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5 Weaknesses Christian Bookstores Reveal in the Church

openI have nothing against Christian bookstores. I spent more than fifteen years supporting my family in Christian retail while toiling in ministry.

For me, Christian bookstores are simply a magnifying mirror revealing some of the American church’s blemishes.

The problem

We’re talking about pure capitalism here. Bookstores have a limited amount of money to sink into inventory, so they need that inventory to turn over regularly. When you walk into a Christian bookstore, you’re looking at supply and demand at work. What you see is what people want.

Here are five weaknesses in the church that a visit to a Christian bookstore will reveal:

1. Ecumenical marginalization

There’s a street-level evangelicalism (I say “street level” because it’s pretty far removed from academic evangelicalism.) that has become the face of the American church. When the culture-at-large thinks about Christianity, they think of this vocal cross section of Protestantism that seems to be defining our collective political, moral, theological, and interpretive dialog.

This is the group that Christian publishers and bookstores cater to. To be fair, they’re the ones spending copious amounts of money, so it makes sense. But as the marketplace indulges this group, it reinforces and emboldens their ideological manifest destiny.

By largely excluding other denominational and movement voices, this mainstream evangelicalism lacks the ability to be introspective and inclusive of the rest of Christ’s body.

2. Christian nationalism

Christian shirtChristian bookstores are full of art, t-shirts, and literature that marry Scripture with patriotic imagery. This fusion of God and country happens so regularly that it’s difficult for some to be appropriately critical.

Many outside of the U.S. are shocked and appalled at products that conflate Christianity and America having never seen such things anywhere else.

Maybe we should listen a little closer to them.

3. Anti-intellectualism

I’m not talking about simple ignorance; I’m talking about aggressive anti-intellectualism.

At any given time, you’ll find less than a handful of academic works in most Christian bookstores. In their place, you’ll find a cul-de-sac of homogenized teaching. The average person weaned on bookstore theology will assume that dispensationalism and “Left Behind” theology represent historical Christian thought.

This anti-intellectualism refuses to acknowledge that there are educated, committed believers who recognize the complexities in biblical translation and interpretation. It denies that well-meaning Christians can disagree about things like:

  • The nature of hell
  • Biblical inerrancy
  • Creation’s timeline
  • The purpose of baptism

The most complex social issues and doctrinal ideas are boiled down to pithy one-liners for t-shirts and bumper stickers. And why not? God said it. You believe it. That settles it. Right!?

4. Celebrity Worship

vickYou’ll generally find the biography section of any Christian bookstore fairly well stocked. And that’s great; there are amazing and inspirational stories of people who have sacrificed so much for Christ—but you won’t find many.

Instead, you’ll find a selection of books written about the latest celebrities and sports stars to align themselves, however tenuously, to Christianity.  This isn’t necessarily bad. It’s the lack of balance that’s troubling.

We begin a subtle undermining of the gospel’s message kingdom value when we extol the virtues of rich and famous believers at the expense of the faithful. The church desperately needs be exposed to the stories of normal people who sacrifice their time, energy, and resources for those who need mercy, justice, and advocacy.

It seems Christians have the idea that having famous believers gives Christianity credence in a celebrity-obsessed world. But let’s be honest—it probably doesn’t any more than Tom Cruise elevates Scientology’s credibility.

5. Cultural absorption

starbucks shirtThere was a time when ingenious people with Christian ideals created timeless literature, music, and art beloved for its creativity, wit, beauty, and ideals. But when that happens now, it’s the exception.

Nowadays, the faithful want “Christian” versions of things they see in popular culture. I remember the worksheets we used to have around the bookstore that offered you a Christian alternative to the secular music you like. “Do you like Limp Bizkit? You’ll love tobyMac.” Wait . . . huh?

If a show is popular, someone will write a book drawing out dubious connections to the gospel. If a brand is popular, someone will create a shirt cleverly working in a Christian message.

It’s heartbreaking to see Christian retail virtually ignore amazing artists like Over the RhineBill Mallonee, and Waterdeep who’ve been creating brilliant, engaging, and inspiring art for years.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Christian retail? Let me know in the comments.

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62 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ed Sumner #

    You hit #3 right between the eyes. Pre-millennialism has all but ruined the Protestant Church and the bookstores are filled with it. The other four are spot on as well, but #3 is the worst. Trying to find ANY books that espouse any eschatology other than pre-trib rapturism is like trying to find chicken teeth. (They might be there, but you can’t see ’em.)

    September 16, 2013
  2. I would go so far as to say you’re not being hard enough on Christian retail. I spent several years at a Christian bookstore working my way through college and have to “second” this list and bemoan the nature of things like commercialization of humanitarianism. We had to “sell” so many World Vision babies a day to meet our “quota” for the month… Objectifying children and perpetuating a detached, “white savior” complex.
    I found both customers and personnel to be extremely anti-intellectual as you proposed as well as consumers of “fluff” and “feel good theology.”
    Not to sound the bitter, disenchanted believer, but I strongly agree with this post and think you’ve done an insightful and careful job of addressing the context in which Christians shop.

    September 16, 2013
  3. You’ve said your piece in a pretty well thought out way. I think you nailed it on the head, Christian bookstores work to carry the items that sell in bulk. Stores that ignore this go under. There is a great local Catholic Store with an intelligent conversationalist behind the helm, and the store is struggling. Sure, I can pick up a copy of Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises” or the new Roman Missal, but I know that those books are more of a liability than a sound investment. Cokesbury (the retail branch of the methodist publishing house) has closed all it’s brick and mortar stores, and while they say this is to move into the future, I think they neglected their market by not putting their stores in better locations.

    The competition online from Barnes and Noble and Amazon take the struggle to another level. Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Hastings have had to reduce their physical presence in recent years. With Churches having their own bookstores, I think Christian Bookstores in general are going to start to fight an uphill battle.

    The part about Christian Art hits home. Kinkade isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when that’s all anyone offers, we know we have a problem. I’m tired of his art. I want to see some new things, and I’m poorly trained in finding the good stuff. Some of my friends have done incredible things with post-it notes and pencil drawings inspired by mystics and patristics that are moving on more than level of meaning. I’m looking forward to checking out your artists. Perhaps we can do a better job of sharing inspirational art online.

    One thing I think you should add or at least think about: literacy rates. For mainline Christians? Catholics? Evangelicals? Americans?

    September 16, 2013
  4. Not hard at all. The point is that retailers sell this merchandise and companies produce it because it sells. It’s a fun feedback loop. You want, we sell, you want more, we repackage. It’s not about theology at all – this is about profits over prophets. Theology is a smoke screen for another way of keeping up with the Joneses.

    September 16, 2013
  5. Great thoughts, Jayson.

    September 16, 2013
  6. randyebourland #

    TestaMints. Need anyone say more?

    September 16, 2013
  7. I spent 40 years as a Presbyterian minister. I never went to a “Christian Bookstore” because of the issues you point to. Harsh? Absolutely not. It is myopic understanding of Christianity par excellance.

    September 16, 2013
  8. I have to stifle a laugh every time I walk by the Family Christian store in my neighborhood. But beyond that, yes, I am very disappointed in a lot of “Christian” media. Mostly because some people seem convinced that, if it says “Christian” on the front, then no other media could possibly matter! I’d rather listen to actual rock than Christian rock and I’d rather read science fiction than Christian fiction. It would concern me more if I couldn’t find God in my heart than if I didn’t see a single Christian hardcover on the local bookstore.

    September 16, 2013
  9. Michelle #

    I think the point about Christianity being aligned with Patriotism is very well done. I am from Brazil, and there are many Christians there and even more Catholics, but there is no connection that being a Christian is patriotic to the country. No religion association to any country, I don’t agree with selling this argument that we must love God and our Country or else? Its confusing and distracts from the main point, Love God with all of your heart.

    September 16, 2013
  10. D. B. Phillips #

    After many years working in the largest chain of Christian Bookstores, I left that business (15 years ago) when I could no longer “square” providing so much junk alongside the material that pointed others to Christ.
    At the time of my departure, I was managing the #1 store in the chain. I believe that the Lord brought His favor on our store because I would not allow most of the “garbage” to see the light of day.
    It so grieves me now when I have the need to do any business with Christian bookstores. Most of what I am seeking is not even available at those brick & mortar stores anyway.
    And, PLEASE, let’s not even discuss the Duck Dynasty merchandising!

    September 16, 2013
    • Honestly, I have found this to be true as well… Often I am shopping at Amazon (where even those who self publish have a voice). I’ve not spent a ton of money or time at Christian bookstores lately so I really appreciate hearing from those of you who have! I actually bought my Jamie Grace CD (she’s awesome) at Target cause the Christian bookstore didn’t even carry it! I think they might be missing on both mission and money by not diversifying their market!

      September 17, 2013
  11. I’ll make my comment before reading the rest… admittedly though at times I learn as much from others comments as I do from the post…. and yours was a good one! The pictures alone said much!

    From my perspective I believe the Christian Bookstores in America are doing their job. They are making Christ and his teachings relatable and reachable to the masses. True, it concerns me that they don’t carry perhaps the more intellectual thinker’s books and tend to go with the majority flow… but most everyday Christians aren’t able to digest such works and seek instead books that inspire understanding.

    Jesus understood this in his teachings! His stories and parables were highly relate-able at the time using people and situations people could easily relate to and understand! I believe he talked in parables as the deep complex concepts of God can at times be best conveyed not in intellectual ways but in sharing stories about people in relationship with other people.

    Christ came to the world to change our hearts not our affinity for a certain type of music. I love the fact that you can still be you and a Christian! In the world but not OF the world. That doesn’t mean you stop drinking Starbucks (unless convicted to do so by God) and wearing at t-shirt that depicts your faith may be courageous indeed! 😉 It could make Jesus more relatable then for someone else (we can hope)!

    I pray those musicians and great theological thinkers that are not represented by the mainstream bookstores continue to be faithful. Retail is fickle and sometimes it is just a matter of time before their season will come. There is more and more available to us through Amazon now… and that is how I’ve purchased some of my most thought provoking books including UNFAIR by John Shore and FUNDAMORPHOSIS by Pastor Robb Ryerse. God sometimes can lead us elsewhere outside the bookstore walls to valuable literature that can indeed enrich our Faith.

    Thank you for this blog post… Now I’m off to read the comments and continue to expand my thoughts on this good topic! ❤

    September 17, 2013
    • Ed Sumner #

      That’s just it though. Especially in eschatology, the bookstores are NOT carrying Christi’s teachings, they’re carrying MEN’s teachings. Show me anywhere in Scripture where Jesus taught a secret rapture. All the myriad of bad eschatology books are doing is confusing new believers and bolstering false teachings amongst those already indoctrinated into them.

      September 17, 2013
      • What are some of the false teachings you are referring to? I am most interested in what they are! I wonder perhaps if I’ve “bought into” some of them as well without knowing it?

        Is the book you are referring to Left Behind? I think some Christians believe Matthew 24:37-42 refers to this… isn’t it a matter of interpretation?

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I can tell this topic weighs heavy on your heart and I appreciate your insights! 🙂

        September 17, 2013
        • Ed Sumner #

          You can’t find any teaching of a secret rapture in Scripture. NO Scripture is a matter of private interpretation, understanding perhaps, but NOT interpretation. Dispensational pre-millennialism is one of the primary reasons why the USA is the way it is today. With so many people believing they’re ‘going to get raptured’, there are too few concerned about being salt and light. What did Jesus say happens when salt is no longer preserving? It is written:

          “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”

          September 17, 2013
          • True… Not knowing when it will happen is quite different that not knowing at the time when it happens!

            September 18, 2013
            • Ed Sumner #

              The facts of the matter are very plain. Jesus told us numerous times when His Coming and the Resurrection would take place. Christians don’t listen anymore though, because they’re being fed poisonous food. So let me help by giving the verses where Jesus tells us when the Resurrection will take place.

              Jhn 6:39
              “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

              Jhn 6:40
              “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

              Jhn 6:44
              “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

              Jhn 6:54
              “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

              Jhn 12:48
              “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.

              Here is Martha on the subject:
              Jhn 11:24
              Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

              Now mind you, this is a WOMAN telling us this. Allegedly, women were not well educated and more or less second class citizens in the Israeli economy, but she agrees with Jesus.

              Note the theme if you will, over and over: …”the LAST DAY.” We are told in Scripture that a matter is to be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. On this subject, Scripture gives us SIX witnesses. I think we as Believers would do far better to listen to the evidence of the six witnesses. There are actually two more, but I think six are enough. Let those who have ears hear.

              September 18, 2013
            • Ok, Ed. I appreciate your feedback. I really do. But the comment section of my blog is not a place for you to set up shop. There are tons of free blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogger, etc.) where you can spin up your own blog up and talk about whatever you want.

              September 18, 2013
            • You have done well to explain the basis of your belief and have provided a generous gift to me! 🙂 Thank you! ❤

              September 18, 2013
  12. Steve #

    That’s why I buy most all my books online. Not much of worth in a “Christian Bookstore”.

    September 17, 2013
  13. I love this. I’m a writer as well as a reader and I often wonder if any of my stuff will make the bookstore.
    One I might have added to this list is “Family-branding.” Everything in a Christian store is PG. Nothing edgy, nothing remotely controversial because it wouldn’t sell (they think). Part of that is the single target audience you mentioned.
    As for celebrity marketing, I agree. They want to look at celebrities and say “Look! We’re cool, too!” And I generally judge a book by how much of the author’s face fills the cover. It’s not always accurate, but that’s the first thing that comes to my head: celebrity marketing.

    September 17, 2013
  14. This struggle to be a business that is also rooted in good ministry is something I have been sifting through recently. I agree that most Christian bookstores haven’t found that balance well at all, but rather than being frustrated by this and ending the conversation there, I find myself asking how Christian businesses can improve. The camps I work with, for example; how can they find the balance? Or does the need for money to support their work make that impossible?

    September 17, 2013
    • It’s difficult, even with churches. What church hasn’t been put in the awkward position of being threatened by the bigger tithers to change something? Once you start mixing mammon and ministry it gets messy. Yet, we need to do it. It’s a challenge.

      September 17, 2013
  15. Maybe Christian bookstores are toppling because they are leaning a little too far to the right.

    September 17, 2013
  16. Sue #

    Jason,
    Wow, I wonder what your true motivation is here. You say that the problem is the church, but then you go on to slander Christian retail. You even ask in the last paragraph that if you are being to hard on Christian retail stores. Well…which is it?

    Due to the fact that a high majority of Christian retail store are owned by Christ followers, there will automatically by a responsibility factor or a bias to what they will sell. Your neighborhood Barnes & Noble will sell ‘anything that sells’. Maybe you ought to write a blog on the weaknesses that lie there.

    September 17, 2013
    • I suppose my motivations are mixed. I’d like to think they’re pure, but I’m introspective enough to admit that there’s probably a lot going on here.

      As for slander (the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation), I’d probably have to disagree. I’ve spent a third of my life in Christian retail. Some of the most amazing people I have ever met have been there and many people I respect greatly still believe in its ministry. Am I making slanderous statements? I don’t think so. I am sharing my opinions from my years on the front line. Some people agree, some people don’t.

      You ask me, “which is it?” Am I coming down hard on the church or on Christian retail. And I guess the answer is yes. It’s kind of an ouroboric issue.

      Why would I write a post on what is on sale at a Barnes & Noble? To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12, what business do I have judging people outside the church? It’s people within the church who follow Christ.

      September 17, 2013
  17. froginparis #

    I cannot say how much I love this!! I hate shopping in Christian bookstores, because rarely can I find what I am looking for. Pop-culture milky theology on the shelves with very little meat for a thinker like me. My faith grows when my doubts are challenged, not numbed. I often end up at Barnes & Noble to find the nugget of challenge. The book “Vintage Jesus” was my first foray in this validation found at- B&N.

    September 17, 2013
  18. Wow! It seems like this became a site for people to tout their own “intellectualism.” If there were no Christian bookstores, you’d probably be whining about that. If the word “Christian” gets someone through the door, it might just indicate that they are searching for God. They might just have heard there is such a thing as a Bible—and surprise, they might just happen to wander over and choose to buy one of the multitude of versions of the Bible available to them. Those who want the books that will take them deeper into “thinking” have other options for places to purchase their books. Let’s make our preferences known to the owners of the Christian bookstores, but let’s not use Facebook to show off. As for patriotism and Christianity—someone must have missed that Islamic countries DEMAND “patriotism and faith” be synonymous. I’d much rather live in a country where people proudly display their patriotism and faith on bumper stickers and T-shirts than finding that my head has been detached from my body because I worshipped the wrong government and their god.

    September 17, 2013
    • Hey Grace,

      Thanks for taking time to respond. Let me answer some of your criticisms:

      1. You said, “It seems like this became a site for people to tout their own ‘intellectualism.’”
      I’m not sure what site you mean. If you mean my site, it is what’s it’s always been—a place to discuss the church and some of her peccadilloes. You don’t have to agree with me. In fact, it’s more fun if you don’t.

      2. Honestly, if there were no Christian bookstores, I wouldn’t be whining about that. I think that the Christian message, when articulated well, can go toe-to-toe with anything else. I don’t think Christian’s need their own little subculture. I believe what they create is made better by competing for attention in the marketplace.

      3. Like I said, I worked in this industry for 15 years. I am very, very familiar with it. Helping new believers and people who were knew to the Gospel was one of the joys of the job. It was disheartening when someone would come in and want their first Bible and I would lead them to a wall with hundreds of English translations (not because we need hundreds of English translations, but because every publisher wanted a translation that they owned the rights to). Within that wall of translations they had to choose from hundreds of types: the trucker’s devotional Bible, the YUPPIE study Bible, etc.

      4. You said, “Those who want the books that will take them deeper into “thinking” have other options for places to purchase their books.”
      I wonder why you placed quotations around the word thinking? Were you trying to use it ironically? The problem I was trying to express—and perhaps I didn’t do it well—was that theology wasn’t presented well. There are a lot of theological issues that fit within the realm of orthodox belief, but you wouldn’t know it because many theological viewpoints are not represented well in Christian bookstores.

      5. I don’t know who’s using Facebook to show off, how they’re using Facebook to show off, or how that pertains to this blog. My guess is someone posted something on their wall, you saw it, came here and read it, don’t agree, and are now mad at them for having an opinion you don’t hold. That’s a bummer.

      6. As for Islam, I think you are speaking ignorantly about “Islamic countries.” Granted there are some that are somewhat similar to what you’re speaking of, but others that are not. Regardless, this has nothing to do with the fact that the kingdom of God is not of this earth and shouldn’t be married to ANY country. But that’s just my opinion, you’re more than welcome to disagree.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      September 17, 2013
  19. i can recommend a great exception to the kind of stores you reference: http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/

    September 17, 2013
    • Thanks Laura,

      Next time I am in PA, I’ll look them up!

      September 17, 2013
  20. Rosie Perera #

    Two other bookstores that are great exceptions to this trend are the Regent College Bookstore (http://www.regentbookstore.com) just up the road a bit from you in Vancouver (come up and visit sometime!) and Eighth Day Books in Wichita (http://www.eighthdaybooks.com). Unfortunately the Regent Bookstore’s catalog is not online at the moment as they’ve recently switched to a new website and haven’t gotten it completed yet. But it’s great to browse in person. No “Jesus junk” at all. A few tasteful cards, pottery made by Just Potters (http://www.justpotters.com) and a small amount of useful stuff for students (pens, agendas) but otherwise nothing but BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS. Oh, and AUDIO COURSES.

    September 17, 2013
    • Been to Regent’s many times. It’s a great store. Yes, there are exceptions (although a college bookstore in Canada has two strikes against it falling within the grid I’m discussing). I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was speaking for every Christian bookstore in the world.

      There are definitely exceptions. Thanks for the links Rosie!

      September 17, 2013
  21. There are still book stores? I suppose what’s left of them will go down with the Border’s of the world, but they’ll manage to come up with a Christian version of Amazon.com (if they haven’t already), and it will be a subpar version of the real thing.
    I’ve never understood the need for modern evangelicals to come up with a Christian version of so many things secular. (The Starbucks-turned-Jesus logo is appalling). I understand we’re not “of the world”, but we are certainly still IN the world. If Jesus walked the earth today, I wonder if he wouldn’t carry his whip through our little Christian book clubs and drive out the “money changers”
    Great topic.

    September 18, 2013
  22. The article identified some areas for legitimate concern but erred to draw conclusions about evangelicals and the church from the observations made. Better to take your concerns at face value rather than use them to generalize about groups or larger categories of people.

    To conclude that mainstream evangelicalism lacks the ability to be introspective from generalizations drawn from religious bookstore inventories is a rush to judgment using a far too narrow scope. Also, patriotic imagery is NOT evidence of nationalism. It is evidence of patriotism. Furthermore, intellectuals know where to go to get their products. Don’t presume upon the Lord’s church conclusions drawn from just one of many available sources for transactions.

    The church is full of ALL kinds of people at ALL sorts of places in their journey of faith. I take joy that believers with shallow understandings of things are active and involved in Christian circles, including churches and Christian bookstores. I see them on a journey rather than use them to feed stereotypes about the Lord’s church. But it’s more fun to poke critical stereotypical sticks in the eye of Jesus’ bride and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

    September 19, 2013
    • Thanks for the response Joel,

      This was a post about my years in Christian bookstores, any generalizations pertained to that. It isn’t like I don’t have other experiences or examples which lead me to my conclusions. The topic at hand may have been narrow, but my opinions are drawn from a much larger pool of observtion. But they’re my opinions, and I can appreciate that they won’t be held by everyone.

      I guess one man’s patriotism is another man’s nationalism. In many ways nationalism is but an excessive patriotism placing one cultures social and religious interests above others. I don’t see a lot of imagery showing God’s sovereignty over other nations in bookstores—only our own. There’s definitely a market for it, and I would assume that market would call it patriotism. I take solace in the fact that I am not a lone wolf decrying what I consider American nationalism in the church.

      The issue isn’t that “intellectuals” don’t know where to go get their products. I see the problem as one of products being created and marketed to one small cross-section of a the church.

      You ended your comment bemoaning my critical nature with this comment, “it’s more fun to poke critical stereotypical sticks in the eye of Jesus’ bride and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.”
      That seems to both stereotype and criticize my opinions, but I can accept that.

      I’m not sure what legitimate concerns you referenced at the outset of your comment, but I do appreciate the time you took to respond.

      September 19, 2013
  23. Max Sundberg #

    This article was very true. I think social media in general doesn’t want to embrace gods teaching It seperates how one group of people is better than another. Facebook comes to mind.
    People post scripture and pray for people who they don’t even know. It makes god seem commercial.

    September 19, 2013
  24. juliasarahelizabeth #

    Patriotism: My husband is from a European, formerly communist country. He is a bit disgusted to hear and see Patriotism equated with Christianity. Does God only Bless America? No of course not, but when there are public prayers or invocations of the Almighty’s name, America is the only country mentioned. What does God blessing America have to do with baseball anyway? Oops, now who is stepping on toes?

    Celebrity Short Stories: It amzes me how quickly ppl have biographies or autobiographies written about them these days. Esp when it comes to one’s faith. Let’s sit back and see if the things the person says has become a reality or are their words and repentance out of fear. I grew up in the same area as Mike Vick. I was in class with his cousin from 8th grade until 12th. The only ppl that really know him are his family. Wait 20 ywars or so and then ask him about his walk with God. Give the boy some time.

    October 2, 2013
  25. Very well written article. I am glad there are people like you who are elevating these issues. I don’t see anyone else talking about this stuff but I’m not looking hard either, I stopped attending church many years ago.

    November 3, 2013
    • Thanks Nelson,
      If you’re interested in talking about it, I’d love to hear what’s keeping you out of church.

      November 3, 2013
  26. I really like this piece. Well put, without being “slanderous” or “whining.” Your #2 and #3 drive me crazy, as well as the ghettoization of Christian music that excludes people like OTR and Bill Mallonee (2 of my all time favorites). I went to my local Christian bookstore looking for books on the integration of science and faith and found just about zilch.

    November 4, 2013
  27. Having worked for 6 years in a Christian bookstore, I wholeheartedly consign everything addressed in this article. And I can say that my experiences led me through the depths of Western evangelical Christianity and out the other side, simply because my employee discount allowed me to special order hard theology and church history texts that we would have never stocked any other way.

    November 4, 2013
  28. I ran out of time to read all the comments, so I apologize if I’m being repetitive, but two points – OK three.

    One is that I wish the Christian books stores offered the depth and breadth that my seminary bookstore did – without a doubt! It feeds the monster when all anyone is exposed to is further validation of what they already think (whether that thinking it right or wrong).

    The second is that whenever we are in one of these stores and find ourselves disappointed in the offerings, my husband goes to the counter and asks for a book he knows they don’t have. He’s being a little smug when he does this, but if those who feel as we do all made the point of requesting books we really would want to buy, we can demonstrate ourselves to be a worthwhile demographic that might help eventually shift the titles.

    Finally – I am involved with a religious resource center that is making a tremendous effort to be salt and light to the churches in our state and offer its subscribers a broader scope of Christian thought and teaching. Check it out – maybe there’s something like it in your area:

    http://www.irms.org – Iowa Religious Media Services

    Thanks for the call to think harder about our faith!

    November 5, 2013
    • Edward #

      How can people correctly disagree about Biblical inerrancy?

      November 5, 2013
  29. Halllelujah.You are telling it like it is brother.

    November 6, 2013
  30. You will never find ” The Cost of Discipleship” ” Life Together” ” Papers and Letters From Prison” ” The City of God ” ” Confessions of St. Augustine ” ” Pilgrims Progress” ” Fox’s Book of Martyrs” ” 7 Sayings of Jesus From The Cross” , ” The Seven Story Mountain “,works of Jean Vanier , Henri Nouwen, books of Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliott, Elizabeth Elliott, or Thomas Merton to name just a few Christian classics that are meat to the spiritual development and understanding of the faith and the centrality of the Cross. What I see are self help books and self esteem building books which focuses totally on the person who is trying to deal with something or overcome something which is no different than a secular focus. It is the grace and mercy of Christ , the power of the Cross and the walk of discipleship that transforms a life. We follow the One who leads and beacons us to follow and are transformed day by day .

    November 10, 2013
    • Edward #

      Never is a “big” word. I’m sure it doesn’t apply to all, and I’m quite certain I’ve picked up my book of Martyr’s and I think have seen Pilgrim’s Progess…
      Depends on the store. Some are better than others; perhaps more leeway with individual store vs. chain stores?

      November 11, 2013
  31. My wife worked in a fairly large Christian book store for a few years. She really did not like what she referred to as “Jesus junk.” I think the marketing of Jesus name for the sole purpose of making money is merely just another means of taking the Lords name in vain. Sorry guys, nobody is getting saved because you wear a Got Jesus shirt.

    November 11, 2013
  32. Good essay, well said. I think this phenomenon expresses Protestant evangelicalism in general. Martin Luther naively thought that when he made his protest everyone would read the Bible exactly the same way he did. He didn’t realize he was opening Pandora’s Box. In Protestantism the final authority is the Bible, but there is no final authority regarding what constitutes correct interpretation, meaning that a plethora of different interpretations abound. In modern times, especially in America, (Protestant) evangelicalism and democracy go hand in hand, and so the majority seems to rule. Since there is no final authority regarding biblical interpretation, marketing becomes the means by which ideas prevail. Whichever ideas are marketed the best gain the most traction, and creates the majority (or apparent majority) that rules. Christian bookstores reveal the extent to which democracy and market forces rule the day in American Protestant evangelicalism. Which in turn means that on some level it’s all about money. Could it be that we are worshiping mammon rather than God?

    November 16, 2013
  33. Jack Keck #

    Regarding #5: George Frederick Bach and Johann Sebastian Handel were Christians who wrote music to honor God. They were the ones who GOT COPIED!!

    The rest of the article was fine, too.

    January 5, 2014
  34. I wouldnt mind the stores as they are if they called themselves what they are “Protestant Bookstores” or “Evangelical Bookstore”. A huge chunk of American Christendom is Catholic and considering the depth of our historical and academic writings, were underrepresented in “Christian” stores.

    June 17, 2014
  35. lettersfromascribe #

    I appreciate your candor in this piece.
    I no longer go to Christian bookstores because I never find what I am looking for.
    It is not just an American phenomenon.
    In Kenya, it is quite hard to find a bookstore that stocks books that are not in line with the celebrity and prosperity inclined interpretation of the gospel.
    I have always wondered whether we should have Christian art/music/literature.
    Does the earth and everything therein belong to the Lord?
    I think referring to art or music as Christian has only added to the confusion and chaos in the church.
    We now have a “standard” for what is Christian and what is not.
    The result: we are preaching works and not Christ.
    Grace has taken a back seat as we seek to prove our Christianity on account of what we listen to, what we wear and where we hang out.
    My take: can we just appreciate art?
    Can we just find good books and read them?
    Can we just write good books?
    Can we just paint, take photographs and watch movies?
    If our eyes are indeed sound and our minds are indeed alert, then we will see God even in places we least expect him to be found.
    I think it would also help us appreciate our brokenness and that of our world.
    What could possibly be wrong with losing our pride?

    July 1, 2014
  36. All the reasons I do not go to Christian book stores.

    July 22, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Weaknesses of the modern Church | Human Approaches to God
  2. Thursday Tidbits 9/19/13 | More Awesomer

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