October 23, 2017

Selling Jesus By The Pound

Editor’s note: We often provide links for products mentioned in these posts that will take you Amazon where you can buy them. This is both for your convenience as well as being a revenue-generator for InternetMonk.com. We are providing no such links in this essay, as we cannot in good conscience recommend most of the products mentioned here. If you want to buy any or all, you are on your own. Also, before you read this essay, take a moment to read why Michael Spencer, the original iMonk, stopped shopping in Christian bookstores.

My friend Jen has a novel she really needs to finish. It starts with a man talking with his therapist. This man owns a Christian gift store, even though he is not himself a Christian. He has found Christians to be extremely gullible and easy pickings when it comes to making money.

But he recently came upon a challenge. He had a box of leftover WWJD bracelets he couldn’t sell. What to do with them?

“Then I had this great idea,” he tells his therapist. “I hung up all the bracelets on their rack, and made up a new sign: What Would Jabez Do? They sold like hotcakes!”

I have told Jen she has to finish this novel. The only problem is it will sound much more like truth than fiction.

Why is it that Christians buy so much religious crap? Is it really a problem that religious trinkets are such big business? And would you buy a What Would Jabez Do? bracelet?

Confession time. I worked in the Jesus junk business in one way or another for many years. My first payroll job (as opposed to cutting lawns in the neighborhood) was working at a Zondervan Family Bookstore in Kettering, Ohio. That was back when the stores sold everything a Christian or church would need. Books. Bibles. Bible studies. Bulletin blanks. Wedding invitations. Records albums. (Before CDs, we old people would listen to music on round vinyl discs with a tiny hole in the middle. You could not push these into a slot on the dashboard of your car. To listen to music in your car, you had what were called 8 track tapes. But that is a discussion for another day.) The books we sold included those of strong, good theology, written by people who spent a lot of time with God and his word instead of those who simply pastored large churches and were good looking.

But we also sold some Jesus junk. Pencils with Bible verses. Toothbrushes with Bible verses. Bumper stickers and combs and spinning tops and sparkly stickers—all with Bible verses. These were often bought by Sunday school teachers as rewards or bribes or however they used them, but they were also purchased by parents as rewards or bribes to keep their kids quiet as they shopped.

By today’s standards, the Jesus junk we sold in the 1970s was very tame. But I still felt awkward selling some of that stuff.

I moved on to work in Christian radio, where we ran ads for Christian crap. When I switched from on-air to sales, I quickly learned an important lesson. If a business had the word “Christian” in its name, or any other pop-religious word (like “agape” or “icthus”) we required cash—the green stuff—before we would produce and run their ads. If the business was run by an alcoholic reprobate with three wives and a drive-up heroin fulfillment center on the side, we were good extending them credit. It always worked that way.

For the past ten years or so I have worked in Christian publishing. I am going to let you in on a dirty little secret. Most publishers do not care in the least what is between the covers of a book. And when someone says, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” you need to remind them that is the only way someone judges a book they have never heard of before. That’s why a potential author’s “platform” is so important. If you write a manuscript that is so great, so unique that I feel every true follower of Jesus needs to read it right away, but you are not a TV personality or pastor a megachurch, I won’t even be able to get a publisher to return my phone call about you. On the other hand, if you pastor one of the nation’s twenty largest or fastest-growing churches, and you have a slick and smooth delivery on TV, bingo! You and your agent can get a strong six-figure multiple book deal. What will your book be about? Who cares? It just doesn’t matter. You won’t be writing it anyway. That will be the job of a ghostwriter hired by the publisher. Your job is to protect your pretty face and your good reputation. And that pretty face on the cover is what will sell the book, not the content (or lack thereof) inside.

And who can blame these publishers? Consumers don’t rush to buy books that make the reader—gasp!—think. They want bullet point lists that tell the secret to having a better life right now. No pain, just gain. That is why Joel Osteen sells by the million, while Eugene Peterson and Robert Capon and N.T. Wright and other great thinkers and writers sell, well, much less than a million copies. Thinking is hard work. Let me open my mouth and you can feed me, thank you. Pablum? Sure. But spoon enough sugar on it and I can swallow anything.

Have you really walked around your local Christian bookstore lately? What are they selling that really offers anything with nutritional value? Well, you say, they do sell Bibles. Ok, let’s take a look at the Bible isle.

The American Patriot’s Bible, complete with stories showing how a “light from above” shaped our nation.

The MacArthur Study Bible

The Everyday Life Bible (Joyce Meyer)

Aspire: The New Women Of Color Study Bible

Holy Bible: Thou Art Loosed Edition

Manual: The Bible For Men

I think you are getting the idea. Today you might have trouble finding a Bible that is just a Bible with no Christian celebrity endorsement or agenda attached as a companion to Scripture. The Bible is a great work of art, but we have reduced it to a vehicle to advertise our brand or promote our specific political bent.

Look, I have no problem with businesses making a profit, if the goods or services they sell are legitimately needed by consumers. For instance, blue jeans are a necessity, especially in Oklahoma where they can pass as formal wear in most situations. But does anyone really need $200+ jeans? The answer is no, they don’t.

And I am all for books and music and other forms of art that draw a person’s heart upward to Christ. But is there ever a need for Scripture candy? The answer again is a resounding No.

So, just why are Christians so gullible? Why are we such easy targets for those simply out to make money? In short, why will we buy any item that has a Bible verse or religious-sounding phrase on it? I can think of at least three reasons.

Safety. We are seemingly obsessed with protecting ourselves and others (especially others) from sin in any art form. You do know that the rating system we use for movies today was developed by Father Daniel Lord, a Jesuit priest, who based it firmly on Catholic theology. This was an attempt to keep movies “safe” for families as well as promote religion. The promotion of religion has gone by the wayside for the most part, but we still cling to the safety factor, setting limits on the rating level our kids can watch. We feel better about ourselves when we keep our kids from seeing things that might make them think about sin.

The same goes for books, music and visual art, like paintings we allow in our homes. We expect them to present to us a “safe” view of life, one where if sin is committed, it is punished swiftly. Where crime does not pay. Where we think only on nice things. Where the sun always shines, birds always sing in tune, and life is always wrapped in a neat red ribbon. We demand that our artists conform to this vision of safety. They cannot explore issues of life like sexuality or doubt about faith, because that might make the consumer of the art uncomfortable or, heaven forbid, lead them to sin themselves.

And as you might imagine, safe art is no art at all. For art to reach into one’s soul, it must address four issues:

1. Who are we?

2. What makes us unique—what is our purpose in life?

3. What has gone wrong?

4. How can we get back?

A great song that addresses this issue is Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock.

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Stardust, golden—that is who we are and what we were made for. And while we may not hear how to get back, we do hear where “back” is: The Garden. But it’s the billion year old carbon line that would have this song banned by many Christians. Why, someone hearing this might be lead to think about evolution. And just to think about that is tantamount to sin. Thus, out goes Joni Mitchell and her song about Woodstock. We will never know how to get back to the Garden if we don’t listen. But listening—or viewing or reading—reality is a risk, a big risk. And our safety-mindedness just will not allow that.

Religiosity. This actually goes right along with safety. There is great safety in religion. Religion is form and procedure and policy. It is rules that are followed or else. It is easy to see if you are on the right side: You just have to measure your thoughts and actions against the yardstick of religious do’s and don’ts. If you are on the right side, you pass the test and are religious. And we know that God likes religious people—at least those who are religious the way we are religious. Those who do what they shouldn’t and don’t do what they should are not religious and God does not like them.

A large number of the items on this religious measuring stick have to do with art. Going to see Toy Story 3 is good. Going to see The A Team is questionable at best. Going to see Get Him To The Greek is a sure ticket to hell. You can measure the music you listen to (12 Stones—good; Rolling Stones—evil), books you read (Clay In The Hands Of The Potter—good; Harry Potter—evil), and paintings you view (clothes on—good; clothes off—evil).

We want to feel good about our religious efforts. And why not? What is religion for if not to make us feel good about ourselves? And if we are not feeling good, we might as well give it up and just do what we want in the first place. So we place restrictions on the art we consume to meet these religious standards. When we don’t, it leads to the final reason for buying Christian junk.

Guilt. Oh sure, you used to like listening to Christina Aguilera, but now you are a Christian, so you listen to BarlowGirl, not because you like their sound or their lyrics, but you would feel guilty listening to and enjoying Christina Aguilera now that you have been saved. You used to love reading science fiction by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin, but now you read Left Behind. You used to go study the works of Van Gogh, but now you look at a picture of a pasty-white Jesus knocking on someone’s door.

Are you enjoying your new choices in art? No, not really. But you would have a terrible feeling of guilt if you continued to consume that which you previously enjoyed. After all, if you like something, it has to be wrong, right?

So we buy Christian crap, not because we want to, but because we feel guilty buying “non-Christian” works of art. We keep Christian stores in business, buying water bottles that say “Seek the living water.” T-shirts with ripped-off corporate logos like “Things go better with Christ.” And books and music that are such inferior examples of their media they would be laughable if their effects weren’t so horrible. So much Christian art causes us to become people who cannot think for ourselves, cannot determine what is solid food and what is baby food, cannot distinguish between what is beautiful and what is a very poor imitation of beauty.

In my next essay, I and some of our other writers will take a look how we can get away from Selling Crap To Christians For Profit and get back to what brings God glory: Art that is beautiful for beauty’s sake.

Comments

  1. ahumanoid says:

    A quote from N.T. Wright comes to mind: “The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way. The present world is good, but broken and in any case incomplete; art of all kinds enables us to understand that paradox in its many dimensions. . . .”

    The problem with much Christian art is that it’s a highway to a pearly-gated, gold-paved utopia, not reality.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      No, it’s a highway to Estus Pirkle’s Believer’s Heaven and/or Left Behind: Volume 16‘s Steaming Piles of Fresh Produce Drenched in Butter.

  2. Like I said in a previous comment: There are just some Christians for whom no Christian music, film, or artwork is ever good or good enough. My younger brother bought me a coin bank fashioned after Jesus praying at Gethsamane. For Christmas. (You know the famous work of “art”: the white, long-haired, bearded, robed “Jesus” praying over a rock.) The coin slot was between the arms. The base had “Jesus Saves” on it. Made in China. After the turn of the year, the co-owner of the store where my brother bought that trinket was murdered, tied up in her basement with her husband and two kids, their throats slit, and their house burned down over them. So, yeah, I keep that piece of Jesus junk around as a reminder.

    • As a reminder of WHAT, exactly?!?

    • Tragic story. However, It doesn’t really do anything to answer the (valid) complaint that the mentality of Jesus-junk culture oppresses artists who want to express themselves legitimately, but have to be afraid to because the consumer-driven safety-obsessed Christians are going to tell them their not spiritual cause they ventured into created art whose content is sex, pain, or messy reality. Jeff’s point, and I think I would agree- is that there IS an expression of art that is good enough- and nothing in the Jesus-for-profit culture is representative of it.

      Glad you’re “reminded.”

  3. DreamingWings says:

    I hope I’m not just restated some of the post; but here’s some thoughts I’ve had on the subject.

    This constant need to purchase Jesus clothes/music/stickers/etc bears a striking resemblance to the new and/or ‘orthodox’ members of subcultures with an extensive basis in music and ‘dress code’. Your new teenage headbanger who suddenly only listens to heavy metal because suddenly all other music ‘must be’ weak and inferior. Or a newly minted Goth dressing up to the black clad nines for even the smallest event (ie going to the grocery store).

    Lets put aside the fact that this would seem to be a major sign that huge swathes of Christianity have slid from relevant faith into irrelevant subculture. Lets look at motivation. The rooky metal-head is listening to music that she feels explains her feelings and the world in a powerful way. The new Goth feels the same about his music. And of course he’s in love with all the nifty clothes and shiny jewelry. And wants his new black wearing friends to like and respect him as a dedicated member of the tribe.

    See the difference? These are desires based on aspiration. Of leaping into something you love with both feet. And of course, over time, the metal-head will remember that she likes to listen to Britney Spears on occasion. And our Goth friend will recognize that it’s okay to relax and that not every purchase of clothes/music/etc needs to fit the spooky mold. But the Christians buying their own uniforms and mega-church pastor’s marching orders can’t do that. Since, as stated, their motivations are all based in negative emotions which only grow and fester.

    I’m not quite sure which is more sad. That these people are content with a subculture little different in detail from most others. Or the fact that, sub-culturally speaking; they’re just plain doing it wrong.

    • So, is there ever an appropriate time for Christians to go through a “subculture phase”? Maybe it’s a teenager who really wants to identify with this Christian-thing they’ve discovered so they wear iPray and Got Jesus? t-shirts all the time, and only ever listen to Christian music, etc. Are they wrong? Or is it the adults who never grow out of it that are the problem?

      I realize that over the internet in a printed word only format this could come across as a challenge to what you’ve said, but it’s just a question that popped into my head as I read it. I have no preformed answer that I’m looking for the chance to defend. 🙂

      • I think it’s totally ironic that Christianity is both a subculture and the gestalt – and I could never figure out why other kids, supposedly trained in the faith, would see the words “What Would Jesus Do?” on a bracelet and buy it – never stopping to wonder if Jesus would have.

        Faith isn’t a subculture, or a phase, or a scene, and it isn’t a rebellion… unless, of course, it is.

        • “Faith isn’t a subculture, or a phase, or a scene, and it isn’t a rebellion… unless, of course, it is.”

          Thats deep, Patrick.

  4. Michelle says:

    You mean Jesus didn’t wear a WWJD bracelet? Just to remind himself?

  5. What’s sad is that some of the greatest art ever created was to celebrate Jesus. Bach, Mozart, El Greco, Michelangelo, etc. glorified Jesus. But if material equal to what was made in the the past started showing up, I’d be there in an instant. The last great artist I can think of, off the top of my head, who created amazing works glorying Jesus would be Salvador Dali. I suspect that because he was Catholic, his paintings wouldn’t show up in a Christian store. And he doesn’t have the same heart warming images as Thomas Kincaid, Painter of Light (TM).

    Why is it that the only contemporary artists (at least that I can think of) who do any kind of radical art with the image of Jesus are always defiling it? Why is there no painting hanging in MoMA depicting Jesus and the disciples as different vertical lines of various colors? Or a cubist representation of the demons being cast into the pigs?

    • I just saw Dali’s “Last Supper” this past week at the National Gallery and thought it was really thought-provoking. I also thought it would offend a number of Christians I know. But I’m not so sure it would offend Jesus.

    • Speaking of Michaelangelo:

      http://drboli.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/dr-bolis-encyclopedia-of-misinformation-18/

      “DR. BOLI’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MISINFORMATION.

      Italian Supplement.

      Michelangelo. Although he publicly expressed his approval, Pope Julius II confided to his intimates that he was disappointed in Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, having expected that any decent painter would add a second coat.”

  6. More good stuff Christians need: The “Gadgets for God” page from the Christian satire “Ship of Fools”:
    http://shipoffools.com/gadgets/index.html

  7. when I read of this, (And I’ve seen such junk in “Christian bookstores” I get the picture of Jesus cleansing the temple. What would he do if he came to these bookstores who abuse his name in the name of the almighty dollar? I shudder to think of it.

    • You mean there won’t be souvenir shops outside the temple and christian muzak on the streets of heaven? How will we survive without all that kitsch?

  8. great post….now I’m feelin’ much better about the $4 I spent yesterday for Sarah McLachlan and Enya. You are so right about where the christian bookstores have been heading. Cant’ remember the last time I stepped foot in a Cokesbury’s or Zondervans or Mardel’s. I usually wait for something to pop up at Half Price Books and go visit the pagans.

    • ohh…..ps: the Crosby Stills and Nash version of that Joni Mitchell song is pretty sweet as well, just sayin’

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      I’m down with Sarah McLachlan, but Enya? Now that’s a DIFFERENT kind of sin! There’s gotta be a special purgatory just for Enya fans! 😉

    • You COULDA spent that $4 on Maire Brennan and IONA!!! SINNER!!!!

      Actually, I love Sarah & Enya & Maira & IONA. Of course, it helps that Enya & Maire share the same genetics.

      • @Cedric: love that stuff too…. three days ago it was $2 for the double CD set of Celtic Circle …..lovely stuff with Loreena McKennet (sp?) leading off, and Clannad. I just had to hide my Jesus T-shirt a little, give them the greasy greenbacks, and slink outa there….

        and yeah, definitely both saint and sinner……. need to find one of THOSE t-shirts.

    • HPB is God’s gift to us who are addicted to books and music…

      • I need to be in some kind of HPB support group, with a meaner-than-a-snake sponsor or sponsor(s)…….. but I’ve toned down a lot in the last 2 or 3 years (thanks Dave Ramsey)

  9. I think part of what keeps people buying Jesus junk is a sincere but woefully misguided attempt to follow the great commission. They really believe that being garbed in witness wear and festooned with Christian costume jewelry will provide unparalleled opportunities for them to share their faith. I frankly doubt it happens for more than a tiny fraction of one percent of witness-wearers, but Christians love to hang on to “if one person gets saved, it is worth it”.

    • Ekstasis says:

      Excellent point. We need to ask ourselves why people would think that a simple slogan or phrase is going to open someone’s eyes to the truth, and they will experience a epiphany on the spot, realize they have been on the wrong track, and make a dramatic u-turn.

      Perhaps it is because Christianity as it is practised has become formulaic, and therefore simple jargon will do the trick. Golly gee, we will invite our neighbors and friends to our exciting mega church event with lots of great music and drama, and then do the bait-and-switch, the pastor will enter, share the gospel, hands will raise or cards filled out, and we will leave in a state of euphoria at all that we — I mean God — has accompished. All in one evening of fun and glitz, with a little arm twisting thrown in!

      Now, imagine for a moment if others practiced this same approach. Picture the Buddhist temple or Islamic mosque down the street or across town putting on all sorts of hyped entertainment. After every event they would then prostelytize their belief system. What would we as Christians think and say? We would be disgusted at their deceitful approach, their over-hyped sensationalism, and their pushy tactics.

      • Actually, since it looks like large portions of US, most of us wouldl not even notice….. or care.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Golly gee, we will invite our neighbors and friends to our exciting mega church event with lots of great music and drama, and then do the bait-and-switch…

        Three words: The Gospel Blimp.

        Picture the Buddhist temple or Islamic mosque down the street or across town putting on all sorts of hyped entertainment. After every event they would then prostelytize their belief system. What would we as Christians think and say? We would be disgusted at their deceitful approach, their over-hyped sensationalism, and their pushy tactics.

        And their own?

        “But That’s Different (TM).”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        We need to ask ourselves why people would think that a simple slogan or phrase is going to open someone’s eyes to the truth, and they will experience a epiphany on the spot, realize they have been on the wrong track, and make a dramatic u-turn.

        Because that’s always how it happens in the Christian Tracts, the Christian Movies, and Left Behind. Otherwise, you couldn’t have the Altar Call Ending.

  10. I worked for six years in Christian bookstore retail. I recognize every sentence of this essay as being deeply true. I was hired as the “theology guy” which itself is unusual for these kinds of stores, and that’s too their credit. But by the end I knew I was done because the tension of having to sell so much crap, and not just tasteless crap but truly dangerous crap too. The American Patriot’s bible is a perfection example of rank idolatry masquerading as piety. I could easily let this turn into a rant, but I’ll restrain myself and just say that is one of the best essays I’ve read in a while and perfectly expresses the spirit of what Michael was all about.

    Oh, I almost forgot! I love Black Snake Moan. It’s down and dirty, filled with foul language, violence, strong sexual content, and is one of the most Christian movies I’ve ever seen. Too bad the vast majority of my Christian friends will never enjoy its amazingly redemptive message.

    • WORLD Magazine, which I do consider a quality Christian product tho it may be way too conservative from the POV of many here, called BLACK SNAKE MOAN “the filthiest movie ever about the Gospel” and they meant it as a compliment. I’ve had the DVD for a year but just haven’t found time to watch it.

      When you consider the substandard Jesus junk out there, made without any heart or conviction, you may gain an appreciation for some Christian products that you may otherwise look down upon for their quality or their message. After struggling through the slick soullessness of a LEFT BEHIND DVD, you can actually be moved by the raw amateur energy & Ed Wood production values of A THIEF IN THE NIGHT (or even better A DISTANT THUNDER). And he may be a bigoted anti-Catholic Conspiracy nut, but you KNOW that Jack T. Chick is no sell-out compromiser!

      • David L says:

        I like the few things I read in World a few years back but couldn’t get over their advertising. Selling options trading? With Pat Boone. Why not just tell folks to burn their money. 🙁

  11. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    I’ve noticed that in my town, most of the Christian bookstores either closed or consolidated under one or two megachains. I think that a bunch of those have also closed, but since I stopped shopping at such places about 10 years ago, I’m not sure. We do have a LifeWay (i.e. the publishing arm of the SBC) store in our newest uber shopping center that I go to when I need to buy a copy of The Worship Hymnal (aka the 2008 Baptist Hymnal, only available through LifeWay). I should add the caveat that I always call ahead and have them reserve my copy up front.

    I hadn’t stopped shopping at Jesus Junk stores out suddenly or out of a sense of outrage; I stopped because I gradually stopped wanting the crap they sold. As a teenager (mid-to-late 1990’s), I frequented my local independent Christian Book Store (long gone). I used to wonder if it was my tastes that changed or if the nature of those kinds of stores changed. I suspect it was a bit of both.

    Here’s an anecdote about the last time (other than to get the Worship Hymnal) I went to a Jesus Junk store: I wanted a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I suspected the bookstore may not have a copy. After all, while the BCP is probably the greatest contribution Anglicanism made to Christianity (not counting the KJV bible), I didn’t expect it to be a big seller among evangelicals. Here was the shocker: not only did the store not carry it, but they had no way of getting a hold of it and had, in fact, never even HEARD of the Book of Common Prayer. Irony #2: whether at school or just hanging out with other Christians, every Evangelical who’s leafed through my BCP has wanted their own copy. One even joked that if I left it on my desk and went to the bathroom he’d steal it while I was gone!

    I ended up ordering it from Barnes and Noble. Several times. BCP makes a great gift. Oh, and the last few times I’ve bought a bible (a plain New Jerusalem Bible, an ESV Study Bible, and a pocket NRSV w/Apocrypha, I also went to Barnes and Noble. I got my 10% discount, a decent cup of coffee, and no Jesus junk.

    • Ekstasis says:

      The last time I visited Barnes and Noble with our kids, the children’s book section appeared to be filled with occultish topics and images. The Golden Compass, specifically aimed at persuading kids to disbelieve in God, was highlighted front-center.

      • I liked that book, the Golden Compass. Good vacation read.

        • norwegian blue parrot says:

          I agree. In a strange way, the golden compass trilogy was actually more “Christian” than a lot of the Jesus junk fiction that is pedaled to kids by the christian book stores. Pullman actually had a real respect for the spiritual and physical worldview Christianity espouses and his final message was more an attack on the church’s self-serving use of religion than an attack on Christ.

      • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        Well, that’s where wisdom comes in. Barnes and Noble is a business, nothing more. They don’t have any sort of religious filters whatsoever. As a parent you know better than to trust everything that is marketed to your children. I doubt a display of the Golden Compass is going to undermine your children’s faith. In fact, it may offer you opportunities to teach them *why* you aren’t going to buy it for them.

        There are some embarrassing circles within Christianity that use scare tactics on Christian parents. If they can keep parents afraid of anything not published by a Christian publisher or sold in a Christian bookstore, they can keep getting parents’ money. Of course, that’s a very cynical view; there are some who use those scare tactics that really believe they are protecting Christian children. That said, most of them haven’t really examined and thought through some of the things they’re freaking people out over.

        A good example of this is the Harry Potter series. The way Christians denounce this series while extolling Narnia and Lord of the Rings is absolutely ridiculous and hypocritical. Most Christians who actually have read the Harry Potter series (especially the last book) see the obvious Christian overtones, despite the magic. But many Christians just jumped on the bandwagon instead of examining it for themselves.

        Again, the issue is wisdom. If as a parent you’ve actually done your homework and have concluded that Harry Potter isn’t for your kids, that’s fine. If you just jump on the hysteria bandwagon and are afraid that seeing the books in bookstores is going to endanger your children’s souls… well, that’s problematic.

        Especially since the latter method will usually either instill similarly unhealthy fear in your kids or instill more curiosity in the “dangerous” element than would be there if you hadn’t freaked out.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I remember something in one of these comment threads about the library at some Christian school banning & burning Harry Potter while keeping Golden Compass on their shelves. (Phil Pullman has said in interviews that Harry Potter took all the flak while his “much more subversive” trilogy sailed right through.) But I think I can top that:

          Last year, one of our spies in the Lost Genre Guild attended some sort of CBA/ECPA conference, re what was the Next Big Thing in written Jesus Junk fiction:

          Christian Paranormal Romance.
          AKA “Just like Twilight, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”

          (You can’t call them Vampires because that’s Occultic, but you’d still better make them *SPARKLE*…)

          • Oh, dear Lord, Headless, and I thought the most offensive thing I’d ever seen was an extract from a grimoire about summoning angels.

            Christian Paranormal Romance? I hate paranormal romance with the blazing fury of the massive supernova at the galactic core. Adding Christianity on top of that just makes my brain melt and ooze out of my ears.

            I can’t claim good taste in everything, nor do I want to vaunt some kind of superiority to the run of the mill of my even-Christians, but back in the 80s my sister bought practically every John Michael Talbot album there was, but failed to get me interested in ‘Christian music’.

            Me, my idea of Christian music is something like Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” or Nick Cave’s songs.

            🙂

          • Cedric Klein says:

            Please tell me the Christian Paranomal Romance isn’t between women and Watcher Angels? Are we gonna have our teen girls yearning to be Nephilim-breeders?!? *L*

            I want more books by these writers-

            Mark Rogers (author of THE DEAD- think The Apocalypse according to George Romero)
            Jeffrey Sackett (a Christian-informed Gothic horror novelist who wrote a great Vlad Dracula novel)
            Brian Caldwell (author of WE ALL FALL DOWN- the Apocalypse according to Quentin Tarantino)
            James BeauSeigneur (author of THE CHRIST CLONE TRILOGY- the Apocalypse according to Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton).

            I also want the third volume of Hank Hanengraff’s THE LAST DISCIPLE series.

            I like Apocalypse.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Please tell me the Christian Paranomal Romance isn’t between women and Watcher Angels?

            No further information available.

            However, that was also the first thing a (non-Christian) friend thought of when I told him the phrase “Christian (TM) Paranormal Romance”, so you’re NOT the only one that idea has occured to.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Please tell me the Christian Paranomal Romance isn’t between women and Watcher Angels?

            Two days ago, I was flying cross-country with a head cold and my mind kept elaborating on this sub-type of Christian Paranormal Romance (TM).

            First, I LIKE Cedric’s description of “Nephilim Breeders”. Short and precise, like “Bodice Rippers”, instead of “Just Like Twilight, except we cast an Angel instead of Edward Cullen to make it Christian.” I propose that “Nephilim Breeder” become the actual name for Mortal-Woman-heart-Angel Paranormal Romances.

            And now the dark side of Nephilim Breeders.

            First, they are VERY plausible as Christian Paranormal Romance (TM).

            1) Angels have an established place in current pop culture as small-g gods, supernatural beings who are much less threatening than a big-G God.
            2) Angels are also prominent in Fundagelical culture, with the accompaning dogma in all but name:
            2.1) All Angels are male.
            2.2) Angels only appear as adult male humans.
            2.3) Angels appear to either teach us or preach to us. (The latter dovetails perfectly with the Altar Call Ending trope of Conventional Christian Fiction.)
            3) Re Twilight proper, the same friend whose first idea of Christian Paranormal Romance was Woman-slash-Angel also told me that Sparkling Edward is much more a minor god or demigod than a vampire. Edward is superhumanly attractive, superhumanly charismatic, superhuman in every way. Edward is immortal, but requires offerings of blood — animal blood, taken in Wild Hunt-style sacrificial rites (the Vegan Vampire hunts through the WA state woods around Forks). In many ways, his supernatural abilities (and required blood offerings) are more those of a minor god or demigod than anything else. Edward is also male (2.1), appears as a perfect human male with superhuman/supernatural abilities (2.2).

            Ergo, a simple substitution of an Angel (glory glory glory) for EDWARD (sparkle sparkle sparkle), AKA a Nephilim Breeder, is a quick, easy, and plausible approach for a Christian Paranormal Romance knockoff. And I can’t be the only one who’s thought of it.

            But it gets worse.

            Remember “Bridal Mysticism”? The original, late Medieval, X-TREME version of “Jesus is My Boyfriend”? The mixing of Sacred with the Erotic “Pornography for Cloistered Nuns” of which our current “Jeesus is My Perfect Boyfriend” you find in CCM and Christian Dating Services is but a decayed echo?

            Add Bridal Mysticism to the above Christian Paranormal Romance tangent by casting Christ Himself (shekinah shekinah shekinah) for Edward Cullen (sparkle sparkle sparkle) and things get very ugly very fast.

            And Christ Himself becomes the Perfect Porn Star for Christian Women as Edward Cullen is the Perfect Porn Star for Women. With all the accompanying fangirl attitudes. I have seen hints of this in CCM (that’s why the South Park CCM episode was so hilarious) and more blatantly in women’s profiles at Christian dating services, so the trend is already there.

            Neitzche’s Abyss is staring back at me at this point, so I’d better leave it at that.

  12. Ekstasis says:

    Do we need a balance here? God does instruct us not to pleace any evil thing in front of us. I am receiving, maybe wrongfully, a message that it is prudish and naive to desire to filter out worldliness. I do not consider myself a prude or someone who wants to hide my head in the sand. Rather, I attempt not to view certain images, music, and entertainment because I do not trust myself. For example, please remember that millions struggle with pornography. OK, maybe they now hide in the world of “Christian” entertainment. Maybe it is for their own protection!

    To sum it up, for many of us, it is not because of a background of innocence that we shun worldliness, it is because we have immersed ourselves far too much in the past, and we are done with it.

    • I appreciate your desire to flee this world. I, too, want to live in a close, intimate relationship with the Lord, turning my eyes on him alone. But to hide within a world of Christianeze does not seem to me to be the way to deal with deep hurts within. Watching TBN instead of porn does not impress God. What would mean more is to deal with the root issues of the problem. And I do not see that listening to only religious music or watching only religious TV will help one deal with deep issues.

      Still, I am glad to have you as part of our family. And I am with you in being done with the past. Amen to that.

      • . But to hide within a world of Christianeze does not seem to me to be the way to deal with deep hurts within

        Doesn’t do much to help the hurts of the world either….you know, those ZZ-Top lovin’ , inked-up, chain smokin’, cleavage gaping, Bud swillin’, philistines that are just TRASHING our country (Arkansas is still our country …..isn’t it ??)

        Hiding out at Zondervans or the Pricious Moments shrine is cute, but irrelevant to a witness to the world….. if you’re into that Matt. 28 thing at all.

        Greg R

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Remember all those Christian (TM) Prairie Romances set in the 19th Century West?

          I’d like to drop their Pious Polly Purebread lead characters into this little place I know in the Black Hills and see how long they’d last:

          Every day we got the same old chore,
          Scrubbing bloodstains off of the floor;
          If you ride through this camp,
          Best hold onto your knife;
          Welcome to Deadwood —
          NOW RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

          Because if God can’t stand to walk the bloody streets of Deadwood, he ain’t God.

  13. Crumple says:

    Chrisitan bookstores have always creeped me out–when I was a Christian as a teenager, when I was an atheist in my 20s and 30s, and now that I’m a Christian again.

    I’m wondering …

    “Oh sure, you used to like listening to Christina Aguilera, but now you are a Christian, so you listen to BarlowGirl, not because you like their sound or their lyrics, but you would feel guilty listening to and enjoying Christina Aguilera now that you have been saved. You used to love reading science fiction by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin, but now you read Left Behind. You used to go study the works of Van Gogh, but now you look at a picture of a pasty-white Jesus knocking on someone’s door.”

    Are there really people like this? I cannot imagine that someone who appreciates Ursula K. LeGuin would be able to make it through 50 pages of Left Behind.

    ~ Crumple

    • 50 pages? I couldn’t make it thru five…But, to answer your question, Yes, I do know people who, out of guilt, abandon the literature that they love in order to read acceptable Christian books. Sad but true…

      • When I was in college a friend of one of my roommate’s was over at our apartment and noticed my extensive collection of SF books. He got a little upset, and told me that he used to read SF, but when he became a Christian he gave up SF because he found out SF was evil and used by the devil to decieve us. Something about using our imaginations to create worlds instead of appreciating the world God created for us.

        I gave my usual response to such statements: I picked up my leather-bound NASB Ryrie Study Bible off my coffee table, handed it to him, and said “Show me.” Lots of fum-fuhing, mumbling, and a quick subject change. 🙂

        • Great appoach, KB….does this work for “heavy bass beat = the devil’s music” as well ?? I might get to keep some of my U2 after all.

        • See, now, that’s a praiseworthy Scriptural response. I’d have quoted Tolkien on sub-creation:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eru_Il%C3%BAvatar

          “A clear explanation of this appears in a draft of a letter that Tolkien wrote in 1954 to Peter Hastings, manager of the Newman Bookshop (a Catholic bookshop in Oxford).] In the letter, Tolkien, himself a devout Catholic, defended the non-orthodox portrayal of God (Eru) in his writing as rightly within the scope of his legendarium, as an exploration of the infinite “potential variety” of God.

          Regarding the possibility of reincarnation of Elves, Hastings had written:

          God has not used that device in any of the creations of which we have knowledge, and it seems to me to be stepping beyond the position of a sub-creator to produce it as an actual working thing, because a sub-creator, when dealing with the relations between creator and created, should use those channels which he knows the creator to have used already.

          Tolkien’s reply explains his view of the relation of (divine) Creation to (human) sub-creation:

          We differ entirely about the nature of the relation of sub-creation to Creation. I should have said that liberation “from the channels the creator is known to have used already” is the fundamental function of “sub-creation”, a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety […] I am not a metaphysician; but I should have thought it a curious metaphysic — there is not one but many, indeed potentially innumerable ones — that declared the channels known (in such a finite corner as we have any inkling of) to have been used, are the only possible ones, or efficacious, or possibly acceptable to and by Him!”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And in any case, whether Elves reincarnate or not doesn’t matter. We’re not Elves but Men, the Secondborn of the Children of Iluvatar. Not even the Valar knew the final destiny of Men; that was kept by Iluvatar alone. There was the suggestion that Elves were immortal in that they would live as long as Arda (the cosmos) but only as long as Arda, but that Men would outlive Arda and the Elves in the Timeless Halls of Iluvatar.

      • Crumple says:

        Yes, 50 pages … I was trying to be charitable. 🙂

        • I actually read all 12 Left Behind books at the local Barnes & Noble, figuring that with all the hype, there had to be a payoff … you know, like the little kid digging throught the huge pile of horse manure because he figures that with that much of it, there must be a pony somewhere? What can I say, I’m stubborn.

          I didn’t find a pony, but here’s what I did find:
          1. Barnes & Noble will let you sit there and read all you want, in the hope that you’ll eventually buy (which I didn’t, in this case).
          2. Hype is insufficient to cover up shaky theology and literary mediocrity.
          3. Like Harry Turtledove, Jerry Jenkins like weaving baseball players’ names into his works — only Turtledove isn’t usually as ham-handedly obvious about it. (The story “The Road Not Taken” is an exception.)
          4. I’d rather read science fiction that’s well-written, even if I disagree with it, than “evangelical” fiction that’s worse than what I can write myself.

          So I’m back to reading SF now … and every time I get the urge to read something more “Christian,” God shovels more SF my way. I think it’s a hint.

          • I can’t tell whether I admire you or think you are crazy for reading all 12 of those awful books. I tried reading the first one when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t make it past the first 50 pages or the sense that even *I* could have written something with more interesting characters.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s not just 12, Amber. It’s 22 volumes: Twelve in the main series, a prequel trilogy (AKA “Antichrist’s Baby Pictures”), a sequel (set AFTER the end of Revelation — nice trick, but falls as flat as Estus Pirkle’s “Believer’s Heaven” and for the same reason), and two shared-universe trilogies by outside authors (not Jenkins the Hack). Total 22.

            Slacktivist has been going through it page-by-page over at his blog (he’s currently slogging through Volume 3). The comment threads get wild and weird.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Oh sure, you used to like listening to Christina Aguilera, but now you are a Christian, so you listen to BarlowGirl, not because you like their sound or their lyrics, but you would feel guilty listening to and enjoying Christina Aguilera now that you have been saved.

      According to the massmind over at Slacktivist’s LB page-by-page analysis/comment blog, this is probably one of the reasons why LB became a best-seller. Real True Christians (TM) are forbidden from reading, watching, and listening to so much stuff (due to a negative view of holiness) that they will glom onto any Approved Christian (TM) imitation of the now-forbidden “Christian Aguilera” like a starving refugee to a Thanksgiving feast. Now they can read/watch/listen to something approximating what they liked without feeling guilty or threatening their squeeky-clean Christian nose at God’s Litmus Test and risking being Left Behind (TM).

  14. Steve Newell says:

    How many people who have a lot of “Jesus Stuff” go to churches that devoid of Christian symbols and images? For example, do their churches have crosses? How about symbols of the faith such as the Chi Rho? Is there a symbol of the Holy Sprint? Is there any artwork about Christ’s Life, Death and Resurrection?

    • cermak_rd says:

      The Holy Sprint? I haven’t been a Christian for a while, so maybe I missed it, but what is this? I don’t remember any running in the NT. Is this a way to try to deal with the American obesity epidemic?

      • Steve Newell says:

        Sorry for flat finger.

        • cermak_rd says:

          But what was the typo? Spirit?

        • Steve Newell says:

          UGH!

          I fat fingered “flat finger”.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Could be worse. One IMonk thread years ago (about should American flags be used in the sanctuary) had a galloping typo where “our sanctuary is hung with flags from all countries” dropped the “L” in “flags”.

      • The Holy Sprint is the dash out the door as soon as Communion begins to be distributed by those who just can’t wait another five to ten minutes for the end of Mass.

        😉

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I once heard a Jesuit priest lose it over that kind of Holy Sprint, dedicating the entire homily to Proper Behavior at Communion.

      • dumb ox says:

        ‘Holy Sprint” is when only your calling circle will be saved. If that didn’t sound like a lot of churches out there, I would find this ironically humorous.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Us Four,
          No More,
          Amen.”
          (And I’m not sure about the other three of you.)

  15. I’ve long wondered why, given that Christianity can claim artist like Bach, Mozart, and Michelangelo, the best we able to produce today is crappy imitations of crappy secular pop culture. (“FaithFactor” T-shirts? Please!)

    Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a pretty mellow guy. I don’t get angry or excited about much. But the next person that refers to Thomas Kinkade’s “paintings” as art in my presence is going to get severely beaten about the head and shoulders with the nearest handy blunt object. 🙂

    But seriously, I think a good part of the problem is that Christian young people with artistic talent are often actively discouraged from pursuing art as a vocation. They’re told that art artists are debased, corrupt, and evil, and no “Good Christian (TM)” would want to be involved in such a seedy business. Young artists are often told that they must chose between their religion and their art. In his charming and poignant autobiographic graphic novel Blankets, Craig Thompson relates the struggles he faced as a young artist growing up in a fundamentalist household.

    • Lukas db says:

      I love ‘Blankets.’ But it makes me a bit sad. Craig Thompson and I seem to have gone through many of the same struggles, and have come out with very similar ideas. But perhaps his experience with Christianity (Churchianity) was a little worse than mine, and so now he rejects Christianity wholesale, and depicts devout Christians as being sly, grumpy, and corrupt.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Sounds like a “Take Your God And Shove It!” reaction.

        Get burned and stifled one time too many and you slam over into the complete opposite direction.

        I’ve seen a similar dynamic in Furry Fandom; a lot of artists ditch the fandom because of the “One Fanboy Too Many” Syndrome. You encounter jerk after jerk, and one day you’ve just had enough and projectile-vomit it all out.

        • Lukas db says:

          Pretty much. But to be fair. Craig Thompson doesn’t go crazy to the other side. He says in the book that he still believes in God and respects Jesus, but he has no respect for the church that’s been built up around him.

          Reminds me of the symptoms described in a certain other book I’ve read recently….

    • hey, I’ve heard that Mr.Kincaid has a FEW autographed , and tastefully stencilled blunt objects for sale…… blessed while in Israel… better hurry !! 🙂

      Greg R

    • wow…..this sounds like a fundy-evangelical rehash of “My Name is Asher Lev”….. hmmm

      Francis Schaeffer come back, we didn’t “get it” when you walked with us….

      Greg R

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’ve long wondered why, given that Christianity can claim artist like Bach, Mozart, and Michelangelo, the best we able to produce today is crappy imitations of crappy secular pop culture. (“FaithFactor” T-shirts? Please!)

      Bach, Mozart, and Michelangelo all came out of the Catholic tradition — you know, those RCCs with their Mary statues and Death Cookies? The original Western-rite Liturgical Church? One of the main reasons I swam back across the Tiber was the RCC patronage of the arts.

      In my own area of expertise (SF and Fantasy), I have noticed that all the great Christian authors (not repeat not known for Christian (TM) SF) came out of a Western-rite Liturgical Church tradition. And NONE would be able to be published at an Official Christian (TM) publishing house today.

      J.R.R.Tolkien and G.K.Chesterton were (and Tim Powers is) Catholic.
      C.S.Lewis and Cordwainer Smith (the latter acknowledged as a Christian SF writer by everyone except Christians) were Anglican.

      • Nitpick: Bach was Lutheran. But still, yeah.

        Tim Powers is Catholic? I’m going to have to read Last Call again — I must’ve missed something …

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Tim Powers is Catholic. With a real talent for the “Secret History” sub-genre. Try out his DECLARE sometime.

          (Posting this primarily to see if it gets through. I’ve encountered problems commenting from my home system — no visible errors, but the comment never shows up, only when I post from this address.)

    • “young people with artistic talent are often actively discouraged from pursuing art as a vocation. They’re told that art artists are debased, corrupt, and evil, and no “Good Christian”…

      How terribly sad and how contrary to the God and Creator of all we see in the universe and all around us. God is the Divine Artist; just look at the intricate colors and textures and shapes and variety in the smallest of wild flowers to the great hibiscus and exquisite lilies.
      God paints the skies with masterful sunrises and sunsets that the greatest of painters could never replicate. The music God created in the songs of birds, the majestic whales, and the rustling of leaves in the wind. How could anyone who knows God and claims to be a Christian not believe that artistic talent is a gift from God to the world and instead see it at corrupt and evil ??

      I find it so hard to wrap my mind around this. What is holding these person’s minds and hearts so captive ? How much beauty God has given for us to enjoy they must be missing.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I always tell them “Forget about the Christian (TM) anything. GO MAINSTREAM.” Standards are higher and the audience is more appreciative.

        My standard has always been “Could my stuff have gone head-to-head against Poul Anderson or H Beam Piper in Sixties-era Analog, not repeat not Jesus Junk Bonnet Romances and Left Behind.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        How terribly sad and how contrary to the God and Creator of all we see in the universe and all around us.

        They’ve already anticipated you, Daisey. With four words:
        IT’S. ALL. GONNA. BURN.

        When The World Ends Tomorrow and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect anything other than quick slapdash knockoffs. Don’t expect anything that takes time and effort and energy. Don’t expect anything other than hiding in a box in the basement keeping your nose squeeky-clean to pass God’s Great White Throne Litmus Test.

        • And don’t you think that is terribly sad that they have that mindset.

          True nothing materialistic will last forever….However, the Glory and Praise artists give to God has a level of value beyond how our finite minds put value on things of this earth. If the artist him/her-self praises God for the work of their hands(song,music,book,painting etc.) awesome. But, if they don’t and others who see the work give Praise and Glory to God for it, awesome. We were created to live lives that will “give praise to His Glory” in all we do. That praise and glory have a value the end of the earth cannot touch when it destroys the artists work….

          So, again, I say, how very sad that some people just don’t get it.

        • dumb ox says:

          Burn baby burn. Drill, drill, drill. It’s all the same.

          I just don’t buy it. The people who sell Jesus junk don’t live in junky houses or drive junky cars. They obviously place value in the material things that matter to them. A tree that proclaims the creative majesty of God must be chopped down and turn into an entertainment console which proclaims the opulence of suburban evangelicals.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “There will come a time when men will go mad. And they will lay hands on the sane among them, saying ‘You are not like Us! You must be Mad!'”
            — one of the Desert Fathers my writing partner likes to quote

  16. I have a question for non-American readers: do you guys have “Jesus Junk” too? Or is it a specifically American phenomenon? I suspect that it is. We like kitsch because it’s just so egalitarian. If your idea of culture is Thomas Kinkade and pop music, then you’re just plain folks. If your idea of art is some Renaissance painter most people have never heard of, they’re going think that you’re a pretentious snob. But this is just as true among non-Christians.

    • Lukas db says:

      We americans have a time-honored tradition of being snobbish towards snobbery. Martin van Buuren pretty much lost a presidential bid because he appreciated fine food, while his opponent bragged that he subsisted on beef and salt.

    • IN the UK we do have Jesus junk but I don’t think it reaches quite the same level of absurdity as we tend to be less sincere than Americans and our ironic tendencies filter out the worst excesses. We have the stationery with verses etc, fridge magnets, teddies etc.

      I’ve recently discovered a contemporary Christian artist from Germany called Sieger Koder I rate very highly. He’s a retired Catholic priest. But Catholicism has produced some pretty impressive ‘holy’ bric a brac in its time as well as some outstanding artists.

    • Definitely we do. All the oleographs of the Sacred Heart, the plaster statues of the Blessed Virgin, and the like, generally produced in China or somewhere out foreign.

      Just not the same marketing and nation-wide chains and potential for generating income. I suppose the closest thing we’d have over here would be the Veritas chain:

      http://www.veritas.ie/Gifts/list.aspx

      • Ah yeah, this is the class of thing I grew up on.

        Nowadays, apparently they’re made out of resin in Italy when it was plaster in my time, but the Child of Prague statues never change 🙂

        http://www.veritas.ie/Gifts/Statues/list2.aspx

        The prices for some of them are gobsmacking; who has €1,200 to splash out on a statue of the Sacred Heart suitable for outdoors? I suppose if a local committee is building something like a Lourdes Grotto, but for the home???

    • cyborgninja says:

      As someone who has grown up flirting with two cultures: heck yes!

      My mother’s an iconoclast, like most West African Pentecostals, so no cheesy art, but her bookshelf is full of every person mentioned on TBN, plus the pastors’ devotional he makes every year. It is cringe-worthy. There are Christian bookstores much like Mardel here in the States, though not as big. It’s terrible!

  17. Leslie Jebaraj says:

    I am an Indian, living in India. What is true about the “Christian” bookstores in the US is very much true in India as well.

    However, there is one more “evil”: There are some stores that sell the used books that Americans ship to not-so-rich countries like India. I can’t think of anything more vile!

    • JoanieD says:

      Just thought I would say hello, Leslie. I don’t spend time on Theologica anymore and not as much time on Parchment and Pen as I did. (But Michael Patten is still doing great writing there!) I do love it here at the internmonk!

      • Leslie Jebaraj says:

        Hi Joanie:

        Sorry that I just saw your comment! Hope all is well with you! I am good, thanks! Sure do miss you on Theologica. I too love InternetMonk!

  18. Hey, I like Barlowgirl!! And Sarah & Enya!

    I was in a Lifeway recently looking for a Bible cover for my new *gasp* TNIV, when I spotted a set of N.T. Wright’s commentaries on the gospels from his “For Everyone” series. I was quite surprised. Of course, it was marked up in price and much too expensive when I knew where to get it cheaper, new.

    But I quickly got out of there when I saw that all of the Bible covers were (A) more expensive than any purse I’ve bought, and (B) actually looked like purses I’ve bought!

    • and on the guys side: hope you like sports metaphors, military metaphors, or just plain camou when you shop for your bible cover……..

      can’t get into Barlowgirl, but two out of three is much better than the Royals are hitting.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Of course, it was marked up in price and much too expensive when I knew where to get it cheaper, new.

      Y’know, I think that was the first step toward me no longer shopping at those stores. Way over priced compared to the secular market.

  19. Until recently I had access to a half-decent Christian bookstore. Sure, they carried many of the same trinkets, but they did have a decent selection of Bibles, and their book section introduced me to the likes of John Bevere, one of the better voices out there.

    But about a year ago the owners retired and sold the store. And now? In spite of a pledge that the store would remain pretty much the same, the new owners have increased the level of junk available, and the books are almost exclusively pablum.

    And the bibles? I wanted a simple paperback NLT, in about the same 5″ x 8″ format as the ESV that I carry. Well, they didn’t have any in stock. They had about 3′ of shelf space taken up with 4″ x 6″ copies for the military (yes, they had army, navy, air force and marine versions), but they had to special order mine.

    So now? I choose my books based on recomendations from reliable sources (frequently here at iMonk), and I buy through Amazon. Their prices are good, and as long as I wait until I have a $25.00 order I don’t even have to pay for shipping. I haven’t made the kind of vow Michael Spencer did, but functionally I’ve ended up at the same place; I no longer participate in the “Christian ghetto.”

    • Lukas db says:

      in Christian bookstores, Bibles have become all about niche marketing, and books have become all about casting a wide and foolish net. This seems backwards to me.

  20. Although I suppose there are a few people out there who gave up genuinely worthwhile art for Christian crap, I suspect the vast majority move smoothly from pop culture crap to Christian crap. In other words, this is a societal problem, not just a Christian problem. An impoverished education system that focuses on job training, not human development; an outlook that doesn’t even realize the possibility of objective beauty; an overwhelming flood of entertainment that fills our eyes and ears so much that we have no time or space to appreciate beauty; transportation and communications so swift that they destroy any sense of community and cause us to self-identify based on cliques rather than relationships. Unless we realize we’re fighting all those, not just Aunt Edie’s irrational prejudice against crude language, we’re too likely to mistake being offensive for being artistic.

    • very well said, Q of Carrots…..this is more than just a holy war against kitsch, the whole culture , christian and non-christian, is in on this Tupperware party.

      Greg R

    • Lukas db says:

      Good point. I wonder if the fact that there’s so much art and media around us, all the time, that helps cause this problem. When you can listen to music ten hours a day, it ceases to be something special, as it once was; and so many people listen to what is easy rather than what is profound.

      Not that I want to get into a rant against mass media here; mass media has also had its benefits.

    • cermak_rd says:

      I agree with much, but no objective beauty. I really don’t believe there is such a thing. Beauty is always subjective.

  21. I refer to the local Christian radio station as the “anti-Aslan station.” Why? Because they’re “safe for the whole family” and Aslan isn’t.

  22. The Guy from Knoxville says:

    Interesting topic Jeff…… I live in east Knox county (Knoxville), Tennessee and we’re not far from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – big tourist area now and even Sevierville (the seat of government for Sevier County) is in the act and there are christian bookstores, gift shops of all kinds in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and most are not run by christians and the people working the stores are not necessarily christians either. They have every kind of trinket, bible versions, books of all kinds by the big names in American christendom, CDs, Jesus coaster sets, key chains, bracelets, necklaces, rings, banners, balloons and a host of other items. During the tourist season (Memorial Day – Halloween) these places are packed out for smilen Joel, 40 days/weeks/months/years Warren – on and on we could go.

    Being a little tongue/cheek above – seriously though, it’s unbelieveable and I’ve been to those places before but my wife and I rarely frequent them anymore – we don’t even do Lifeway stores anymore. Speaking of Lifeway – check out one of those nowdays and see what you find or better
    put see what you don’t find. Then this time of year you have the Lifeway special VBS programs that every church in the community, including non-baptists, is doing and the poor kids…… the moms send them to 2,3 or even 4 VBSs in the summer and they have to endure the same Lifeway special at each – can you imagine anything worse! Folks this is beyond words to describe not to mention the other things happening and the SBC going off into the abyss in so many areas….. and folks wonder why I left the SBC in April 2009!

    Well, that better be it for now lest I go on a rant and start preaching.

    • Two thoughts. I have a Lifeway in my town, but never go in it more than once every two or three years.

      And you have the Apple Barn restaurant in your neck of the woods! That is some good eatin’!

      What was this post about?

      • The Guy from Knoxville says:

        Jeff,

        Yes on the Apple Barn – good food!

        Lifeway – rarely these days.

        Post……. well……

        Actually, I did a little rabbit chasing on the VBS/Lifeway Special. My wife worked with pre-schoolers in SS and VBS and most of the little trinkets that she used for SS and VBS we ordered from Oriential Trading – lots of stuff and low prices. Don’t think they had a set
        of Jesus coasters in OT though….. rats!

  23. cermak_rd says:

    Because it’s such a minority, the Jewish community has so far steered clear of much of the kitsch. Though there have been attempts. I remember a website that had a set of finger puppets to remember the plagues of Egypt. I got the frog, and the dead child, but the clown I to this day don’t know what it was representing. I do not recall a plague of clowns, and would find that far more terrifying than a plague of frogs.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Heh, our town had a kitsch-y Judaica shop for many years before the owners decided to retire. Though there was kitsch there was also good stuff like siddurim, reputable translations of the Torah, and the occasional volume of Soncino’s Talmud (which tells you how long ago this was… Soncino was still publishing). These days I think most of the Judaica stores are either in the synagogues themselves (I think we have three or four) and the Jewish Community Center.

      • cermak_rd says:

        And don’t forget, Jews have a mandated need for at least one item of kitsch–the mezzuzzah. Fortunately most go with wood or metal and they tend to not be too tacky–though I am sure someone, somewhere has a plastic Moses mezzuzzah.

  24. Haven’t shopped at a Christian store in years, with the exception of the Fuller Seminary bookstore, which thankfully is nowhere in the same league as what’s being discussed here.

    I find that the good books and resources are easy to find if you know what you’re looking for (mostly thanks to the Internet), but harder to learn about because they don’t get the marketing hype or $ that the junk does.

    So, I’d be interested in learning of authors and/or titles folks have found helpful. Here are mine:

    Dallas Willard

    Frederick Buechner

    Shusaku Endo

  25. It has been ages since I’ve been in a Christian bookstore, and even longer since I’ve bought anything from a Christian bookstore. The last time I bought something, they had some kind of members’ discount program that they tried to get me to sign up for, and let’s just say that I’ve seen graduate school applications that were less daunting than the application for this thing.

  26. There was a time when I went to the Christian bookstore every single week. It was when the George MacDonald novels were being re-issued, and every week I would go buy a new one. But since that series ended, I have never found anything in a Christian bookstore that I wanted.

    My father did ask me to go for him once. He wanted one of the ‘go packers’ rosaries being made by a local group of nuns — but they were sold out.

  27. Again, I can’t really comment on this. Christian bookstores around here are the Veritas chain, but for the “Jesus Junk” that you’re talking about, you really need to visit the stalls and little hucksters’ shops around religious shrines selling tat.

    And yes, I do have the ‘holy water containers in the shape of the Blessed Virgin’, if you’re asking 🙂

    • Martha,

      I agree. I was shocked when I went to Fatima and saw them. But, to their credit, they don’t claim to be bookstores.

  28. Thanks for this article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    As a writer myself I appreciated the article, due to the fact that I find it impossible to compete with celebrities. Because I haven’t led / or are leading a church of thousands, haven’t done anything spectacular, or are not famous for any reason, no publisher is really interested.

    Where is the modern day CS Lewis? He was primarily a writer, he wasn’t some big celebrity pastor. And he was appreciated for his writing, because he could speak to people’s hearts through the written language. That’s what a writer is supposed to do. And he wasn’t safe about it either.

    But publishers probably know that if they publish the book of a pastor with a church of 20,000, at least they can be guaranteed to already see 10,000 sales. And they probably know that another Christian Romance novel is going to be safer than another Lord of the Rings. So yes, what’s inbetween the covers matters less than who’s on the cover. I often wonder if I shouldn’t find some celebrity, write the book for him, and pay him to slap his name on there — maybe that’s the only way I’ll ever see my dream of being a full-time book writer come true… lol.

    Here in South Africa the Jesus Junk thing is just as bad. What makes it worse is that local publishers will rather import a popular book from the U.S. than publish local authors, because the US celebrities are just more well known and sell better. But it’s a viscious circle. If they pumped the same money into advertising local authors rather than advertising overseas authors, wouldn’t we see a good result? But I guess they rely on advertising already paid, such as TBN and that sort of thing, so they just jump on the back of that.

    I guess the local publishers have no choice, really, if they want to stay afloat in this competitive market. Sigh. Maybe Google Books will change things. I dunno.

  29. dumb ox says:

    I think a market for Jesus Junk (sweet creamy Jesus Junk) begins with a gnostic, iconoclastic misinterpretation of the second commandment. We end up with a “Material Girl” world view: all matter it evil and is therefore of no use but for greed, hedonism, and exploitation. The physical world is istripped of its sacramental potential but not its demonic (oppressive, dehumanizing, even occultic) potential. Everything becomes valuless junk. Putting Jesus’ name on it is a dualistic effort to sanctify our consumptiion. We end up adopting and endorsing, rather than truly redeeming, secular materialistic culture.

    • Good point, Dumb Ox. And extra credit for mixing Christian crap and Big Butter Jesus in one comment!

      • dumb ox says:

        Not to digress too much, but I think it’s all the same. “Butter Jesus” was just a Jesus-junk marketing billboard. Churches have themselves become big-box Jesus-junk outlets (J-Marts).

  30. dumb ox says:

    When people spend billions on schemes to create wealth without hard work and lose weight without exercise or dieting, is it any wonder there is a market for 10-step easy-believism?

    • so connecting your two posts above….. are we all waiting for “I Can’t Believe He’s Not Butter Jesus..” ?? sorry , just could not, or would not, resist.

  31. Oh thank you so very much Father Obregon for pointing me here. And hello Headless Unicorn Guy and oh my what a completely wonderful blog about how conservative evangelicals have pretty much ruined the label “Christian” for any one else who’d like to use it. But then again, I know of no other group who uses a broad label like Christian to define their very narrow belief system. For instance, Catholics proclaim they are Catholics. Messianic Christian Jews are just that but ohhhhhh my a conservative evangelical “fundamentalist” believer is simply a Christian and nothing else.

    Then the Conservative Evangelical Baptist Bookstores in 1950 decided they wanted to do more than provide Sunday school material and Bibles to their very targeted market and formed the (wait for it .. . ) Christian Booksellers Association. Not the Baptist Booksellers Association mind you but the “Christian” one. You know, the one that allows some Catholic books in, according to cba.org. but not all. Yes they have their own “Christian” website for their “Christian” books too.

    So basically the label “Christian” can no longer be applied to represent a number of Faiths that operate under this umbrella unless of course you want go on and on and on about how it really should –but doesn’t.

    As far as that goes Christian fiction isn’t Christian fiction, Christian music isn’t Christian music etc . . For that matter, If whoever uses the label “Christian” to define their market rest assured that it’s the conservative Evangelicals, usually. Not a bad group really, just a bit hmmmm . . . I don’t know, you fill in the blank. 😉

    • And do check out my blog at http://www.suedent.blogspot.com when you get the chance . . . if you’d like to read more along the lines of what I just wrote.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As far as that goes Christian fiction isn’t Christian fiction, Christian music isn’t Christian music etc . .

      As we used to say, “If it’s Christian (TM), It’s Crap.”

      (Hi, Sue! Just finished the last episode of my braided novel this past week.)

      (For those of you who don’t know her, Sue Dent has actually written a decent Christian Paranormal Romance (Never Ceese and it sequel Forever Richard) about a Werewolf (Were-bitch, actually) and a Vampire who are that way because of a curse and originally met to pool resources to lift their respective curses before they can lock in permanently. And her vamp does NOT sparkle. Naturally, she had to self-pub or go small-press, despite placing in the running of a couple awards.)

  32. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    You used to love reading science fiction by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin, but now you read Left Behind.

    Not just Orson Scott Card and Ursula Le Guin. Gordon Dickson, Poul Anderson, H Beam Piper, Katherine Kurtz, Andre Norton, James Tiptree, John Dalmas, Hal Clement, Larry Niven, Jack Vance, Cordwainer Smith…

    And to come down from these flights of the imagination and “sense-a-wunda” to the likes of Left Behind (or its predecessors in “Just like SF, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”)?

    Take it from a 35-year veteran of SF litfandom. The only way you can describe Christian (TM) attempts at SF are:
    1) LAME.
    2) DAY LATE, DOLLAR SHORT KNOCKOFFS OF THE REAL THING.
    3) UTTER FAILURE OF IMAGINATION.

    I joined the Lost Genre Guild to get away from that mentality. Jeff Gerke founded Marcher Lord Press to small-press pub those works that the CBA/ECPA won’t touch. There’s a LOT of SF-by-Christians that’s just circling in a holding pattern waiting for someone to break the barrier and let it out. WE DON’T HAVE TO STAY STUCK WITH LEFT BEHIND, ET AL.

    • One book I can recommend that doesn’t fall into those three categories: One Mind’s Eye by Kathy Tyers, a Christian who managed to sneak out of the evangelical ghetto, write a piece of top-notch SF and sell it in the big wide world.

      But that’s the only “Christian attempt at SF” that I can recommend without reservation.

    • Check out Sword Dreamer on Amazon by Marshal Myers. He wrote it at age 19. He is confined to a wheelchair and uses software to translate his spoken words into words on screen. A wonderful young man, loves God, eats and breathes and sleeps SF.

    • Lukas db says:

      What, no love for Perelandra? Or is that not really considered SF?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        When I was in Junior College in the Seventies, I was mixed up in a “splinter church” that was well on its way to becoming an end-of-the-world cult. They also had what are now called Extreme Holiness/Separation beliefs.

        Every time I mentioned I was into SF, they would plug “C.S.Lewis’s Space Trilogy”, “C.S.Lewis’s Space Trilogy”, “C.S.Lewis’s Space Trilogy”. To them, it was the ONLY example of Christian SF.

        My response was “C.S.Lewis died in 1963. You mean nobody’s written any Christian SF of any consequence since?”

        I have never read C.S.Lewis’s Space Trilogy. After all that concentrated hype, I have no desire to. Too much like “Eat this spinach! It’s Good For You (TM)!”

  33. OK, guys and gals, in order to keep us all free and in the spirit of the 4th of July, here is something that the folks at mockingbird posted:
    http://mockingbirdnyc.blogspot.com/2010/06/his-is-kingdom-power-and-glory.html

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Don’t give them ideas!

      As crazy and over-the-top as you can imagine for a joke, there’s going to be some True Believer out there twice as crazy, twice as over-the-top, and Dead Serious.

  34. dumb ox says:

    “There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” – Flannery O’Connor