So I decided to take a break this week from my recent blog posts on the connection between books and the history of the evangelical missions movement. More to come on that subject later. Instead, I wanted to highlight a trend I have been noticing in Christian publishing circles these days and, more importantly, in the Christian book-buying public.
Not long ago it seemed as if the only Christian books that were gaining wide popularity were fiction, end-times focused or written by well known “celebrity” Christian authors. So many self-help books deliberately intended to sell as crossover books in the secular market came out that some publishers even stopped referring to them as Christian books and simply called them inspirational. More and more books seemed to be “me” focused and presented Christianity as a great way to improve life circumstances, often not so subtlety promising a life of better health and wealth with fairly little required of the reader. In the great rush to meet the ever-growing demand to publish what the itching ears want to hear, books like Your Best Life Now went straight to the top of all the best-seller lists.
At a time when nearly 10 percent of the country is unemployed, hundreds of Christian bookstores closing and churches seeing significant declines in both attendance and giving, something new seems to be happening in the world of Christian publishing that is worthy of applause. Books like Radical, Jesus Calling, Crazy Love, The Love Dare and even the classic Five Love Languages are on the New York Times best-seller lists. These books are not peddling a “Christianity lite” gospel and, when combined with other best-selling titles like Generous Justice and The Reason for God by Tim Keller, seem to indicate that something exciting and different is going on. A new generation of readers appears to be seeking a robust presentation of the love of Christ for a dying world. The basic message in many of these books is the incredible story of the God of the universe making the ultimate sacrifice of His only Son, which compels believers to lives of sacrifice and love for others out of gratitude, not duty. For a world sick and tired of phony promises, this is indeed good news about Christianity itself. Instead of looking inward for ways to improve ourselves and achieve the American dream by joining the right church or reading the right book, these new authors are pointing us in an entirely different direction for finding significance and purpose in life.
For many readers around the world who came to faith in recent years when these other books have been so popular, it has probably been a great shock to see the financial struggles and even collapse of certain ministries that had guaranteed immediate tangible results in the here and now for those who simply “prayed the right prayer.” I pray that in this moment of sober introspection as a nation we will evaluate the serious consequences of promoting a gospel that requires so little while promising so much. Now is the time for us all to repent and return to publishing, distributing and selling books that present Jesus as the “lamb that was slain” and who gave His all so that we might have life at all. What a joy it is to see that authors like David Platt, Francis Chan and Tim Keller have been so gifted to be able to present our Savior as a suffering servant who can identify with the needs of the poor and calls us to lives of outrageous generosity and not excessive consumption. May this message of love and sacrifice last longer than the current selling cycle and truly transform the way we do business so that we will honor and glorify our risen and returning Lord.