I barely looked at my computer screen this weekend. It was kind of nice. Anyway, that just gave me the chance to pop the top off one of my favorite articles that I wrote back when my readership was about 75% smaller. Whether it’s your first or second drink, I hope it doesn’t go down too smooth:
Dorothy Sayers wrote a smashing essay on the value in secular vocations and integrity in our labors titled, Why Work?. As I alluded in another Reading Reflection on this piece, the lack of honor in vocation is particularly bothersome in the so-called Christian industry. When is it actually helpful, or even truthful, to slap a “Christian” prefix on a business?
I think that it can be very helpful in the area of reading books. Christian publishing is meant to set itself apart from its secular counterpart by the content in its goods. By claiming to be a Christian publisher or bookseller, you are supposedly claiming that your books are in line with historic, orthodox Christian beliefs, right? Unfortunately, the last time I walked into a Christian bookstore, I was inundated with “Christian” jewelry, mugs, and candies. The bestsellers displayed all the ways I could get skinny for God and enjoy my best life now. Something has gone horribly wrong. I suppose, if I just want to feel like a better person for buying my book from a “Christian” retailer, I could peruse the back corner for their token Spurgeon book. But if I want to have an actual selection of good writing and application of the Christian faith, I have to take the cyber-route. And I have to use my own discernment.
Sayers emphasized the virtue of good work for its own sake over focusing merely on the profit that comes from it. To reiterate her point:
And shareholders in—let us say—brewing companies, would astonish the directorate by arising at shareholder’s meetings and demanding to know, not merely where the profits go or what dividends are to be paid, not even merely whether the workers’ wages are sufficient and the conditions of labor satisfactory, but loudly, and with a proper sense of personal responsibility: “What goes into the beer?”
Loudly, she says!
Nowadays the secular publishers are buying out the Christian ones. What is the creed one has to confess to be published? I believe it goes something like: “I’m already quite a celebrity, and there are a plethora of people eager to buy my books because I make them feel good.”
I’m not being completely fair. There are some fantastic people in the Christian publishing industry, and there are certainly great books being written. But the business as a whole has really gotten greasy. It seems the bigger the publisher, the lower the standards of orthodoxy.
Kind of like beer. Yet there appears to be a rise in the sophisticated beer drinker. Sure, there are plenty of Budweiser and Miller Lite guzzlers to keep the big boys of the brewing industry running. But now the microbrewer is getting more attention. Discerning tongues want flavor and quality in their brew. They want to have the satisfaction of knowing their Amber Ale came from a passionate bike ride through Europe, searching for just the right inspiration. They want to taste some hints of what’s actually in the beer.
The Christian bookstore may be showcasing books with the greatest cash value. But if you want flavor, it’s in good doctrine and good writing! I know I’m not the only one who is lamenting the absence of these. Here is an excerpt from one of Tim Challies’ articles:
Speaking personally, I have long since stopped shopping at the nearby Christian bookstore. They almost never have the books I want and even if they did, I would pay quite a bit for them and spend a lot of time driving there and back. And then there’s the fact that so much of what they carry is junk—not just trinkets and toys, but material that is opposed to sound doctrine. The last time I went to a Christian bookstore there was a section for Roman Catholics and a section for people who need their fix of Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn. And I thought, “This is no more Christian than Amazon.” In fact, I think it is actually worse; under the banner of “Christian” things are being sold that claim to be Christian but are deceptively anti-Christian. That may have been the moment I realized that I felt no obligation to support that business.
Have you been in a liquor store lately (my Baptist friends need not answer )? The microbrewers are getting more shelf space. People want better beer, and the market is responding. There are those who appreciate good work.
And I want to thank the small Christian publishers out there who do care what their authors are teaching. Let’s try and support these micropublishers so that their shelf space will increase! Demand more flavor!