully review all books we publish to make sure they do not contradict this statement. Some readers disagree with what is in our books. A few do claim that Openness theology is heretical but many others say it is not--even many of those who disagree with Openness theology. David Hunt, a professor at Whittier College, who does not agree with Greg Boyd and others who advocate for openness theology has written, “Despite disagreeing with Boyd on the merits of his position, I think it’s important to put this disagreement in perspective. Both sides agree that God (sometimes) speaks about himself as though he changes his mind. If it were religiously important that we believe that God never changes his mind—important in the sense that, if we believed otherwise, we might fall into grievous error, perhaps even jeopardizing our salvation—it would be absolutely inexplicable why God would present himself as though he changes his mind. So while I disagree with Boyd on whether God changes his mind and on the best way to interpret Scripture, I can’t get too exercised over our differences. No one’s salvation hangs on this dispute.”