June 11, 2015

Bestsellers ≠ Best Books

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association has compiled a list of the best-selling Christian books of 2014. I was scandalized at the results, as was Adam Ford of the Christian webcomic, Adam4d.com. His response is hilarious and right to the point. The recent Pew Report on American religion claims a 7.8% drop in the Christian share of the population. The survey also claims that 19.2% of those raised Christian will abandon that affiliation. If these books are characteristic of the thought and theology most associated with Christianity in America, perhaps it is not surprising that many are leaving and fewer people are joining.

These are the top ten Christian best-sellers of 2014:

  1. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence: “After many years of writing in her prayer journal, missionary Sarah Young decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever she believed He was saying to her. It was awkward at first, but gradually her journaling changed from monologue to dialogue….They are written from Jesus’ point of view, thus the title Jesus Calling.”
  2. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back: “A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven.” Not to be confused with The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven whose subject later revealed his heavenly tour was just a hoax.
  3. Heaven is for Real Movie Edition 
  4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts
  5. Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change: “In this riveting book, New York Times best-selling author, Pastor John Hagee, explores the supernatural connection of certain celestial events to biblical prophecy—and to the future of God’s chosen people and to the nations of the world. Just as in biblical times, God is controlling the sun, the moon, and the stars to send our generation a signal that something big is about to happen. The question is: Are we watching and listening to His message?”
  6. I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference: Neither Amazon or Google Books could find a single instance of the words “baptism,” “communion,” “Lord’s Supper,” or “Eucharist” in a book about church membership. 
  7. The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness: Is there anything uniquely Christian here? 
  8. You Can, You Will: 8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner: “In YOU CAN, YOU WILL, Joel Osteen shares eight undeniable qualities of winners that can help you to reach your potential and achieve new levels of success in your life. You are created to be a winner. Get these eight principles deep down on the inside and boldly go in the direction of your destiny.” 
  9. The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life: “During an afternoon of baptizing over 800 people, Pastor Rick Warren realized it was time for change. He told his congregation he needed to lose weight and asked if anyone wanted to join him….The Daniel Plan shows you how the powerful combination of faith, fitness, food, focus, and friends will change your health forever, transforming you in the most head-turning way imaginably-from the inside out.” 
  10. The Mystery of the Shemitah: The 3,000-Year-Old Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future, the World’s Future, and Your Future!: “Is it possible that there exists a three-thousand-year-old mystery that… Has been determining the course of your life without your knowing it? Foretells current events before they happen? Revealed the dates and the hours of the greatest crashes in Wall Street history before they happened? Determined the timing of 9/11? Lies behind the rise of America to global superpower… and its fall? And much more…”

Two eschatological thrillers, two books of heavenly tourism, a journal of conversations with Jesus, a diet book, a money-management book, and a social-gospel self-help book. American Christians can and should be reading better things. Below are some suggestions of Christian classics that have withstood the test of time to try instead (thanks to my IRD colleagues and friends, especially Bart Gingerich, Brian Miller, and Daniel Broaddus for their suggestions).

  1. Dark Night of the Soul: “Dark Night of the Soul follows the soul’s journey from a state of abandonment and darkness to a loving union with God. In a voice at once grandiose and melodious, and a style that combines the systematic theology of St. Thomas Aquinas with rapturous poetry, ‘A wonderful illustration of the theological truth that grace, far from destroying nature, ennobles and dignifies it, and of the agreement always found between the natural and the supernatural — between the principles of sound reason and the sublime manifestations of Divine grace.’” Extra credit: St. Augustine’s Confessions, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, or John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
  2. The Divine Comedy: “Dante Alighieri’s poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary [allegorical] journey through the infinite torment of Hell, up the arduous slopes of Purgatory, and on to the glorious realm of Paradise—the sphere of universal harmony and eternal salvation.” Extra credit: Bishop N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope
  3. The Pilgrim’s Progress: “Set against realistic backdrops of town and country, the powerful drama of the pilgrim’s trials and temptations follows him in his harrowing journey to the Celestial City. “ Extra credit: C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces
  4. The Four Loves: “Here, the incomparable C. S. Lewis examines human love in four forms: affection, the most basic, general, and emotive; friendship, the most rare, least jealous, and, in being freely chosen, perhaps the most profound; Eros, passionate love that can run counter to happiness and poses real danger; charity, the greatest, most spiritual, and least selfish.” Extra credit: St. Bernard of Clairvaux’ On Loving God
  5. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis: “Drawing on the whole range of Lewis’s writings, Ward reveals how the Narnia stories were designed to express the characteristics of the seven medieval planets – – Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn – planets which Lewis described as ‘spiritual symbols of permanent value’ and ‘especially worthwhile in our own generation.’” Extra credit: John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One
  6. City of God: “Pointing the way forward to a citizenship that transcends the best political experiences of the world and offers citizenship that will last for eternity, City of God is one of the most influential documents in the development of Christianity.” Extra credit: the Athanasian Creed, Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World
  7. The Consolation of Philosophy: “In the Consolation, Boethius explores the true end of life-knowledge of God-through a conversation with Lady Philosophy. Part prose, part poetry, the work combines Greek philosophy and Christian faith to formulate answers to some of life’s most difficult and enduring questions.” Extra credit: Augustine Thompson’s Francis of Assisi: A New Biography, Wilhelm Roepke’s A Humane Economy 
  8. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: “For nearly two thousand years courageous men and women have been tortured and killed because of their confessions of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Stories of heroic courage and overcoming faith. Stories of love of God and Christ. Stories of the amazing grace of God that enabled men women and children to endure persecutions and often horrible deaths.” Extra credit: Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying, Johann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations
  9. St. John Chrysostom On Fasting. In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis discusses “gluttony of delicacy” as well as “gluttony of excess” His Screwtape discusses enslavement to the sensuality of the belly, arguing, But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?” Proper fasting helps guard against such sensuality and enslavement.  Extra credit: Tertullian On Fasting 
  10. The Life of Antony: “The Life of Antony is one of the foremost classics of Christian asceticism. It tells the spiritual story of St. Antony, the founder of Christian monasticism. Written at the request of the desert monks of Egypt to provide “an ideal pattern of the ascetical life,” it immediately became astonishingly popular.” Extra credit: Eusebius’ The History of the Church, St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation


10 Responses to Bestsellers ≠ Best Books

  1. Patrick98 says:

    All of these classic books were new once, and have stood the test of time. Perhaps some Christian books being written now, or recently will become classics. Time will tell . . .

    • Nick Barden says:

      Perhaps. There are good works being written by Christians now — like Gilead. But none of them are on this list.

  2. brookspj says:

    I would add “The Interior Castle” by Teresa of Avila and “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence to the second list.

  3. ken says:

    The list of bestsellers does not speak well for the state of Christianity in America, nor do the polls that show how biblically illiterate so many Christians are. Sad to think that people neglect the Bible while reading the fluff cranked out by the likes of Joel Osteen.

  4. jay kay says:

    The Divine Comedy and Planet Narnia as Christian books??

  5. Jerod Hatch says:

    The best seller list is sad. The recommended list is a travesty. Both are broad paths to destruction.

  6. DawneSN says:

    Number 1 should be the Bible. Punto.

  7. Janju says:

    I would put #2 THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, by Detrich Bonhoffer after the Bible. People have become so shallow and self-focused.

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