Yes, this really is what you think it is. I make no attempt to cover it up. This is a rant on Christian bookstores. Without further ado, let me take this proverbial weight off my chest.
What do you think is the purpose of Christian bookstores? I thought it was to help us love God with our minds (Matthew 22:37). Evidently not. I’ve taken the liberty of sketching the floor plan of a typical Christian bookstore (beware, I’m no artist). Granted, there will be some exception, but I’ve been in my fair share of Christian bookstores and I’ve experienced this as a pattern.
- “Christian” fiction – I confess, I used to read these. But I read a lot of things. I just loved reading. The thing is, though, that although it is labelled fiction, the writers have a theological bent that tends to come through their work. I stopped reading them when all I could see was the theology that I couldn’t agree with. I suppose beyond this genre being a bit of a problem in itself, a bigger problem is that it is such a prominent section of the bookstore (often 25-35%) that it crowds out useful books.
- “Jesus junk” – Oh dear. Where do I start? Pencils, bracelets, rubbers/erasers, cups, and other miscellaneous items all with a variety of ‘Jesus loves you’ emblazoned across them. It’s not the messages that are the problem. Jesus does love us. It’s the tacky necessity to put it everywhere in order to make a dollar.
- Cards, games, etc. – I feel a similar sentiment here as in ‘Jesus junk’. Why do I need to spend money on a cheap game that encourages me to travel to Hallelujah Hideout whilst avoiding Impatient Island?
- Self-help etc. books – You can find some useful things here. Some of it tends to over spiritualize problems, but it’s not my biggest pet peeve in the bookstore.
- Music & DVD’s – To be fair, there are some good Christian music artists out there. But. Too often it sounds like a grand recycling of lyrics and melodies to the point of hair pulling. And DVD’s? Is it possible to have such a high cheese factor in one genre? Really, now. A related rant is some people’s irrational fear of the “world” to the point of needing to cocoon ourselves with a plethora of “Christian” music and DVDs for protection, but I’ll leave that for now.
- Bibles – Ah yes, something useful. Right at the back of the store, though, because who comes into a Christian bookstore looking for a Bible? What a silly thought. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the Bible itself, but I do have a bone to pick with how we’ve tried to market it. Many Christian ‘celebrities’ seem to have their own version (e.g. MacArthur Study Bible, Gaither Homecoming Bible, Joyce Meyer Bible, etc.). There’s also Bibles specifically for girls and others for boys (wait a minute, the Bible is gendered?!). Some for those who like adventure, and some for Precious Moments aficionados. I’ve even seen a ‘spirit filled’ Bible. That really confused me.
- Commentaries and other study materials – Finally, some tools to help me dig into the Bible. Or so I thought. Most of these seem to be tiny volumes labelled ‘All you need to know about X theology in 100 pages’ or some other such nonsense. If there are more weighty works, chances are they reflect a narrow theological viewpoint, because God forbid we might be led astray by another denominational perspective!
Now, why would all these things be in a Christian bookstore? My guess is it probably comes down to this: the store needs to make money, and people buy this stuff. So, money making with a Christian label.
But why do people, usually Christians, buy this stuff? Maybe we feel better about ourselves reading ‘Christian’ fiction rather than other types of fiction. Maybe we feel like a good witness or encouragement if we can give someone a gift with Jesus plastered all over it. I don’t know.
Honestly, I see this in the bigger context in the Western church between emotion and reason. Looking back over church history, we tend to operate on a pendulum swing between feeling, passion, or experience, and theory, intellect, or logic. Neither extreme is healthy, but we can’t seem to find a balance.
I have a dream of a new kind of Christian bookstore. One that facilitates loving God with our minds through both quality resources and space to engage in study alone and with others. It looks a little something like this…
First, the Bibles are moved to the front of the store and given a bigger section. You can rest assured there are no princess or warrior Bibles here.
The Study Resources are also enlarged and brought forward. Here there are proper volumes representing a variety of perspectives to encourage critical thought.
There’s still a Self-Help section, but smaller and at the back. Beside it is a spot for Used Books at a reduced price to increase affordability, recycling, and enjoyment of books.
At the front is also a large Coffee Shop and Seating Area. Why have this in a bookstore? It can be a place to encourage deep connections and discussions, and personal study, as well as hosting visiting speakers or lecturers on relevant topics. And let’s face it, a hot cuppa can do wonders alongside a book!
At the back is a smaller section for Music and Art, no cheese allowed. It would be a place where people could display their photography, paintings, etc. that show how they experience God creatively.
I dream that one day this rant will seem like a distant memory in light of this kind of Christian bookstore becoming the rule, not the rare exception.