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Churchianity and Book Sales

Why compromise costs in the long run

by Jim Fletcher

With attendance down significantly at the Christian Booksellers’ Association trade show last week, I want to examine some reasons for the decline in Christian retail – without focusing on the much bemoaned economy.

Discussing the real reasons for that decline, however, can’t be done in polite company.

The production and sale of Christian books assumes that the publishers, trade organizations and sales channels pull in the same direction philosophically. That would mean, of course, that fundamentally, a person working in the Christian book industry would embrace the teachings of the Bible. The Christian Booksellers Association operated on this philosophy for many years.

In the 1990s, however, there was a shift in philosophy. Publishers, stores and distributors began to realize the vast potential for making money. As time went on, to appeal to the broadest possible audience, works began to creep in that were decidedly not aligned with the Bible.

I remember years ago walking onto the floor of a CBA convention and seeing Health Communications’ booth. They were rolling out the first of the wildly successful “Chicken Soup” books. In the first volume, I remember reading an essay that discussed the “Golden Buddha” inside us.

I don’t have a Golden Buddha inside me, and neither do orthodox Christians.

So I wrote to a CBA representative, saying basically, “Hey, you’ll never guess who I saw at CBA. You are probably not aware of this.”

They were aware of it. The representative sent me a letter, then his lawyer sent me a letter. Both explained they had to allow Health Communications to display.

In the intervening years, I have become aware that these venues will allow almost anyone in, so long as they have hot books that sell. As big-box retailers continue to squeeze, python-like, smaller independent and Christian chain stores, those smaller outlets in many cases will stock the same product everyone else stocks. They compromise to survive financially.

That’s why you see “The Shack” in virtually every Christian store, even though many ministries and individuals have objections to author Paul Young’s worldview. I won’t detail those issues – today – but under this open-tent policy, elements that reject historical Christianity have not only infiltrated communities like CBA, but have in fact become mainstream.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that no one in CBA “vets” authors. Everyone is allowed in. This has broad ramifications for the industry, chiefly death to the industry as it was originally intended. It will continue to exist, but in a more secular form, as more and more New York publishers gobble up once-orthodox publishers and turn them into, well, HarperOne.

I care little that many will think I’m crazy or meanspirited. The fact is, when the purity of the message is compromised, death is the end result.

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