Thinking Out Loud

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

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November 25, 2017

When Christians Presume Upon Your Good Nature

The article which appeared here on the weekend is currently being suspended as the story has taken an unexpected turn which is hopefully leading to resolution.  I don’t usually pull back stories — if it happened, it happened — but in the spirit I sensed coming through several emails this morning from two different people,  I don’t wish to leave negative publicity online. The party concerned did not request this; I’m doing this of my own accord.

November 4, 2013

Truth in Advertising

On Wednesday last week, Dee and Deb at the investigative blog, The Wartburg Watch, uncovered an August blog post by Todd Wilhelm who lives in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, titled Truth in Advertising.  It seems that back in the summer, American author and pastor David Platt flew to Dubai to record a four-hour seminar for simulcast in the U.S. similar to his “Secret Church” events which have been so successful.

David Platt

David Platt

I became a fan of David Platt after reading and reviewing his book Radical, and have followed his blog and sermon podcasts from The Church at Brook Hills ever since. But a switch from Multnomah to Tyndale Publishing prevented me from reading his sophomore title, Follow Me. After a week of craziness involving MacArthur, MacDonald, Jenkins and Driscoll; I really need some authors I can believe in and fully endorse. But alas, the article by Wilhelm undermines my confidence.

As an indigenous resident of UAE, Todd Wilhelm has an inside track that allows him to see the marketing of the simulcast a little differently.

  • First, it wasn’t a true simulcast.
  • Second, it wasn’t filmed in a “secret location,” but at the Marriott.
  • Third, Wilhelm thinks the location was drummed up to give the event more ‘intrigue.’

On the latter point, he writes:

It may create a buzz amongst American Christians to think that David Platt is risking his life by taping a program in Dubai to be shown at a later time, but let’s call it what it is – a cheap publicity stunt that plays fast and loose with the truth in an attempt to boost book sales.  It cheapens Christianity and makes a mockery of those who are actually facing persecution for their faith.  David Platt should be ashamed of himself.  He faced no danger flying into Dubai to tape his message at the Marriott Hotel.  I, as a Christian in Dubai, face no danger to my life.  I am fortunate to be able to live in a Muslim country that allows me such freedom – thank God for that.

and again,

Lastly, they claim this “undisclosed location” was one “where proclaiming Jesus could mean literally losing your life.”  I am happy to say no one involved in David Platt’s presentation in Dubai on the evening of August 14th lost their life, nor was there ever any danger of doing so because of “proclaiming Jesus.”

and,

All this to say that, in my opinion, David Platt and LifeWay Christian Resources are attempting to boost sales of Platt’s most recent book and accompanying study manuals by creating an aura of cutting-edge excitement based on number of things which just are not true.

It’s good to know that everyone made it out of the Marriott alive, and hopefully before the pool closed.

I read a story like this and immediately, my go-to response is that Platt has more integrity than to be mixed up in all this. I blame the Baptist cash cow called LifeWay for this.  But my opinion of Lifeway has never been very high.

You can go back to the first paragraph for the links on this one… I’ll end this where Todd Wilhelm wisely began:

“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:17)

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