December 14, 2017

Crossing Borders

Last week, our local Borders bookstore closed, as they are doing everywhere across the country. On my final visit, I was able to pick up eight or nine books for $1.00 each. On any other day, that would have been a cause for celebration. On this day, I had a sick feeling in my stomach.

We still have Barnes & Noble, thankfully. And I’ve used my Amazon Prime shipping membership this year to fullest advantage. Nevertheless, it was Borders where we went most regularly, so it will be missed.

Religion News Service ran a feature on Sept. 16 on the push for Christian bookstores to take advantage of Borders’ closing.

After Borders announced its liquidation in July, Colorado Springs, Colo.-based CBA sent an alert to member stores: “Post Borders Growth Strategy: As Borders Shuts its Doors, Christian Booksellers Should Open Theirs Wider.”

“Today, Borders is irrelevant in the world of bookselling,” the document states. “If we do not adapt to the changing marketplace and new technologies, our influence will diminish or disappear altogether.”

The letter offers suggestions for retailers including discounts for customers with Borders loyalty cards and trying to lure former Borders customers into Christian stores.

“It is always sad when a bookstore that makes Christian materials available to the public can no longer do that,” said Curtis Riskey, CBA executive director. “However, the chain’s demise does create more opportunities for independent local Christian stores to fill the gap.”

Ain’t gonna happen. At least not with this book junkie.

Not until I can go to my local Family Christian Store or independent Christian bookstore and…

  • Find serious works about theology by people who aren’t named Wayne Grudem.
  • Find actual books about church history that explore what happened before the church growth movement.
  • Find a good selection of books by mainline Protestant authors.
  • Find a section in the store that contains a good selection of substantial contributions by Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers.
  • Find books and resources that deal with the church year, the lectionary, liturgical worship, religious art, various church denominations and traditions, hymnody, and serious Christian thinking about the arts and sciences.
  • Peruse a good stock of real Christian music such as Bach, traditional choral works, and renditions of hymns and gospel songs that don’t all come from the Smokey Mountains or Alexandria, Indiana.
  • Not have to see Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and T.D. Jakes, et al, smiling at me from piled-high displays at the front of the store.
  • Find works of serious literature and fiction that aren’t about demon invasions, car crashes on the interstate because of the rapture, or forbidden Amish romances.
  • Find useful pastoral resources other than attendance books, Sunday School prizes, and candles for the Christmas Eve service. And, for heaven’s sake, can we have some pastoral theology books and helps that go beyond “How to Grow Your Church” or “How to Organize Your Church”?
  • Find a decent section of personal and corporate devotional resources that don’t have the word “Chicken Soup” in the title. Book of Common Prayer or a hymnal, anyone?
  • Talk to a store clerk or manager who actually realizes that not all churches are named, “Replenish” or “Encounter,” that they do not all exist in white suburbia serving lattes at their coffee bars, and that it was possible to worship before Chris Tomlin started writing songs.
  • Find serious commentaries and works of Biblical study written by actual scholars, and not by folks with names like John MacArthur or Beth Moore.

I found most of those things at Borders. I rarely find those things at my local “Christian” bookstore. As a result, I hardly ever stop by any more. They have defined “Christian” far too narrowly and are missing out on a vast market that they will probably never even consider.

Steve Potratz, the CEO of The Parable Group, which provides marketing for 109 Christian retailers, including 40 Parable franchise stores, says they are doing more online advertising to attract new customers while Borders liquidates. Some stores are offering more gifts, and by year’s end, e-books to accommodate demand.

Please note. We’re increasing the marketing push. No word about improving the quality and comprehensiveness of store inventory.

Their focus remains narrow, as they seek to serve “a niche audience that shares the same passionate beliefs.”

“We know where most of our customers are on Sunday morning,” Potratz said. “The opportunity to work with a church, and partner with a church, is critical, and I am seeing more and more of our stores looking for and gaining opportunity to help and resource the church.”

Sorry, Steve. What you are doing is seeking “to help and resource” a small segment of the “Christian” market. If the church even begins to do its job of bringing people to maturity in Christ, the pablum you offer will soon cease to satisfy. And meanwhile, those of us in the post-evangelical wilderness may stop by once or twice a year to buy a card for a religious occasion or something like that.

If you’d like to talk, you can find me at Barnes & Noble.

Comments

  1. I gave up on any kind of ‘Christian” book store ages ago. I find them generally useless and much too expensive. There’s a local used book store that has a fairly good theology section and carries Terry Pratchett books, too. I use online booksellers extensively, same for music. Christian book stores sell to a particular market for the most part. Christianbook.com has a lot of the same er, stuff that christian book stores typically sell but their academic section is fabulous.

  2. I didn’t do much towards continuing Borders’ existence; I went there to browse, and once I found a book I liked, I used their free wifi to look up its ISBN on Amazon.com.

    But I loved its Christian (“Religion”) section. Because, unlike the Christian bookstores, they didn’t pre-censor the selection in order to conform with the owners’ religious leanings, or out of pre-emptive fear of customer complaints. They understood how bookstores in a free society ought to run: Put it all out there, let the buyer decide, and when people complain, respond, “Freedom of the press, folks. Don’t like it, publish a rebuttal.” Rarely do any of them have the guts to do this.

    • I agree with K.W. The Borders I went to had a lot of good books I might have found at a Christian bookstore, but so much more that wouldn’t be there. The Christian bookstore had the Philip Yancey books, but he referenced Frederick Buechner, whom I could only find at Borders. From there it was no going back for me… except to buy gift Bibles.

  3. I find it rather amusing that the heretical non-gospel works of Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and T.D. Jakes make the cut while vast swaths of our Christian heritage (academic or otherwise) are presumably rejected because they don’t meet the standard of orthodoxy according to conservative evangelicalism.

  4. Here’s another one you can add to the list: books on apologetics.

  5. Can I give a big “AMEN” to those Amish “romances” ! Soft-core emotional porn for the Christian housewife!

    And I really don’t find the submissive role of females and the “shunning” of anyone wanting a educaation to be very Christ-like or inspiring, however much “chaste passion” Samuel has burning in his heart for Rebecka!

    • +1!!!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “When I read a book about the Amish, I want to read about the Amish. Not what Evangelicals think Amish are like.”
      — some long-ago comment on this thread about Bonnet Romances

    • Speaking of Amish romances…I have to tell you about my experience in a Family Christian Store in Maryland on Saturday. Now I don’t go into Christian bookstores much anymore. When I was a brainwashed fundegelical I always headed there faithfully every Tuesday to get the newest music releases, ie. Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, Newsboys, etc… (This is why I have over 100 CD’s….and why I balk at throwing them out…what am I going to do with all them….) 😯

      But as you know I’ve been on this pursuit of trying to figure out what I am and where I am going. I get very disgusted with many Christian book stores and the few times I gathored enough courage to venture in…they never have what I am looking for.

      So on Saturday I ventured into a Family Christian to pick up JI Packer “Knowing God” and was overcome with anxiety over the possible situations.

      1. As an agnositc bumping into someone I know, and have the “Eagle…what are you doing here?!?” and faced being evangelized. This has happened before.
      2. Being asked questions when asking for help and have the clerk realize that I am not in the “fold”. In certain settings I very much want to avoid discussions about faith, becuase I know we are going to disagree.
      3. Bump into someone from a previous church and have the “talk”… You know…the “Why arn’t you in church?”
      (Background for the I Monestary…last year I went into a Chic Fil A to grab some dinner on the way home from work and bumped into a guy I knew who ran a Bible study at a nearby mega church. He saw me, I saw him and thought “Oh %^$#!!!!!” He was like, “Eagle where have YOU been? Why havn’t I seen you in church? But before we talk can we eat together and tell me what’s going on?” Ouch… I aovided telling him as much as possible. Talked about work, weather, model trains, etc.. He saw through it and asked about my faith. So over a chicken sandwich I tell him about how my faith went south and why at this stage of my life I am overwhelmed with doubt and questions which at the moment has made me to question God’s existance through doubt. Then he asked what kind of questions, I told him and in the middle of the conversation he looked at his watch and told me that he had to get to his Bible study which he led. And quickly bugged out in the middle of the conversation…. Truth be told I kind of dread these interactions and others with many fundys.

      Getting back to the post…so I walked into Family Christian, nervous, anxious, elevated heartbeat and afraid of being seen. It then hit me that gosh..being so embarrased over the situation I felt like I was entering a porn shop afraid of being seen! 😯 I guess for an agnostic those feelings would be natural. I dread bumping into someone I know and I fear being treated like a trophey. You know another feather in someone’s cap with exclusive bragging rights? As many evangelicals approach evangelism in that mindset.

      • “When I was a brainwashed fundegelical I always headed there faithfully every Tuesday to get the newest music releases, ie. Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, Newsboys, etc… (This is why I have over 100 CD’s….and why I balk at throwing them out…what am I going to do with all them….) 😯

        I relate! Poured a lot of $ into my local CBS. My basement is full of books & tapes & CD’s. Wish you lived in Michigan, we could have a post fundy garage sale & donate what we sold to a woman’s shelter or food pantry or whatever… ( ;

      • Eagle,

        I try to avoid those fundy conversations as well – because back in my naive days when I thought I could enjoy talking scripture for scripture’s sake the conversation immediately turned to bashing once they figured out who I am….

        … I was thinking… you are free to do anything… you should try a silent retreat and see what it really does for you… I love them and it is one thing that really clears my head from all ther noise in the world. Catholics have them – I am assuming the Lutherans and Anglicans too, though with the Catholic/Orthodox you’d get all the smells/bells/ and psalms readings. It would probably be a whole new experience being you spent most of your faith formation time in fundy circles. Step out of the box and have some fun….

  6. So much to address in this. So little time.

    As we know, Lifeway and other Christian chains are in it for the money. As long as it sells above a certain threshold, they will sell it. Let the margins drop and out the door it goes. No mysteries here, just calculation. Think of it as the “Walmartization” of Christian printing – sell the the lowest common denominator at the lowest price (as opposed to selling high quality for top dollar).

    Have you tried your local Catholic or Lutheran book store? They’re not hard to find if you use the Yellow Pages. Oh, wait! We don’t have those any more either. Oh, well.

    With the rise of e-readers and Googles monomaniacal drive to digitize the world, there are more free books in the public domain available online that you can read in a lifetime.

    Finally, and this is the one that mystifies me, why not go to the library? I rarely buy books any more – Dallas Willard being the last two I actually paid money for. Why? Because he’s one of the few authors I have wanted to read more than once. If the library is too prosaic or you don’t want to go there because you can’t mark up the pages and do marginal notes, then there are lots of creative alternatives. Here’s one:

    Create a group for an open book exchange or book barter. Have some web-savvy guy design a site where users can sign in and list all the books they want to give away. They can also list books that they would like to receive. The site can have areas for reviews, discussions, recommendations, whatever. Members log into the secure server, receive an alert that someone wants their books, they put the address into the label maker program, print out a UPS label on their printer, pack the book and send it off. And just why would someone pay to send a free book to some stranger? For the love of sharing good books or because they can get other strangers to send them free books. Think of it as Freecycle meets Amazon.

    Don’t curse the darkness, brother. Start dipping some candles.

    • Pardon me for replying to my own post, but as an afterthought it occurred to me that this is a business model that Lifeway et al. cannot undercut. It’s hard to go any lower in price than free. Not to mention how many new friends you’ll make due to shared interests.

    • It’s called Paperbackswap.com, Rick. I love it, and its two sister sites, Swapacd, and Swapadvd. I’ve saved a great deal of money by using them. :o)

    • rick, this was meant more as a statement about evangelical culture, not so much a lament about my lack of access to books. Maybe your ideas will help some others, however, so thanks.

    • Have you tried your local Catholic or Lutheran book store?

      My home city has two Catholic “bookstores” — and their inventories are about 75% tchotchkes, 10% sectarian tracts and booklets, 10% music by Catholic contemporary artists (just like the CCM folks, only Catholic! — sound familiar?), and a few shelves of books, most of which are filled with either a) the same stuff they have at the local Family bookstore (whose idea of a good “Christian book” is Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue) or b) cheap, self-published-looking stuff that only has appeal to a narrow niche even within the Catholic Church.

      So, not necessarily the panacea one might hope. Unless you need more knickknacks.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        i.e. Jesus Junk stores with Rosaries.

        If you want a good Catholic bookstore, check out Paulist Press. I don’t know how widespread they are, though. The Paulist Press I know of is in a major metro area.

        • And Mary junk! Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadelope (all right, Nuestra Señora)… I even still see Medjugjore stuff sometimes (wasn’t that one ruled to be non-credible?).

          Paulist Press used to have a store front downtown Chicago on Michigan Ave. Don’t know if they’re still there.

          • Now, cermak_rd, what have you got against those beeeyoootiful pictures of Our Lord with the Crown of Thorns and the eyes that follow you around (thanks to holography)?

            😉

          • I’ve always liked those little clear plastic bubble things that you shake, and snow falls on the Virgin Mary…

      • St. Ignatius Press is also a good source — I got the best biography of Oscar Wilde I’ve ever read from them. It’s indispensible in teaching The Picture of Dorian Gray!

      • Lord, that’s the truth. There’s a lot of really deep, really good Catholic literature out there. But by God, no one has a monopoly on kitschy crap like us Catholics.

        • +1 😀

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          There is Lutheran kitsch as well, but it is (a) a niche market, and (b) meant ironically. See http://www.oldlutheran.com for all you could possibly ask for. My personal prize possession from it is my “Sin Boldly” beer glasses. My brother was very happy with his Martin and Katy Luther bobble heads, which he would solemnly place atop the organ when he played.

  7. “We’re increasing the marketing push. No word about improving the quality…” The reminds me of Beta. There are still VCR’s on sale today, usually in combo DVD-VHS machines. All tapes and players sold in the past 20 or so years have been VHS format. Remember Beta? The dirty little secret about Beta is that it was technologically better. There were more horizontal lines of resolution on the screen. You were actually looking at more picture as opposed to VHS. THE DIFFERENCE WAS MARKETING. VHS was marketed more aggressively, sold more units, and eventually became the industry standard. Why is the NIV the best-selling Bible in the English language? It’s all about how the publisher pushed it.

    • I think the tapes were larger in size too….

      • I was using Beta as an analogy; VHS was marketed better. To be fair, the visual resolution experienced by the average home user wasn’t much different between Beta and VHS. Sony has a history of producing superior home electronic equipment but may have misjudged the market. For anyone interested, read all it about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betamax

        Chaplain Mike: most people my age and younger imagine that e-readers will replace actual books and someday no one will remember book stores of any type, or care to for that matter. Realistically I don’t believe print media will ever really die. There are still many who prefer records to CD’s. Vintage automobiles often sell for much more than the price of a new car. There will always be people reading books, and who knows? One good solar flare may be all it takes to wipe clean every digital bit of data we have stored, and then we’ll see who has the last laugh.

        • Clark, I also think we need gathering places where good books (in whatever format) are available for browsing and discussing.

        • Not to mention there are certain places where reading a book is still more feasible. The last time I went to the beach, there were A LOT of people reading on the beach — and it wasn’t Nooks or Kindles they were holding, either!

    • Had Sony not been so arrogant and signed up for Dolby Noise Reduction instead of coming up with their own may have helped. Also Sony would not license any other manufacturers to make their machines, thus keeping the price high. Just like Apple in today’s computer market.

  8. Steve Newell says:

    Years ago, I when to a local Christian bookstore looking for a specific commentary by William Barclay. I could not find any of his commentaries on the shelves so I asked the store manager if they carried any of his books. The store manager went to the back office an brought back a small cardboard box. He stated that he didn’t but out the books since he disagreed with Barclay’s theological position. I was very surprised and I have not returned to that store since I doubt they would carry books I’m interested such as Book of Concord, writings of Martin Luther, etc.

    I have found most Christian bookstores to have more in common with Wal-Mart than Boards in that they will carry what sales to the lowest common denominator.

    Another aspect of “Christian” publishing that really bothers me is that one of the largest is owned by NewsCorp and they are more concerned about pushing what will sell then selling what is theologically correct.

    • The few times I went in there I found it a place a kin to Christian junk food. Lots of surfacy stuff along with many trinkets with cute little Jesus sayings on them and sections filled with the fad of the day.

  9. The realization of the Christian money market machine came to me when I was in high school:
    I went to a Christian bookstore looking at some “christian rock” & a youth pastor came in with some youths. He asked one youth what kind of bands do you like……if you like Nirvana get this tape……if you like smashing pumpkins get this tape…….if you like pearl Jam……. I left the store with out any music b/c I now saw that all these “artists” were just lemmings following trends. Sadly my gut reaction was more right about the whole evangelical movement then I even realized.

    • Actually, from what I remember in speaking to the artists, it’s rather unfair to stereotype all bands as copycats. Sometimes, yes, but no more than their non-CCM counterparts….15 years later I swear half the bands on Mainstream rock radio were still trying to sound like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Tool. (or later on, Creed)

      But a lot of those bands from the early/mid-90s were around before Nirvana exploded and then CCM scrambled to force them in to the how new “Alternative” buzz that was growing. Then again, a lot of us of a certain age remember when “If you like Spin Doctors, listen to Audio Adrenaline!” or “If you like Spice Girls, listen to Point of Grace!” lists in every magazine and book store around.

      I’m far more willing to blame overly-eager stores and labels than musicians on this one.

      • I don’t know that you should blame the artists or not, but he’s nailed the problem with the Christian music industry. (Or “Christian (TM) Music Industry,” as HUG might say.) It’s not just about making beautiful music, about being creative, or saying something musically that needs to be said. It’s about making a safe alternative. “I like Band X, but they curse and talk about sex.” “Well, have you heard of this other band? You get the same sound as Band X, but none of the uncomfortable stuff! You can even listen to it with your kids!” But when an industry’s goal is to make music that is similar to what’s out there, it is necessarily going to be derivative and uncreative.

        • I’m not defending the industry, but I do think there have been some original and creative bands that have had the misfortune of being attached to a “Christiann label and being sold in Christian bookstores. In the 90’s particularly, there seemed to be quite a few alternative bands who played the festival circuit. I’m thinking of bands like The Choir, The Prayer Chain (awesome band that hard too short of a lifespan), Daniel Amos (I know these guys were around a long time before the ’90s), The Seventy Sevens, Poor Old Lu – I could name more. These guys were producing music that was authentic and creative and most of it has held up to the test of time. I think that’s my litmus test for determining whether or not an artist is real or not. I have some Christian albums that I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to now simply because they are so dated and really kind of childish.

          I guess what I’m saying is that not everything that gets sold in a Christian bookstore is worthless, but the vast majority is. I just don’t want to necessarily hold it against an author or band if they happened to have some stuff in the stores.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          It’s about making a safe alternative. “I like Band X, but they curse and talk about sex.” “Well, have you heard of this other band? You get the same sound as Band X, but none of the uncomfortable stuff! You can even listen to it with your kids!”

          Actually, I call that “Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”

          Christians (TM) don’t want anything to do with Those Heathen except for drive-by prosletyzing sallies — have to keep your nose squeeky-clean, you know. However, they come out of the same pop culture as Those Heathen and want to enjoy pop culture themselves. So, they get sanitized bowdlerized Christian (TM) knockoffs of pop culture so they can still be hip & trendy without contaminating themselves.

          Christian Consolation prizes — and you know how valuable consolation prizes are.

          Last week in an unrelated Web search, I came across yet another one of these Christianese Consolation (Booby) Prizes. Ever heard of “Praise Ponies”? “Just like My Little Pony, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” (I suspect their Cutie Marks are Bible Verses or something.)

          • Looking up the “Praise Ponies,” I notice the Google’s top hits are…mostly people incredulous at the notion.

            Complaining about Jesus Junk could be a full time job. A fruitless, cynical, soul-draining, job. Besides, who wants their cutie mark to be an upturned nose in front of a Testamint?

          • Oh, good grief! I Googled and the image of the “Praise Pony” reminds me of nothing so much as those cheap import Chinese knock-offs of GI Joes and Barbie dolls that you get in the local Pound Shop.

            Isn’t this copyright infringement or trademark infringement or something? It’s like marketing your own cola-flavoured beverage under the name “Cola-Cola” or “Pepsy”. I imagine the lawyers will have something to say about this, and for once, I’m with the blood-sucking leeches on this: anything that can get this type of product off the shelves and not being force-fed to little girls (or middle-aged men, Headless?) as “You can be assured that your child is getting more than just a great toy – she is getting powerful truths that are important for her development!” can only be a good thing.

            🙂

          • Isn’t this copyright infringement or trademark infringement or something? It’s like marketing your own cola-flavoured beverage under the name “Cola-Cola” or “Pepsy”.’

            Uh, Martha, it’s already been done. “Pepsi-Cola” ripped of half of “Coca-Cola”‘s trademark, and Coke lost the court battle trying to get it back. By that time, the term “cola” had become so generic that the court ruled for Pepsi.

            This has nothing to do with anything here at internetmonk. But I thought it was interesting.

  10. is anyone else reading more Bible online than in there Bible books??
    I have been reading the Daily Office online for about a year. I can’t even imagine trying to figure out the Book of Common Prayer, find the correct text with the correct day, look up the Bible passages, flip to the right pages….
    It is so easy to click, read, pray, & worship. Are our Bibles (book) becoming obsolete???

    • David Cornwell says:

      I read some Bible online, basically when studying a passage, looking up Greek, making comparisons. But I can’t foresee the day when it will replace my hardcover (or softcover for that matter) book. I like to make notes in the margin, underline, circle, or whatever.

      All the time, however, I do wish that some of these online tools had been available to me when I was pastor of a church.

      The same is true for other books basically. I have the B&N Nook, which I dearly love. I like it especially for fiction. But for non-fiction, history, biography, theology, and other works by serious authors, I still prefer paper. I like to markup, write in margins, use stick-it tabs, and have a quick reference.

      Fort Wayne still has two large B&N stores and a very good used book store, with knowledgeable staff and cat. Our Borders, sadly, is also closing.

  11. I second Rick’s suggestion to patronize your local Catholic bookstore, ours has a refreshingly wide range of materials available. I would add to your list, find the NRSV Bible on the shelves.

  12. But, CM, where you will you buy your “Abreadcrumb & Fish” t-shirts?

    I started shopping Amazon loooong ago, and abandoned the local Christian bookstore, just because of prices! I don’t mind a good used book for less than a buck!

    Our local Barnes and Noble has a much better selection of works on church history and theology than the local Christian outfits.

  13. I realize this is an oversimplification, but when I go to the local Lifeway, most of the books are written by living people concerning subject that matter during our time. In contrast at the Catholic bookstore, most of the books are written by those no longer living concerning things that transcend time.

    • Wow… very interesting… allthough I think I find it to be true too (even though it is an oversimplification). It is good to have material that is writen durring our time… but as you said, allot of the old literature found in the Catholic stores transcend.

  14. Yes, yes, and yes! There is a bookstore that fits your description: Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, PA. Byron and Beth Borger own it and it is the best bookstore of its kind in the world. We try to get there twice a year; it is only 2.5 hours from where we live in VA. Great post, Mike.

  15. From a commenter my now private blog, “I don’t think any business should be called ‘Christian.’ Or movie, music, book, etc. Only people can be Christian because only we have the will to follow (or deny) Christ.”

    I don’t go to our local Christian Book Store either. The last time we were there my mixed race family had to endure an awkward discussion about adoption and race right in front of my children. Then the sales woman asked if she could feel my daughter’s hair. She looked offended when I said, “No.” The experience left a terrible taste in my mouth and helped me overcome the guilt I felt about not supporting our local economy when I shop online. There is a larger selection of books available on-line. I can usually find gently used copies of the books I am interested in. Even after paying shipping, I pay less than if I were to purchase the same item downtown. I don’t have to wait in line. And, I don’t have to deal with culturally inept salespeople.

  16. Wow, it sounds like your Borders store was a heck of a lot more awesome than the one in California. Ours had simply an extremely scaled-down selection of what the Christian bookstore offered, albiet with a bit more Catholic resources.

    Seriously, now I want to open a bookstore that does what your list describes. The problem is, I’d eventually have to post a sign banning evangelicals from entering. I wouldn’t want to argue with them for the 10,000th time why I don’t sell their favorite celebrity and how my books are boring, overly theological, and represent a dead religion. Seriously, I can only imagine the frustration of working behind the counter there as consumers come in to find their latest discipleship-substitute.

    On the other hand, do you really think such a bookstore would make it? You’d have to market to Catholics and Protestants. I’m not entirely certain we’re yet ecumenical enough to share a bookstore. There’s too much “You shouldn’t sell something that contradicts MY theology” out there, it seems.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “…do you really think such a bookstore would make it?”

      It might work in a large cosmopolitan city. But you would have to have a huge investment, and expect some inventory to be slow moving, so money would be tied up. I don’t think the Catholic/Protestant thing makes that much difference anymore.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Seriously, now I want to open a bookstore that does what your list describes. The problem is, I’d eventually have to post a sign banning evangelicals from entering. I wouldn’t want to argue with them for the 10,000th time why I don’t sell their favorite celebrity and how my books are boring, overly theological, and represent a dead religion.

      Don’t forget them pulling out their Bible and/or tracts to Save you on the spot, as you are obviously an Apostate or Heathen.

    • I actually don’t mind if they sell Osteen, et al, though the churchman in me recoils. Bookstores are not churches and it’s ok for them to sell things with which they don’t agree. If you are going to call yourself a “Christian” bookstore (broad title) and say your mission is to “serve the church,” then serve all Christians and serve the church. Or rename the store and restate your mission.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I agree. The mark of a good bookstore is that it carries good books in a wide selection. It is not that it eschews bad books. You have to pay the light bill, after all.

  17. My Daughter had her first job at Borders. She worked there, off-and-on, for…eight years? Something like that. And they were gracious enough to move her job with her when she moved to Washington DC for a Summer and South Florida for a year.

    For myself, they were my favourite local bookstore. As I moved into Eastern Orthodoxy, Borders carried the books I was looking for such as the Philokalia. Barnes and Noble, much less a Christian Bookstore, knew not whereof I spoke when asking for these treasures.

    As for music! I spent hours buried in the stacks finding Bach, Clannad, Gilberto, Joni Mitchell obscurities as well as BBC TV shows we had enjoyed whilst living in England back in the late ’80s. For my Family, losing Borders, is not just the end of an era…but losing Borders, is losing an invaluable resource where the employees actually read the books they sell…and listen to the music…and watch the videos. They know their merchandise. And if they don’t, they actually listen to you wax poetic because you do. And they might learn something interesting from a fellow bibliophile.

    Not so the local Christian bookstore who have their niche market and if you don’t fit in the niche, well, they want to walk you down the Roman Road. Not so much interested in learning anything as they have all the answers…

    :sigh: I miss Borders. Now I shop almost exclusively online.

    It’s just not the same…

    • “…Philokalia. Barnes and Noble, much less a Christian Bookstore, knew not whereof I spoke when asking for these treasures.”

      B&N in my town carries it. Actually, they always had one part of a multi-volume set, never the whole thing.

  18. See you at B & N, Chaplain Mike. I haven’t been to a Christian bookstore for a couple of years. There is one in Wilmington, NC, called the Salt Shaker that is rather better than average — at least they carry works by Puritan authors, Charles Spurgeon, etc, and they carried The Wittenburg Door when it was in publication. But I can get there only once a year.

  19. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    Amen Chaplain Mike. Going in our local Christian Book Store gives me a headache. Last time I went in there, I was looking for a tNIV Bible with larger print than the one I have, and the guy was like, “That translation is a bit liberal….”

    And wayyyy back when I was in college I went in and asked if they carry Cornerstone magazine. The two women behind the counter recoiled and one said, “Did you hear what they did to Mike Warnke?” What they “did to Mike Warnke” was outted him as a fraud. But, when have Evangelicals ever let a silly thing like the truth get in the way of their beliefs?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And wayyyy back when I was in college I went in and asked if they carry Cornerstone magazine. The two women behind the counter recoiled and one said, “Did you hear what they did to Mike Warnke?” What they “did to Mike Warnke” was outted him as a fraud.

      That’s because Satan hath blinded your mind and hardened your heart. Outing Warnke was PROOF that Cornerstone is Part of The Vast Satanic Conspiracy.

      The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

    • “But, when have Evangelicals ever let a silly thing like the truth get in the way of their beliefs?”

      Considering he’s touring small churches in usually small towns when he used to pack stadiums every night, I’d say a lot of people listened. Same as Bob Larson: when the truths came out, he went from being on hundreds of stations and churches supporting him to a few shows in motel ballrooms.

      It’s easy to be cynical, but in the case of Warnke, when things fell apart, many people responded with disgust. I was in middle-school at the time, but I remember the backlash and reading the CStone articles. Yes, a few people were angry at CStone, convinced they were doing Satan’s work, but that wasn’t everyone.

  20. David Cornwell says:

    Our CVS has a little twirly rack with all kinds of wholesome books. People on the covers even wear bonnets. For theology, the latest from Rev. Osteen. How good can get? Or– go to Shipshewana, a few miles from home, and see the latest Amish musical if you really like culture. And a specialty store in the same town had paper doll books (or maybe is was coloring books) featuring the family of ex-President Bush. Creative toys for the children.

    The last time I went to a Christian bookstore was probably 12 or 15 years ago.

    My seminary bookstore was a wonderful place to do some serious shopping, but it’s many miles away.

  21. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    I have a Bible in my Droidpad and phone and I use Biblegateway.com, but nothing is a substitute for being able to flip around to be able to find things I want to. Plus, I really can’t imagine sitting in meeting with My Droid in my lap going over well.

  22. I did have a moment a la Michael Spencer awhile back. Our local independent chain of Christian bookstores did a surprisingly decent job of keeping good books in (bought NT Wright, Jeffery Overstreet’s “Colors” books, Jared Wilson, and GK Chesterton there), and kepted most of the Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer nonsense out. They even had Larry Norman and Daniel Amos CDs that I wasn’t finding anywhere expect on Ebay.

    I walked in last year and it had been sold to a big-named company, filled with more self-help and DVD seasons of Growing Pains and Dreamworks films. The clerk at the counter tried to upsell me on extra Bibles, DVDs, Testamints, and a buying plan. I haven’t been back.

    And now if I’m looking for a book in town, I’m off to the local liberal mainline seminary. Sure, the Mark Noll book I’m looking for is sitting next to The Queer Bible Commentary (no, really, it was!), but at least it’s there.

    • Sorry, forgot the context — Look up IMonk’s “My Final Visit To A Christian Bookstore.” in the archives. He was all over this 10 years ago.

  23. “As a result, I hardly ever stop by any more. They have defined ‘Christian’ far too narrowly and are missing out on a vast market that they will probably never even consider.”

    CM- You are different from the average “Christian” consumer. From personal experience I can tell you the store that accommodates your taste is doomed to go out of business. I bought and ran a small bookstore for a while. I use discretion in what I offered my customers since I reasoned that my store was an extension of and a reflection on me. I often went against my supplier’s recommendations since I thought a lot of it was Olsteenesque trash. I went out of business because I didn’t carry enough fast moving titles.

    The guy who bought me out will sell anything and he seems to be making a good living at it. That was more than I was able to do. The business lesson I learned? You need to sell people what they want before you can afford to give them what they need. If you have enough shelves filled with Olsteen books printed in China, then maybe you can afford to carry one or two quality titles alongside them. I don’t know how that plays out morally, but it works from a business perspective.

    • See my comment above, Dan. I’m not saying they should limit their selection, but expand it to include resources for the whole church.

      • I guess my point is that unless you can afford a big store with big $$$ for inventory like Borders or B&N you don’t have space for a wide selection. The sad fact is that if you want to stay in business you have to use your limited shelf space to offer the people the slop they want. That’s one of the reasons I got out of it.

      • And I agree with you that the real cause of this is the sad state of American pop christianity.

  24. If the church even begins to do its job of bringing people to maturity in Christ, the pablum you offer will soon cease to satisfy.

    Then those bookstores have little to worry about, because it doesn’t look like THAT will happen anytime soon, at least not on a large scale.

    :'(

  25. I was actually never in a Borders that I considered decent. The ones I’ve been in had book selections that weren’t as good as Barnes and Nobles, and the selections were not as good. The CDs in the music department were priced higher than even places like Best Buy. Actually, since I’ve become an Amazon Prime member, I’ve rarely bought a book at an actual brick and mortar store. The ones I have bought at those places have been used or steeply discounted.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Fifteen years ago Borders was noticeably better than Barnes & Noble. I was blown away the first time I visited one. It was better than any but the best independent bookstore. Their finally going belly up is the culmination of years of mismanagement. Somewhere between five and ten years ago is when I noticed the slide. B&N is protected by a broader business strategy. They have a genuine internet presence, where Borders threw in the towel early, they have their own ebooks, and they even publish some paper books.

    • David Cornwell says:

      There was a big Borders in Indianapolis that I’d go every time I was down that way. Which turned out to be fairly often when I had a parishioners with a serious medical problem that required specialized hospital care. Anyway, I loved that store.

  26. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Okay… Let me get this straight…

    Borders has finally gone under, and this Religion News Service posts some kind of fatwa for Jesus Junk stores to move in and make up the difference?

    WHAT ARE THEY USING FOR REALITY?

  27. You might want to check out Books & Company, too, Mike, if there is one in your area. We have a couple, and I believe their selection is varied and good. Meanwhile, I’ve been with you on the Christian bookstores. Family Bookstore has taken over the Christian (i.e., evangelical) market here, and no one could have worse employees, service, selection, or ordering availability than they do. I quit wasting my time there long ago, and instead either go across the street to Barnes and Noble, or online to either them or Amazon.

  28. I’m surprised that the Christian store is not already into the ebooks. It’s interesting that of the 3 main book sellers, Borders was the last with its own good ereader. I have tablets with ebook apps on them and I read about 90% of the books I read that way.

    I also have decent Torah and Commentaries apps for them that handle the Hebrew nicely.

    Even the Chicago Public Library is into the ebook business. They subscribe to the Overdrive licensing program (they can only lend as many licenses as they possess at any point in time) and it works really well. I simply put holds on the books I want, a queue is formed for the popular books and eventually I get an email that my book is ready. Marvellous.

    Of course, I’m an old fan of ebooks. I had one of the original Sony Rocket Readers (maybe back in the year 2000) and I’ve both proofed and post-processed books (got them ready for publication) books for Project Gutenberg.

    • I have yet to break into ebooks (w/a husband who is very capable technologically, but very resistant to much that is new), but even my little local library has ebooks available. They just had a contest to give away a Nook ereader. I signed up for it but didn’t win. 🙁 Darn.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’m surprised that the Christian store is not already into the ebooks.

      I’m not. Evangelical Christians have a reputation of being “late adopters”.

      • But with the switch from LPs to CDs, the Christian market was one of the first to move. Or at least they weren’t too far behind. So I wonder why the delay on ebooks? Or are there Christian ebooks out there? I’m really not into much Christian fiction, but I do like some other types of “Christian” books.

  29. Practically all the books I’ve read in these past 3 years I picked up at either Borders or Barnes & Noble. Very seldom do I go to a Christian bookstore. When I gathor enough strength I’ve tried. But I feel more at ease, and relaxed going to Borders or Barnes & Noble. As an agnostic I like the atmosphere there. Plus I feel more welcome. Many Christian book stores have that 110% cetainity feel. Look at the entertainment section. From Soul Surfer, to Kirk Cameron movies (come on how many flicks does he have to be in?) to that Baptist church that writes these cheesy flicks about faith. You know Facing Your Giants, Fly Wheel, etc..? When it comes to a football movie I’ll watch Rudy, Remember the Titans or We Are Marshall. But I feel uneasy hearing these spoofs advertsing Fireproof and Faith Like Potatos. Fireproof is so devoid of reality and cheezy it sets a new low. There are a couple of people I have known who invested 110% in their marriage and their spouse STILL wanted to leave.

    But all the Philip Yancey I have read I acquired at Borders. The Greg Boyd book I am about to read I picked up at Barnes & Noble. The Family Christian stores I have checked do not have JI Packer’s “Knowing God” after going to a couple of different stores. I finally ordered it last night through Barnes & Noble.

    I see little purpose for Christian book stores….the only Christian books I picked up over the last 3 years going off my memory are “Plan B” by Pete Wilson (deals with pain and suffering,.) “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” by Craig Grosse of XXX Church (deals with the Christian culture and how fundegelicals have created problems with faith…) and I found one JI Packer book (forgot the title) that I snagged that goes on the pile of books to read.

  30. Several years ago I visited a local “Christian” and when I asked if they carried any C. S. Lewis or C. K. Chesterton after looking for them on the shelves, the manager stated pretty emphatically, and I quote, “We don’t carried books by papish authors.”. Haven’t been back since.

  31. BTW…who here remembers going into your local fundegelical bookstore and seeing the Catholic books being in the cult section? Right next to information on the Mormons 😯 My Mom who is Roman Catholic was quite disturbed going into a Berean Christian Bookstore a few years back and finding the Catholic material in the cult section.

    Anyone else have that experience?

    • I’m Catholic myself but I have checked out the Christian bookstore at the independent mega-church near my home. Books having anything to do with Catholicsm are in the “Other Religions” section there. You can imagine what the selection is like. I wasn’t surprised, but I could only smile sadly and shake my head…

    • Cult is such a nebulous term anyway. I usually refer to it only when a group uses psychological/emotional pressure to micromanage their congregants lives. Other than that, a cult simply seems to be a religion without many adherents or much history. Neither of which really defines the LDS anymore (though some of its offshoots, on the other hand).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      BTW…who here remembers going into your local fundegelical bookstore and seeing the Catholic books being in the cult section?

      Anyone else have that experience?

      In downtown Fullerton there’s a small indy Christian bookstore that used to be infamous for its sheer amount of rabid Anti-Catholic literature, tracts, etc. “No Popery!” some 370 years after the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars.

    • Shhh, Eagle, if they think we’re a cult, everyone will want to join!

      After all, cults have all the fun stuff like orgies and holing up in compounds with more artillery than the local army base 😉

    • Yes, and it did not make for a case of the warm fuzzies!

      Did make me want to ask the owner exactly where he though Christ’s followers were from 033- to the fifteen century or so…??

  32. Wow. I have had a problem with Christian bookstores for at least the past 20 years and assumed I was one of the few who did, and put it down to my ecclectic tastes.

    I have gone into stores and not found a single title I would read. And when I returned from living overseas I noticed how dominant the christian harlequin romance market had become.
    Sometimes it grieves me because I think is this really what we have come to? This is what we are feeding ourselves on?

    My wife and I went to a very interesting Catholic bookstore in Victoria, British Columbia. It had the widest cross section of titles I had ever seen. At that place we could have easily dropped $500 because there was so much good material. There was some stuff I wonder about, but I have concluded that the price of a good bookstore is just that.

    I have often thought that what a person reads is one barometer of whats happening in their mind/heart. Does anyone else agree?

    • Ken – as a former proprietor of a bookstore I experienced these trends up close. Since people can now order anything online and for less money, the brick and mortar bookstore’s ONLY advantage is instant gratification. Therefore, that is what they sell. I noticed three general groups of people who would come into my store. Painting with a VERY broad brush they were…

      “Every Guy” – He came in leafed through some books (causing shelf wear) and asked me for something specific that I didn’t have. When I offered to order it he said he would just get it from Amazon. He left having bought nothing.

      “Caucasian Woman” – Came in to browse, walked out with two books; one light inspirational book by a Joyce Meyer or Joel Olsteen type author and one Christian romance by a Lori Wick or a Francine Rivers.

      “African-American Woman” – Came in to browse, walked out with four books; two light inspirational books by a TD Jakes or Creflo Dollar type author and two Christian romances by a Jacquelin Thomas or Victoria Christopher Murray.

      Since I wanted to feed my family I ended up catering to the customers who would spend money. Since there isn’t a big profit margin on books you need to move a lot of them to make a living.

      I sure hope you did spend $500 in that Catholic bookstore in Victoria, British Columbia with the “widest cross section of titles.” If you want good bookstores you need to encourage them and keep them in business by buying.

      • Dan, thanks for participating in this conversation. We need to hear your point of view. I don’t know why you went into the bookstore business. I’ve known some folks who did so with unrealistic expectations, based on a spiritual experience they had and the desire to have a “ministry” that would also support them. I know others who truly love books and learning and want to be a source of increasing learning in their community. It is a difficult time for people in the book and music business — just ask Jeff Dunn, who is probably at his job at Target right now or he’d be chiming in. I love nothing more than local bookshops where my wife and I can find a comfortable seat, a cup of coffee, and a stack of books to work through while we discuss what we’re discovering. As a business model, however, its time may be past.

        • CM – I left a well paying executive position and invested my all my savings into buying a book/music/gift business because, at the time, I thought that God was calling me to leave my comfortable position so that He could “stretch” me. It wasn’t a Christian Bookstore per se since I carried as many books on “secular” history and events as I did religious books, and most of my music was Classical followed by Celtic and Big Band. But my place had the casual reputation of being a “Christian” bookstore as it was very much a reflection of my passions and tastes. I also tried to mix in enough popular stuff and special items to get traffic and it did OK until the Great Recession. Even then I always received a lot of compliments on my quality and selection, but then they would usually walk out the door without buying much of anything.

          Near the end I abandoned my original principles and just ordered whatever my suppliers told me the best sellers were. With, yes, large stacks of smiling Joel Olsteen books sitting out front. (Note: In merchandising/marketing you learn that people LOVE to buy from large stacks. They won’t touch the exact same product if it is on the shelf and there are only three, but they will buy two copies of it if it is in a large stack. Odd, no?) I needed to post four quarters of good numbers so that I would be able to get a decent price for the business when I sold it. I was able to sell it, but for only a fraction of what I bought it for. The current owner does well (I call him from time to time), but he does so by selling whatever his suppliers recommend. If you want to make it you need to find a niche that no one else is filling and forget about things like quality and just give the people what they want. I don’t think that is the way things should be, but it is the way things are.

          The one good thing about the whole experience was all the time that I had to read during the long stretches between customers. Just being around all those beautiful books was wonderful. What would I do if I was independently wealthy? I would open a book store.

          • You sound like my kinda guy, Dan.

          • I wonder if a combination bookstore and bar (or bar and bookstore if you prefer) would be a succesfull business model. Hmm, maybe you could even put a humidor and smoking lounge in one corner. 🙂 I also like to play the “if I was independently wealthy” game.

          • See, I knew I should’ve been a librarian.

          • Maybe in heaven there will be a bookstore where we can meet up, enjoy a smooth whiskey and a nice cigar in big leather chairs. But 1 Corinthians 13:12 bothers me just a little. I’m not sure I want to know fully because I love the process of learning and discovering. To me, that’s a lot of what a bookstore is about.

      • I’m currently on a book buying hiatus (saving up for the SBL annual meeting vendors), but I regularly patronise my local used book store which has a really great theology section.

  33. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to Borders, yet at the same time, I saw them and Barnes and Noble were part of the problem.

    Remember the days of the local independent book store? The Borders and Barnes basically drove all of those independents out of business. I wish they could come back. The independents would be a great alternative to the current options, if they could only make it in this current market (which I doubt).

    I loved the opportunity to browse in a book store.

    My ratio Christian books is about 5-1. For every five Christian books that I buy, I usually like only one of them. The others usually will go into the garage sale pile.

  34. We rarely set foot in our local Christian bookstore for much the same reason that we have had great difficulty finding a church: There’s just really no depth or challenge or even in some cases basic fidelity to the way of Jesus. Or if there is, it’s really, really hidden away in some dusty corner. It’s just that simple.

    The only Christian bookstore I’ve been in in the past two years I think is a seminary bookstore in the LA area. It is like a breath of fresh air. I can actually find things like Augustine or Frederick Buechener on the shelves.

  35. I stopped going to the local Christian bookstore ages ago, I got so tired of all the junk that passes for Christian. I still have a shelf full of all kinds of books from there, someday I’ll get around to tossing out the junk ones.

    I know some here are pushing the catholic book stores, we have 1 one in town here. And I find that it’s not that much better than the Berean stores where, it does have a pretty good selection (they even have Thomas Merton!), but the books are a tiny part of the store. The rest is filled with statues, trinkets, pictures, and all manner of ‘Catholic’ objects. That being said I have bought some trinkets from there, so I’m contributing to what I’m complaining about. 🙂

    But if you want good hard theology or Patristic writings, Amazon has been the best option. I have a book of the writings of the fathers, with one page in english and the opposite page in greek (that page is all greek to me, since I can’t read it). But you simply can’t find stuff like that anywhere else.

    I don’t even visit the local B&N anymore, why?. I get everyone either on my kindle, or just order it from Amazon…

    -Paul-

    • Sadly, several otherwise wonderful monasteries have exactly the kind of tacky selections in their gift shops that you’re talking about. It’s easier to find a sentimental picture frame than a copy of “The Confessions.”

      • OK…I walked out of the store at the National Bascilica in DC with a new Missal…and some stained glass earrings and new Gregorian Chants double CD……

  36. david carlson says:

    borders death drew a great big “meh” from me. However I shopped there a whole lot more than the local “family christian” book store.

    Contrary to most however, I was one of the few that actually purchased things at Borders. It wasn’t the internet that killed Borders, it was the masses of people who were perfectly happy to treat Borders like a public library.

    • I don’t know if it actually would have made a difference, but I do agree in principle here. I have friends who go to Borders or Barnes and browse the books, perhaps pick one up and skim it and then put it away and order it on Amazon. I don’t know what to say. It may not perfectly fit into a halacha, but I’m pretty sure the restriction against asking the price of something you’ve no intention to buy would fit this case.

      It’s one thing to go to buy a book, discover the book seller’s price is too dear and then to buy elsewhere, but it’s quite another to make it a constant M.O.

    • sarahmorgan says:

      Everyone I know treats B&N like a public library, too, but they survive where Borders didn’t.

      Here’s a different perspective on why Borders closed: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/on-borders-closing/

      As silly as it sounds, one of the biggest reasons my husband and I quit going to Borders in favor of B&N is that the Borders cafe only offered coffee, while the B&N cafe offered both coffee and fountain soft drinks for the non-coffee/tea drinkers….felt more inclusive to everyone.

  37. We have been experiencing the death of the bookstore in Canada for a few years.

    I am probably guilty of helping it happen. When I lived in the Middle East I got used to Amazon. I spent hundreds of dollars buying books at US prices. They would ship it to my door in Saudi and it cost me less than if I bought it locally. Mind you, it was a 6 week turn around!

    When I moved to Canada books were more expensive than USA and over and above had government taxes so I just kept my Amazon account going. The local store cannot compete, my tastes are too uncommon (I mean who wants a book by Marion Hatchett called Commentary on the American Prayerbook?)

    Not even poor NT Wright seems to make their shelves!

    I feel for the owners, but most of what I want I can get faster than they can..

  38. I don’t usually buy books, I’m more of a library gal. I do still go to our local Christian book store though because they have a piano room in back where I can try out piano books when I’m looking for new music to play in church. Sadly, their selection of said music is really limited. It’s hard to find decent intermediate level piano music for a contemplative service. Sigh.

    If I want books I head to B&N.

  39. I’d say if a Christian bookstore wants to make it, then they ought to be investing in the online arena. Ebooks and all of the above is where society is shifting. This is one of the major reasons Borders is closing so many stores. Thanks for you insight.

    Sincerely,
    Jared

  40. Dan Crawford says:

    Thank you, Chaplain Mike. Once again, you have all the reasons and more why I no longer go to “Christian” bookstores. Sadly, far too many Catholic stores feature so much religious kitsch that they don’t have room for the theological,liturgical and artistic treasures of their own tradition.

  41. Ken, I agree that what a person reads is a barometer of their inner self. I think that is why I dislike “Christian” bookstores full of Jesus junk so much. It shows me that many are walking around with nothing much at all in their souls. I’ve tried to read some of the “Christian” literature, and can’t get past the fact that most of it is just bad literature. Ugh. My kid wrote better when she was in middle school!

  42. I realy love some of the points you’ve made…
    I’m taking Intro to Christian Theology in College, and we’re using a book by Wayne Grudem. It’s allright… but the sad thing is: most Christians don’t even read that.
    Plus where I’m from, I know I couldn’t find Grudem OR even some of C. S. Lewis’s more serious works in a Christian bookstore.

  43. Mike…it was so great to see my thoughts in your post! I have to drive two to four hours to get to a Christian bookstore that actually understands what theology is and that it doesn’t come with a face of someone on the cover that is smiling and ready to tell me that if I just give him/her my money, all will be good or that if I just give my life to Christ that all my problems will go away. I get tired of books that use war mentality and language to describe evangelism. I get frustrated with books that forget that the true history of Christianity is filled with war and strife, not just someone telling a story and everyone experiencing change. I like to read books that face the reality of the past, present and future. I like to read books written by people with actual theological degrees who have invested time and their money into receiving an education. Do we want our children using textbooks in school written by people who do not have an education? NO! Then why do we want to read books with theological implications by people who have no theological education or any kind of formal education? I don’t want to read books I can get for free online. I want an actual book. I love books, but I want my books to have substance, not just feel good shee-shee-nah-nah (term compliments of my best friend from seminary…LOL). If I want a coffee, I will go to a coffee house, although I do appreciate the Starbucks in my local Barnes and Noble. If I want a good book, I will go to Cokesbury (United Methodist bookstore) or Barnes and Noble. I skip the Christian bookstores as much as possible, unless I want to buy a gift with a scripture on it or a new Christian coffee mug.

    thank you, Mike, for putting my thoughts on here. I am glad I am not the only one who thinks this way.

  44. I have filled up my Nook with public domain books so much that I probably won’t buy any books for a while. I did buy Brennan Manning’s “Lion and Lamb” in paperback, because it looks unlikely that it will be republished as an ebook. Manning has a new book coming out soon; if I buy it, it will be as an ebook.

    I still like used bookstores. Each visit is like a treasure hunt. There’s one I frequent near where I grew up; it has plenty of old Catholic books.

  45. Martin Romero says:

    Just curiosity… What would the problem be with Wayne Grudem? I wonder, because I’ve never read any of his books, but I know that one of my house mates has a “systematic theology” book written by him and I’ve heard him mentioned a few times in different conversations. I think I’ve also seen his name in my church’s bookshelf.

    • My mention of Grudem was not meant as criticism of him (though I have plenty). Rather, it was to point out that Christian bookstores limit their theological offerings to books produced only by authors who teach a narrow interpretation of Christian theology.

      • Martin Romero says:

        Thanks for the explanation.

        I’ve done a quick online check on him in the last couple of days and, well, what I’ve seen seems to fit with the “narrow interpretation of Christian theology” description. But, as I said, I haven’t read anything from him and now I wonder if I should, or if that time would be better invested in other books 🙂

  46. Chaplain Mike, I used to spend a lot of time browsing in Christian bookstores, buying a book that struck my interest whenever I had the money (and sometimes when I didn’t!).

    I’ve noticed the rather limited selection and variety of titles for years. As I frequented the Christian bookstores less and less, when I did go I found myself spending much of my time in the theology section.

    Then I quit going at all; it’s been months since I last stepped foot in a Christian bookstore, although I have stepped foot in Borders, Barnes & Noble and Half-Price Books many times since. Amazon has been a godsend as well; it alone has helped expose me to titles and authors I probably never would have been aware of just perusing the meager selection at the evangelical-friendly bookstore.

    There is another thing I wonder if you and anyone else here has picked up on. At “secular” bookstores (like Borders, and B&N), browsing is treated as a normal activity of customers. You can see people sitting down, reading through a book. At the Christian bookstore, I always got the impression browsing, much less sitting down somewhere and looking through any book, was something the management/clerks wanted their customers to do.