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Bad “Christian” Books: The Cause and the Cure

The following article was originally posted back in 2006. I am posting it again because I think the problem is as bad as it ever was, and maybe worse.

Walmart Knows the Church

Yesterday, my wife and I spent a fun-filled [fŭn· fĭld adj. full of or tending to induce stress and exhaustion] day shopping. I came home, having had my fill of fun for a good, long time, more grateful than ever that my home address is eighty miles away from the nearest shopping mall and that segment of the population that enjoys living near them. We even went to Walmart, which I avoid as diligently as possible. Anyway, we got the job done and returned home late last evening, our net worth substantially reduced.

I made a stop at Walmart’s “inspirational” book section. The only real Bible they had was a fake leather NKJV. The rest were NLT and the like, ranging from cutesy Precious Moments junk to the Refuel and Revolve biblezine abominations. They did have a KJV New Testament on CD read by James Earl Jones, which would be cool—probably too cool, actually. That was the best of the selection. Other attempts at inspiration were offerings from Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Billy Graham, Gary Smalley, Frank Peretti, and the like.

I wasn’t really surprised. After all, why should Walmart be any better than the average Christian book store? What really did surprise me a little was that, among all those “inspirational” books, I found absolutely nothing of any real value at all. It was all junk. I left the inspirational section uninspired. I don’t blame Walmart, though. Walmart is not a Christian retailer. Walmart does not stock its shelves with truth in mind. It is not concerned with the souls of its customers.

Walmart just wants your money, and that is not a pejorative statement. That is why retailers exist. But what strategy do they use to get your money? They stock what you want, “you” being the generic customer, and in this case, the Christian customer. That is why Walmart’s shelves are stocked with very few KJVs and NKJVs, and no NASBs or ESVs. That is why Walmart stocks Warren and Osteen, and not MacArthur or Piper. Walmart sells what the market demands, and the market demands ice cream rather than prime rib. And the market can’t even discern good ice cream from bad. It can’t even tell when the ice cream is laced with cyanide.

Walmart doesn’t stock the truth because the church isn’t buying it.

I think I could have written almost the same article had I been in the average Christian bookstore. Sure, there would have been some good, theologically sound books, but the majority would have been the same toxic fluff sold at Walmart. To be fair to the Christian retailer, the problem is mostly consumer caused. Christian booksellers have to meet consumer demands to stay in business, too. So it comes back to the average Christian reader. Lifeway and stores with names like Rainbow Shop and Dove’s Nest sell what Christians want.

When I originally posted this, someone objected to my use of the word Christian to describe the consumers of all this junk. Perhaps I should have put Christian in quotes, implying mere nominal Christianity. That is no doubt true in many cases, but I have heard too many people whom I know understand and believe the gospel and trust in Christ alone for their salvation who practically drool all over themselves in praise of garbage like The Prayer of Jabez. This is a not a nominal-Christianity-only problem. It is simply a fact that the average Christian is more likely to buy feel-good slop or spiritualized humanistic self-help than biblical truth. And if some author claims to have uncovered some New Key to the Victorious! Abundant! Life, expect it to show up in women’s and/or men’s “Bible studies” everywhere.

Getting to the Point

Well, it’s easy to see a problem and carp about it. But what can be done? There are two levels of sickness to deal with. The most obvious is the intellectual dullness of modern man in general. Turn on the television or radio, and if you don’t see what I mean in less than an hour, you’re part of the problem. Critical thinking and discernment are rare skills, undeveloped in most. Related to that, but less obvious and more basic, is the theological bankruptcy of modern Christianity.

Intellectual Dullness

Don’t be one of the most. Discernment is a skill to be developed. It is not a spiritual gift. It is not mystical. Certainly, only Christians can have true spiritual discernment (1 Corinthians 2:15), but nevertheless, discernment is primarily intellectual, an exercise of the mind. So work to develop your discernment. But how?

Follow old men who have proven themselves faithful and wise. Begin reading mature men like MacArthur and Sproul, whose long lives of faithful, biblical ministry testify of their godly character. Then, find out what they read, and read that. Much of it will be of long-gone theologians who, “being dead yet speak.” Broaden your reading from there by observing who else reads and admires them. This will lead you to many other authors, young and old, men and, yes, some women. You can tell a lot about someone by observing whom they respect, and by whom they are respected, so observe, and choose accordingly.

As you discover theological treasures, share them enthusiastically with others. If anyone would ever press Horatius Bonar into my hand as zealously as I’ve been given some pop-evangelical junk, I might sound a bit more positive today. Poison is being vigorously marketed and spread. Can’t we do the same with solid, healthy food?

Theological Bankruptcy

Most Christians don’t know, and many aren’t interested in knowing, what the Bible is about. Modern Christianity is hopelessly man-centered. The Bible is presented as God’s plan for us, as though he exists for us. Hence, we get trite, and utterly false, platitudes like, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.” Many Christians are primarily interested in How to Live Well and Be Happy, and since the Bible is God’s Word, it’s mostly the best place to find out How to Live Well and Be Happy. Naturally, the books they choose will be those addressing How to Live Well and Be Happy.

The only cure is pure biblical exposition that develops a distinct systematic theology, and discipleship that leads, with authority, away from the silly and false. That a self-centered, intellectually numb, and theologically vacant church doesn’t want this is irrelevant. Give it to them anyway. Many will leave, but those who stay will grow, the church will grow, and God will be glorified—which, by the way, is what the Bible is all about.

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#1 || 11·05·09··18:25 || Persis

Pure biblical exposition was my cure. I read my fair share of touchy-feely Christian books, but I was clueless, with no frame of reference. I didn't know I was spiritually starving until I began to get a steady diet of expository preaching Sunday after Sunday.

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