Thinking Out Loud

January 8, 2015

They Like Her, But Why?

Last week we looked at the issues raised by the group calling itself #the15 in reference to the books that get sold in Christian bookstores and their online equivalents. I want to focus on one in particular today.

Google the phrases “Joyce Meyer” and “false teacher” and you’ll probably get, as I did, over 91,000 results. That’s a lot of discontented people posting an opinion online. Many of these people would hard to please. I always thought that if I could ask the head of one particular watchdog organization who he really likes, he’d probably say, “I really like my pastor, but he gets it wrong a few times a year, too.”

Still, as someone who spends several hours a week in Christian retail, I do try to take these comments to heart and re-examine the products we carry. Even if many of the 91,000 web pages represent those who make it their business to put every word spoken or written by every Christian under the microscope to find fault, some of those criticisms have merit when the author’s opinions or interpretations are examined in the light of scripture.

So of course, I took particular note when one of the first phone calls of the year was an inquiry if the store carried Joyce Meyer. There are thousands of authors in the store, but this person’s judgement of whether it was worth a first-time visit to our store would be made or broken by the carrying of this one author. Interesting.

Joyce MeyerI got to thinking even as the conversation continued:

They really like her.

Followed by:

They really like her, but why?

Leading to:

They really like her, but why her?

Ms. Meyer is probably the top-selling non-fiction female author in most Christian book shops. Current runners-up would include Beth Moore, Lysa TerKeurst, Ann Voskamp, Stormie Omartian, Stasi Eldredge, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Sheila Walsh and Elizabeth George. For each of those, there are dozens of other women aspiring to be part of that elite Top Ten list. Despite the advances they may feel they have made in The Church over the last few decades, women have always played key roles in the history of Christian publishing.

So the cream always rises to the top, right?

Well, no. Christian book critics frequently note doctrinal concerns in the writings of some bestselling authors, many of whom also happen to have a Charismatic bent. (I’m referring to the denomination here, as in ‘Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics.’) So over the years we’ve seen Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes and Joel Osteen under fire, and yes, rightly so. Osteen simply can’t hold his own in television interviews when the doctrinal questions are more than an inch deep. Conservative Baptists and Calvinists bring all of this down to a lack of academics, a lack of scholarship, or more simply put, a lack of study. And here there many times I might have to concede to them.

Joyce Meyer is undoubtedly the leading woman author in the Charismatic camp, but her appeal is even broader Hinn, Jakes or even Osteen. There are Presbyterian women who watch her. There are Baptist women who purchase her books. Heck, there are even some Reformed women who listen to her online.

So 91,000 internet pages of doctrinal concerns notwithstanding — and do, as I did, take some time read a few — she continues to outsell the other members of the Top Ten. They like her; they really, really like her.

In 2002, Hachette Book Group paid Meyer  more than $10,000,000 US for her backlist catalog of what had been formerly independent books. (See a recent article in Publisher’s Weekly.) They have no doubt experienced a significant return on that investment.

What would it take for someone to reach her sales pinnacle, and yet still be able to satisfy the critics? Of the women in our Top Ten list, two others, Voskamp and Moore are constantly under fire online as well. My feelings on this are similar to my feelings about Christian television: It’s a certain type of person who wants to be on television. That’s why we see the programs we see.

And maybe it’s no different in the world of publishing. Perhaps we get the books and TV we deserve. I don’t know. And I’m not sure how some Christian bookstores would survive without some of these controversial people.

As I wrote a few days ago, in my piece on Christian television, there are certain voices we seem to simply never get to hear from. I really wish we did, and I wish those mainstream Evangelical voices would rise to the top.

Update: I just want to reiterate here that popularity is no measure of orthodoxy. Sometimes the opposite is true. I’m just taking what is for others a criticism and turning into more of a lament; wishing that those who command a top position on the charts were more decidedly mainstream in their doctrines. This is also true of male authors, it is by no means limited to women.


Feelings about Joyce Meyer run strong, as I found out when I wrote this article many years ago. Please limit comments to why you feel Joyce resonates with so many readers and TV viewers.

 

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