I was in the bookstore today. I love bookstores, I love the feel of them, I love how you walk around surrounded by knowledge, and, if you’ve written anything yourself, the feeling of being ensconced by the fruit of days, months, and years of work crafted into print. There really is nothing quite like a book; it’s one of the oldest art forms through which knowledge is recorded in our civilization, and you can pick it off a shelf and hold it in your hands.
Today I was looking for a Christian book. Nothing in particular, really. I was simply hoping something would stand out to me. That the Spirit would lead me, as they say, and I’d select a book that would challenge me and nourish me at the same time. Well, something did stand out to me, just not what I was hoping for.
The spiritual book world is a daunting one. There are thousands of books out there dealing with prayer alone, and who knows how many when you total up all diverse categories. What’s more, thousands of new books come out every year. Divide all of those books by their conflicting views on the same subjects, authors that think the writer of the book sitting directly next to theirs on the same shelf is a sinner, and those that aren’t really books but flower-fonted, inspirational quote banks, and it’s a wonder the faith oriented person’s head doesn’t explode as soon as he or she steps in the aisle!
John MacArthur has a new book out called Slave that, honestly, isn’t really a book but a collection of his sermons refitted for hardback distribution, much like Keith Olbermann’s Pitch Forks and Torches is a collection of his previous Countdown rants. Joyce Meyer can’t seem to sell anything with out having her face on the cover of it, much in the same way Paula Deen cranks out cooking tip books with her smile front and center. Then there is your athlete themed books, the ones that rely on big name sports heroes to sale, because, if we’re honest, if someone else had that same story, it might be great, but would publishers really make any money selling it? Books about loving God by dedicating yourself to a life of poverty are next to Books about how to get God to bless you financially. Max Lucado, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes… the list goes on and on (Don’t even get me started on the row completely dedicated to ornate Bible covers and accessories).
Some of the names in the Christian book section have agendas, just like the ones in the political sections. Some have publisher needs and fan bases to appeal too. Some even have, dare I say it, real, unvarnished truth. Heck, maybe all of them do? But in a world of so many opinions fighting for your dollar to verify them as truth, who’s truth is worth your time, or your buck? I’m not saying any of these books or their authors are bad, or their content reprehensible. I’m just asking, which one is for me? How do I know? What makes one voice better than the other? Who do I let in my head? What brand of Jesus do I buy?
Can you really brand Jesus? This is America; you can brand anything.
I find myself thinking about that when I look at all the books, now. I know companies want customers to feel an affinity to their product, and that capitalism is based on such affinities, but is the Christian book aisle really the place I want to base a decision on brand affinity? Any rational person is laughing at me right now for not remembering that America is also about free will, and that I should exercise it and get whatever the heck I want. But, consider that even if you can reconcile that any book is just a series of opinions for you to pick and choose from, there are those out there—those who profess to be a brother or sister of yours—who will fight you tooth and nail if you take home the wrong wad of parchment. I know Christians that have had knock down, drag out, split-and–form-another-church, fights of over who’s voice should and should not be listened too. Rob Bell is supposedly a Universalist. MacArthur is a Fundamentalist. Joyce Meyer shouldn’t be in leadership… Blah, blah, blah. “That’s what’s wrong with the world today, not enough fundamentals!” Screams one. “The world needs less cold, inflexible, Christians unequipped to understand the heart of Jesus.” Screams the other. Is there really a place out there for the person who looks at all angles, or does that even exist in this day and age?
I paced around the place for a long time. Picking up books and putting them down, fully realizing the age old dilemma that has been around as long as the art form itself—you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, you have to read it to know what it’s really saying. Yet, with so many books out there, do we really have any other choice then to just jump in?
I wish I could tell you I swallowed my fears on the matter and bought something, anything, completely unconcerned about what anyone might think. But I didn’t. I walked out of the section, and away from the books. Sadly, I think that’s what a lot of non-believers do when they meet Christians for the first time, Christians who’ve become experts on brand loyalty, and idiots on just how confusing something as simple as picking up a book can be.