Who's Shaping the Christian Mind?
Bucking the trend at Christian bookstores, a theologian challenges the faithful to make reading a pilgrimage.
BY: David Gushee
It is arguable that, after the local church, the Christian bookstore is the most influential force in shaping the Christian mind. And there is a disturbing lack of substance in most books sold to Christians today.
It may be a stretch to call them bookstores anymore. Some sell all too few books. They are now simply "stores," offering bracelets, necklaces, T-shirts, Veggie Tales videos, Thomas Kinkade pictures, greeting cards, mugs, breath mints with Bible verses on them, Bibleman videos, stuffed animals, posters, doo dads, baubles and trinkets. But you have to look awhile to find the books.
The books themselves reflect a limited range of interests. Church educators can find curriculum and materials. A large section of books on marriage, family life, and divorce is a must. Separate sections on men's issues and women's issues highlight developmental challenges facing men and women.
Biographies and autobiographies make an appearance, with special attention to Christian athletes. Fiction is popular; Janette Oke remains a staple. Bible studies, reference tools, and numerous Bible translations can be located. And the bestseller section contains well-established evangelical figures, such as Josh McDowell, James Kennedy, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, T.D. Jakes, Tony Evans, Bill Bright, R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur.
It's clear that the typical Christian store is geared to the average Christian struggling to remain sane and faithful amid life's challenges. This is not an insignificant contribution. Nonetheless, the typical Christian store offers a narrow and unimpressive range of Christian literature. Here are the problems:
Lack of breadth and depth
The Christian faith is a living and diverse tradition. Its arduous intellectual mountaintops have been scaled by brilliant men and women in a variety of settings, eras and denominational traditions. These thinkers are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox. Early church, medieval, Reformation, modern, contemporary. North American, European, Third World. Many addressed precisely the kinds of issues Christians wrestle with today. Many wrote for a popular audience and their work is still quite readable.