Tales from the Christian Darkside

by Jim Fletcher

August 6, 2009


Last week I opined that the Christian book industry, selling Christian books, should overlay its business model with the Spirit of God. An unusual topic for a column on publishing, but it is my conviction.

It is also a prime reason that the industry is in tough shape these days. Again, we can blame the economy, but looking inward will produce a more accurate picture.

It seems clear to me that allowing authors and publishers into the mix — even when they espouse heretical concepts — sows the seeds of your industry’s collapse. In other words, if theological integrity is not maintained, failure is sure to follow.

For many years, the Christian Booksellers’ Association has allowed vendors who do not have a Christian worldview to display at conventions. Many dozens of books with heretical themes have now flooded into the stores around the country. Few in power seem to care, because if The Shack is being sold down the street at X big-box retailer, then, well, we have to sell it, too.

It is the change in the floor presence at CBA events that astonishes.

For example, two weeks ago at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, Zondervan of course had its usual large presence. The Grand Rapids-based publisher produces a large number of mainstream titles each year, and is perhaps best known for its Bibles. What many “average” Christians do not know is that for 20 years, Zondervan has been owned by the gigantic New York house, Harper Collins.

When a Christian publisher is bought-out by a large secular company, it is not possible for the formerly Christian-owned entity to decide for itself just how Christian it will be. Profit-and-loss become the all-consuming drivers.

At Zondervan, for every Anne Graham Lotz, there are 10 others who practice a center-left Christianity. Gary Burge, the Wheaton professor who routinely criticizes Israel, and champions the allegedly down-trodden Palestinians, has little in common with conservative readers.

The same for other Zondervan authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, both of whom seek to re-define Christianity.

At ICRS, I happened by the large Zondervan booth and noticed that HarperOne, an imprint of Harper Collins, was connected to the Zondervan space. HarperOne publishes a wide range of books on spirituality. They are as comfortable publishing the Dalai Lama as they are Billy Graham.

HarperOne has a richly pluralistic stable of authors, including the mystic Thomas Merton, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Omid Safi (Memories of Muhammad). Let me show you an example of a connection between unorthodox Christians, and the evangelical world.

Several years ago, Zondervan published the NIV Men’s Study Bible. In that book, editors had inserted some remarks of Merton’s, as a “devotional.” Merton, the Catholic-Buddhist who died in 1968, stated: “Sin is the refusal of spiritual life.”

No, it isn’t.

If sin is the refusal of spiritual life, then there have been billions of sinless people throughout history, an idea completely at odds with Christianity.

Another example is the runaway success of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life. When a book hits those kinds of numbers (what is it now, 30 million sold?), there is no possibility that author will never write another book. What actually happens is that editorial boards sit around and come up with new themes, new gimmicks. That’s why you see “journals” and “workbooks” that spin-off hot sellers like Your Best Life Now. It isn’t necessarily because the ancillary product is useful to the consumer. It is that the product is product, something to be sold. The publishers latch onto a hot theme and then milk more profits from consumers.

Profit/revenue is the agenda. Do we worship God or mammon?

This syncretic approach is diluting biblical truth in America.

These are just a few examples of where the publishers are. Another element in the pipeline, the bookstores, is just as sad.

It fascinates me that Christian book stores are struggling mightily to stay open, yet they almost contemptuously sideline large markets. For example, a few days ago, I visited with the head of a large ministry, focused on apologetics. This person told me, “Our constituency doesn’t want books on marriage relationships, or how to raise kids — those things that fill the shelves of stores today. Instead, they want what we are offering.”

This ministry has 150,000 names on its database.

It is interesting to me, then, that many stores do not cater to these people. The question is, why? Why would stores marginalize a large affinity group out there? The answer must be that there is a general dislike of truly conservative biblical views among the mainstream in the Christian book industry.

For many stores, if a publisher makes an effort to promote conservative books, and comes up with initiatives to really help the store promote that product, the reply is more often than not a polite “drop dead.” Instead, the goal is to put another floor display of Rick Warren books in the store. And speaking again of Warren, this is yet another example of where mainstream Christianity is heading: pluralism. Warren, who chatted cheerily with the Syrian killer Bashar Assad a few years ago, and recently spoke at an Islamic conference, is part of the new breed of Christian leaders who will fellowship with unbelievers.

Several years ago at convention, I was talking with a salesman for a CBA publisher. He told me that a few weeks before, he had presented product to buyers at two separate Christian store chains. One buyer said to him, “What do you think about the Bible?” The sales rep answered that he thinks the Bible is the very Word of God.

“I think it’s myth,” she said.

The second buyer he told me about openly challenged the idea that Adam and Eve were real people.

Needless to say, people are free to believe what they want to believe. But Christian buyers, one would think, should reflect traditional Christian views.

These are some of the reasons that Christian retail stands on the brink of real heartbreak, as stores close and publishers down-size.

Because CBA has no mechanism to research the motives of authors and publishers — and not only has no desire to do so, but is colluding with syncretic elements — it is losing its power, which peaked in the ‘90s, probably.

As I’ve said before, as these outlets try to pay the light bill and prepare to shiver in the dark void, there are alternate book sources ready and eager to supply the still-millions of American Christians who revere the Word of God. WND, Lighthouse Trails, my ministry friend…all are growing by leaps-and-bounds as God-fearing Americans prepare to face profound changes in our culture.

© 2009  Posted with permission

Jim Fletcher has worked in the book publishing industry for 15 years. He was my encouraging editor when New Leaf Press published my book, A Twist of Faith.

Home | Articles | Quotes and Excerpts | Victory