Christian Publishing’s Tragic Gap

I have long had a love-hate relationship with Christian publishing.  Since my teenage years I’ve rolled my eyes at most of the Christian bestsellers.  It didn’t take too much time outside of my fundamentalist Baptist junior high to realize that I actually hated the Left Behind series, and while 2002′s The Purpose-Driven Life was certainly of a higher caliber, it still ultimately screamed “trendy mediocrity” in my mind.

The same year, however, was also a time of discovering some high-quality Christian books, thanks to my newfound interest in women in ministry.  I quickly noticed that InterVarsity, Baker, and Eerdmans were publishing books that represented a sort of smart Christianity I wasn’t exposed to growing up—the sort of Christianity I’d been dying to find existed outside of my dreams.  By college, I had become an avid reader of thoughtful Christian books, largely by these three publishers.  I also sampled from  overly corporate Zondervan, cutely small Paraclete, and university presses; in seminary, I added several smaller and mainline publishers to my Christian book collection.

These publishers have given me access to both popular and academic works that have greatly influenced my thought and faith over the years, and I know they also offer important resources to people across the country without a theological background.  Most evangelical bookstores stock fewer of these “good” books by “good” publishers, but they do always carry some.  I am very thankful for that fact, despite my general cynicism about Christian bookstores.  There is one section in the typical Christian bookstore, however, with a perpetually awful selection—as in no more than one or two books I’d ever buy.  I was particularly struck by this during our recent Christian bookstore sale shopping.  I have since then explored the Internet a bit and decided two things:

(1) It’s nice that Eerdmans seems to publish some decent children’s books, but they don’t seem to be stocked by Barnes and Noble OR Christian stores.  The situation is even worse for most mainline publishers.  Many evangelical know Eerdmans; fewer, in my experience, know Abingdon.  The only Christians publishers that seem to get a lot of merchandise on the shelves are more conservative companies whose books for children I often find cheesy, unintelligent, or even theologically suspect.  For those already publishing alternatives, people need better access to your products.  Otherwise, they will either not know you exist or have no idea what quality your products are and if they want to bother to order them.

(2)  InterVarsity Press needs to publish children’s books.  IVP is my absolute favorite publisher in the world for many reasons: their affiliation with InterVarsity, the variety of topics their books cover, their commitment to increasing books by female and minority authors, their growing academic line, the unprecedented number of intelligent non-academic books also available for lay readers, their refusal to publish fluff just to make more money, etc.  The one complaint I have about IVP at the moment is that children’s books are entirely off their radar.  They actually list children’s books on their we-don’t-want-these list, along with romance novels, cookbooks, and end times propaganda.  This is sad because IVP finds good authors, pairs them with good editors, and generally develops very good products that I can recommend to both Christian and non-Christian friends.  If there’s anyone I could trust to publish stuff I would feel comfortable buying for my [future] kids, it’s IVP.  I’m rather bummed that I don’t get the option…

As for how I can save the world in this instance, I am not yet sure.  For now, I will simply say that helping make good Christian books exist, helping people gain access to those books, and helping people enjoy actually reading on a regular basis is up near the top of my felt-life-callings.  I hope very much that in the coming years, the Christian children’s book situation, in particular, will change for the better.

Biblical Politics

So, everyone’s favorite party-line Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem is coming out with a book from Zondervan about the Bible and politics. I’m thinking we should do a review of it here on WTJ, because Ashleigh and I have radically different views on politics. I am a libertarian leaning conservative and she is a liberal, so it’d be cool if we both reviewed the book. (Zondervan: want to send us a review copy?) The interesting thing about trying to allow the Bible to inform politics is that the only way to do it right is to do it indirectly. If the Bible itself is used as a basis of government decisions, then all sorts of terrible policy would likely come about. (See for example the creepy ramblings of theonomists) The correct way to allow the Bible to inform our politics is through the formation of our ethics which we then apply in various ways to our politics. This means that we can agree on the basic ethical tenant the Bible is communication without trying to equate the Bible with our political positions. Ashleigh and I, for example, both believe that care for the poor is an important part of Christian ethics, but our conclusions about the best way to go about that politically are polar opposites. The Bible is a wonderful source of ethical reflection, moral instruction, and dare I say divine encounter, but political example it is not. Take King Lemuel’s domestic policy for example:

31:4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

it is not for kings to drink wine,

or for rulers to crave strong drink,

31:5 lest they drink and forget what is decreed,

and remove from all the poor their legal rights.

31:6 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,

and wine to those who are bitterly distressed;

31:7 let them drink and forget their poverty,

and remember their misery no more.

(NET)

Personally, I’m for Obama drinking beer and against the poor doing that to hide their troubles.

The Aluminum Scroll #1

I thought it might be fun to try something new, and despite the fact that my drawing ability measures somewhere between a drunken baboon and a coconut I’ve decided that the world of biblioblogdom needs a webcomic. So here it is, the Aluminum Scroll. Hopefully, you will be forgiving of the puniness of my drawing ability and focus on whatever wit I can scrounge up…actually that might not work either. Nonetheless, here is my first entry. I’m going to try to make this a weekly thing, but who knows. I promise nothing.

Christian Shopping Adventures

Jeremiah and I are currently visiting his family in Texas, which traditionally has meant lots of busyness.  The first three times we came to Texas together we were (1) attending his sister’s wedding and preparing for Fuller’s spring 2009 finals, (2) attending a billion appointments with bakers, florists, etc. and finishing up Fuller’s summer 2009 finals, and (3) having our own wedding in December 2009.  This trip is comparatively empty.  So far we’ve seen all of two of his high school friends, watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and read a few books.  It has been quite relaxing.  It has also been an opportunity to explore new horizons, including, for us, the Christian bookstores of Corpus Christi.

It is not that we have never entered a Christian bookstore, of course, but rather that we had never actually been to a Christian bookstore together. (I’m not counting Fuller’s bookstore, which is so largely dominated by deliciously moderate and intellectual fare, nor Archives, a used bookstore in Pasadena, which also stocks lots of academic books.)  No Lifeway, no Family Christian, no mom ‘n pop Jesus store—until now.

First, we stopped by a fancy new bookstore we’d never heard of, but which apparently is a mini-chain: Mardel.  It was an interesting place, with more space devoted to knickknacks, T-shirts/music, and teacher/homeschool supplies (individually!) than to books.  A surprisingly decent proportion of  books by InterVarsity, Baker, and Eerdmans for an evangelical store (that’s not to say they didn’t also sell Left Behind), and yet a sad number of books in absolute terms.

However, they have many exciting items, if you’re not seeking books, or even gaudy crosses or Christian rock albums.  Heck, you don’t even need to be looking for something at all related to Christianity!  For example, in the Church Supply aisle, we found a fabulous selection of flags: the American, the Texan, and the “Christian.”  Delight!

If that doesn’t entice, perhaps you’d like to buy some Silly Bandz?

We moved on to Family Christian, which seemed to be barely surviving with the new competition from Mardel.  On a more serious note, although their selection was poor in quantity and quality, I admit I genuinely feel a little sad that a bookstore might die.  Even cheesy Christian bookstores have potential, despite so rarely achieving it.  Perhaps the death of mediocrity should be celebrated, but I can’t help but mourn the loss of what could have been, even if it never would have…

I did my part to help them out by picking up John Stott’s IVP study on the Sermon on the Mount in their Bible study section.  If you’d also like to help out beyond purchasing the few good books they have left, perhaps you might consider these inspiring dolls?  Both Queen Esther and Aryan Warrior Deborah come with their own authentic Hebrew scrolls.

Just to show we can roll our eyes at non-Christian stores, too, we also went to Barnes and Noble.  The religion section of Barnes and Noble is as much of a hodge-podge as Mardel, and their children’s section is usually even worse.  Our friends at Zondervan deserve a prize for Least Relevant Bible Theme Ever (not to be confused with the Most Offensive Bible Theme Ever award, currently held by Thomas Nelson) after the publication of the Wild About Horses Bible.

While we didn’t take any pictures, we also visited a Catholic bookstore for comparison with the familiar Protestant offerings—a topic for another day.

Needless to say, despite our many sale books at Mardel, our most successful Christian book destination continues to be HalfPrice, where local theology students keep shelves stocked with never-read paperbacks.

The Truth About Jim West

Published on September 9, 2010, by in Humor.

Well known peddler of Dead Sea paraphernalia, Jim West, was spotted manning the kiosk of his new company Dead Sea Spa. When asked why he made the daring move from Baptist pastor to mall kiosk seller, West replied, “I was reprimanded by the area Baptist association for slapping candy out of the hands of slightly overweight children, and I’d had enough. Those reprobate parents and their depraved counterparts in the association have gone soft. I thought it might be time for a new venture.” West’s new position has meant a surge in postings on his blog jumping from an average of 115 postings a day to nearly 500. “You know, I’ve always wanted to join in on twitter, but I never had time before now. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.” West continued to extol the virtues of the microblogging service for some time until he concluded with a tear in his eye, “You know, I think Zwingli himself would have loved to have a tool such as this.” West’s move to the mall hasn’t been without controversy. He was cited by local police for having an unlicensed fire in city limits after fellow mall employees caught him burning copies of Biblical Archeology Review while muttering under his breath “Take that James son of Joseph brother of Jesus.”

Quote of the Month

So this Sunday if you want to strike a blow for freedom and justice, don’t burn a Koran – read a Bible. Then do what it says – feed the hungry, visit the sick, shelter the poor all in the name of Jesus. Do it to the point of inconvenience, if not of actual suffering. – Doug Jackson

If you aren’t reading Doug’s blog, you should be.

“Saving” Marriages via Insanity

This past week I was busy working on a paper on same-sex marriage for my ethics class and checking out way too many library books.  Among them were a few I picked up specifically to see how evangelicals were talking about marriage as a broader topic.  In Zondervan’s Marriage Savers, I found this incredibly humorous (and sad) story:

There’s this guy named Jim Talley who used to be a pastor at a church in Modesto, California.  In a fourth-month relationship course based on his book Too Close, Too Soon, he requires couples to put a limit on their time together: 20 hr the first month, 30 hr the second month, 40 hr the third month, and 50 hr the fourth month of the course.  When Marriage Savers‘ author Michael McManus asked Talley about his reasoning for these strict rules, Talley said the following (pg 98):

“My experience suggests that on average, a couple will be in bed after 300 hours alone together.  I try to stretch that time out, with 140 hours in the relationship period, and another 160 hours during engagement so that they end up in bed for the first time on their wedding night.”

Is it any surprise that about half the couples Talley counsels don’t end up getting married?  So much for keeping people together…

This, my friends, is why you don’t buy 95% of Christian books on sex, marriage, or dating.

A Real Life Dialogue

*crossposted from my personal blog*

This evening I went to a tea shop to get Ashleigh a kind of tea she likes made with milk and tapioca pearls. When I finished ordering the following dialogue ensued:

Asian Lady at the Register: Are you Irish?

Me: Uh, why?

Lady: You look like a cartoon of an Irish person.

Me: I look like a cartoon? I think I look Irish to you because of the red beard.

Lady: And you are wearing a green shirt and a hat (I’m wearing a gray fedora) like the cartoons.

Me: Well I’m not really Irish?

Lady: Oh Really, not at all?

Me: Well, maybe some, we are a mix of English, Scottish, and Irish I think

Lady: Oh you are Irish, I knew it.

So basically, she thought I looked like a leprechaun…a 6’2″ leprechaun

The Constitution: The 28th Book of the New Testament

This the actual text (complete with image) taken from the facebook of an older man I had some undergraduate classes with. I find myself as much disturbed by the fact that a former colleague of mine could write this as by the fact that he got a boatload of hearty affirmations and amens. The church cannot look like this. Pray for this man

Good Morning My Conservative Brothers and Sisters In Christ,
It is an Honor, it is Good and by God’s Grace that we meet here and not on the battlefield in
the war to restore our Constitutional Republic. I look forward to
sharing with you the information I receive on the usurpation of our
Constitution, by those known to be practicing tyranny after swearing their oath, to God,
to protect the very document they now incrementally dismantle. Below you
will find the tools necessary to be Victorious against the evil that threatens our God Given Rights and our Nation, in His name…These tools are
Scripture: God’s word for strength… and our 2nd Amendment: to protect us from those who would commit Treasonous and Tyrannical acts against us. “If God be with us, what man can stand
against us?”
May God bless us all much and often and may God bless and save our Republic.

Michael Bird is My Hero

I’ve been reading Mike Bird’s Introducing Paul as a light refresher before I take a Pauline Theology class this fall, and I just read what has to be the best pop-culture reference ever in a NT work.

In want of a modern analogy, George Lucas’s six-part saga Star Wars can be called a ‘Tale of Two Skywalkers’, and in many ways mirrors the Adam-Christ contrast of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, where Adam and Christ stand for the two respective heads of humanity. They are representatives or types[emphasis original] of wither a corrupted humanity (Adam) or a redeemed humanity (Christ). The first Skywalker (Anakin Skywalker) faced the temptation to give in to the dark side of the force: he gave in to it and death, destruction and chaos followed. In contrast, the second Skywalker (Luke Skywalker) faced the same temptation, but was faithful and obedient to the Jedi vocation, and consequently hope, life, and the triumph of good followed. In fact, Luke was able to redeem the first Skywalker, his father Anakin, from evil through his faithfulness.

How cool is that? There should be an SBL session where we get together and watch Star Wars.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012