Publisher's Letter - February 2019

Robert Ellsberg

It is the rare work of theology that remains challenging and relevant fifty years after its first publication. James Cone’s Black Theology & Black Power is one of those books. Cone envisioned the 50th anniversary edition of this book, and even the introduction by Cornel West, yet sadly he did not live to see it in print. Cone wrote that this first book: “was my initial attempt to identify liberation as the heart of the Christian gospel and blackness as the primary mode of God’s presence. I wanted to speak on behalf of the voiceless black masses in the name of Jesus whose gospel I believed had been greatly distorted by the preaching and the theology of white churches.” It retains its challenge and urgency.

Meanwhile, we were saddened last month to learn of the death of our esteemed author, Lamin Sanneh, one of the great scholars of World Christianity. His ground-breaking work, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, introduced a paradigm shift in understanding the global expansion of Christianity. Sanneh argued that the translation of the Bible into new languages actually fostered the resilience of local cultures in the face of colonial expansion. Harvey Cox called this work “the most important book Orbis has published since A Theology of Liberation.”

One of the key projects in recovering the liberating message of the gospel has been to reclaim biblical texts from the control of oppressive and colonizing interests. That project is the focus of a new book, Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization, edited by Steve Heinrichs, of the Mennonite Church Canada. With special focus on indigenous voices, the reflections by over sixty authors bring biblical texts to life in new and surprising ways.

Although a new year has only just begun, the much-anticipated Award Season is already underway. We were delighted to learn that two of our books have received Illumination Awards: Elizabeth Johnson’s Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril received a Silver Medal for Theology. (By happy coincidence, the paperback edition of her book is now available!) Fr. Ron Lemmert’s Refuge in Hell: Finding God in Sing Sing received a Bronze Medal for Ministry. Congratulations to them both!

In other happy news, we are delighted to announce the arrival of a new editor at Orbis: Paul McMahon. He may already be known to many Orbis authors and readers from his long and distinguished career in Catholic publishing, most recently at Paulist Press.

As I write, Pope Francis is in Panama for the World Youth Day gathering. We are reminded of the book we published last year of his address to the young people of the world: The Courage to Be Happy. May we all find that courage this year, and remember the pope’s exhortation “to have a deep spirit,” “to dream of great things,” and to “make some noise.”

Blessings,

Robert Ellsberg
Publisher

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