Digitizing theological texts may present exciting opportunities to reach a wider audience and transform models of theological education. However, it is still unclear how publishers are going to make it work. The Transforming Word One-Volume Commentary on the Bible
, published by Abilene Christian University Press, seeks to make accessible to lay readers the best of contemporary scholarship on Scripture. It is an impressive work. The volume integrates literary sensitivity, historical accuracy, and theological acuity in its interpretations of the texts making up the Protestant canon. Theologically moderate in tone and ecumenical in spirit, the volume seeks to aid its readers in understanding biblical texts in their ancient settings in order to help them do the work of appropriating those same texts for contemporary lives.
The planned digitization of this one-volume work will make it available to a much wider audience. Moreover, the capabilities of a digital environment will significantly enhance the material available to the readers. Incorporation of maps, timelines, photographs, line drawings, bibliographical links, and other kinds of material will turn The Transforming Word
into the cornerstone of a biblical reference library.
Making the volume available in this format also creates new possibilities for interactions among readers, and between readers and authors. These interactions could create a model of theological learning in which the boundaries between author and reader are blurred, and in which the publisher more fully fills the ideal role of mediator of learning.
The digitization of a massive project of theological scholarship like The Transforming Word
raises a number of timely questions for academic publishers. One main question concerns the financial feasibility of such large projects. University presses are geared toward nonprofit publishing, that is, toward works of scholarship that are inherently valuable but sometimes not commercially viable. They have depended on university funding and other sources of subsidy. But the current environment is bringing further pressure and uncertainty. Not only are sales of print books declining but the market for e-books, though growing, offers an uncertain return (Amazon currently has commercial publishers up in arms—again—over what are viewed as attempts to undercut book pricing).
A faith-based university press, committed to works of serious theological scholarship, will have to redouble its efforts to seek funding for its projects and seek cutting-edge ways to make them available to pastors, church leaders, and other students of the Christian tradition. Digital access offers exciting possibilities but, at the same time, a challenging and unproven financial model. Dr. Leonard Allen is director and editor-in-chief of the Abilene Christian University Press and Leafwood Publishing. A nationally acclaimed scholar, Allen is the author or co-author of numerous books, including Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ
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