Category Archives: In the News

Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore

 

You may have heard the news recently that Family Christian Bookstores are closing their doors and liquidating their merchandise.  By the time I’ve gotten around to publishing this post, the liquidation sale is nearly over.

It’s fascinating to me that a “Christian” bookstore would be venturesome enough to locate in malls and shopping plazas across America.  After 85 years in business, to date they operated 240 stores in 36 states and employed more than 3000 people, self-billed as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”.

Several reasons for closing may be obvious, like a lot of major brick and mortar retailers, they are simply suffering at the hand of online shopping, unable to compete with the selection and pricing of major online book companies such as Amazon and even Christianbook.com.  This I grant is a very real possibility.

But there may in fact be another reason for the sharp decline in the demand for “Christian-themed” merchandise, one that can be directly correlated with the changing landscape of American Christianity, i.e. Western Christendom.

If you’ve ever set foot in a Family Christian Bookstore, you know that their target audience is not the theologically astute or discerning mind.  I know I may be stepping on toes here, but their store markets everything from Christian jewelry to wall art to all things Christian if it has a cross or an Ichthus.  Their book of 2017 is Jesus Always by the cautionary Sarah Young and you’re far more likely to find the works of T.D. Jakes on their shelves than John Owen.

I get it.  Largely believers want to read or buy things for encouragement and don’t really know where to turn, so stores and merchandise like this have their appeal.  I’ve been there, done that.  This isn’t to entirely denigrate their store or to kick them while they are down.  They’re in the merchandising/marketing business so obviously they’re going to cater to what people are interested in purchasing.  Which brings us back to a speculative reason why they are closing.

It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America is quickly changing.  What used to be dominated by Christian nominalism, i.e. Christians in name only, is quickly becoming dominated by the Religious Nones, i.e. those who claim no religious identity or affiliation.  They can’t necessarily be described as agnostic, as there is a certain level of syncretism with other religions and secularism in their beliefs.

In the 1980’s – 2000’s Christian nominalism lived in an incubator.  The Religious Right was asserting political and cultural power, televangelists dominated T.V. programming, and Christian bookstores were flooding the market on the backs of the downtown and suburban mall phenomenon.  It’s speculative, but perhaps reasonable to conclude that the seeds of Christian nominalism may have been sown decades prior in the fundamentalist vs. liberalism debate of the early 1900’s.  Nevertheless it became very popular, fashionable, and dare I say financially lucrative to associate with Christianity, largely identified as Evangelicalism or for the sake of historic continuity, that which falls under the umbrella of Christendom.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Christian nominalist has given birth (literally in most cases) to the Religious Nones, those who saw no real power in the faux faith of their nominalist parents; were never really exposed to the Gospel; have not properly understood the majesty of Christ nor the sinfulness of their sin; and have largely been inoculated to the Gospel because of the disingenuous form of it to which they were exposed.

This is the landscape in which Family Christian Bookstores now finds themselves.  Peddling nominally Christian books to a nominally Christian audience that no longer exists.  This is most probably the reason for their demise.

But their closing isn’t merely about the loss of a giant Christian merchandise seller, as though the Kingdom of Christ has now given up ground to the enemy.  There is more to be gleaned here.  What can we conclude, generally speaking, from this observation of the relationship between the Christian retail market and the changing religious landscape of the United States?  Primarily, I think we may observe that there is a sifting underway, particularly in this country.  It is a sifting of all things Evangelical.  All things Christian in name only.  And this will ultimately further the collapse of Evangelicalism.

This was something I mentioned on this blog in March 2009 in the posts: The Coming Evangelical Collapse and Survey shows a Falling Way.  As I’ve revisited those posts and the articles linked in them, it’s remarkable how it is all unfolding before our eyes.  In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to interact some with those posts, particularly the predictions made by the late Michael Spencer in his own post “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” which I linked to 8 years ago this month.

 

 

Who is the Fool

 

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1

We live in an age not unlike others before ours where skepticism and her offspring atheism and agnosticism fuel the worldviews of the day. If one were not able to observe the course of church history to note the recurrence of these views, often followed by times of refreshment or revival, it would be easy to get discouraged over the foolishness of the 21st century.

Though surveys may be unreliable and most are certainly unworthy of attention, a recent Pew Research survey revealed the rise of “religious nones” or those who identify as atheist or agnostic. The survey revealed that from 2007 to 2014 the religious unaffiliated had risen from 16% to 23% of the U.S. population, or roughly 55 million people out of which the vast majority (70%) were from the millennial generation (those born from 1980s-2000s). During this same period, those identifying as Christians dropped from 78% to 71% and one is left to suspect if the actual number of true Christians isn’t significantly lower than those who merely identify with Christianity in name only.

In the Psalm cited above, David, writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, conducts his own survey of the religious landscape and finds that the “religious nones” of his day were fools who were corrupt and did abominable deeds, summarizing that “there is none who does good.”

Calvin notes that the Hebrew word for fool conveys the idea of a “perverse, vile or contemptible person”. Commenting further, he writes

“all profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity, are convicted of madness. David does not bring against his enemies the charge of common foolishness, but rather inveighs against the folly and insane hardihood of those whom the world accounts eminent for their wisdom. We commonly see that those who, in the estimation both of themselves and of others, highly excel in sagacity and wisdom, employ their cunning in laying snares, and exercise the ingenuity of their minds in despising and mocking God. It is therefore important for us, in the first place, to know, that however much the world applaud these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God.”

The declaration that there is no God is not said to be in an outward response to a survey, but in the innermost, intimate part of a person, the heart. This is nonetheless blasphemy against an all holy God. In Mark 7:20-23 we learn that it is in the heart where all manner of evil arises

“And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Truly the heart, as Calvin has so famously noted, is an idol factory and it is here where the fool declares that there is no God. An outward profession of this, whether it be in blatantly associating with agnosticism, atheism, or an outright life in defiance to God, originates in idolatry and blasphemy of the heart. Perhaps without even knowing it those “religious nones” who participated in the Pew Research poll have committed nothing less than blasphemy against the very One who gave them life.

We live in an age where belief in evolution or denying the existence of God is seen as intelligence, far above the low-browed faith of Christians. The sad reality of sin is that it so corrupts and distorts that it causes the creature to worship itself rather than the Creator, which isn’t intelligence at all, but psuedo-intellectualism or foolishness.

Turning again to Calvin,

“They may not plainly deny the existence of a God, but they imagine him to be shut up in heaven, and divested of his righteousness and power; and this is just to fashion an idol in the room of God. As if the time would never come when they will have to appear before him in judgment, they endeavor, in all the transactions and concerns of their life, to remove him to the greatest distance, and to efface from their minds all apprehension of his majesty. And when God is dragged from his throne, and divested of his character as judge, impiety has come to its utmost height; and, therefore, we must conclude that David has most certainly spoken according to truth, in declaring that those who give themselves liberty to commit all manner of wickedness, in the flattering hope of escaping with impunity, deny in their heart that there is a God.”

The tragedy of this All Fools Day is not global warming, the political landscape, or the economy rather the increase of fools, those who say in their heart there is no God. Nothing short of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can remedy the malady of our day. Find a fool and share the Gospel, the research shows the search shouldn’t be too difficult.

 

 

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/13/a-closer-look-at-americas-rapidly-growing-religious-nones/