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 23, 2018

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: The Survivors Speak Out

So again, when I posted a piece on Tuesday about the upcoming documentary film based on the variety of experiences of readers of  I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I had no idea that the film was actually going live online in a matter of minutes. I quickly signed up to watch I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and here we are just a few days later returning to the topic.

What I wrote on Tuesday was about the notion that even though an author changes his or her mind on a previously written book; it doesn’t guarantee that readers will want to travel on that same journey. The line, “I think he’s wrong now;” has, honestly speaking, haunted me all week, and I’ve found myself seeing that person differently all week.

Joshua Harris’ wife: “It was a good book; well, I don’t know if I can say it was good book; it was a well-intentioned book.”

Harris talks about being thrust into the spotlight, and into the pastorate, at a very young age. But at the same time, he got married about a year after the book’s printing, and at a personal level, had moved beyond the tension implicit in being single. For the record, he didn’t kiss his wife before the wedding. The doubts about the book came much later.

Harris: “For a long time I was afraid to re-examine the book I’m best known for.”

I originally thought the book and this subsequent documentary was going to focus on the challenges of adopting the courtship model as opposed to the dating model. But really, much of the documentary is focused on the Purity Movement with programs like True Love Waits.

Christine Gardner: “What I found fascinating was the Evangelical church using sex to sell abstinence.

The film contains many Skype interviews with readers from around the world reflecting how the book helped or hurt them.

Harris: “A desire to make a message as effective as possible could actually mislead people.”

One thing that Joshua Harris notes is the importance that was placed on the book at the time, and the potential influence it would have if the book was given to you by a parent or a pastor. In those situations, there was less likelihood of being able to challenge the premise of the book.

The book also created a number of “weird” situations in churches and communities which were considered normal, and thereby caused any other type of situation to be considered abnormal.

Harris: “In trying to fix the problems of dating with the model of courtship, we created a new set of problems.”

Thomas Umstattd Jr. (to Harris): “The reality is the marriage rate in the church has dropped significantly… We’re just not getting married as a generation… You were not the only person writing on this topic; you weren’t the only person writing popular books on this topic.  I think what happened is, you had the best title.”

Umstattd sees the formulaic approach of the courtship model as being no different than the prosperity gospel.

Activist Elizabeth Esther: “It was held up as, ‘This is the gold standard by which you should live your life.’ It was kind of a money-back guarantee. If you do it this way you will have a marriage that is happy and fulfilling and have mind-blowing sex for the rest of your life…”

Joshua Harris then embarks on a study of how things work now, in the world of dating apps and hookup culture.

Harris: “Neither the strict rules of courtship, or the rejection of rules in Tinder meet the deepest longings of the human heart. Both of these extremes seem to share an exalted view of the role sex should play in our lives.”

Even though it’s a documentary, I run the risk of filling this page with spoilers. (I’d love to see a published transcript.) I wouldn’t want anyone who is interested in this to miss out on watching because I summarized too much here. I’ve hit some highlights from the first 45 minutes of the 75-minute film.

There is archival interview footage interspersed from the Canadian 100 Huntley Street television show. In the last half, Harris goes on to interview author Dale Kuehne, author Debra Hirsch, author Debra Fileta, and author Dannah Gresh. The latter surprised me — I’m familiar with her books — insofar as the great kinship she has with Harris in terms of also re-examining the purity emphasis of her writing and seminars.

Gresh: “We use the word purity as a synonym for virginity. It’s not. Not in the scriptures. I work with girls all the time who are virgins, but they’re very impure.”

The book definitely put a large number of young people into some very awkward situations because of the expectations it raised. As the film asks, what if your views on sex and relationships at the time you were 21 were used to shape an entire generation of Christian kids? Millions of kids? I can’t imagine being thrust into that role.

I’d probably rethink some of it when I was older and had more life experience. And more wisdom. 

Harris: “Coming to a place of seeing dating as healthy was a big step.”


• Your journey to buying the DVD or watching the film for free begins at this website. You’ll be emailed a code which will allow you to view the documentary.

I never discussed the movie production itself. The cinematography, the sound, lighting, scripting, pacing etc. are all first-rate. Producer/Director Jessica Van der Wyngaard is to be congratulated on an excellent project.

November 22, 2018

Christian Authors Who Go By Initials Only

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

Hint

“I’m not mentioning any names but their initials are…”

You’ve heard that before, I’m sure. So here are some of Christian publishing’s bestselling authors, people who go by two initials followed by a last name.

You have two assignments:

  • What is the missing surname?
  • What do the initials stand for?

Gather the family together and let’s play!

1.  C. S. __________

2.  A. W. __________

3.  A. B. __________

4.  R. T. __________

5.  R. C. __________

6.  J. I. __________

7.  N. T. __________

8.  D. A. __________

9.  G. K. __________

10.  E. M. __________

Bonus author:

J. R. R. __________

(Don’t forget the second part of the challenge: What do the initials stand for? Answers in the comment section in a couple of hours.)

November 20, 2018

When a Christian Author Has a Change in Thinking

For over 20 years, I’ve spent a minimum of two days per week in a Christian bookstore which my wife and I own. We’ve seen books come and go for reasons other than the normal life cycle of publishing. We’ve heard of authors having affairs. We’ve learned of writers who have adopted a position on an issue which makes their publishing contract untenable with their publisher. We’ve seen testimony and biography books where it was revealed the story would have been suited to the fiction section.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris is unique. The author asked for the books — there are at least three related titles that I’m aware of — to be withdrawn when the current inventory is exhausted. He feels that the book is not a helpful or healthy approach to boy/girl relationships before marriage and has worked with a documentary filmmaker to give voice to the readers who found taking his approach harmful and counterproductive. That documentary releases online today!

This does not for a moment change the minds of some people. There will be pockets of mostly conservative people throughout North America — the book’s primary audience — who will continue to follow a courtship model for their sons and daughters, which is often associated with the idea of early (young) marriage.

But it’s different when you discover you know one of them.

A longtime friend asked me to order two copies of Harris’ book for him. I know this person well, and while he’s not exactly an ultra conservative, he does take a traditional stand on some things. I asked if he was serious. I thought maybe it was a bit of a joke, or a test to see if I was aware of recent events. I explained that the author had withdrawn the book, though copies are still floating around.

He replied, “I think he’s wrong now.”

Didn’t see that coming, though in hindsight it’s not unthinkable. I just wonder what Joshua Harris would say to that? The idea that he had it right and has now been sucked into some liberal vortex.

In the end, I think both Harris and my friends need to follow their hearts, though it concerns me that some people felt it took their lives in a direction where they waited for their Prince(ss) Charming to come along and then he/she never showed up. It took away the opportunity to be proactive.

But are Millennials proactive? Many have cocooned into an online world where dating apps offer their only hope of making that opposite-sex connection. Should Helicopter Mom and Helicopter Dad be stepping into the situation setting up a courtship scenario with the future in-laws? 

On the other hand, some of the kids my friend works with are not from Christian families. There is value in the group activity situations which avoid the pressure of 1:1 evenings, but it is these very activities that Millennials seem to find uninteresting. To his credit, my friend works in trying to create environments which can involve these very kids, but once they attend, they need to know that it might be on them to take the initiative to connect with that person across the room.

Also, Joshua Harris didn’t know any Millennials when he wrote the book 15 years ago, in 2003. (He was in fact home-schooled and admits to not knowing much outside that milieu.) Some would argue that we need his model more now than ever. But some of the people who were the book’s collateral damage interviewed in the documentary would say we need less of that school of thought.


More info at I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye

October 6, 2018

Bestselling Christian Books (at Least Where I Live)

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:38 pm

It’s much later in the day and we didn’t have a blog post today. So I thought I’d post this newly-released chart from the local Christian bookstore! Feel free to express your opinions on any of them; that’s what the internet is for, right?

August 17, 2018

Christian Publisher’s Book Riding High on Mainstream Charts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:05 pm

This article appeared earlier in the week at Christian Book Shop Talk

When my Saturday edition of The Toronto Star arrives, I always make a point of checking their bestseller lists, not because I’m necessarily familiar with (or even interested) in the books named there, but because I’m a book guy who has a nerd-like interest to see how the major publishing houses are faring.

This time around, a Thomas Nelson title, released in February caught my eye. The book is Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis which was #3 on the Self-Help list for Canadian sales. I knew the book had been doing well, but I was surprised to see it on a list for that country.

At Publisher’s Weekly, it was listed a few days ago as:

  • #2 overall
  • #1 for religious non-fiction
  • #2 for hardcover non-fiction

On The New York Times lists, it is

  • #1 for advice/how-to/miscellaneous (where The Five Love Languages is #6 in its 254th week on the list; and Everybody Always by Bob Goff is #8)

Here’s some of the publisher description:

Do you ever suspect that everyone else has life figured out and you don’t have a clue? If so, Rachel Hollis has something to tell you: that’s a lie.

As the founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Rachel Hollis developed an immense online community by sharing tips for better living while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own life. Now, in this challenging and inspiring new book, Rachel exposes the twenty lies and misconceptions that too often hold us back from living joyfully and productively, lies we’ve told ourselves so often we don’t even hear them anymore.

With painful honesty and fearless humor, Rachel unpacks and examines the falsehoods that once left her feeling overwhelmed and unworthy, and reveals the specific practical strategies that helped her move past them. In the process, she encourages, entertains, and even kicks a little butt, all to convince you to do whatever it takes to get real and become the joyous, confident woman you were meant to be.

With unflinching faith and rock-hard tenacity, Girl, Wash Your Face shows you how to live with passion and hustle–and how to give yourself grace without giving up.

About the author:

Lifestyle expert Rachel Hollis is the founder of the popular website TheChicSite.com and is the CEO of Chic Media. She is a regular contributor for HuffPost and PopSugar, and she has appeared on Today, Rachael, The Talk, Extra, and many other programs. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and four children.

A review at CBD answered one of my main questions about the book:

…While not scripturally based, Girl, Wash Your Face tackles the lies that hold us back from physical, mental, and spiritual health. The principles that Rachel Hollis uncovers point the reader to a better understanding of who we are created in Christ. Furthermore, she writes in a very down to earth style, making her quite relatable. This book stands out in the Christian world for the author’s willingness to write on hard topics and not hold back in some brutal truths…


9781400201655 | Released 2018-02-06 | 240 pages | $22.99 US

August 16, 2018

Differentiating The NIV Zondervan Study Bible from the other NIV Study Bible

I wouldn’t normally expect to repeat a book review, but this is an important product, and one having a name which, three years later, leaves people very confused. I was sent a beautiful bonded leather edition, but it was regular size print and with all the helpful notes and other materials it had to offer, I really wanted the larger print, so I traded it for the Large Print in hardcover. You can decided if that was wise, given that the first one was leather.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible open

Opening the pages of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, it occurred to me that in another era, this was the type of product that a family would order by mail, wait weeks for, and upon its arrival the family would gather around the dining room table to check out the different features. It deserves a party!

This is very much an encyclopedic Bible taking the existing NIV Study Bible — which will continue to remain in print — and combining it with ideas such as the supplementary articles seen in the ESV Study Bible and the use of charts seen in the Life Application Study Bible, and the use of full color, in-text pictures first used in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible (the latter being now officially out of print.)

As you would expect, there are detailed introductions for each book, but also to each section of Biblical literature. However, the bulk of the supplementary articles are placed at the back, and these are topical but also tied to elements of systematic theology, though I’ve noticed the publisher prefers the term Biblical theology. There are many maps at the back; I also noted a full-page map embedded in the middle as well. A variety of scholars contributed to the project which was headed by D. A. Carson. The print version also includes a free digital download.

At 2880 pages this is a Bible packed with features. As such, I wish the font chosen for the notes was a little clearer, but I might upgrade to the large print edition. This may not be your take-to-church Bible edition, but it offers some great helps for both the new Christian who wants background information, and the veteran Christ follower.

Below is the original article posted here in anticipation of this significant Bible release…


NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Opinions here are those of the author; this is not a sponsored post.

While the title may confuse some, you have to assume the publishers already sorted out that potential confusion and went ahead with the name anyway. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is certain to get mixed up with the classic NIV Study Bible which has been with us for several decades. The latter isn’t going anywhere.

At a major online Christian retail site, we read:

The NIV Study Bible will remain in print. With over 10 million copies sold over 30 years, this bestselling study Bible will continue to help readers come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

And then it offers this chart which outlines the differences:

NIV Study Bibles compared

Looking closely at the author list above, methinks that that Zondervan is going after the same market as purchased the popular ESV Study Bible. Clearly, to some extent, the Reformed community is in view. However, by virtue of its weight, the ESV product attracted a broader audience containing features which had not heretofore seen in study Bibles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the ESV Study did contain elements worth emulating.

Zondervan is quick to point out that this new project was not adapted from the present study edition, but was “built from the ground up.”

Bonus: For those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a look at some of the extras in this Bible below which is a clue to where the advance peek treasure is buried:

NIV Zondervan Study Bible ArticlesClick the image above, and then click the “preview” tab to see the full table of contents and many of the introductory articles.

July 9, 2018

How Can You Publish and Sell a Bible You Don’t Respect?

Gift and Award Bibles, regardless of translation, have one thing in common: They’re cheaply produced (and they look it.) Fortunately, there are better options.

Thankfully, one of the elements of the Bible publishing industry that seems, from my vantage point at least, to be fading is what is called “Gift and Award Bibles.” Most of the translations on the market have a contract with a publisher to produce these combined Old-and-New Testaments which, like the name implies, are usually given out by churches to visitors or awarded to Sunday School children as prizes.

These Bibles have one factor which unites them all: They’re cheap.

And while a child of 5 or 6 may be honored to receive one, for anyone else, closer examination proves how cheaply they are made. Here’s the way it works:

  1. Newsprint is the cheapest paper available
  2. Newsprint is thicker, meaning the Bible would be “fat” if printed normally
  3. Type-size is therefore reduced to some infinitesimal font size.

So basically, we’re talking about a hard to read Bible printed on cheap paper which fades after a few years.

To be fair, a few companies have tried a better paper stock, but this only resulted in the price going up, defeating their purpose.

I have two observations about these Bibles:

  1. I think that in some respect, these are Bibles churches give away to people that they’re not always sure they’re ever going to see again.
  2. I think that, at least in how it appears in 2018, this genre was developed by people who had little respect for the Bible to begin with.

The only way to avoid giving these away without breaking the church budget was to use pew Bibles (produced in mass quantities and therefore still quite affordable) as giveaway hardcover/textbook editions. But for some reason, people like the appearance of leather when choosing a Bible for giveaway. Also, if your church uses the same Bible edition in the pews, the “gift” can look like you just went into the sanctuary/auditorium and grabbed something off the rack to give away.

The good news is that many churches can afford to do better, and many publishers are now making this possible.

♦ The NLT Bible (Tyndale) introduced some “Premium Value Slimline” editions several years back including both regular print and large print, retailing at $15.99 and $20.99 respectively. (All prices USD.)

♦ Then the NIV (Zondervan) entered the race with their “Value Thinline” editions, again in two sizes at $14.99 and $19.99, with five different covers.

♦ Next, The Message (NavPress) created three “Deluxe Gift” editions in regular print at $15.99.

♦ Then, back to NIV for a minute, Zondervan upped the game by discontinuing their existing editions and replacing them with new ones using their new, much-easier-to-read Comfort Print font. Pricing stayed the same. 

♦ Because of their expertise and success with the NIV product, HarperCollins Christian Publishing recently introduced the similar editions in NKJV, using the same Comfort Print font.

♦ Finally, I noticed this week that ESV (Crossway) is also in the game, with “Value Thinline” and “Value Compact” editions.

In all of these there is a much better paper stock and therefore a much more readable font. They look like something the church isn’t ashamed to give away, and the recipient is proud to own.

Further, for customers on a budget, there’s nothing stopping these from being purchased individually and becoming someone’s primary Bible.

 

May 18, 2018

A Random Chart of Bestselling Christian Books

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:29 am

This list doesn’t purport to reflect national trends in either Canada or the United States. It’s simply a list that I’ve compiled for many years for the local Christian bookstore where I live. That’s why, in the larger scheme of things, I call it random. It’s highly subject to customer purchasing in one small(er) town, where the data set is small enough that it only takes a few customers to get excited about certain titles to skew the results (though allowances are made).

It also doesn’t apply recommendation. Sometime soon, I need to do a chart of the books I would recommend, the ones which appear on my bookshelf at home which are so very different from the purchasing I do for the store. The list below also includes Christian fiction, for which I have very little personal exposure. There are kids books listed as well.

I’ve sized this so that it will be visible if you’re using a phone, rather than a tablet or PC.

 

April 17, 2018

Needing a Large Print Bible Involves More Than Type Size

 

In terms of value for price, this NIV Compact Giant Print often wins people over who thought they were shopping for large print. It’s one of my favorite text-only NIV Bibles on the market. Click the picture to learn more.

She hated to admit it, but it was time to move up to a larger print Bible. She thought that meant simply getting a bigger font size, but the first few Bibles she looked at weren’t working for her. The problem is, to have better readability there are five factors or characteristics of the Bible that need to line up. A larger font size can easily be defeated by not having the others in place. 

With an aging population, people are living well into their sight-affected years. Larger print is necessary for many people. Can’t read this blog post? Hit Ctrl-+ on your computer (or the Mac equivalent) or enlarge the page on your phone. With print books, there’s no Ctrl-+ or pinching your fingers. It’s important to get the readability needed.

There’s no industry standard for large print anyway. Buying a Bible online becomes very difficult at this stage because descriptions might say, “Font size 9.5” but as you’ll see below that means almost nothing when other factors are introduced.

If  you know someone who is going to be needing a Bible upgrade soon, make sure they read this.

Bible magnifying - large printFive Readability Factors for Bibles

Font Size – For my money, “large” should be at least 10.0 point and “giant” should be at least 12.0 point; but the key phrase here is “at least.” Ideally, I’d like to see “large” at about 11.5 and “giant” at about 14.0.”  Also, generally speaking large print books are much more generous in font size — as well as the other four factors listed below — than large print Bibles. Some readers who have purchased large print books before question the application of the term when it’s applied to Bibles. If you’re in a store and they have a font size guide posted, that gives you the language to express what you’re looking for, but don’t go by online guides, as they are sized at the whim of your monitor settings.

Typeface – This consideration is the basis of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson’s move — started last year and continuing throughout 2018 — to “Comfort Print”* on all their Bible editions. Some typefaces are simply fatter than others. Personally, I like a sans serif font (think Arial/Helvetica) such as Zondervan was using on its Textbook Bibles. But others like the look of a serif font (think Times New Roman) instead. But Comfort Print is a great innovation and I find when it’s available that people who think they need large print don’t, and other who think they might need giant print (with other publishers) can work with Comfort Print’s large print. You can think of this in terms of the difference between regular and bold face.

Leading – This one is actually quite important, and we’ll leave the definition to Wikipedia: “In typography, leading (/ˈlɛdɪŋ/ LED-ing) refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type. The term originated in the days of hand-typesetting, when thin strips of lead were inserted into the forms to increase the vertical distance between lines of type.” One Bible publisher which I won’t name is notorious for using a large font but then crowding their lines of type together. The issue here is white space. If you look at the Wisdom Books of the Bible (which are typeset as poetry with more white space and wider margins) and compare to the History Books or Gospels (which are typeset as prose, both right-justified and left-justified) you see the advantage created by white space.

Inking – Some Bibles are not generously inked. There are sometimes also inconsistencies between different printings of the same Bible edition, and even inconsistencies between page sections of a single Bible. Text should be dark enough to offer high contrast to the white paper. Furthermore, some older adults have eye problems which make reading red-letter editions difficult. If that’s the case — and you don’t always know ahead of time — use a page from the Gospels as a sample.

Bleed Through – On the other hand, you don’t want to see type from the previous or following page. Bible paper is usually thin paper, which means the potential for bleed-through is huge. On the other hand, holding Bibles up to the light isn’t a fair test. Rather, the place where you check out the Bible should be well-lit and then pages should be examined in the same context you would read them at home. It is possible that an individual simply needs a better quality reading lamp.


*There’s a trade-oriented article about the announcement re. Comfort Print in this September, 2017 article.

 

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