29 July 2009

Can there be a "Christian" bookstore?

I have been pondering this post about Christian bookstores by Zach Nielsen for a while.

I occasionally visit Christian bookstores, spending some time perusing the shelves. There are three of them within a reasonable distance from Eau Claire and when I have a few minutes, I go in and look around.

Without fail, I am confronted with the "best sellers" rack when I enter the store. Despite the bright colors, dozens of books, and promises of 20% off, I rarely see anything that I want to read. For example, on a recent trip to Family Christian Stores, there were dozens of copies of Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, a prime advocate of the un-Biblical Prosperity Gospel. Next to Osteen sat scads of "emergent, postmodern, hip, self-help" books that seem to have little to do with Christianity as I understand it.

In the bookstore I most often frequent, the Fiction section is next. The novels that fill this area are typically Christian romance novels or Christian suspense novels. Essentially, they are Christified versions of Danielle Steele and Stephen King, but without mass appeal.

Christian living is also a popular section, with dozens of titles on managing your finances, your mate, your children, your health, or your job. The array of possible topics is dizzying and, at times, conflictual. Next to the Christian living is a small biography section featuring the life stories of famous athletes and politicians who know Jesus.

The Bibles are relegated to the back. Perhaps they don't sell as well, yet in my mind, I think, "why aren't the Bibles front and center? This is a Christian bookstore right?" Many of the Bibles have a theme of some sort--huge concordances, full color maps, and so forth--things to draw you in. There are even theme Bibles like: the Sailor's Bible, the Patriot's Bible, and the Sportsman's Bible. I can only assume that when the editors are putting together theme Bibles, thoughts run through their heads such as, "I know that our readers like God, but they also love to sail. That's it! A Sailor's Bible!" (For what it's worth, please don't ever buy me a Bible that is covered in camouflage or the American Flag--I won't ever use it and I will probably hide it in the basement).

Along with these colorful shelves of books, the side walls often feature Christian music with catchy slogans like "if you like Coldplay, you'll love Jeremy Camp!", the message being, "we know there is some really fantastic secular music out there, but how about settling for this marginally similar Christian band?" There are also videos of dancing vegetables, offensive t-shirts, and gifts that only a grandmother could love (really...only a grandmother).

What are often absent are books about sound theology and Biblical truth (in other words, books that I like). On a recent trip, I found one Mark Driscoll book (Death by Love) and a few assorted John Piper books. Glaringly absent are classic (i.e., old) books by authors such as John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, or Francis Schaeffer. The writings of these men are foundational, yet lack the financial return of a Joel Osteen.

After the pseudo-rant above, I must answer my question that started this post. Can there be a Christian bookstore? For me, the answer is no for two reasons. First, Christian bookstores are first and foremost businesses--they need to make money and so they sell books that move off the shelves. Second, I think Christian booksellers, particularly in box stores, would be hard pressed to decided who's writing truth, which would lead to shelves full of diluted theology and theological relativism. In other words, exactly what I see when I go to Christian bookstores.

Perhaps I could start my own Christian bookstore. It would have the Bibles up front (no theme Bibles, sorry) and they would be the center piece of the store. Right next door would be a selection of concordances, Bible dictionaries, and commentaries. Then there would be a large section of Christian classics like those mentioned above. They would be cheap because many of them are in the public domain anyway. My biography section would be filled with the stories of martyrs and missionaries rather than athletes and anchormen. I would have a large section on topics of theology, such as exegesis, eschatology, and apologetics. Finally, I would include the writings of a few living men who preach the truth. My music section would include Skillet, but not the Gaither Vocal Band; U2, but not Dino. I would have no kitschy t-shirts reading, "Jesus died for Mii" or "A breadcrumb and a Fish".

Since few people would shop at my store, I guess I will have to continue to get my books from the Internet or Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, which looks a lot like my bookstore (Edwards, but not Osteen).

My encouragement in writing this is that we all remember that just because something is in a "Christian bookstore", doesn't mean it necessarily preaches the truth. Test what you read against the scriptures, as the Bereans did in the Book of Acts, where it reads "They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11).

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