January 15, 2009 Volume 22, Number 21
Books of substance rare in Christian stores
By David Daniels | ChristianWeek Columnist
To my knowledge, Kirk Wellum has never written a book. He has read plenty of books--good books--and he regularly encourages others to do the same. An experienced church planter, pastor and principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary, Kirk blogs about the challenge of finding books of "theological and biblical substance" (www.redeemingthetime.blogspot.com). He makes several important observations that can help us to cultivate wise reading habits.
In a post titled "Everything must go" (December 12th), Kirk expresses dismay at the selection of books he found when visiting a Christian bookstore in the final days of its bankruptcy sale.
Perusing the bargain-priced books, he found scores of prophecy books, Christian political commentary, issue-oriented works and the requisite treatments of Christian celebrities. Conspicuous by their absence were books of substance--biblical commentaries, theological studies, language tools and serious works of history and apologetics. Kirk believes the transcendent value of these kinds of books ensures that they will be first to go in a sale.
"Trends and fads come and go, but those works that wrestle with the truth of God's word live on and continue to bless and instruct people long after the authors have gone to be with the Lord," he writes. "There are many books looking for readers, but only a few valuable ones that will be read over and over again."
I concur, but feel Kirk may be a bit generous in believing that the more substantial works were "the first to go." I know the family of stores Kirk visited, and while their flagship store certainly carried those books of transcendent value, it would be reasonable to say that they held a relatively minor spot in a fairly large store. And as far as the branch stores are concerned, those I personally visited carried very little in the way of substantial theological and biblical material.
While bookstore shelves sag under the weight of Christian pulp, Kirk reminds us in his post "Striving to Make the Complex Simple" (December 15th)," We live in a day when we have access to a wide variety of top-notch Christian books. The problem…is that too many Christians either do not know about such books or do not care to read them."
Kirk suggests bringing good books to the attention of readers using book reviews, book excerpts in sermons and mentioning authors in Bible classes. He also addressed the need for authors to write with "clarity as well as theological precision."
I agree. We need a generation of writers who write with biblical precision, but who do so in a way that reaches the common person. Biblical and historical scholars must write books that "common people can understand while at the same time moving them deeper into the riches of God's revelation" writes Kirk in another post.
But what is to be done after a good book is written? As Christian bookstores disappear, the route from author to reader becomes ever more obscure. As I discussed in a previous column ("Ask for substantial Christian writing," April 25, 2008), retailers are extremely reluctant to stock their shelves with anything but the big name authors and cash-generating bestsellers. Far too often this means that the books that most deserve readers will languish in warehouses or not get published at all.
It is time for a new generation of entrepreneurs who see marketing the best in Christian writing as a ministry more than a money-maker. While business acumen is critical, we need authors, publishers and sellers who are driven by a passion to get the best in Christian writing before the Christian reading public.
The author, publisher and retailer are laborers worthy of their hire, but we must never forget that all forms of ministry--Christian literature included--must guard themselves against merchandising the gospel.
David Daniels is book reviews coordinator for ChristianWeek and directs the work of New Covenant House at the Toronto Jewish Mission.