I recently had the opportunity to check out a local Church’s church bookstore. Perusing their selection got me thinking;
What is the purpose of a church bookstore? Apart from being a small source of revenue, which undoubtedly must be the secondary or even tertiary purpose, I would have imagined that it would be a place where you honor and glorify Christ by presenting to your congregation the best books that they can read to build their faith. This should represent what the pastor, elders and church leadership recommend as being the most thoughtful, engaging, edifying, provoking, and biblically faithful resources that they can give their members in order to build their sanctification and help them understand the purposes and character of God.
As a pastors job is to shepherd the flock and feed them God’s word, a bookstore [or even a church library- they have the exact same purpose] can serve as a small part of that. During the sermon you should be teaching doctrine that will more or less agree the theology being espouse in a bookstore, and likewise the books compliment the messages being preached from the pulpit. Simply put; the very act of stocking certain books and authors is a implicit and tacit endorsement of that authors theology. The books in the bookstore function like little sermons and teaching lessons that you are unable to deliver, but would like to. When you carry certain books, you are telling your flock “we want you to read this books, and we agree with what is being taught.” Not only that, but you are saying that the book is safe, that the theology can be trusted, and that you support what is being written about. Unlike a for-profit bookstore, the motivations are a little different.
Given this, every book should be vetted by either the pastor, elders, or a qualified layperson who understands law and gospel, sin and grace, and knows how to properly handle the scriptures so that they can, in the words of Chris Rosebrough “Compare what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God.” You don’t have to agree with everything that the author says, in this book or in others they have, however. The purpose is not to nitpick every tiny minutia that the book relates, but rather to determine if they authors are being faithful to the scriptures in their exegesis, interpretation, extrapolation and application, so that you can feel confident that you have your due diligence in caring for people’s souls.
So why do so many Church bookstores or lending libraries have such rotten books? And not to put too fine a point on it, but why do so many churches sell books from authors who are either heretics, flaming heretics, false teachers, bible twisters, narcegetes [narcissistic eisegeters] and every other variety of bizarre purveyors of theological poison? These are books where it can be demonstrably and objectively proven that the authors are misusing God’s word, and that they are teaching things that can’t either can’t be found in scripture, or that scripture condemns.
They should be places where you can let your guard down, not have to raise it up. They should be places where you can learn about biblical prayer without being exposed to gnostic witchcraft involving a mythical figures named Honi and circlemaking practices. They should be places where you can learn to see Jesus in the Old Testament and not be a breeding ground for teaching you how to make the Bible about you so that you can narcisistically insert yourself into the text. They should be places where you can read about the glories and mysteries of heaven, as revealed in scriptures, and not have some five year old boy regale you with delusions and lies about how “for real” he thinks heaven is.
The bookstore is where you learn about how to manage your finances well so that you can give sacrificially to the Church and to your neighbour. Its not a place where you should find yourself exposed to the health and wealth/prosperity gospel- the theological abortion that would feed on your greed and lust of the world as it chains you to the lie that is the “american dream”. The bookstore should be a places where you get a clear articulation of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins that Christ has provided for you on the cross through his death and resurrection, not where you die on the altar of self-esteem. Its not supposed to be a place that leaves you embroiled in “moralistic therapeutic deism” by enslaving you to Christless Christianity by a man with big shiny teeth who will drag you to hell as he smiles and talks about “your best life now.” The bookstore ought to build your sanctification, not your self esteem. Promote the sure word of the faith delivered “once for all”, not mysticism and spiritual whimsicality.
From a personal standpoint, when I see that sort of thing, it demonstrates to me that the church leadership is not acting with wisdom and discernment. It show they are failing to be watchmen and good shepherds over their flocks. This is because they are allowing and encouraging into their midsts purveyors of scriptural strychnine . How then can I submit to them and trust them to feed my soul on a Sunday morning when they’re giving the enemy the knife to slit my throat the other six days of the week? I’m not saying they don’t love the Lord or love people, but in a way they are showing hatred towards their brothers and sisters by exposing them to the worst that Christianity has to offer. I instinctually question how committed they are to be sound teachers and exegetes of the Word when they tolerate the sloppy molestation of that very same Word by other preachers and teachers in their own homes.
What say you? Do you trust your Church bookstore?