Last week I went to two different Christian bookstores to look for a commentary on the Gospel of John. I already have more study Bibles, commentaries and systematic theologies than I know what to do with, but I’ve never used a book-specific commentary. So, I went to one small, dying, independent store, and one large chain store.
I was shocked at what I found. You might already know what I am going to say and think, “so?” But, I don’t go into Christian bookstores that much anymore so I had forgotten the state of Christian publishing – or, should I say, Christian marketing. Or, perhaps what I saw really indicated the state of Christian reading.
First, the largest book section of both stores was “Christian Fiction.” Now, I’ve read some Christian fiction, but not much. Most of it I avoid like the plague, because, basically, it’s just plain bad. What I really hate is when they have to stick in some odd, unnatural reference to God to qualify it as “Christian.” I’m sorry, but if you can’t even make Christianity sound normal, there’s a problem somewhere. I mean, if Grisham can do it, these other people should be able to.
There were also large sections of self-help books, categorized under “Christian Living,” “Men’s Issues,” and so on. There are Christian Diet books, Christian Finance books, and all kinds of other books I wouldn’t buy. The best books are always found in the “Pastors’ Helps” and “Theology” sections, if you can find them. Both stores had large selections of Bibles, in all shapes, sizes, and of course, themes (why is a Men’s Bible different from a Women’s Bible?), as well a plethora of Bible covers (including the must-have Purpose-Driven Life Bible cover), Bible bookmarks and other Bible paraphernalia.
I did actually find the commentaries in both stores after wandering around a bit – in one store I wandered a lot, because I kept thinking that they just had to have more Bible study materials somewhere (I was wrong…). I did find some of what were called Bible Studies, which were really poorly done fill-in-the-blank books, obviously meant to let people believe that they were actually studying the Bible. There were also dozens of topical Bible Studies. These do not actually study the Bible – they study topics, like “forgiveness” and “kindness,” and use Bible references to make their point. That’s not my definition of a Bible Study; that’s a study using the Bible as a reference. In my mind, there’s a difference.
Both stores did carry one or two of the same one-volume commentaries that I already owned, and a couple of book-specific commentary series. However, they were quite incomplete, with, sadly to say, no “John’s.” I stood there, looking at the poorly stocked shelves – in this section, the books were all spread out to make it seem like they actually had a lot to choose from – and wondered, “doesn’t anyone actually study the Bible anymore?”
I didn’t really think I needed another commentary on John anyway, so I wasn’t that disappointed from that standpoint. I was, however, just disappointed in what I found on the shelves.
But, it wasn’t a total loss, as I bought the latest Frank Peretti novel at a good discount. It’s not that bad…