May 18, 2009


I have recently had an interesting exchange of letters with a couple of men in leadership with LifeWay Christian Resources (the literature selling and producing branch of the Southern Baptist Convention). The reason for the exchange was my astonishment and grief over LifeWay’s insistence on selling ‘Christian’ books which are heretical (not just a little off kilter, but outright soul-damning) in their theological orientation, but which happen to be selling a lot of copies right now (e.g. William Young’s destructive little book entitled The Shack).

Apparently I am not the only stick-in-the-mud out there who thinks that the denomination’s literature arm ought not be selling such rubbish. So LifeWay has come up with a compromise. They are still going to sell soul-damning, heretical books (they do make a lot of money off them you know!), but now they are going to shore up the problem (supposedly) by inserting a “book briefing” inside each copy of such books, reminding people that they should “read with discernment” … not imbibing the heresy, but still enjoying the “helpful” aspects of the book.

I think it’s a pipe-dream. And here is what I wrote (about LifeWay’s “read with discernment” memo inside the front cover of The Shack) to the LifeWay rep with whom I have been corresponding:

Does LifeWay honestly think that most people will be more influenced by a single-sheet, prosaic, memo-like piece of paper ... or by a whole book's worth of well-written narrative, penned by an undoubtedly gifted writer?

My purpose here is not to re-open the can of deadly worms that Young has opened in The Shack. Rather, I am simply trying to illustrate that LifeWay’s solution … a half-sheet of boring and non-specific prose, stuck into the front of a highly riveting book … is like trying to fight a five-alarm fire with a garden hose. It’s just not going to work. Young’s artful, interesting, emotional story-line is going to win out over LifeWay’s lackluster little memo every time.

And here is the application for you and me …

Boring, lackluster, non-enthusiastic testimonies (at work, at school, and with our own children) will not stand up to the winsome, powerful presentations of the ‘gospels’ that are offered to our teens, our children, and our neighbors by classmates, teachers, musicians, artists, and global thinkers whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to those of the Bible … but who show, through their actions and voice tones, that they actually believe and care about what they say!

In other words, which is more likely to impact a teenager … a mom who yawns through a sermon on justification, or an atheistic professor who is excited beyond belief about human gene theory? Which is more likely to impact our children … dads who are clearly more excited about their work prospects than the Bible, or an unbelieving classmate who is riveted by some political cause? And which is more likely to impact our co-workers and classmates … the church-goer behind the desk to the right who never has enough courage to say what He really believes, or the articulate Muslim behind the desk to the left who pauses to pray all through the day every Friday?

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe what I wrote in the last two articles. The gospel is more powerful than we can imagine … and has the power to convert people even if it is spoken in the most mono-tone of voices. But our testimonies to the gospel are not so. Our testimonies can either be bright and winsome … or BOOOORRRING! That’s why The Shack, and the articulate Muslim, and the atheist professor are making more of a difference in the marketplaces and universities of this world than many a Christian. The devil is busying sculpting interesting, provocative spokesmen for his schemes. Yet many of us are content with a lifestyle that reads more like an interoffice memo than a fascinating story.

1 comment:

Stewart Clarke said...

wait a minute, the shack was endoresed by Eugene Peterson, Wynona Judd, and others.
Seriously though Lifeway is the publishing arm of the SBC and should be held accountable for what they sell. It is tricky though since they sell academic works that are much more damaging. Maybe a better question would be about the role and purpose of denominations in the first place.