Sheep Being Fed in Other Pastures

Michael Spencer, a highly creative and barb-witted guy, blogs about visiting a Christian bookstore and observing the State of Affairs therein. It is both funny and sad to read his thoughts on this issue, as is true of many of his reasonings and rantings. (I have to confess that I appreciate Michael's Internet Monk blog more than the Boar's Head Tavern site, but that's just my own taste.)

I was in Bible College back around the time when the Wright Brothers were still making paper airplanes. Ok. It was the late 1960's and early 1970's. But it seems long ago. My church operated a large Christian bookstore that supplied Christian literature to hundreds of churches and (presumably) thousands of people in northern New Jersey. At the time there were only one or two other stores around the broad area.

When you walked into the store you encountered a long wall filled floor-to-ceiling with commenaries. It ran the entire length of the store - probably 60 feet or more. I remember a couple of display shelves that were situated in the middle of the store - holding a large selection of missionary biographies, theology, practical Christian life books, and Christian fiction. I was there when the Living Bible was released, followed shortly by the New American Standard Bible. Those were the days when The Late Great Planet Earth (Hal Lindsey) was a best-seller, but so was Competent to Counsel (Jay Adams) and some of Francis Schaeffer's books.

Our store, because it was a church-run store, only stocked books that fit with the doctrinal statement of the church, with the exception of commentaries where you could get anything that was evangelical. While that might seem a bit narrow, it prevented people from being exposed to books that were potentially harmful or just plain unhelpful.

Oh, we had a collection of trinkets for Sunday School prizes, as well as plaques and pictures, but the heart of the store revolved around Bibles and Bible-based books. And because the pastoral staff was highly involved in what the store carried, people were protected from unhelpful and sometimes hurtful literature. Whoops - sounds like censorship.

What happened? Well, the small independent publishers sold out to bigger corporations, not necessarily run on the ministry motive and not necessarily overseen by believers. Profit supplanted ministry, chains overtook the mom and pop stores, and what you see today is what you get. Christian bookstores that sell anything that has a "Christian" orientation. And as Michael correctly observes, most of it is worse than fluff. It would be almost comical if it weren't so harmful.

Michael and some of those who commented make reference to the failure of and need for Pastors to get involved in this. I agree. But the issue is larger than just Christian bookstores. As the title of this piece says, our sheep are being fed in other pastures.

In our culture celebrity is equated with authority. That's why the opinions and views of a sit-com actor or a musician mean more than yours and mine. Unfortunately that same cultural trend carries over to the local church. As a pastor (and I don't claim to have the last word or be the final authority), I have to compete for the ears of my flock, because there are those with radio programs and multimillion-copy best sellers whose celebrity has made them authorities.

You see, I can talk about justification by faith alone for weeks, but let some Christian "leader" blur the differences between biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism (hey folks, don't melt down - read their catechism) and what happens? I can urge us to live as if heaven were our real home, but then D. James Kennedy troops out the Founding Fathers and talks about reclaiming America, and who gets listened to? And I can talk about the cost of following Christ, but if my folks go into Christian bookstores and purchase Warren and Osteen and Wilkerson and all of the others, what message are they going to get?

Personally, I'm not giving up without a fight. I'm not going to froth at the mouth, but as opportunity arises, I'm going to point out some problems, name names, and warn. I can't read Acts 20:17-38 without a keen sense that warning people of what is harmful is close to Paul's heart.

Maybe I overstate the problem, but I don't think so. Someone is buying those books and someone is listening to those radio speakers. If our sheep are being fed in other pastures, we need to find out what nutritional value they offer, and when it's no better than a stale Twinkie, we need to point them to the banquet of God's Word and the rich resources that good authors have provided.


Diane said...

Actually I can outdate you...LOL. In the 60's the Christian bookstore shelves in the front were filled with books on evangelism to your neighbors, friends, co-workers and fellow students because that was the hot topic back then. Nowadays, when I visit my local Christian bookstore, I have to go to the dank, dark part of the store in the back and crawl around on my hands and knees to find these books as they are on the bottom-most shelf gathering cobwebs.
I do have to give my local store some kudos though...they put the Greek and Hebrew word studies, commentaries and theology books on the side wall near the front, and very near to the best sellers. In addtition, that part is very well lighted.

Milton Stanley said...

Tell it, brother! I'm with you on this one.