It should have been a simple enough task: Go to the Christian book and buy John Chapman’s book “Know and tell the Gospel” and John Stott’s book “Issues facing Christians today”. Walking into the Christian book shop I glance along the long avenue of books on my left displaying the Top 20 Best selling books. I wonder if there is something wrong with me. I’ve only read two of them and have no desire to read the other 18. I randomly pick up one, “The author of this book is the pastor of the fastest growing church in the United States.” I wonder why every pastor in America claims to be the pastor of the fastest growing or biggest or second biggest….? Who buys this stuff anyway? I-”
“Excuse me, can I help you at all?”
I’m rescued by a fresh faced smiling sales assistant.“I’m looking for 2 books. The first one is by John Chapman.”
“Mmmm… let’s have a look on the system.”
“Come off it,” I think to myself. “JOHN CHAPMAN. JOHN CHAPMAN!!”.
I am now silently screaming at the smiling sales assistant.
Now behind the safety of the counter she looks down at the computer. She looks up, nods triumphantly and says, “Are you sure you are not looking for a CD?”
“No, it’s a book by John Chapman.”
“Or maybe a DVD?”
“No it’s a book.”
I have said ‘book’ properly, haven’t I? Under my breath I say ‘book’ in my Irish accent and ‘book’ in my over-nasalised Austraaaa-li-annn accent, just in case ‘book’ in Irish sounds like DVD in Australian. I wasn’t giving up.
Neither was the sales assistant who just knew I must have gotten it wrong.
“Are you not looking for Steven Curtis Chapman? Oh I see he’s also written a book.”
“No, I’m looking for John Chapman, who is not an American. And as far as I know he hasn’t produced any music CDs or DVDs recently and certainly hasn’t changed his name to Steven Curtis either.”
I add rather apologetically, “He’s also one of yours. An Australian. A great-Australian-Christian-author. John Chappo Chapman.”
I can’t believe I’m sticking up for an Australian.
Looking a bit disappointed that I had got it all wrong the sales assistant reluctantly looks at the screen and says rather surprisingly, and somewhat contemptuously, “Oh, there is a John Chapman here. Sorry, we don’t have it in stock.”
And then quickly moving on, she asks, “And what was the name of the other author?”
“John Stott,” I say, with relief, quickly trying to think of other Christian musicians whose name could be confused with Stott, wondering if I was going to get offered John Stott’s latest music CD.
“Is that with one T or two?”
I stop and make a quick check that I haven’t walked into an adult shop by mistake. I am in a Christian book shop. I make a quick scan around the shop. No pokies. No aisles of food. No fishing rods. I used to work in a record shop in Belfast and if someone had asked me for a Bob Dylan album and I had said, “Is that Dylan with a y or an I?” I wouldn’t have lasted till the end of the day.
“Stott with 3 ‘T’s,” I reply.
“Oh we have lots of books by that author,” beams the sales assistant.
I’m tempted to look surprised, but instead I reply, “I thought you might”.
Walking toward the exit, without the book by John “Curtis” Chapman but with the one by John of the 3Ts, I take a final glance of the 20 books that Christians today are allegedly buying.
It’s great that Christians read books, I think to myself. But what are they reading? I determine to glean the pages of the Top 20 books to discover their gems. Here are some of the things that you are missing out on if you have never picked up any of these books.
1.Mission is not the central, most important part of the church’s mission. Rather it is just one of 5 things that it does.
2.Broccoli is really good for my bowels. Chewing really slowly helps me digest my food.
3.While God knows everything about everybody, He does not know everyone. For God to know me I must open my heart and give Him access to the secrets things of my life.
4.Fullness of the Spirit obtained in intimacy is what qualifies Christians to have a greater influence in the world.
5.The devil has no creative abilities whatsoever.
6.All negative thoughts and feelings come from the devil and must be replaced with positive ones in order to have a victorious Christian life.
7.The answer to confusion is to stop reasoning.
8.Adam was created outside the Garden of Eden to be a wild man. The real Christian man is the one who knows how to hunt, fish, rock climb, shoot the rapids. This is the kind of Christian that Satan REALLY fears.
9.My heart is good. The answer to my marriage woes is to fill up my love tank.
10. A couple can get over years of troubles and pain through exercises that include watching ducks on a lake together.
11. Every woman in her heart longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.
12. The root of all holiness is romance. Eve was given to the world as the incarnation of a beautiful, captivating God.
13. As long as I’m doing my best and desire to do what's right according to God's Word, I can be assured God is pleased with me.
I wonder what other Christians think of all these “truths”. Scanning through reviews of many of these titles on Amazon the VAST majority have received 5 stars and are summed up by comments like:
“My search has ended. The truth has finally set me free”
“Great book, interesting, practical, biblical.”
“What an incredible book... a rule book for life.”
The mind boggles.
The occasional one star review reveals another side to these “life changing” books:
“I wonder what all this leaven is doing to the church?”
“A train wreck that occurs when Psychology drives theology.”
“I am dumbfounded that this book has averaged a 5 star rating from more than 300 readers. I find myself deeply dismayed that people are incorporating into their belief systems advice which is so unrealistic, oversimplified, and even outright degrading at times.”
“Avoid like the black death”.
“Misquoting Scripture. There is a word for people like this – people who misquote scripture and then build their own theology on top of it: False teacher.”
“MISHANDLING GOD'S WORD.
Inaccurate Biblical interpretation is deadly, ETERNALLY.” (Their emphasis, not mine)
On my way home from the book shop I pop into a friend’s place. He notices my frustration and asks me what’s wrong. I sing my book shop blues.
He is unable to empathize. He looks a bit bemused. He says to me, “Sam, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a good Christian book and a bad one. I have no idea.”
In singing the book shop blues I am left with a number of questions:
How can we put good theology into the hands of the type of people who buy the Top 20? (And I don’t think that means how can we get them to buy a Don Carson book?)
Should we be writing more Christian books aimed at introducing people to better theology?
What does a follower of Christ look like who feeds on “reckless drivel”?
How can we begin to help Christians understand and appreciate the difference between a good read and a bad one?
What is all that leaven doing to the church?
Or should we just resign ourselves to 2 Timothy 4:3 or 2 Peter 2:1-3 and allow these words to run their course?
Let the reader beware?
(This piece was sponsored by your friendly neighbourhood Christian bookshop. All identified characters are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons alive or deceased is purely coincidental: except for John Stottt, John Curtis Chapman, the smiling sales assistant in [deleted text] Christian bookshop in [deleted text], Bob Dylan and the Irishman in Australia, Sam McGeown.)
Sam is CMS QLDNNSW’s Missionary Development and Church Liaison Officer, and a professional Brad Pitt lookalike. He is married to Yoriko, and their family has lived and done Gospel work in Japan, Ireland and Australia.