Thinking Out Loud

July 12, 2021

Spelling Counts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

Clarke Bunch at The Master’s Table posted this today. He found this plaque in the discount bin at Hobby Lobby, marked 70% off.

But should it be sold at all? And how many were produced?

During my two short stints helping the Canadian Bible Society get product out the door (because I had worked as warehouse manager at IVP) any Bible which had the least defect was placed in a room within the warehouse. These were occasionally taken home by staff and at least one staff member removed pages and mounted them as wall décor. You might argue that yes, Bibles should be in a different category.

But this one? At least it wasn’t someone’s tattoo.

It’s not the worst, though. That honor belongs to Abbey Press, for its “You have blessed the work of his hands” series of Father’s Day products, including a pair of work gloves we still have. The text is taken from Job 1:10

“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.”

Good verse for Dads? It’s actually the devil speaking. Christian bookstores all around North America selling products containing a verse the writer of Job says is unmistakably the words of Satan.

Abbey Press was contacted twice at the time, and did nothing to remove the product.



February 26, 2017

Requiem for Christian Bookstores Not Needed

fc-logoOn Friday we reported the impending closure of 240 Family Christian bookstores. If you missed that, you can read it here. I started my Saturday morning at Internet Monk, and was a little surprised by both the negative comments concerning this type of establishment, but also the great number of people bashing the stores compared to those saying they were sorry they were closing and that the store would be missed. Such as:

  • So Family JesusJunk Stores are closing. I feel for the employees, but I can’t say I’m disappointed otherwise. Those places were an abomination.

I’m not sure what you are expecting. Here: Take $100,000 and spend it on products that will be of interest to: Mainliners, Evangelicals and Charismatics; kids, teens, twenty-somethings, middle-agers and seniors; seekers, new believers and veterans; scholars, students, and blue-collar workers; people needing help with their marriage, parenting, addictions, finances, interpersonal relationships, prayer life, devotional life and bad habits; those wanting to learn more about missions, church history, denominational distinctions, and church leadership. To all this add some products which enhance Christian life for those who want to: fill their home with Christian music including hymns, chants, country, adult contemporary, modern worship, rock, rap, etc.; have a few inspirational quotes on their walls and tables including plaques, paintings and picture frames; offer their family a wholesome substitute for the movies they would otherwise watch; have some little gift or novelty that they can give to a child to remind them that God loves them.

Oh yes… and Bibles!

And this is an abomination? That’s rather strong language.

  • I already have more than enough Bibles, and I can’t think of a single other book they’d carry that I would want to read.

Seriously? There’s nothing there for you at all? Not one author who represents your brand of Christianity? Nothing you need for personal enrichment? You’ve got it all.

  • I am sorry for the employees losing their jobs in depressed places – but the closing of Family Values Propaganda Market is a good thing, IMO. Good riddance.

To the above we now add propaganda? By definition, this is material that a group writes about itself. There isn’t one book on the shelves is about Jesus? Maybe you simply (think you) know too much. You’ve been totally jaded and can’t see the good that is still be accomplished through those books.

Or…maybe you’ve never been in a country where nationals would give their eye teeth to get their hands on a commentary or Christian living title or even a praise CD.

  • Yeah, I am not sorry to see the Family Christian book stores close. So much “Jesus junk” made in China; candles with Bible verses, straws in the shape of the Jesus fish, sox that have some religious symbolism, and a few cheesy books but very little that is truly theological.

You focused on the non-book products, and when you did look at the books you wrote them all off with the term cheesy. Perhaps you don’t realize that the high-brow academic tomes you seek are sold in places like that by special order.

Oh, and by the way, if something is anti-theological, bookstore chains and independents vet their product very carefully, something you can’t say for the “Christian” section of Barnes and Noble.

  • The last couple of Bibles I bought for gifts, I got online just to avoid the bookstore.

The bookstore was more than a store. It was a meeting place for Christians and performed a large number of non-retail functions, including referrals to local churches and Christian counselors; as well as staff trained to help new believers connect with that first Bible and parents get the appropriate Bible for their kids, rather than buying one online and then finding it’s too young or too old for them. In 240 places, that will not happen anymore. Your disdain led to the demise of something which you judged as not necessary.

Sorry. That attitude does not emanate from someone who possesses the Spirit of God. A Christian wants to be with and encourage fellow Christians. A Christian wants to come alongside the people, places and ministries which God is using.

And God used those bookstores. You just don’t hear those stories as loudly as you hear from those who seem to be almost rejoicing at Family Christian’s demise; a behavior I would more expect — forgive me for this — from demons.

  • I haven’t set foot in a Christian bookstore in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

Again, a personal choice perhaps, but being flaunted like a badge of honor. I haven’t given to the Salvation Army in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t been to a Christian conference in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t listened to Christian radio stations in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

It’s just too easy to fill in that blank, but to what end? It’s not particularly righteous sounding is it? But it has enough of an air of spiritual arrogance and self-righteousness that someone might be impressed by it. For at least 60 seconds. And then it kind of hangs there and the speaker’s heart is laid bare.

So…want to know the real reasons Family Christian stores closed? It wasn’t the stores’ fault.

  1. The U.S. publishing establishment is caught in a “hardcover first edition” mentality which diminishes sales potential through high prices. When a “trade paperback conversion” happens a year later, the sales momentum is completely lost. As more and more Christian authors migrated from the traditional Christian publishers (Baker, Cook, Tyndale, etc.) to the big publishing houses (Hachette, Harper, S&S, etc.) where this mentality is more entrenched, average retail prices for new releases by the bestselling authors actually skyrocketed.
  2. The industry is founded on a “stack ’em high and watch ’em fly” mentality instead of a common sense, “just in time” distribution and delivery system. They send out “floor dumps” and “planograms” with an “if you build it they will come” confidence while failing to see to the organic nurture and cultivating of an author over time.
  3. The parent company never embraced the “order online; pick up instore” concept, even as record numbers of parcels were being stolen off front porches. Or the idea of “shop online, refine your purchase instore.”
  4. Christian publishers were too content to produce products for Christians, when in fact Christians were looking for things to give their non-Christian friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers.
  5. Individual FCS stores were caught in national marketing programs that necessitated purchasing of products nobody wanted or needed at the expense of things for which there was demonstrated local interest.
  6. There was no equivalent to the woman at the big box store handing out samples. First chapter excerpts of the latest Christian titles were simply too hard to come by online. Give people a taste of the author, let them understand his or her heart and intention, and perhaps they might have made the purchase.
  7. Chain stores and publishers have no consumer product panels and no working customer feedback mechanisms. There’s no suggestion box, no place for people to offer their opinions except for the angry rants when a chain shuts down. (As an insider, I can tell you that some of the major players in Christian publishing have nobody to whom store owners and managers can send an email suggestion. They know it all. They have all the answers. They create the products, the stores just sell them; a condescending relationship.)
  8. The industry lost credibility when authors and artists admitted moral failure and yet they continued to market and distribute their products.
  9. Ten years ago, publishers offered print on demand as kind of second life for slow-moving backlist titles and series, but then got seduced by the quicker, lower-cost solution they found in eBooks.
  10. Some pastors got too big for their britches. Once they started to see national success on a grand scale they stepped down from their churches and lost a big part of their platform overnight. I challenge you to show me a “former Pastor of …” who is better known now then they were then. (Okay, maybe the guy who teamed up briefly with Oprah.)

This is a crisis for American Christianity generally. Don’t blame the people at Family Christian. Yes, management mistakes were made; but many were doing the best they could with the materials they were given.

If the industry doesn’t shake itself awake, LifeWay and Parable are next. Hopefully, the requiem for the entire retail genre is still not needed.

November 1, 2015

Would You Buy This, or Hang it in Your Home?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

I Can Do All ThingsOn the one hand, I realize there is some humor at play in this 8 x 19″ wall sign that only Christians could get. I can imagine a person saying this in jest in a conversation.

But on the other hand, I think it really diminishes the scripture verse alluded to, perhaps even mocking it. Why pay $20 US to hang this on the wall, when you could just get a plaque that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” instead?

Furthermore, a quick check of this verse on Bible Gateway shows that not one English translation uses God in this particular part of the phrase. Was it changed from “Christ” to “God” so the creators could claim it does not allude to the Philippians passage? I don’t think so. Another one in the same product line says, “God made coffee and it was good;” clearly alluding to Genesis 1. 

More likely someone thought with “Christ” the product is even more offensive.

I also think the full product line in question — a total of four such pieces — is actually more telling; it is admitting that coffee has become the thing that many worship; or at least coffee shares worship with God. So much for the first commandment.

Has anyone thought through how this impacts a new believer walking through the Christian bookstore store gift department, or someone who has not yet crossed the line of faith?

So if you find this cute or funny, that’s fine; but I don’t want to know that any of you would actually purchase this item.

July 26, 2013

Table Grace

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 pm

Found this in the collection of P. Graham Dunn, a Christian gift decor company based in Ohio.  Sometimes things just strike you… even the simplest things. Click the image to access the website. Sometimes the blessing before a meal is the only time a family prays together.

Table Grace

January 15, 2013

Honoring The Sport of Theology

Theologian Trading Cards - Thomas Merton

Theologian Trading CardsBaseball players have them so it was only a matter of time. I love it that a company like Zondervan is able to indulge creative types and bring a wild and crazy idea from the conceptual stage to store shelves. An idea like a box containing 288 Theologian Trading Cards. (My wife, a little more skeptical, believes they are the result of someone getting drunk at a pastors’ conference.) The ‘author’ credit for this goes to Norman Jeune III who is the Lead Hospital Chaplain for a children’s hospital in Orange, California.

This is not an “everything you always wanted to know” product. You’ll get far more info at Wikipedia. And it’s not a deck — 14 or 15 decks actually (see footnote) — of “heroes of the faith.” A great biography doesn’t automatically merit inclusion, but rather a contribution to the various branches of theology.

This is an ideal product for a graduate or current student from a Master’s program at a school of divinity, seminary or Bible college; for anyone else who wants to satisfy their inner church history nerd, or for the pastor who has everything. I’m sure publishers at other companies looked at this and asked, “Whatever were they thinking?” Still, it stands to do better than Zondervan’s direct-to-remainder “Chunky” NIV Bible.

The decks represent different streams of thought, types of approach or in some cases, eras in theological history. From the Munich Monks and Athens Metaphysicians to the St. Pius Cardinals, Geneva Sovereigns and Constantinople Hesychasts one gets a good idea where different figures from ecclesiastical history fit either into the larger time line, or doctrinal groupings. (Did you click that link? See, you’re learning stuff already!)

For the serious student, these serve as a reminder. For the uninitiated, they serve to whet the appetite for reading classic authors. For the critic, your best bet is to consider who was and wasn’t included. For the doctrinally obsessed, you can carry your Ulrich Zwingli card in your wallet or purse. For the person in your house who refuses to read an actual book, this just might work!

The problem will be finding someone else to ‘trade’ with.

A review copy of the package was sent to me from Zondervan and HarperCollins. Full disclosure: For whatever reason, I ended up receiving two copies of this. Each one was missing one of the decks, but I combined them to make up a single complete set. One also contained a duplicate of one of the decks. What is now my ‘lesser’ set was also sent minus N. T. Wright and Karl Barth and one other theologian who doesn’t come to mind right now.The box retails for $26.99 and you should make sure you have 15 different decks before you leave the store.

Cards are not shown actual size.

Theologian Trading Cards - D L Moody

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