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4 Dangers in the Christian Bookstore

So, how do you know whether or not the stuff you are picking up in the Christian bookstore is actually worth your time and money? I’ll be honest out of the gate by confessing a few things:

·  I find the whole thing where we label inanimate objects ‘Christian’ strange
· I think a great deal of merchandise sold in these bookstores is actually harmful to its target market
· I tend to disassociate myself with the Christian subculture that has developed around this merchandise

I don’t think I’m better than the people that shop at Christian bookstores. Every once in a while I will venture in and find some things I’d like to read, though I prefer going to the library and checking out said book for free. But I have felt for a long time that the Christian bookstore can be one of the most dangerous places for a Christian to walk into, and I will explain my reasoning in just a moment.

It goes without saying that most of the items in the Christian bookstore look and sound the part – they are even laced with all kinds of scriptures to help give them credibility. You’ll find the credentials of the authors on the back of the book. Sometimes they are pastors of mega-churches, other times they are leaders of movements, and occasionally they are successful/famous people that follow Jesus. And whatever their pedigree, it is assumed that because they have a new book they have something profound and truthful to say. Only, that is not necessarily true.

Next time you walk into a Christian bookstore, here are some things I think you should watch out for:

#1: Self-Help

There is a difference between self-help and Christian living, but the line is thin and often very difficult to see. There are all kinds of books about becoming a better spouse, managing money, losing weight, parenting your adolescent, sexual purity, etc. and some are full of solid insights. These have their place. It’s the books that are all about ‘improving yourself’ that we should be wary of. Jesus explains that the way to experience real life is to die to yourself– and the way to lead a better life is by giving leadership and control to the Holy Spirit. At the center of the Christian experience is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, transforming us to look more like Christ. When we try to manufacture change by modifying behavior and changing our attitude, it’s possible we miss this truth.

#2: Non Jesus Gospel

What I mean by this is simple: much of the stuff out there claiming to defend or expound on the ‘true gospel’ is actually not centered on Jesus’ life and ministry at all. Anything that doesn’t line up with the gospel Jesus proclaimed is off base – no matter how many scriptures it quotes. Each person should be able to clearly articulate the ‘good news’ according to what the gospel writers record about Jesus. Everything you pick up at the bookstore should be measured against that.  To read my unfiltered thoughts on the Gospel and how I believe popular writers and preachers have distorted it, click here.

#3: Devotionals & Simplification Aids

The truth be told, I don’t see many redeeming features in devotional books; but my wife assures me they can be valuable. We’ve all seen these books that are supposed to help you get into scripture everyday. They’re easy to recognize because of their numbers – “30 days” or “15 verses” or “1 minute”. One of my chief concerns about these is that some people use them as their primary growth tool; I suppose they have some value as a supplement but shouldn’t be the main source of learning. Beyond that, I don’t want to be overly specific because my own personal opinions are quite strong about these – just be careful when choosing which people you are willing to give a voice to in your life. Remember that when you are reading a devotional, you are reading someone’s interpretation and sitting under their teaching – so be sure you are aware of their theological framework before you take everything they say as good insight.

#4: Answer Books

Many people wander into the bookstore looking for answers to a variety of questions. Some people are seeking life advice, others biblical understanding, and still others are looking to increase their knowledge of the biblical facts. In any case, I think there are better ways to find resolution to my questions. For instance, ‘having coffee with a respected mentor’ or ‘reading the bible with friends’. The reason is because often times I find myself looking into the wrong corners for answers, asking the wrong questions to begin with – engaging these questions within a community of Jesus followers allows for people to say, “why do you want to know the answer to that?” and “if you knew the answer to that question, how would it help you live in obedience tomorrow?” I hate those questions, but they remind me that spiritual growth is not an exercise in intellect or memorization, rather an exercise in living in full submission to Jesus. Answer books, as I call them, can perhaps seduce us into believing that the more ‘truth’ we memorize the more spiritually mature we are.


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