Friday, February 13, 2009

"Read with Discernment"

That's the trademarked strategy at Lifeway stores these days. (HT: Challies) The store has decided to attach a sticker to certain books with questionable content. You can read more here.

Lifeway provides this explanatory comment:

We want you to know that the authors of books marked Read with Discernment may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.

However, we are making these titles available to our customers (along with the background and additional insight offered here through Read With Discernment) because we believe the books do present content that is relevant and of value to Christians and/or because pastors, seminary students, and other ministry leaders need access to this type of material, strictly for critical study or research to help them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in today's postmodern world. Our prayer for you is that in whatever you read, you place the material under the magnifying glass of scripture and read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you so that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:9-10, "...your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ..." (Holman CSB).

So far, the following authors have received the label: William P. Young (The Shack), Rob Bell (of Velvet Elvis fame), Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz).

A couple of these authors have put things in print that depart so far from the biblical truth that you can only use the label "heretical" to describe them.

On the one hand, you're happy to see Lifeway trying to aid the unsuspecting book purchaser. On the other hand, you're left wondering why a Christian bookstore would carry anything harmful to a person's soul.

What say ye? Is this a good idea? Too much? Too little? Should they put this label on all the non-book stuff they sell?


James Prevatt said...

Personally, I am mostly on the "great idea" side but have a concern - Lifeway should make it even clearer that items labeled "Read With Discernment" are most certainly not appropriate for immature Christians. If someone has not progressed past the "milk" stage of their walk, they certainly would not be ready to deal with tainted (or even rotten) "meat" like this.

But, for the most part, I think this is a great idea. How can those of us mature in the faith effectively defend against incorrect thoughts and interpretations unless we have studied and understand where such incorrectness is based?

Anonymous said...

I can understand both sides of this argument. I haven't read any of Rob Bell's works (and from what I hear of him I don't currently think I want to) and only one Brian McLaren book (Generous Orthodoxy). I have read Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller and The Shack by W.P. Young.

That being said, I would like to both express my support of Lifeway for carrying such titles as well as placing a "warning" label on the outside of the books. These books/authors are generating a lot of discussion/controversy and it's imperative that pastors be informed about popular cultural trends, especially within the realm of Christendom. Since Lifeway carries the books it gives good access to pastors, etc. that would be in the stores anyway (or online) serching for other resources.

For what it's worth, I wish The Shack had never been published, especially under the monniker of a "Christan" novel. I also regret that so many "evangelicals" are trumpeting the book. As for the other two I've read, I do think they have value though I agree with the warning label - take it all with a grain of salt and a lot of prayer/meditation and scripture.

Shouldn't we do that with all things we hear, read, and watch anyway?

Anonymous said...

Too little, I think. There are many other places where people can get those books, Lifeway could stick with more edifying content. But the fact that customers could get the books elsewhere is probably the point. What business wants to see customers go to another store for a product the business could provide? But I wish Lifeway would see itself as less of a business and more of a ministry.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I've been concerned with much of the content in Christian bookstores lately. It's kind of nice to know that they at least recognize that not all of what is tagged "Christian" is really so. I was alarmed at the popularity of The Shack and am glad to hear that it is being sold with a warning!

Stephen Ley said...

We should be thankful that Lifeway isn't putting warning labels on books by John Piper or John MacArthur considering how some of the higher ups in the SBC feel about the doctrines of grace.

Anonymous said...

I think their intentions are to serve those who are browsing their bookstore by drawing attention to the objectionable content. With that in mind it's good to see them take a stand on materials that are not biblical. But as one commenter mentioned, it's dissapointing that they would even choose to carry those books. If someone wanted to buy those books to do research on postmodern movements couldn't they just go to Amazon or their local Borders? Furthermore, the sticker ends up implying that the books without the sticker can be read without discernment. What about TD Jakes, NT Wright or Joel Osteen? Do they get a sticker? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

To the last comment, well said. There seems to be a line here that has been crossed...but I can't put my finger on it. I don't particularly enjoy some books that are very popular and would be on the front display in Lifeway stores because I feel the authors make God out to be a big Teddy Bear (won't give specifics). The question seems to be: what is dangerous for the average Lifeway customer? Weak bible study materials can be very dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought that perhaps we ought to just eliminate Lifeway? Lifeway is 90% responsible for the pathetic condition of the churches in the SBC. Sure, it's a cash cow, but we can do a whole lot better.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Who are you?

Everyone else,
The only book in the list provided that I've read is Miller's 'Blue Like Jazz'. The only heretical thing about it is that its an evangelical being self-critical. And that's not heresy, that's a very Christian thing to do. Its seems LifeWay, and in many ways the SBC, avoids self-criticism.

How long until they start marking their music? Thank God Derek Webb has been skating by in LifeWay stores sticker-free. We'll see how long that lasts. And what about the books that aren't controversial but are just lousy?

Anonymous said...

I can't help but feel that certain Christian bookstores will need to order a lot of those stickers.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Thanks for this post!

Anonymous said...

I think it's a necessary step in the right direction. The presence of the sticker shows that there is a concern for authentic Christian doctrine. Hopefully, the next step will be to stop ordering and stocking these questionable or heretical "resources".

At the same time, I can't help but to think that such labeling will create contoversy between publishers, authors, retailers and subsequently western Christendom. But such controversy may be the necessary component to awaken the church to the truth of Christ and the Christian faith.

Austin, TX

canonglenn said...

I worked for Lifeway for over ten years, during my time there I noticed several disturbing trends.

One, the more the Lifeway chain tried to promote itself as a store that was catering broadly to Evangelicals, the more the book selection narrowed to strict fundamentalist-type Baptist books. At one point, the only openly Charismatic books in the store were Jack Hayford's.

Two, the fundamentalists in the SBC targeted the liberals for annihilation, then the charismatics, and now the Reformed pastors will be next. There is no freedom in the SBC to espouse anything but a sort of bland Arminianism.

Third, the leadership in Nashville, grew less and less tolerant of anyone working in their stores that was not strongly SBC. They did not trust anyone outside their little circle of cronies. Basically, they started hiring "yes" men as managers who had no sense of business creativity or Christ-centered passion.

Lifeway's leadership is not worthy of being trusted whether or not there is a sticker that says read with discernment.

BTW, this is not sour grapes. I left on my own terms, but after ten years I felt that the only thing the leadership was seeking was their own self-aggrandizement.

Anonymous said...

When the torch finally passes to the next generation, and we're done with the pretense and pretending, then all the books at Lifeway will rate the warning label. I'm in my 50s and I am so thankful for the open transparency of today's newer authors. I'll take any doctrinal issues that they are still working out with fear and trembling over Beth Moore any day.

In the meantime Lifeway will have it both ways: reaping the profits from today's best sellers, and shutting up their more conservative element by the use of warning labels.

Can't wait to see which Bible translation becomes the first to rate a label. Don't laugh; it will happen.

Anonymous said...

might I suggest a section in the Lifeway store labeled "Heretical" and we can put all that junk over there alone with the Book of Mormon, the Quran, and such so that Bible students can read and know what they are arguing against... I would add "The Language of God" to that shelf by Dr. Francis Collins...