God Moments (6): Helping Moody Press Get into Bibles

[This is the sixth article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life.]

Les at MoodyMy first introduction to the Bible part in Moody Bible Institute came when I became selling floor supervisor of Moody Bookstore in fall 1960. Faculty taught Bible courses, so we carried their class notes for students, some of them still reproduced in mimeograph form. But Moody Press had also published Wuest’s New Testament, an early attempt to giving Greek verbs their due in the English version of the New Testament. As a member of the editorial committee I was also involved in re-publishing the Century New Testament, which never took hold with Bible readers because its original release date had been about 60 years earlier.

We did sell a lot of Bibles to customers, especially evening school students, many of which bought them on a layaway plan, a dollar a week. The one Bible we had to keep under the counter and sell only when it was requested was the recently released Revised Standard Version. This was being denounced as a “liberal translation” by leading conservative pastors supporting the MBI. For me, the irony was that the prize I won five years earlier selling the Bible college yearbooks—which had landed me on the front porch of the man who hired me as denominational weekly editor—was a Revised Standard Version of the Bible. No doubt God was amused at the irony of me now selling it surreptitiously.

The Power of the Bible Story

One of our children’s Bible story books in the bookstore had also been Kenneth Taylor’s The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, a bestseller in 1960 and still available in several languages and new packaging. I knew its power in the life of preschoolers from an experience with our daughter, Carol, when she was four. She awakened screaming, “The flybutter! The flybutter!” We tried to calm her down, even putting her in the bed between Rita and me, but she would not stop screaming. So Rita took her into the bathroom, put on the lights, and started reading the stories and pointing to the pictures in The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. In time Carol calmed down from the powerful nightmare of a giant butterfly chasing her, and we were able to put her in her bed, though one of us had to stay with her until she fell asleep.

A true God Moment came when as editor at Moody Press I began signing numerous translation rights contracts that gave a British print packager, Angus Hudson, rights to develop multi-language print orders for The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. His approach was to assemble orders for a variety of languages, then initially print only the full color pictures in The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, enough for all languages. Then he’d print the stories in various translations in black type. The process dramatically reduced the printing cost per book for publishers in many different countries, including some countries behind the iron curtain.

What also made it possible was that the copies for publishers behind the Iron Curtain were financed by Moody Literature Mission, which was headed by Kenneth Taylor for many years–and later Peter Gunther. In the 1950s and early 1960s the two traveled together to Third World countries to encourage the development of book and magazine publishing—and the opening of Christian bookstores. Moody Literature Mission also placed libraries of 15 mass paperback books published by Moody Press with elementary students in public schools all over the southeast and some other states where school superintendents would permit each child in selected classrooms to receive the 15-book package of Christian storybooks.

A New Era in Bible Publishing at Moody

The Living Bible and other more contemporary translations were challenging the supremacy of the several hundred years old King James Version of the Bible. As a child, as a high school student in a private Mennonite high school, and as a student at the Mennonite Brethren Bible Institute, I had memorized a lot of Bible verses in the King James Version. I was comfortable reading it, but the Jesus Revolution had brought many into Christianity for whom the King James Version was too old-fashioned.

The Lockman Foundation, originally funded and headed by Dewey Lockman, was established to provide the Bible in a variety of overseas translations based on the most reliable Hebrew and Greek texts. But then they funded an English translation they called the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The goal became to develop a new translation faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek for personal Bible study and preaching, but still more understandable than the King James Version.

My next God Moment came when Peter Gunther, our director at Moody Press, asked me to attempt to negotiate a non-exclusive publishing contract for the NASB with The Lockman Foundation. Word in the industry was that several publishers were hoping to work out an exclusive publishing contract and were finding Lockman’s board more interested in non-exclusive contracts, hoping to see wider use with several publishers promoting the NASB.

By then I knew that I enjoyed negotiations, so I was delighted to accept the assignment. I flew out to California and met with Robert G. Lambeth of The Lockman Foundation and initiated discussions to gain Moody Press non-exclusive publishing rights. I reported back to Peter Gunther and we developed an approach that resulted in a contract for Moody to publish the NASB Bible in a variety of bindings and specialized uses. Without the Moody Press team realizing it, this move into Bible publishing would soon turn Moody Press into not only a one Bible publishing house, but one with specialty Bibles.

A Breakthrough God Moment

The next God Moment came unexpectedly at a Christian Booksellers Conference in Dallas, TX in the mid-70s. I was pulled behind a wall at our exhibit by Dr. Charles Ryrie, a professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Press author. Dr. Ryrie revealed that he had signed a contract with World Bible Publishing for a Ryrie Study Bible, but that the publishing deadline in the contract had not been met. He feared the project was mired in interminable delays and was ready to cancel the contract. Might Moody Press be interested in taking over the project, since his notes for the New Testament were already completed.

I stood in stunned disbelief. A Ryrie Study Bible for Moody Press? Wow, that would be a coup, since Dr. Ryrie had the credentials and teaching experience to deliver notes that a majority of Bible students would accept. Certainly his eschatological views would raise hackles among mid- and post-millenialists, but eschatology was not going to be the main thrust of the Ryrie notes. I quickly came alive and promised to take it up with Peter Gunther and the rest of the executive team. Several weeks later my boss and I met with Dr. Ryrie in a VIP lounge at O’Hare Airport and Peter Gunther and Dr. Ryrie signed the contracts that portended a new era in Bible publishing for Moody Press.

The Moody team decided we needed a simultaneous release as the King James Ryrie Study Bible and the NASB Ryrie Study Bible. The total cost, including the first printing, was estimated at one million dollars, money loaned to Moody Press by the Institute from its foundation.

A Mammoth Undertaking

Not surprisingly, this proved to be a mammoth undertaking. David Douglas, as textbook editor, got the job of proofreading. I had noticed an announcement in Publishers Weekly about a type designer working with books. I contacted him and we agreed to engage him. He was a charm to work with and delivered a type design and layout we loved. The typesetting for the NASB had been done in a Philadelphia type house so I negotiated with Robert Lambert at Lockman Foundation to gain access to it for the Ryrie Study Bible.

Howard Fisher, our production manager, evaluated the printing estimates and settled on a printer who could also attach the leather and imitation leather covers. Many executive team meetings later the Ryrie Study Bible rolled off the presses. Now it was up to the publicity and advertising department to get out the message—and the marketing department to prep the salesmen to sell it into the bookstores and special markets. To the best of my knowledge it was launched in the spring of 1978, if my copy with a 1978 copyright date can be trusted. Eventually, years after I left Moody Press, the NIV version of the Ryrie Study Bible was added. What God had begun in the mind and heart of Dr. Charles Ryrie became THE study Bible for millions.

Yet more than reference books and Bibles were rolling off the press with a Moody Press imprint. In my next installment I’ll try to introduce you to some of the wonderful men and women writers I got to introduce to the Editorial Committee, sometimes fight for, and see change the world Christians lived and witnessed in.

3 thoughts on “God Moments (6): Helping Moody Press Get into Bibles

  1. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us, Mr. Stobbe. The unfolding of your work with Moody Press is an important piece of history that we need to know. I dreamed of attending Moody Bible Institute while my family lived near Chicago, where we attended a big church in the 60s with Moody staff members, including Professor Tim Wise and Willis Mayfield of Moody Radio. We grew up reading Moody paperbacks and the magazine, Moody Monthly . Although my family moved west, and I went to another school, my brother and sister went to Moody, and my husband and I studied Bible by correspondence in preparation for missions. It was fun to learn that you were one of the people working behind the scenes. May God bless you!

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