Bad books seem to be a topic of discussion lately. With news of Alex Malarkey recanting on his trip to heaven, the Christian publishing industry has come under fire. And rightly so. Within the SBC, LifeWay has been criticized for selling books that, frankly, go against their stated mission of being a “provider of relevant, high quality, high value, Christian products and services”.
It is argued that authors like TD Jakes, John Hagee, and the numerous heavenly tourism books should not be sold—much less promoted—by a company who believes the Bible is “the plumb line for all of our resources”.
On the other hand it is argued that LifeWay is a business and the responsibility is with pastors to make certain that their people are being properly shepherded. If our people are properly trained in studying the Scriptures then they won’t likely pick up the bad books. Take away the market and they’ll stop selling them.
So, who is responsible when a Christian buys a bad book?
I whole heartedly believe that it is a pastors responsibility to lead and guide his people into truth. But I’m not yet willing to say that if people in a pastors congregation are purchasing bad books it is because he is dropping the ball as a shepherd. I have to wonder if folks who charge such a thing are actually pastors.
Do they know what it is like to pastor in our celebrity culture? We live in an age when Joe Q Pastor is dissed at the expense of “Bible teachers” who pastor mega-churches and sell books like lemonade at a yard-sale? You try pastoring in a church of 200 people and telling your starry-eyed congregant that Pastor Joel with his 43000 member church is wrong.
Or consider this. At our church we are not shy about promoting LifeWay material. We always, happily, use the LifeWay’s VBS material. Several of our Sunday school classes are going through The Gospel Project and others are using the Bible Studies for Life. We are also excited about the new Explore the Bible curriculum.
We love LifeWay and our people know that. The many magazines floating around our church, the VBS signs, and the curriculum in our Sunday School classes communicate to our people that LifeWay is a place that you can trust.
As such our people shop at LifeWay with confidence. They go into the store with the hopes of finding a good book to help in their walk with Christ. And they shop like most people do—they pick up the things that the store is heavily plugging and promoting. They scan the bestsellers section to find what must be a good book.
And what do they get? Something like Heaven Is For Real.
So I’m not inclined to buy the argument that if pastors would do their jobs then this wouldn’t be a problem.
Shall we blame the bookstores and publishers?
But I’m also not inclined to lay the blame solely at the feet of the bookstore or the book publisher. Yes, they will be accountable before God for the things they publish and sell in their stores. But the Scriptures tell believers—individual God-fearing believers—to test the spirits and to have discernment. To blindly walk into a book store, to simply trust a guy because he got a book published and pastors a big church is foolishness.
If you buy a bad book and worse yet you buy into its errant teaching, then this is on you.
At the same time if Christian book publishers wouldn’t publish garbage, and if Christian bookstores wouldn’t sell it, then it would be a non-issue. But lets be honest, junk is going to get published and it’ll end up getting sold somewhere. As such pastors do need to be intentional in shepherding their people into truth. And individuals need to be responsible and discerning with the books they need to buy.
So whose at fault when a Christian buys a bad book?
I’d lay ultimate responsibility at the feet of the individual buying the book. The best way to stop seeing bad books in Christian book stores is for Christians to stop buying them. And the best way to see them stop buying them is to see people passionate about following God in His Word. Some of that is on pastors and a good deal of that is on individuals.
Secondarily, I would say that Christian publishers and bookstores are to blame. If they don’t publish or sell junk then people can’t buy it.
So I’d encourage every bookstore and publisher to be willing to lose a buck for the glory of God and for the good of churches. Spurgeon was correct, ‘a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’. There are times when we pastors must spend a great deal of energy undoing the erroneous teaching swallowed by some of our members rather than engaging in positive building in their lives.
Likewise, I’d encourage every believer to be discerning in the books that you buy and read. Weigh every one of them against the Scriptures.