I saw the list of 100 best-selling Christian books of 2016 that was released by Christian Book Expo recently and well, it broke my heart.
The news wasn’t all bad. The abundance of printed resources available to Christians in our culture is staggering compared to any other time in history. In terms of access to quality Christian books, both new and old, we live in an era of unmatched blessing. The fact that we can select 100 titles and not even skim the surface of the ocean should be celebrated. We have so much potential, but…
The list reveals powerful truths about “Christian readership” that made me sorry I clicked the link to read the list. Here’s the top ten (drumroll).
- The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
- Jesus Calling (Hardcover) by Sarah Young
- Jesus Always by Sarah Young
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- Fervent by Priscila Shirer
- Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst
- Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids by Rob Elliott
- Shaken by Tim Tebow
- Whatever is Lovely: Adult Coloring Book
- Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
I’ll fight the temptation to critique each book (although I need to warn you that the Sarah Young books are widely considered to be heretical) and instead give a general reaction in the form of 10 random thoughts.
- Many who buy these “Christian books” are probably not Christians. The list doesn’t actually measure the faith of the buyer, only the genre of the book. Even more, I think it’s safe to speculate that tons of non-Christians buy some of these books (especially 1, 4, 8, and 10). Thus, we should take into account that the sales figures and the books don’t precisely reflect “Christian culture.”
- Christians are enamored by celebrities. The list serves to confirm what we already knew here, but it’s worth pointing out again. The top seller and at least one other book (#8) sold largely because the author(s) were well-known in the broader culture before they wrote their “Christian book.” And I would argue that Priscilla Shirer’s role in the movie War Room had more to do with her book sales than the content of her book. The books may be fantastic and filled with quality, biblical instruction and encouragement so please don’t hear me criticizing the books necessarily. My point is that these books sell because of the buyer’s judgment of the person on the cover.
- “Christian readers” are more concerned with self-help than serious reading. Even if we account for millions of non-Christian readers who buy books in this genre because of personal interest and a desire for self-help solutions, the list is telling. On the whole, the books are written for a man-centered audience and not a God-centered one.
- Women read more “Christian books” than men. First of all, this statement has nothing to do with the authors’ gender. A majority of the books appeal to women more than men, and some even appeal exclusively and directly to women.
- Christians love to color! Honestly, how does this type of book get on the list? Isn’t there a separate category for activities books? But seriously, this proves that the category called “Christian books” is too broad because a set of activity sheets with Bible verses is not Christian literature. On a related note, perhaps we should add coloring pages to the weekly church bulletin.
- The Christian section at major bookstores is not a reliable place to select a book. If the name of the game in retail is to sell stuff, then bookstores survive by selling books. While a component of good retail business will direct the buyer, it is mostly reactionary. Thus, they stock the shelves with what sells. They will likely have some good stuff mixed in, but their primary goal will be to carry what’s popular without regard for whether it’s orthodox.
- Shopping for a Christian book requires discernment. Before you buy a book and invest the time in reading it, ask google to see a review of it. Once you find some book reviews, read one from a trustworthy source. If all else fails, send me an email. Books are too plentiful and life is too short to read garbage. And as you can tell from the best sellers list… the “Christian book” dump is overflowing.
- C’mon, a joke book for goodness sake. I’m all for clean humor, but honestly, a joke book? I have no words. The only good thing I can say here is that at least the three (yep, three) joke books in the list of 100 are not propagating the prosperity gospel. You probably won’t be surprised to find more than a dozen volumes peddling that junk. But again, a joke book in the top ten...
- I live in a bubble. I take way too much pride in declaring myself a reader. I usually have a couple of books that go back and forth with me everyday to-and-from the office. I have a few different stacks in different places for easy access. I keep a list of books that I want to read. I try to read widely by rotating between more popular Christian books, world history books, theological books, fiction books, and ministry specific books. With all my effort, I have read exactly 1 of the top ten books. If you zoom out to the top 100, I’ve read only 6. I’m in the process of reading a 7th and one more is on on my future list. Now, granted, I don’t color so that knocks 7 books off the list… yes SEVEN coloring books in the top 100. Unbelievable. My point, though, is that I’m way out of touch with the broader audience of Christian book readers.
- We’re probably getting dumber. The list is a mirror and it shows a grim reflection. Judging by the list we’re not giving sufficient energy to pondering the great truths about God and instead we’re frittering away our days with kindergarten activities… sorry… last coloring book reference, I promise. Seriously, to quote Jared Wilson, “the list is an indictment” of the Christian sub-culture.
I think this is a sufficient enough rant for one post. In the weeks to come, I’ll give more hopeful and forward-looking posts related to what we can and should do in light of this data. Until then happy coloring (oops, sorry).