Every morning I start the day the same way, I take my dog, Buster, for a walk, and on the way in, I pick up the previous day’s mail. Most days I carry a ton of junk mail right to the garbage can. I find it puzzling that so many businesses/ministries/non-profits/politicians invest in mailings that in most homes go directly in the round file, but I don’t really care much about it. At worst junk mail is mostly innocuous, if somewhat annoying. But there is one thing that shows up with great regularity that I find truly offensive. It is a catalogue, it is a catalogue that promotes sin, it is a catalogue that attacks the very foundation of the Christian life, and it is a catalogue, that as a shepherd of God’s people, quite frankly makes my blood boil. I think you can probably guess what catalogue I am talking about. Obviously, it is the catalogue from Christian Book Distributors (CBD). To be blunt, as a Christian, a pastor, and the husband of a Christian wife, I hate christianbook.com.
If that isn’t the catalogue you expected maybe you have just never really thought about it. Are there other catalogues that arrive unsolicited in the mail that can be detrimental to the Christian life? Sure. (I don’t know who that current occupant guy is, but judging by his mail, he has issues.) But the thing is, those catalogues don’t label themselves as “Christian.”
Although not written about junk mail and catalogues, there is an important principle that we can extract from 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; the standards are different for those that call themselves Christian, and it is specifically those who call themselves Christians we are to concern ourselves with.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Obviously, this is a church discipline passage (church discipline isn’t just in Matthew 18), and a bookseller is not part of the church. But, because this bookseller is branding itself as Christian, I think it is more than fair to draw the principle out of 1 Corinthians 5 that those who claim the name of Christ are to be judged by the church, and to be held to a higher standard than the world.
With that in mind let me be clear, the reason I hate christianbook.com AKA Christian Book Distributers (CBD), is because they distribute books that aren’t Christian as if they are. Deny the Trinity? CBD will be happy to sell your book as Christian. Argue that sexual immorality is compatible with the Christian life, no problem CBD will hawk your book. Do you run a ministry so crooked that you were denied entry into the U.K., not only are your books welcome at CBD, they will feature you in the favorite authors section of their catalogue.
All of this is extremely dangerous, I know. As a young Christian I read many heretical books and believed what they said, because I bought them from christianbook.com.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and I didn’t have any kind of background with Christian literature or thought. To be blunt, when I was exposed to “Christian” thought on the rare occasion a family member dragged me to the local apostate mainline denomination “church” I was lied to about the content of the Bible. It only got worse as I grew older and took a few religion classes as an undergraduate at a college loosely affiliated with an apostate mainline denomination.
All of this added up to someone who, after the Lord replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh, was starved for truth. I had read the Bible through a few times in the first few months of my Christian life, but I knew I didn’t understand much of what I read. I knew I needed help.
As a bibliophile I naturally turned to books to aid my understanding, but I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough when it came to what books to trust. So I turned to a name I could trust, christianbook.com. But the problem was, as I learned as I matured, that just because a bookseller calls themselves a Christian bookseller doesn’t make it so. Christianbook.com, like many other “Christian booksellers” simply can’t be trusted.
I did get some very good books from christianbook.com, notably When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy by John Piper and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges, which helped me weather some of the trials I encountered in the early years of my Christian life. I also got some bad books like The Purpose Driven Life, and Wild at Heart and from christianbook.com. Worse still, I got some downright heretical books like A Table in the Presence and The Believer’s Authority. I didn’t know that some were good, some were bad and some were poisonous.
The problem was as a new believer I didn’t know what was reliable, and what wasn’t, and because all of these titles were promoted by CBD/christianbook.com I assumed they were all good and profitable to read. (And yes, my local church leadership failed in helping me in this regard. Unfortunately, I would eventually learn that they were failing in far weightier matters too.) As a new believer I naively believed that because they used the title “Christian” they were concerned about the spiritual well being of others.
But to be blunt, they are not, not even close. A few weeks ago while preparing a message on Ephesians 5:1-6, and focusing on the command in verse 6 not to be deceived with empty words, I needed to find the exact title of a particularly destructive book that argued for the jettisoning of all biblical sexual ethics. So I began to google what I remembered the title as, and by the second attempt (although still imperfect) an ad urging me to buy the book in question at christianbook.com appeared. The “.com” is clearly more important than the “Christian” to christianbook.com.
And what gets me even more is the practical misogyny christianbook.com shows. (Here is a great piece on what Evangelical misogyny really looks like). From the devotionals that indicate that a spiritually healthy woman is one who expects and experiences extra-biblical revelation, to the books that teach that the God of the universe pursues women and craves their love like a suitor to “Christian” romance novels that not so subtly send the message that a Christian marriage with its faithfulness through the ups and downs of life is somehow “less” and unfulfilling, it seems that they select books to market to women based almost exclusively on their ability to make shipwreck of a woman’s faith.
So what do I recommend? Well that is between you and God. But what I do is take my business elsewhere. I would rather shop an online bookseller that makes no pretense of being Christian. I would rather buy home décor from a retailer that doesn’t market itself as Christian.
Undoubtedly there are other “Christian” retailers/booksellers equally guilty of these things, they just don’t bombard me with emails and catalogues. Christianbook.com constantly works to remind me of their presence, and when they do I am reminded why I hate christianbook.com.