News came this week that Family Christian Stores is finally shuttering all 240 locations. The 85-year-old chain filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015, and now the end has come for the Christian retail giant that employed 3,000 and stretched across 36 states.
As one writer put it, Amazon warlord Jeff Bezos deserves much of the credit for turning most independent bookstores into karate schools or bakeries. But there is another, more specific reason Family Christian Stores is gone.
They did it to themselves.
The explosion came from within, as decades of pandering to the lowest-common denominator within evangelicalism resulted in poorly educated Christians who have read more about Jesus in “Jesus Calling” than from the Bible.
And the “Jesus Calling” version of “Jesus” ain’t Him.
The erosion of Christian retail began before my entrance into the publishing industry in 1993, but that decade saw the worst kind of compromise with error in the Church. If one looks at the top 50 bestsellers from CBA (the Association for Christian Retail) currently, a Bible-believer couldn’t recommend more than a handful, at most. Family Christian Stores stocked them all.
Whereas CBA for years has allowed the Brian McLarens and Health Communications of the world to be featured at the summer convention, Family Christian Stores has taken a front-row, star-studded table at the front. A powerful entity, Family was courted by publishers and their sales reps. The result was a multi-headed monster that gouged itself on heretical books and other materials.
The demise of Christian retail and, by extension in my view, the majority of the Evangelical church in this country, came about from a tightly coordinated effort. This ranged from celebrity pastors and ministry heads to publishers and, yes, Christian retail.
The irony is, while Family Christian Stores has imploded, the carcass will simply remain for a while on the highway of “Christian” resources, and the road is well traveled. If books are no longer sold by Family Stores, they will be sold by Amazon, or Saddleback Church, or North Point, or Willow Creek. Et cetera.
You see, a dirty secret of the Evangelical world is that if heretical books no longer have a home in bankrupt retail stores, they live and thrive in conferences, mega-churches, and media.
Celebrity pastors don’t need no stinking Family Christian Retail. They have myriad platforms to rake in the cash.
Mystical, contemplative spirituality, weird experiential-driven claptrap, and social justice progressivism passes today for Christian resources. They all contribute to the biblical illiteracy in this country.
At the Family Christian Stores fire sale, one can find books by Jen Hatmaker (a Never-Trumper, socially progressive “evangelical”), Hillsong’s Brian Houston and William Paul Young, who wrote “The Shack.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg that has rendered the Evangelical community just another glitzy, over-confident Titanic.
Family Christian Stores made a conscious decision years ago to make cash the only real priority. No vetting of books being peddled by publishers and salesmen who were, in some cases, more pagan than Baal. Anything labeling itself “Christian” was allowed in the door, more enthusiastically if the book sold like hotcakes as we used to say.
The vast majority of evangelicals today, whether in the pews or in Christian retail, have no interest in a lecture by the likes of me. So the pollution of the Evangelical waterways will no doubt continue.
I watched the progressions over the years. At one time, Baker Books promoted heavily the works of people like the creationist scholar Henry Morris (the house still publishes “The Genesis Record”), but only a few years ago found itself in the quicksand of a new imprint, Emergent Village. There, one could find (and still can) books by progressive radicals like Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (“The Emergent Manifesto”).
A few years ago, Jones – who at one time taught at Fuller – announced that he no longer believes in Original Sin.
Why in the world would Christian retail promote such a person?
Christian Retail has no one else to blame. The sad case of Family Christian Stores is but one (gigantic) example of what happens when a Christian entity doesn’t guard its heart.
I sometimes say “no one cares” when I point these things out. A few readers rightly complain that that isn’t technically true. Of course I am aware some/many(?) do care, and deeply. But my point is in general, American evangelicals are simply annoyed by columns like this, because they are “negative.”
Well, poison in the bloodstream (just try and count all my metaphors in this piece!) is definitely negative. The messenger is not actually negative, you see, and that’s an important distinction. Because if you can avoid the trap of believing the messenger carrying this sad news is negative, you can begin to see the real culprits.
It is a sign of our times that when I tell audiences or readers that their best Christian resources are a Bible, pen and notebook, I hear laughter from the audience. It sounds funny, I guess. But it is also the truth. If the American Christian community would study the Bible, pray, and make real disciples, there would be a thriving Christian bookstore on every street corner.
Ironic, isn’t it?