Mike Cope's blog

Friday, May 21, 2004

Bookstores. Am I the only one who gets weirded out by walking into most Christian bookstores? It's a subculture I hardly understand. The one that I have to go to occasionally here is part Republican Party headquarters (with books about Oliver North and Dan Quayle and a lifesize poster of President Bush), part NRA promotional center, part distributor of mostly lame music, and part indoor garage sale for religious kitsch. The books? They never have anything I want. (Of course I don't go looking for one of the thousand copies of "Left Behind" series books.) No one seems to know who Luke Timothy Johnson is; nor have they heard of Walter Brueggemann. But if you want your choice of a dozen books talking about how evil Harry Potter is, you've found your mecca. But, when I enter a Barnes and Noble, it's a very different feeling. All right, so Abilene doesn't have one. But 2 hours and 10 minutes away, at the University exit off I-30 in Ft. Worth, there is one. When I walk in, I feel like I'm walking into a world of ideas. For some reason, it makes me wish I didn't hate coffee, so I could just sit with a cup of joe and a book. And the music in back? Some of the best of Christian music--but also jazz, classic rock, country, etc. Christian bookstores remind me of how easy the church can default to a shallow, world-denying position where we protect ourselves with OUR music, OUR art, OUR action figures, OUR novels. Barnes and Nobel reminds me of what a diverse, thought-filled world we live in--a world that needs the message of the gospel.


  • Mike,
    I agree with you about Barnes & Noble -- except for one thing. Every Barnes & Noble I have visited has had a horrible Christian Music selection. It is put in a hard-to-find corner of the store, and has a very limited selection. Try to find The David Crowder Band, or Todd Agnew. You will probably be out of luck.

    Also, you should learn to drink coffee. It is an integral part of the Barnes & Noble experience!


    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 5/21/2004 06:46:00 AM  

  • B&N has a better theology section, too. I've learned never to go to the local Family Christian or Lifeway if I need anything remotely faith building or thought inspiring. Last time I was in one, I browsed so long in false hopes of finding something useful that I'd stayed well past the point at which it's polite to exit without purchasing anything. I left with a discount collection of "Christian" short stories. I felt dirty leaving the store; I was afraid Harding would revoke my English degree and bar me from the Bible program just on principle.

    Nearly all of my actually book buying is done online, but I still make the 10 minutes journey from my place to the one of about a bjillion-and-six B&N/Starbucks combo stops near my place, for the same reason: atmosphere. (And I don't do coffee, either, but there's always over-priced bottled water or some kind of tea.)


    By Blogger Q, at 5/21/2004 06:58:00 AM  

  • Another point to consider is the minister's 20% discount at Family Christian and Lifeway. I agree that the music selection is better at those places. But, for selection, the internet is the way to go. For atmosphere...B&N or Waffle House.

    By Blogger Jon, at 5/21/2004 07:42:00 AM  

  • Dan Kimball makes a similar point in "The Emerging Church": there's nothing wrong with Christian bookstores, but its just a little weird to think about how non-Christians look at all of this Christian-oriented merchandising.

    I go to my local FCS primarily for two things: (1) modern worship music (the only place to find a lot of it locally - and, yes, Jeff, that will include Todd Agnew's next album when it comes out - what a great voice and song writer!) and (2) Veggietales (not that I ever watch it myself [clearing throat], but my kids - who are extended cable deprived - love that stuff).

    As to the whole book-buying experience, it really is amazing what you CAN'T find in stores like this. I remember feverishly looking for a copy of The Divine Conspiracy in Lubbock one day last month (couldn't find it in either of Abilene's Bible bookstores). Called Family Chrisitan. Called Lifeway. They didn't have it. Guess where I found it? Barnes and Noble.

    Go figure.

    By Blogger Matt, at 5/21/2004 07:46:00 AM  

  • Hey -- I'm a Restoration movement church guy (c of C, or is it C of C, or C OF C maybe?) employed at a Christian school in Atlanta. I was not raised in the c of C (er, C OF C . . . ah, forget it) and I have always wondered why there is an inherent distrust of the "world of ideas," to use your excellent phrase. Why do we as a body (and I'm generalizing, I know, but I've seen this in a few churches) tend to fear intelligent debate, or discourse? Can truth be somehow *undermined* by analysis? What exactly are we supposed to be doing in our walk in the world, but not of the world? Does that mean we disregard ideas, or thought? Crud . . . I'm soapboxing, when all I wanted to do was thank you for a thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    Brad Denton

    (Oh, and I refuse to apologize for my adoration of the parenthesis.)

    By Blogger B. S. Denton, at 5/21/2004 08:37:00 AM  

  • But if I don't shop at Christian book stores, where will I buy my bumper stickers depicting Calvin (or is it Hobbes?) kneeling before a cross? Where will I purchase my tie clips? My ideal books for the graduate? My books on the faith of Dubya? I'm just a little uncomfortable about this.

    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 5/21/2004 09:06:00 AM  

  • I don't deny the boring atmosphere of a lot of Christian bookstores. As one who has worked for FCS, I can say that I don't like the big box approach that they use. However, I can testify that God still has a place for the Christian bookstore. God ministers to people there that won't go near a church building. These people may feel that the "subculture" is something that is comforting to them. It may be that when they go to B&N all they see is the mainstream culture and it's idolatries (please know that I also like going in B&N and I also enjoy coffee).
    Over a year ago I worked for FCS in a mall outside Washington DC. On a particular occasion a man came in and asked where he could find a book for someone that "nothing is going right in his life". WOW! I could see that this was a real ministry opportunity and I could also see how unprepared for this I was. Fortunately for me and especiallly for this man, there was a minister (Paul) in the store who was a regular customer of ours. I asked Paul if he would mind talking to this man. About 30 minutes later Paul came back in the store and told me that he spent some time in prayer with this guy and set up a time to get back together with him.
    Praise God that despite how weird or messed up we make things (Christian Bookstores, churches, our lives) he can still use them to minister to people and glorify himself.

    By Blogger Scott H., at 5/21/2004 09:14:00 AM  

  • While I agree that God can use Christian bookstores to work in the lives of people, I am also convinced that that same God could have used a bus stop just as effectively.

    By Blogger Q, at 5/21/2004 01:01:00 PM  

  • Have you ever been to the Christian Booksellers Convention? Talking about wierd! I had to take a shower as soon as I got home.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/21/2004 01:16:00 PM  

  • I agree wholeheartedly with your description of Christian bookstores. But I'm afraid our churches can be just as creepy! It's there that we can all devour the latest tome de jour (late 90's, Experiencing God; early 00's, Prayer of Jabez; now, Purpose Driven Life; what will the next fad be?)

    I think we risk looking a little hypocritical as Christians if we criticize society for being too secular and postmodern but completely outdo them with rampant consumerism and slavishness to trends and fads.

    I don't know very many in my age bracket (25-30) who aren't utterly repulsed by Rick Warren and how the baby-boomers in our churches are foisting his latest jingos on the rest of us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/22/2004 12:27:00 PM  

  • To add to Matt Elliot's response, if no Christian bookstores existed, where would you get your handy box of Test-a-mints, the ever convicting "A Bread Crumb and Fish" T-shirt (complete with a logo that suspiciously resembles a certain mall clothing store that many Christians detest), or the latest issue of the culturally relevant magazine that is sweeping the nation with Christians and non-Christians alike (uhh, just kidding on that last part -- the mags are called Brio and Breakaway)?
    Mike, I'm with ya. As far as I'm concerned, what we need most in this world are committed Christians dedicated to individually taking the Gospel to everyone they know. After that's all done, we can all have a pow-wow down at Lifeway...
    I'm out.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/22/2004 08:28:00 PM  

  • TEST-A-MINTS! Crud!! I knew I was leaving something out!

    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 5/23/2004 04:20:00 AM  

  • It's hardly surprising that the "world of ideas" one finds in a bookstore is missing from the Christian variety. Christians -- and I say this ruefully, as an insider -- don't like ideas.

    Ideas are untidy. They're impermanent, occasionally even deceitful. Worst of all, they're uncertain; something we can't abide. No, what we want is "facts." Nice, propositional truths we can latch onto and never have to let go. We like our "facts" like medicine: swallow it and you're done. "Facts" are comforting. (Especially when they agree with us.)

    Ideas are scary.

    By Blogger scotus, at 5/23/2004 12:57:00 PM  

  • This whole discussion reminds me of the first time I encountered Revolve, the "New Testament for Girls."

    Reading through some of the "articles" in that magazine, I was speechless. Which is apparently good, considering Revolve thinks girls shouldn't talk too much, they definitely shouldn't voice opinions and should never, never, never call a boy. It's apparently one of his responsibilites as the spiritual head of the relationship to call her first.

    It's Fascinating Womanhood for tots and it makes my skin crawl.

    By now, I'm used to being lumped into the FemiNazi camp by most traditional c of C'ers (even though the FemiNazi's themselves would throw me out for being a raging conservative -- if they didn't kill me first trying to decide who gets to keep my ears as a trophy) for questioning tradition.

    Okay, so I've gotten off topic here. I'm just so tired of people parading about under the banner of Christ who are intent on demeaning the image of God that resides in all of us. Last I checked, souls weren't pink or blue.

    By Blogger Q, at 5/23/2004 05:41:00 PM  

  • As a current resident of Abilene, I have been to that book store. And I share your thoughts. If it weren't for the 20% discount that Jon mentioned I would NEVER go in there (except to catch up on who I need to vote for and what's the new obsure Biblical verse I need to pray). But they have those cute little willow tree angel thingies my wife adores. It sure ticks me off to go in there, but, hey, at least my wife is happy when I come home with a newly purchased, 20% off angel for our humble Sherrod apartment. I guess there is a place in the world for Christian book stores after all.

    Perhaps we should send a petition around begging--pleading--BN to come our way.

    By Blogger Travis, at 5/24/2004 05:51:00 PM  

  • Have you ever felt you been sparyed with estrogen when you walk into a Christain bookstore, I mean everthing is pink,and pretty angles all over the walls and ect.. I need a shower when I get out.

    By Blogger spot, at 5/26/2004 08:49:00 AM  

  • Funny that this should be the entry I would read today. I spent the last 4 hours scouring Durham for a copy of Malcom Muggeridge's "End of Christendom" or "Christ and Media". Barnes and Noble was the first place, Borders second, etc. The Christian bookstore salesperson said I "might have the wrong store". Indeed. It would be a sort of heresy to sell Muggeridge in a Christian bookstore. Lots of books by Bush aides, though, which I was glad to see. Wish I hadn't written that, my tongue may be permanently lodged in my cheek.

    The best time to visit a Christian bookstore is on Halloween. They have tastefully decorated tracts you can hand out on the evils of the holiday and the lies the public schools teach with clever and inviting titles like "You Think Frankenstein Is Scary?" for a tract on hell.

    By Blogger chrismith, at 5/27/2004 02:02:00 PM  

  • Would that be like the woman I know who went to the local Christian bookstore in Tyler to find a copy of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner? She was told that the bookstore didn't carry books written by Jews.

    By Blogger Rob, at 5/27/2004 08:59:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Rob, at 5/27/2004 09:00:00 PM  

  • Unless those Jews are Republicans.

    By Blogger chrismith, at 5/30/2004 05:04:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 6/03/2004 10:26:00 AM  

  • For Scott H: Wow! What a neat story! Glad you posted it. It really inspired me to remember that God can use the most unsuspecting moment in the life of a believer to be a witness for him and to bring life to a wandering soul.

    Yes, I enjoy B&N and have always enjoyed the aroma of various coffees brewing. I also enjoy buying my favorite Christian CDs at the Abilene Educational Supply. I believe they currently have a sale on one of Mike Cope's books: Righteousness Inside Out. I haven't read it yet, but if it is as good as his other one: One Holy Hunger, I need to get it soon. Granted, the decor of the cover does not fit in with my feminine side, but whoever designed my house must have O.Ded on testosterone, so it is not a problem.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 6/03/2004 10:30:00 AM  

  • The "best" item I've seen for sale in a Christian bookstore (in Abilene--egad!) was a very thin, very skimpy white tank top with "WWJD?" printed across the chest. I admit to not always being confident of knowing what Jesus would do in certain situations, but I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't have condoned the wearing of THAT! NO!....you're NOT the only one who gets weirded out!

    By Blogger Cari Bonneau, at 6/09/2004 09:17:00 PM  

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