The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880

By Candy Gunther Brown | Go to book overview

2
The World of
Evangelical Publishing

As he opened the first office of the Methodist Book Concern in 1789, Thomas Coke reflected in his journal: “We have now settled our Printing business. … The people will thereby be amply supplied with Books of pure divinity for their reading, which is of the next importance to preaching.” Others before Coke had endeavored to supply Americans with books of pure divinity, but the Methodist Book Concern was the first publishing house in America to initiate the systematic printing and distribution of evangelical books, ranging from Bibles and hymnals to medical advice, across the nation. Methodist successes inspired other denominational, nondenominational, and evangelical trade publishers to establish such an extensive network of publishing operations that it took half a century for secular publishers to catch up with religious innovations.1

Publishers like Thomas Coke played a crucial role in shaping evangelical print culture. They shared authority with clergy to mediate ongoing processes of textual sedimentation and innovation by deciding which steady sellers and new titles merited publication and how best to promote texts to win a readership. As they aggressively interacted with an expansive American print market, evangelical publishers negotiated between their identities as Christians and as book trades participants. They envisioned their secular work as functionally sacred because it was useful in communicating the gospel. Through their book trades activities, publishers ritually enacted core narratives that structured involvement in an evangelical textual community: contending for the faith, promoting Christian unity, and, as the priesthood of all believers, sanctifying the world of print. In seeking to advance religious truth, evangelical publishers engaged in some—but not

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