Monday, 23 January 2006

Your local Christian bookshop: 2

So far:
Your local Christian bookshop: Intro and
Your local Christian bookshop: 1 (Complaints considered)

I ended my last Local Christian Bookshop post with this:
"Therefore I contend that Christian bookshops are not to be abandoned, but reformed. Because whereas you may be able to advise those around you which books to read, and they can get them online, the group of Christians you know are not alone in the body of Christ. The reformation of Christian bookshops matters to the building up of Christ's church."

Before continuing, I want in this post to deal with one objection to my call for prayer and action to the reformation of Christian bookshops. The conclusion of many Christians is "(I've had good advice and) I know the books I want - and I can get them online cheaper anyway."

Well, nice one for you! What about all those Christians who haven't had good advice? They're stuck with what's in their local Christian bookshop, which, if bad, isn't going to get any better if all of those who know what the best books disappear to the internet. Those who haven't had the good advice (young? new Christians? non-Christians?) are stuck with the popular fiction with an emphasis away from the primary things of the glorious gospel of our blessed God, and the best-selling heresy being plugged by glossy posters. They're left with the man-centred therapy books and the works-centred 'how to' books. They're left with the bland and poisonous semi-Gospel With the Hard Bits Taken Out books and the treacherous Jesus PLUS My Hobby Horse books. But we're not to worry, because all the well-advised Christians are happily buying healthy God-centred, Christ-exalting books online. We'll keep ourselves well-fed, and use the energy to bewail or berate the others for their lack of discernment that they haven't found similar food to eat. Natural selection perhaps - the strong get stronger and the weak are weeded out? What? Is this how we act in the body of Christ? If you care about the church of Christ, which is his body, his bride, then you will not leave others to this! You will not abandon the Christian bookshop to feed others rubbish while you look after yourself elsewhere.

I remember when with a friend I walked into our local Christian bookshop in a new town and asked for J.C.Ryle's 'Holiness'. The staff had never heard of it. I explained who J.C.Ryle had been, what the book was about and what a classic it was... but stopped short of ordering it - I was flabberghasted and walked out again. I only cared for my friend getting the book. I didn't care for all the other Christians in that city who would use the shop. Of course I wouldn't have said that - I was appalled by the shop and of course I wanted it to be better, to feed healthy food to the Christians of the city. But I obviously didn't love them that much - I just focussed on the needs of my friend and myself, and left the rest to rot.

So if you care for Christ's church and want good books, what can you do apart from go online?
You walk into your local Christian bookshop and ask them to order the Good Books you want if they don't have them. You may need to tell them the publisher. And yes, they may be available cheaper online. But online you wouldn't get the opportunity to help the staff better stock their shop for the building up of the church. Online you don't have the opportunity to edify the other customers who are in there in a vague search for something to help them live as Christians, hear you extolling the merits of said Good Books and may decide to get them too. By being in your local Christian bookshop you also have occasion to discuss with other customers, helping them onwards, sharing about books you've found helpful and even being encouraged by them in what they've learnt from some books too. In your local Christian bookshop you have the opportunity to fellowship with Christians from other local churches and build each other up in the body of Christ by discussing and pointing to great gospel-centred books.

And as all the 'well-advised' Christians who have gone online start revisiting their local Christian bookshop, and, praying for its reformation, are determined not to roll the eyes and walk out again, but to order what books they want and engage in building up the staff, shop and customers, those local Christian bookshops will start bit by bit to reform.

-> Don't just go to your local Christian bookshop to receive, criticise and give up on it. Go to your Christian bookshop to minister, and if you don't receive, then minister some more. And keep praying for the reform of Christian bookshops.

Coming next: the ministry of the Christian bookshop (or "What might a reformed bookshop look like?")


Rob Bradshaw said...

Having previously worked for several years in a Christian bookshop I welcome your campaign. However, you should not assume that all assistants in Christian bookshops are going to be ignorant of good theology. They can only stock what sells and I am sure that they will appreciate what you are trying to do.

In Christ,


étrangère said...

Thanks Rob, good call. I wasn't assuming that all staff will be ignorant of good theology, but in addressing concerns voiced by many Christian bloggers I may have given that impression so thanks for the corrective. I do hope that some staff feeling oppressed by 'stock what sells' would welcome what I've suggested here.

I think that my (generalised) reasoning goes thus:
1) Christians should feed other Christians material which helps them to exalt Christ in their lives.
2) Many Christian bookshops stock much which won't help 1, and at the other end of the scale don't stock much which would help with 1.
Conc: either the staff in Christian bookshops don't care Christian-ly about the spiritual health of their customers OR they are ignorant of the theology of some of what they sell / don't sell.

I would not like to make the first accusation as I can't quite believe it, so was implying the second. (NB not of all Christian bookshops - merely addressing the generalisations of the blogosphere.) This rests on a view of Christian bookshops which relies more on church and less on capitalism, I admit! I don't really buy 'stock what sells' - I think a bookshop influences what sells to a far greater degree than that, as I'm sure you know from working in one! I'll develop how I see Christian bookshops in my next post, including the retail maxim of 'stock what sells'. Do come back and comment more - a fellow past-staff member of a Christian bookshop is always welcome :) (I've only been an occasional temp.)

Anonymous said...

As another former employee in Christian retail, I agree with you both. We tried to get good books into people's hands, but what we considered good books and our customers considered good books were 2 different things.

The flip side of that though is that you have to pay the bills and feed your family. My boss saw his shop as a ministry. We also supplied secular books material because we couldn't afford not to. In a city of 100,000 people as albeit with an SPCK in town there were some months when my boss was relying on his savings to put food on the table.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the people who were buying hte good books were buying them off the internet. At one level, if a person was really hard up, I don't blame them, but the problem comes when those who aren't hard up go for the cheapest option.


Rob Bradshaw said...

We are clearly all on the same wavelength here. When I worked for SPCK we did have customers who genuinely needed the cheapest option - while others were prepared to drive over 50 miles just to save a £1 on a book!

When I left the bookshops were moving more towards central purchasing which would tend to restrict the freedom of individual shops to choose their own stock - and mean that staff did not need to have such a good knowledge of what they were selling. Independent Christian bookshops would not have this problem.