IVP - Addenda & Errata - The Multiple Values of Multiview Books

October 12, 2009

The Multiple Values of Multiview Books

Around IVP we call them multiview books. We were the first evangelical Christian publisher to get into this business, with The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views in 1977, over thirty years ago. And we think of these books as signature IVP items because they are like microcosms of our editorial approach, our brand.

Broadly speaking, we publish a spectrum of evangelical views and set them out there for people to weigh, debate, reject or accept. We try to be honest brokers of ideas, and we want the best advocates to put forth their respective views as effectively as they can. As IVP editors we try not to favor our personal views in our work. We don’t always succeed, but you might be surprised how many times folks think “you guys” (meaning IVP, and editors in particular) hold to this or that viewpoint or perspective (based on something we’ve published), when in fact no editor does!

I’ve heard the opinion that multiview books sometimes confuse rather than clarify issues and beliefs. But on the whole I think the criticism takes a short-term perspective. It’s true that you might come away from reading a multiview book being most persuaded by the last view you read. Or perhaps persuaded by the voice that was rhetorically the most persuasive or the one that mediated between two alternatives. In other words, you might end up questioning the view you went in with. In the short term.

But is that such a bad thing? Maybe it is if you think that understanding the Bible or any particular issue is a commodity to be packaged, purchased, held and defended. But not if you conceive of it as a process of formation. The reading of a multiview book then becomes one scene in the unfolding narrative of the shaping of your thinking or your understanding of Scripture. It is a process that doesn’t end when you finish and put down the book. You are entering into the hermeneutical spiral of understanding Scripture. Multiview books teach the controversy and till the soil of our mental gardens.

They also teach respect and humility. When you listen to the viewpoints and arguments of those with whom you disagree, and see them challenged by equally able discussion partners, it can help you come to respect your “opponents.” You come to realize that they are not stupid or ill-informed. No, they have thought through the issues and come to reasoned conclusions. This is surely an important dimension of education. And when we see people of opposing views responding to one another with civility, respect and even grace, we learn how that is done. They offer us a model we might emulate. And some of us need continual reminders of how it is done, particularly in our present climate of political rancor.

But another thing happens in reading multiview books. Our understanding of an issue, which may have seemed straightforward, perhaps even black and white, takes on texture and depth. We might note problems with our own view that we had never noticed before, and we may or may not see compelling answers to those problems. We are not necessarily taught what to believe or think but how to believe or think. And this can be a good thing. Especially for know-it-alls.

Needless to say, multiview books are useful textbooks. It’s a common thing in educational settings to stage debates or panels with representatives of diverse viewpoints. And while it can be a great learning experience to hear living proponents debating their viewpoints, it can be difficult to pull this off in an individual class—or find the time to devote to it. But a multiview book can simulate this for students. And it can do so even with some advantage, since distractions of dress and appearance, voice and mannerisms, charisma and idiosyncracies, are siphoned off and readers are forced to focus on ideas, evidence and argument.

Even in educational settings that are committed to teaching the distinctives of a particular tradition, multiview books can be valuable educational tools. While the student bodies of these institutions are usually not as homogeneous as outsiders surmise, a multiview book will help students understand alternative viewpoints under the guidance of a professor. Our recent Baptism: Three Views might be a good case in point. Students at a confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian seminary would get a strong representative of infant baptism in Sinclair Ferguson while at the same time read the case for adult baptism and mixed practice from Bruce Ware and Tony Lane. As the in-house editor of that book, I can attest that (even in my sixtieth year) this book forced me to rethink my own position and grapple with issues that are not as clear cut as I’d like to believe. While the book did not change my conviction, it enriched my understanding, raised new questions and encouraged humility.

Most of our multiview books are focused on issues that most evangelicals would recognize as truly debatable issues. An exception is our newly released The Historical Jesus: Five Views, which I blogged on here and here recently, and which includes views that are clearly beyond the evangelical pale. But on this topic we think believers and unbelievers will profit from the discussion of a wider range of viewpoints.

Finally, as an editor who has taken on several of these projects in recent years, I always hope a multiview book does well. The amount of editorial time that goes into them is often twice that of a single-author book!

Posted by Dan Reid at October 12, 2009 7:30 PM Bookmark and Share


I was introduced to the 'multiview' books while in seminary. I found these works to be very helpful in coming to grips with my own understanding of theology and doctrine as a student. They are still on my shelves today and now serve as helpful resources when I'm trying to give a brief overview of certain debated passages in a sermon. I would love to see more!

Comment by: Eric Nygren at October 12, 2009 10:06 PM

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