This is the continuation to a series of articles on Christian media. If you would like to start at the beginning, you can, otherwise you can read this article by itself.
I feel like there is very little the Christian genre of Books offers. The diversity is thin and the air musty. It’s a jungle of intellectual property that you can cut through in a single swing. This bit is a little more satirical than academic, but allow me to help you navigate through the wilderness of the North American Christian Book store.
Let’s start with Fiction. There is three kinds devoted for three age groups. At the youngest level there is the corner that houses the Kids Section. This is by far the greatest part of the store. I still walk in today and make a beeline to see what they have going on there, ignoring everything else because of their inferior value.
The Kids section has your basic spread of Veggie-tales pop-ups for toddlers, Adventures in Odyssey novels for your 10 year old’s, and some weird Fantasy series for your Teens. Each does a great job addressing how blatant or subtle they are trying to be with the message they are espousing. They know their audience, and they do a good job of tailoring to that. Except for the Teen’s fiction.
This is not indicative of just the Christian Teen Fiction exclusively. Walk into any book store’s teen section and you will see a distinct gap between the well-written, and the not-so-well-written. The difficulty is that the Christian genre of books is already small enough that this distinction of Good books and Bad books is hard-pressed because there are two series of Good books, and 5 series of Bad books, and that’s it! No other series! So If you are a teenager who enjoys reading, you will probably never pick up a piece of Teen Christian Fiction simply because good ones are so difficult to track down.
The next type of Fiction you will encounter is the Romance Novels. These are nothing more than 50 Shades of Grey, except more poorly written, and with long, pronounced scenes of hard-core abstinence. The big one’s are the forbidden Amish love novels, The Mennonite rendezvous, and The poorly written romantically obsessed version of Little House on the Prairie. It’s as if the sexiest thing in Christian circles must be bonnets according to these books. On the odd section though, there is occasionally the dramatic re-telling of some steamy encounter in the Bible, set in some other sexually thirsting era, with surprisingly decent writing. Buy the latter, not the former.
Next, would be the Trying-real-hard-to-be-allegorical section. This is spearheaded by their pack leader, Max Lucado, who does a decent job of writing, but then everyone wants to do the same. Its a shelf chalk-full of sub-par parables and messed-up metaphors, all of which go out of the way to explain themselves like a bad joke that everyone missed the first time it was told, and then no one cared even more once it was explained. Pilgrim’s Progress is the Best that you’ll get here.
Let us not forget the dark part of the forest: our chronically weird section. Home to pretty much three authors, all of whom are creative, but a little off their rocker: Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Bill Myers. These guys give me the creeps. Which is good! In a way. If you came for crazy ideas, these are your bread and butter. Ted Dekker’s writing in his Circle series made me actually dislike the Jesus-character. When they killed him, I thought to myself, “good”. Of course, once I figured out that he was supposed to represent Jesus, I had some good introspection. These authors actually deal with dark, dark material. Half of what they write is straight up Horror while the other half is a strange mixture of the uncanny.
The last fiction section is actually a weird mix. This is the shelves reserved for non-fiction stories that are indistinguishable from the fictional tales also set in our reality. They are written in the same fashion, exactly like historical fiction, so you really can’t tell the difference if this Missionary in China really encountered a shining angel who told them to go to the Philippines or not. Unless you were told otherwise, these books could be as much fictional memoirs as much as someone’s actual diary.
So let’s step out of the mire of Fiction, and into the cold tundra of Non-fiction shall we?
Let us begin with the Devotional. These are row on rows of shelves. The thickest of these books being Church/Group wide devotional programs on every subject imaginable at a Christian Book store: so Money, Marriage, and Pretending to be a missionary without leaving your country basically. There are a few leadership ones, with the occasional study of a biblical character, but those are so much fewer than the big three.
There are also the individual devotionals which are made for every type of human under the sun. I would know these very well, as I have been given some very specific ones before. My favorite was for males who are going off to a bible college, like sports, and are deep, theologically speaking. I have also seen the one for girls who are already in college, but are new to Christianity, attend an all-girls school, and enjoy hunting. Hint: it’s the pink one, with purple writing, and camouflage print in all the blank spaces.
There are also those that are essentially commentaries for small sections of the Bible. You get up and read your daily New Testament Verse, your Old Testament Verse, and what R.C. Sproul thought about his breakfast in relation to the glory of God in light of these two biblical passages.
Right next to these are the self-help books. Its everything you would get in any other self-help book, but with Bible verses to justify it being in a Christian book store. Next to that is the one book that got placed accidentally because it happened to have a cross on its cover, and the books that are on display only because an already famous Christian author wrote them. You know the kind: A cook book by the Duck Dynasty wives that has a single verse in the front that makes it “Christian”.
Eventually you do run into the academic section. There will be no one dangerous here. It’s mostly Andy Stanley and other famous Pastors, none of which are mistaken as academics by the Academic world of Christians. Occasionally you will find a something really deep by someone like N.T. Wright, but at best you are going to settle for a decent Commentary on the Gospels, and a Hebrew Word Study.
The best part of the academic section was pointed out to me by my roommate though. Its the equivalent to a get-rich-quick scheme, but for getting saved. You would think that this was limited to Televangelists, but I assure you, it’s an entire shelf of how you can get to Heaven before everyone else. The second part of these wonderfully obtuse readings are the How-do-I-justify-my-heresy books. These are beacons of light that present a classic heresy of olden times that everyone forgot about, and then repackage it for modern audiences. I can look at the cover and if I see a smiling face of the author, I know to pick up that one for a good laugh.
Finally there is the Gender roles sections. I’ll give you a little tip for finding them: The ones about sports and finances are right next to the sections about what it takes to be a White, Republican, Man in North America, and the women’s section is right next to the cookbooks and parenting tools. Across from that is the Married and Singles section, which has nothing but the cheesiest marriage tip equivalents of pick-up lines, and a single book called “Abstinent and Waiting for Jesus”. I was surprised that was even a book for single people.
Also, There is like 10 versions of the Bible. There’s the serious ones, that get even more serious with commentary, and the more accessible ones that essentially are someone’s opinion on the what the Bible was saying. It’s your NASV vs. The Message. All of these come in wonderful assortments of duo-tone leather and in a variety of colors. Enjoy.
P.S.- Like the Picture? I was at a Christian book store and I couldn’t resist.
P.P.S.- Support good books. Read someone dangerous that you might disagree with. Read something that will stretch you as a person. Don’t settle for mediocre. Next article here.