Agenda for Development

Twenty years of extensive travel, with visits to over fifty countries in six continents in the interests of Christian literature, created the convictions that led to the writing of this book. So what were they?

First, the realisation that the supply of books and periodicals, of all kinds and at all levels, but especially for the benefit othe churches, Christian education, and the building of theological libraries in the Third World, is far too important a task to be left to a mixture of western mission agencies (too often simply keeping going something that was started in the past), western churches (too often simply inspired or pushed to get involved in a one-off operation as part of their Third World concern), and western commercial houses (too often seeking to help themselves at the same time as they are hoping to help somebody else).

Second, that it is also too important to be left to a tiny handful of Third World church leaders, academics and publishers, who are lacking in neither desire nor ability but who have far too many demands and commitments already to develop the work unless they have a ready supply of moral and financial support.

Early impressions were tested by specific research in three particular areas:

  • Christian publishing and bookselling
  • the needs of new readers
  • the development of theological libraries.


Not just a piece of scholarly research drawing on the writing of others but demonstrates a complete understanding of the factors influencing the writing, publishing, distribution and exploitation of Christian literature throughout the Third World . . . It is good to see the place and need for libraries recognised in a prominent way. Problems which stand in the way of improved publishlng for Chrlstlan wrlters from the Thlrd World are identified and we are brought back to the underlying questions posed in the introduction. There is no doubt that things can be improved and this book sets out some routes to change. (Trevor Lyttle, in the Librarians' Christian Fellowship Newsletter, No 65, Spring 1997).

Provides a basis for the questions and proposals that concern everyone involved in theoIogical education and communicating the gospel throughout the world. Rooted in his extensive experience, and grounded in rigorous analysis and research, Agenda for Development offers Alec Gilmore's insight into how the need for Christian literature in different parts of the world can best be met in the future. (Chichester Diocesan Magazine, August 1996).

Few people (are) more qualified than Alec Gilmore to write a book about the future of Third World Christian publishing. The bibliography and the impressive wealth of personal anecdotal evidence indicate the care with which the book has been prepared. Books of this kind can so easily become a catalogue of schemes and projects, but Alec Gilmore has avoided this pitfall by being clear about his research method. Consequently, the study unflinchingly challenges facile assumptions about the response of donor agencies to Third World publishing needs. The author insists that the right questions have to be asked if the right answers are to be found, and, as the argument is carried forward, he shows how the questions with which the book began 'were not necessarily the right questions and indeed in some cases were not even the questions at all' (p. 399). An important contribution to this whole area of study. (David Dunn Wilson, Hartley Victoria College, Manchester, in Expository Times, August 1996).

. . . contends that the provision of Christian literature across the world is too important to be left to unimaginative mission agencies, easily distracted Western churches, self-interested commercial publishers or overworked Third World academics. (Church Times, July 12, 1996).


The Questions

Does overseas aid work? The question is not new but it has not seriously been asked before in relation to Third World Publishing. Perhaps it is the wrong question. The issue is not whether aid works but how it works and with what results, not whether it gets through but what it does to the people who receive it.

There are two basic questions:

1 Does aid create dependency rather than growth, development and self-sufficiency?

2 Does aid come only with control?

The Development Debate

Distinguish subsidy and development. Some Christian literature agencies responsible to mainstream western churches have tried to see themselves in development. After a brief clarification of what is meant by Christian literature and communication we take a look at the broader world of aid and development (economics, health, industry and so on) to isolate the similarities and differences between that world and the literature world. We then outline how the western agencies have responded to the challenge and ask whether their claim to be in the world of development can be substantiated, concluding with a detailed look at the way in which the various western churches, far from committing themselves to literature development, have even found it difficult to pool their resources for the benefit of the Third World.

We next examine three specific areas of literature work: general Christian publishing, publishing for new readers, and the development of theological libraries. In each case we begin with anecdotal evidence and empirical observation, followed by a recognised research method to reach more objective conclusions (the Focus Group, the Case Study and the Questionnaire), from which we seek to outline 'a different agenda' by showing the deficiencies of some of the questions which have been addressed and suggesting new ones.

Third World Publishing

A personal impression of publishing needs in four continents and a summary of those agencies responding to it and not involved in development, revealing a variety of need and a variety of responses but overall lacking a sense of mission and purpose.

Beginning with the questions already being asked by Asians about aid we conduct interviews and discussion with a small selection of publishing companies in India and Sri Lanka to clarify their views on donor influence and dependency. As a result we suggest that the trouble with aid in general is that people have been asking the wrong questions and we suggest some new ones which ought to be addressed.

Literacy and the New Reader

The importance of literacy for development, bringing out the attitudes of the early missionaries and showing how their concern led to the establishment of publishing operations by the churches.

A case study of one particular Zimbabwean organisation which was committed to literacy but found the production of its reading materials difficult and frustrating and suffered in various ways at the hands of donors.

We try to see where things have gone wrong, where false assumptions have been made, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation and begin to hint how the future may be different.

The Need for Books

We describe the problems of providing books for theological libraries, based mainly on observations and enquiries made on two excursions in the Third World as part of an Accreditation Team visiting colleges under the aegis of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia, one to Indonesia and the other to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

These observations are then tested and supplemented by means of a questionnaire to some 400 Third World colleges, producing a 25% response, enabling us to draw conclusions.

We end with a set of questions and proposals for action which are of relevance to all concerned with church, aid and mission agencies, Third World academics in theology and Christian publishers (especially commercial publishers) in First and Third Worlds. We suggest that the solutions to the problems of Third World Books will only be solved when these various groups are able to work together more closely in partnership, first in identifying the problems and areas of need, and then in addressing them in a practical manner and propose detailed ways in which the partnerships need to be developed.

Two Quotes

The Old Colonialism

Much of the old colonialism is still there, only nowadays it is reflected not so much in missionaries dictating choices overseas or missionaries and other expatriates leaving behind what they do not want (though that still goes on) as in the continuing colonial structures and attitudes of most of the 'sending' agencies, whether they be churches, missionary societies, aid agencies or specialist literature organisations. Some are still bold enough to say that since it is our money we therefore have the right to decide what is done with it. The concept of 'us' helping'them' is rarely far below the surface and is a long way away from any sense of parternship, not to mention more bold concepts like equality or sharing.

The Old Missionaries

Even where traditional missionary lines are being pursued and where cash is being made available, patterns of aid in the post-colonial era still raise a number of questions rarely addressed, and it is no more satisfactory to assume that the solution lies in simply bolstering up old publishing houses, providing a crutch for those who with a little support can keep limping along, or indeed creating new ones on the same old lines. What is needed most of all are more long-term approaches based on a realistic appreciation of where we are today and with a vision for the future. These are hard to come by.

© Alec Gilmore 2021