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.