Monday, 29 December 2014


The current debate in Twitter centres around some of the books which are sold in the Lifeway chain of bookshops, closely associated with  Southern Baptists. You can follow the development of all this in the Pulpit and Pen's twitter feed for the background details. Then, out of the blue, my old friend #Shelton from the Sword of the Lord decided to have another pop at #Calvinist theology, this time that which was adhered to by US President Woodrow Wilson. So it was time again to remind any readers of his time line that good ole Mr Smith would willingly take their last dollar in selling them books with the very Calvinist theology he laments about. Business is business, is it not? * Then, last night, my attention was turned very briefly to yet another bookshop but that's another story. Two examples are enough.

The main point of this post is to examine to what extent should bookshops sell books with which they are not in agreement? Do we differentiate between commercial enterprises and ministries? IMO, there is no uniform answer. We all have roughly the same Bible, teaching the same principles and then we are left to apply those principles to everything we do. Some will draw a line in the sand at one book/author while someone else will extend the line a little further. Personal tastes will creep in too. And (in some/many places) financial consideration. 

The writer does not run or work in a Christian bookshop. If that puts me off the screen as far as some readers who do is concerned, then fair enough. I don't mind, but i encourage you to read on. Here's how one of your customers thinks.

The first question to ask is whether or not the bookshop is a ministry or a business? Of course, there is a place in which it may be considered both, but the dominating principle will decide what books will be stocked. Ideally, you want to run the bookshop as a ministry and stock only the books which you are happy to sell without inwardly groaning. And sell enough of them so that you pay every last wage and utilities bill. This means that you can turn away potential customers by playing the principles card. 

If you are strictly running a business, then anything goes. Whatever sells, sells and we can get you more if you want. Obviously even here, there is still a line to be drawn in the sand. It is bad enough queueing patiently behind folk buying Lottery tickets in my local grocery shop. I wouldn't like to be doing so standing with a few Banner of Truth paperbacks in my hand in a Christian bookshop in the centre of Belfast. 

To prevent this article running on, I would basically agree to sell books by those who are basically within the #Fundamentalist mindset. I define #Fundamentalist in a pretty wide sense. I am not talking now about cuff link driven American fundamentalists who shout and roar and call it hot preaching. No sir. I am talking about men like Tyndale and the Protestant Reformers like Calvin and Luther etc., the great Revivalists (like Edwards, Whitefield and Wesley etc.,) the Puritans (Flavel, Owens etc.,) men like Spurgeon and Ryle and others like DL Moody and Billy Sunday, AW Pink and HA Ironside etc. Although I  personally don't run with some of the theological sub points they hold, yet I see them as basically good and therefore fit to be sold.  The customer has his own responsibilities too, greatly shaped by the depth of teaching which his pastor sees fit to provide for spiritual discernment. 

The books I sell must have depth of teaching. Just because an author is basically sound in the faith doesn't mean his book is worth shelf room. Anyone can get a book printed. There is always some printer out there willing to get you on to someone else's bookshelf. But is there depth of teaching? No harm to #Hamblin, but if his Twitter/Sword stuff is typical of what he puts in his books (a reasonable assumption?) then I don't consider his books to be either helpful or value for money. I would want my bookshop to be a place for spiritual refreshing and edification. I have found other bookshops so. I can still remember my first visit to various bookshops for the first time. The Evangelical Bookshop yielded me Spurgeon's catechism for the grand sum of 30p. The Plymouth Brethren were associated with the now defunct NPO bookshop in Ann Street in Belfast city centre. Strangely, that is where I bought my few volumes of CH Spurgeon and John Owen - the latter of which sat for long enough on my bookshelves before I ever got near them. But hey! The seeds were being sown. It was there I picked up those little helpful booklets by John R Rice which I found so helpful in the early days. My first purchase in John Gowan's bookshop, when he still operated out of a spare room in his house, was a volume of the Presbyterian, Talmadge's sermons. 

I am aware that you could probably torment me with many questions as to individual books. Would I stock Scofield's Bible? Is there a difference between stocking his annotated Bible and Harry Ironside's stuff that was based on it? Would DN Darby sit proudly on my shelves? Jacob Arminius? Was Arminius actually sounder than John Wesley? What about Packer and Stott who seem to be one thing in their study, writing pretty sound Evangelical and Calvinist books and yet another in their ecclesiastical dealings? Ok, I get the point. Do we just sell the book then on its content alone? Do we weigh up the overall worth of the book? No doubt Scofield's Bible is bigger than the prophetical stuff. But Dispensational Charts seem to be an end in and off themselves and have little to commend themselves to any outside of that particular school of thought. Are they worth the room?

In closing: Whatever decisions I would have to come to regarding stock, I certainly wouldn't sell anything that I had branded as Satanic, whether from the pulpit or on Twitter or elsewhere.


Note: *The Sword of the Lord newspaper has been under fire for its recent edition where #Hamblin's treatment of Jeremiah 5:5 has been rightly ridiculed and rejected by all but the die hards. Just this morning, my old friend #McG gives air to his opinion. in a series of tweets, that the SoTL is harming Fundamentalism more than helping it. And several of his school of thought publicly agree with him. So with such storm clouds which have been brewing for a while, Shelton decides to tackle the personal beliefs and policies of an early 20th Century, US President. Cute, but hardly not what you do in circumstances like these. Unless you are pretty sure that your "just over 100,000" circulation readers will back you anyway no matter what you print or do. But this is beside the main point. hence this footnote. 


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