The big business of evangelical Christian publishing

Daniel Vaca details the marriage of missionary zeal and financial reward.

Several years ago, an elderly friend of mine died and I ventured into a local Logos Bookstore in search of a sympathy card. When I asked the young clerk at the front desk where I might find one, she inquired, “Was your friend Christian or non-Christian?” My instinct was to respond, “Are there any other options?” I held my tongue, but I have long remembered the incident as a testament to evangelicals’ earnestness and entrepreneurial skill.

Daniel Vaca, who teaches American religious history and culture at Brown University, puts this incident in a larger perspective. With expert strokes, he traces the history of the marriage of missionary zeal and financial reward that drove the evangelical publishing megabusiness.

And megabusiness it was. Rick War­ren’s The Purpose Driven Life, released in 2002, sold 30 million copies in the United States alone within three years, making it the best-selling hardback ever. The New International Version of the Bible, translated with evangelical assumptions in mind, presold 1.2 million copies before it appeared in 1978. Within a decade, its sales had soared to 100 million copies, making it the best-selling Bible translation ever. And the list goes on.