Chapter 7: Our Standards

This is part of the Thomas Nelson Way Series, an in-house curriculum for new employees. It is intended to be a “quick reference” for the things that are important to us. You can click here to see the introduction to the series and our thinking behind it.

Test all things; hold fast what is good.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:21

At Thomas Nelson, we often refer to ourselves as “a Christian content company.” However, we understand our identity as a Christian content provider in a very different way than most of our competitors.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DNY59, Image #676612

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DNY59

Like them, we want all of our messages to be delivered from the perspective of a Christian worldview. This is the foundation of our content program. However, unlike many of them, our communicators are free to explore any subject they wish.

Yes, we publish content and host conferences on spiritual and devotional themes. This is part of life and, from our perspective, the most important part. But it is not the only part. We also deliver content that deals with the other aspects of life: business, culture, politics, entertainment, etiquette, cooking, family, etc. And, of course, we publish fiction. Lots of it! No topic is off limits, provided it comes from a Christian worldview, is executed well, and has commercial value. (We are, after all, a commercial content provider.)

Theologically, our vision flows from our conviction that God is sovereign. He doesn’t preside over part of the world (the “religious sphere”), leaving the rest autonomous (the “secular sphere”). No, He rules over all of it. Ultimately, there is no secular/sacred dichotomy. Because God is the Creator and ruler over all, any field of human inquiry can be explored—and sanctified.

To say it another way, all truth is God’s truth. Some of the content we distribute will be explicitly Christian (mentioning the name “Jesus” or citing specific Bible verses); other content will be implicitly Christian (never referencing anything spiritual). Both are acceptable and appropriate, depending on the communicator’s purpose and audience. The important thing is that the content flow out of a Christian worldview.

And that necessarily begins with the communicator. As a result, our standards focus on the content originator. This doesn’t mean that the content is unimportant. Quite the contrary. But it does reflect our belief that content flows out of a worldview and, ultimately, out of a writer or speaker’s heart (cf. Matthew 12:34, 35). To say it another way, we want to align ourselves with people who share our vision, our mission, and our values. “How can two walk together unless they agree” (Amos 3:3)? This is where it starts.

Specifically, we want to publish and promote:

  1. Communicators who profess a personal faith in Jesus Christ. We want to work with people who are willing to say, “I am a Christian.” We do not try to judge their profession or assess the validity of their faith. Only God knows their hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). Nevertheless, we want to work with communicators who claim to be Christians and are not ashamed of it.
  2. Communicators who embrace the central truths of historic Christianity. Such ancient documents as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are simply convenient summaries of these truths and nearly all Christians can agree on them. Beyond these basic truths, we want to allow latitude—and even disagreement!—on non-core doctrines.
  3. Communicators who seek to live according to the standards of biblical morality. We do not expect perfection. We acknowledge that all Christians—even Christian communicators—fall short of God’s standards. But we want to promote communicators who are committed to living in obedience to God’s revealed will. We want to promote communicators who “walk the talk.”

Beyond these standards, there is freedom. Philippians 4:8 provides the inspiration for an expansive content program. It says,

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Notice the word whatever. It is repeated six times and then followed by the word anything. Based on this verse, we believe that Christians are free to think, write, or speak about anything—whatever they want!—provided it meets eight minimal criteria:

  1. It must be true. This means that it must be authentic and must correspond to reality. We want to promote content that embraces reality as God created it, not content that “sugar coats” reality or tries to make reality something it is not.
  2. It must be noble. This means that it must raise us up and make us more like God. The opposite is to debase or degrade. We want to promote content that ultimately motivates people and calls forth their best qualities.
  3. It must be just. This means it must be righteous or consistent with the commandments of God. It also means it must be fair. We want to promote content that promotes righteousness and godly living. By the way, this doesn’t mean that novels can’t have evil characters. (There are plenty of them in God’s story.) But it does mean that in the end righteousness is rewarded and evil punished—if not in this life, the next.
  4. It must be pure. This means it must be chaste, modest, clean. We want to promote content that promotes holiness and offers a necessary corrective to current trends to sexualize everything. This does not mean that we are opposed to sex, of course. But we want to make sure that our content advocates a view of sex that is consistent with Christian morality.
  5. It is lovely. This means it must be aesthetically pleasing or beautiful. We want to publish communicators who are committed to beautiful writing and speaking. Both what is said and how it is said are important. Beauty is not a means to an end. It is an end in itself, because it reflects the beauty of the Creator.
  6. It is of good report. This means it must be commendable or of high reputation. Again, the emphasis is on that which represents the best, that which anyone could read or hear and agree that it is well-written or well-spoken.
  7. It is virtuous. This means it must affirm behavior which is consistent with the highest values. Values that don’t manifest themselves in behavior are merely platitudes. We want to promote content that challenges people to live lives of moral excellence and virtue.
  8. It is praiseworthy. This means it must be worthy of recommendation; something you can personally endorse. At the end of the day, we want to promote content we are proud of, books or conferences that we are willing to recommend to a family member or friend with the confidence that they will wowed and grateful that they took the time to enjoy it.

The reason we have content standards is because we want to be faithful to Christ as we fulfill His call on our lives. And we also want our customers to be able to trust us. We want people to have confidence that our products are consistent with a Christian worldview, are created by people who profess to be Christians and are striving to walk the talk, regardless of the subject matter they may be addressing.

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  • http://www.lorisreflections.com Lori

    Thank you for laying out the Standards, that leaves a lot less room for assumptions. Greatly appreciated. This should be a bookmarked as a tab on top. :)

  • http://sandraking-beholding-god.blogspot.com/ Sandra King

    I think I'd like to steal these standards for personal use.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Steal away!

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com Amy Sorrells

    How can I help myself from hoping, someday, Thomas Nelson publishes my manuscript? Sometimes I think that makes me a writing snob (aspiring, a.k.a. begging, writers can't be choosers), and then I read this and think that makes me a discerning one. Thanks for being this kind of a company. Regardless of if my manuscript ever makes it to you.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Thanks for the affirmation, Amy. Hang in there. If there is one thing that every successful writer has, it is perseverance!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fogbound fogbound

    I believe this is good and necessary today and I commend Thomas Nelson as a Christian publisher for following these standards. We are overwhelmed by books being published today and there is so much that is just junk or material without value, or that sets forth non-Christian values. Christian publishers that produce material over a wide spectrum need to be clear on their basic Christian philosophy of publishing. I appreciate your posts, your personal world view and the company you represent.

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  • Lissa Raines

    Excellent! You asked if you missed anything, and from the big picture perspective, no. You covered all of the bases concerning what quality Christian writing should be. But on a more specific level, it should be timely. It should address the specific needs/issues of the audience. Even though it wasn't mentioned as a criteria, I believe you are accomplishing this as well. Thanks for your many insightful blogs. I loved the David Ramsey Momentum speech overview that you posted.

  • http://www.jenniferlynking.com Jennifer L King

    I remember reading your original blog post on TypePad, and have kept the printout of your Standards beside my writing chair. Somehow, the TN Content Standards say in words what is so difficult to grasp as a writer coming to the computer and putting words to paper (or screen). Maybe a touch of being in the world but not of it with the applicable elements you’ve drawn from Phillippians to hold a high standard. Thank you for sharing this all again. Excellent, for sure.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/tommylane tommylane

    Excellent article.

  • http://www.lightformylamp.com Cassandra Frear

    Wonderful.

  • Randy Bosch

    Michael,
    The true test of content includes going beyond Philippians 4:8, where people usually stop and just meditate on those things, to include verse 9:
    "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – PUT IT INTO PRACTICE." Action Is The New Competence!!!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Wow! That is HUGE. Thanks for sharing it. Honestly, I had completely missed it. This is the value of community!

      • Randy Bosch

        Scriptures in context!!! I first heard the concept in a sermon by Pastor Victor Constein many years ago. (Warning: self-aggrandizing plug follows:) I'm struggling through a multi-year project of writing about the Phillippians passage – including 4:9, and an interlocking project writing about continuing Reformation – including recapitulation of how you/I got to where we're at, then Reformation (identifying error and correcting it to return to a rightful course), which leads to a Christian Renaissance.

        All the best, and remember PUT IT INTO PRACTICE!!

  • http://twitter.com/halhunter @halhunter

    I applaud Thomas Nelson's stand. Thank you for so clearly outlining it. It would translate well to just about any other business- let's pray that it would.

  • Tneal

    I am thankful to at least be in-process with Thomas Nelson (I've been invited to send a proposal on a fiction work of mine). The Thomas Nelson books I've read are consistent with your expressed standards. When Jesus Christ is central, then room exists for an expressed variety in Christian thinking and living.

  • http://www.theresepatrick.com therese

    While at a romance writers conference this weekend, I was chatting with a man at the hotel, who was there for a leadership conference that he stated had transformed his life. Since I follow this blog I decided to nudge him a little farther. :)

    I stated that good writers are leaders, with a personal connection to their audience, engaging the readers emotions within the journey of characters. Romance authors target the primary connection of relationship, that is a core need of the soul.

    Earlier that morning I chatted with an agent about my career objectives as a romance novelist, and stated that I also have a memoir. I stated I was concerned my memoir had two publishing industry taboos that may block interest from a commercial or Christian publisher; 1. being Catholic shown as a good thing, and 2. a quadriplegic. The agent's eyes widened and she stated, "You're screwed." LOL!!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Not true—at least, not here. One of our publishers is Catholic. More than one are Orthodox.

  • Christine

    This is a great posting of some great values. Personally, I have been thrilled with the risks that Thomas Nelson has been willing to take in publishing Christian material. Many of the characters in Face of Betrayal had serious moral struggles but their lives and their interactions with the main Christian character were far more real to me than the books where the heroine stares deep into the hero's eyes and says in a breathless voice "John 3:16"!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/lhanthorn lhanthorn

    Because of this clear and yet open view of the what & why of Christian writing, I am drawn to the authors and books published by Thomas Nelson – keep up the great work.

    I am preparing a sermon on Phil 4:8 and will point people to this blog – K?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, that would be fantastic.

  • http://thoughtsofasojourner.blogspot.com/ Mark

    Since you posted this, I would like to comment – I am bothered by some of the words that Nelson – and lately Zondervan – is letting into Christian fiction books – words that most Christians would call cursing – words that people have used in front of me and apologized since I am a Christian. Not trying to be rude or anything, for I like Nelson, your Bibles, and books – but I can't see that allowing inappropriate words and content into Christian fiction falls under these standards – and I have complained to your fiction department, and got nowhere. I do like your standards listed above though.

  • http://thoughtsofasojourner.blogspot.com/ Mark

    A follow up comment after seeing the comment before mine – I had a lot of issues with "Face of Betrayal" and do not feel it falls under these standards. Thanks

    • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I will try to get someone in our Fiction to respond. However, are you aware that the Bible itself contains some pretty course language? We gussy it up in the English, but in the Greek and Hebrew it is clearly street slang. My Greek professor in college (I had five semesters worth), made this point.

      To be clear, I am not for using street slang gratuitously or for its shock value. However, I do think some situations warrant it—as clearly the Biblical writers themselves did.

      By the way, it would be difficult to find someone more conservative in their theology than Allen Arnold, our fiction publisher.

      • http://thoughtsofasojourner.blogspot.com/ Mark

        I respecfully disagree with the Bible's coarse language defense – I heard that already from Mr. Arnold – I have run onto hell being used a curse word, words like "horn dog, slut" – damn – and I am offended – and I have to believe other people are also. I think Christian fiction should be held to a higher standard – such as what is listed above. I don't have a TV, so maybe that is one reason it bothers me – I'm not used to hearing it on there. Thanks for replying to my comment – hope I haven't been unkind, but I do think Christian fiction should not contain language and content that will offend people. God bless

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          Mark, I guess we'll have to disagree. I don't think we should have a higher standard than Scripture. That to me is "religion" (in the worst sense of the word) rather than faith.

        • Allen Arnold

          Hi Mark – As Fiction Publisher, I appreciate your insights here and as we discussed in our recent phone conversation on this topic. I respect your view while also disagreeing with it. In Scripture, God appears comfortable sharing epic stories of unflinching reality with humans honestly dealing with good and evil in a fallen world. There are affairs, prostitues, war, betrayal, seduction, and lies – as well as heroic good, ultimate sacrifice, true love and redemption. Sometimes both spectrums from the same characters in their journey to (or away from) redemption. Other than commanding us not to use God's name in vain, I don't find Scripture spending time debating which words are "curse words" or providing a list of "can't use" words (which vary from culture and even between Christians). Instead (and refreshingly) I find Scripture focusing on issues of the heart. An inner focus which is always more what God is after than the external man-made list of dos and don'ts. That's why our novels, while always from a Christian worldview and never gratuitious, don't shy away from an honest look at the trials, struggles and victories we face this side of heaven.

  • http://www.sally-apokedak.com/all_about_childrens_books/ sally apokedak

    Lofty goals. And praiseworthy.

  • Mary

    I can't think of a better standard to use than the Word of God! I can appreciate your standard because I hold to it in my own writing. I like a clean story with a lesson from a biblical standpoint with an enthusiasm in the storyline that captures the imagination.

  • Anthony Harden

    I am a first time author just passing through. I very naively started looking for a publisher (or agent) several months ago. My book centers around what I know….my world. Cancer. Sexually transmitted disease. The plot encompasses murder in a background of child pornography. I have the confusing dimorphism of characters who are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy dealing with subject matter that is vile and disgusting. In other words, the real world. Christianity with the “blinders” jerked off. With most submission guidelines demanding only a sample….what do I send. Out of context, the stark reality of some passages could get my manuscript tossed offhand. Without those passages, the primary conceptual thesis is lost. Also, as noted by one of the other contributors, timeliness is a huge factor. Medical based fiction has a limited shelf life. If this process grinds on for more than a few months, some of the information could be stale before the book is printed.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I would address these issues right up front. Agents and publishers will appreciate your authenticity.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AnneLangBundy AnneLangBundy

    any field of human inquiry can be explored—and sanctified

    Reading this post was a WOW experience. I've recognized for some time that Nelson is a cut-above-the-rest publisher. Now I better understand why.

    Have we missed anything?

    You've rendered me speechless. (Not easily accomplished :D)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Wow! Thanks!

  • http://www.clutchtalk.blogspot.com Delina

    Does any of this restatement stem from recent comments made by book review bloggers that reviewed FIND YOUR STRONGEST LIFE? I was one of those who negatively reviewed the book and found that the others who posted 1-star reviews on Amazon shared in my observation that this book was NOT written from a Christian worldview.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      No, it was not. I have to disagree on your conclusion. I think Marcus perspective is profoundly biblical.

      • http://www.clutchtalk.blogspot.com Delina

        I know you're a busy man. Understanding that you probably don't have time to reply, I still can't help but ask:

        How? In what ways are Marcus' perspectives biblical? Just a quick example or 2?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          Great question: (1) God has designed each person with a set of unique strengths. "We are fearfully and wonderfully made." (2) We make our greatest contribution when we live out what God has built in and focus on those strengths. There's much more that could be said, but I see Marcus' philosophy flowing from a biblical view of man and creation.

  • http://www.larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    I like that Philipians 4:8 is being used as a filter for culture creating. I wonder if the Bible, writing in all its realism, would be publishable with those filters today.

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  • Rachel

    Catching up on your posts, Mike. Love this outline of a Christian world view! I like to keep things like this in mind as I write!

    Rachel :)

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  • Belle

    I think Westbow Press’ publishing costs are exztremely high. It should be comparable to DellArte’s costs. Why is it that Christian publishing is so much higher than secular publishing?

  • http://www.therextras.com Barbara Boucher

    Just want to say I have learned a lot from both the posts and the dialogue in comments. Thanks!

  • Ashley Clark

    As a writer and a reader, I am grateful for these guidelines. I particularly appreciated the section of this blog that breaks down the secular versus spiritual truth distinction. In my opinion, the body of Christ could grow significantly more, particularly with regard to literature, if we stopped trying to compartmentalize God's truth and instead looked at it holistically. On a totally different note, it is a dream of mine to someday be published by Thomas Nelson, so it is a great help to see TN's content standards explicitly outlined.

    -Ashley

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  • Aaron Armstrong

    Thanks for laying out these standards, Michael. May I ask a couple questions:

    1. How does Thomas Nelson determine which are "non-core" doctrines?
    2. When an author writes or promotes beliefs and practices that are opposed to core biblical beliefs, how are those issues addressed?

    Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      As I mentioned in the post, we view the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed as convenient summaries of core doctrines. This would include things like the Trinity, Incarnation. Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Second Coming, etc.

      As an example, though these creeds affirm the reality of the Second Coming, they don’t specify whether it will be premillennial, millennial, or postmillennial. In our view, this is an area that is open for discussion and even debate.

      If an author promoted beliefs that are opposed to the core doctrines, we would follow the process outlined in Matthew 18. If they persisted in promoting these beliefs, we could cancel publication of their book. This has only happened one time in my career, but we had an author who began teaching Arianism (a non-Trinitarian heresy). The author was not open to correction, so we cancelled one book that was scheduled for publication and pulled one already published.

  • Jeremy McCollum

    This is great. You really set the standard for Christian Publishing. Thank-you.

  • http://jeremymccollum.blogspot.com/ Jeremy McCollum

    Thanks Michael. TN really sets the standard for the Christian Publishing Industry.

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  • Miranda Christy

    Hi Michael,

    Many thanks for the thoughtful post and replies.

    In trying to picture what an “ideal” piece looks like per the eight minimal criteria you list and explain above, it seems like an “ideal” piece should include only elements that are positive and uplifting. Does that mean that the criteria do not permit pieces to contain elements concerning the human condition, pain and sin? Asked another way, does a piece detailing a powerful journey through unseemly circumstances meet the criteria because the import of the piece ultimately is “lovely” – even though circumstances of the piece may not always be so?

    My apologies if someone asked this and I just missed it. Feel free to point me to an earlier comment if that is the case.

    Best regards,

    Miranda

  • Jim Webb

    Thanks for the bible study on Phil 4:8 as it serves as the very foundation for your companies standards. I was first attracted to Thomas Nelson because of the obvious fruit of these standards in a number of titles I have looked at and some I have read. I am on this site today because of your uncompromising committment to biblical truth. As I am finishing a book on The Lord’s Prayer, Westbow is looking quite exceptional to me.
    Thanks
    Jim

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great, Jim. I’m glad to hear it.

  • Rosa

    WestBow Press will allow many of us to continue to follow our dreams and not give up! I signed up!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Wonderful!