I was sent an advance reader’s copy of a Christian book set to debut next week. Part-way through and I just want to toss it.
Anymore, I read little contemporary Christian nonfiction. Though I graduated from a Christian college with a degree in Christian Education (now called, trendily enough, Spiritual Transformation), I find most books in that field and in general Christian Living written today border on the insufferable. As a result, it’s all I can do to make it past the first few pages with my sanity intact.
1. Paid, professional pastors who write books about how normal people should live are NOT normal people. Anymore, the disconnect just seems more and more glaring. When paid, professional pastors who have gestated for decades in the safe womb of institutional Christian ministry write about how the everyday working man should live his life, those pastors have no idea what the world is like outside their artificial womb. And that naiveté actually seems to be getting more pervasive not less.
2. Really, I don’t care about all their credentials either. Read a book on Christian living from 100 years ago and I can promise you the author did not spend page after page talking about his credentials or casually dropping on the page all the wonderful things he has done that should convince you he’s an expert worthy of following. Authors of 100 years ago let the Holy Spirit establish credibility through the spiritually astute words on the page.
3. Drawing on illustrations that apply to only 0.01% of people won’t help anyone. So you’re writing a book about drawing closer to Jesus, but every illustration comes out of your life in a Christian commune. That may be great if the point of the book is how to start a Christian commune, but for everyone else who doesn’t live in a Christian commune, well…
4. Do I really need to have sectarianism and branding/marketing ever before me? I don’t recall Christian books from yesteryear constantly shilling for the author’s brand of Christianity. Books back then seemed to focus on Jesus more and less on this denomination or that. And even if an author had a clear denominational background, it wasn’t so pervasive on the page. Today, in cases where the author started a nondenominational, unaffiliated church, the constant on-page marketing campaign for the church doesn’t help either. Same goes for conferences or parachurch ministries.
5. To the shallow, all things are shallow, including the book they just wrote on how to be deep. Maybe it’s me, but today’s books on Christian living seem obvious. I know I’m not a babe in Christ anymore, but too many of those books ramble with stories about how the author did such and such, and they never get around to pressing in deeper. I’m always startled by how much more reasoned and filled with rare wisdom older Christian books are. Maybe Christians of 200 years ago were just deeper people and knew the Lord more intimately.
6. Christian publishers give too many book deals to callow dudes who haven’t lived. Yes, I am getting older, but I find it wrong that so many authors of bestselling books on Christian living are young hotshots running a trendy megachurch everyone is trying to emulate. Give me someone with some life experience instead. A guy who has buried a quarter of his congregation has a lot more to say about life than some 35-year-old dude who wears bowling shirts, can quote The Big Lebowski, and loves to drop in casual conversation what microbrews he drinks.
7. And why is it that all the young dudes always quote each other? Sometimes it seems as if Christianity started 30 years ago, if many of today’s books are any indication. This is especially true of books that discuss ministry models. It’s as if no one before today did anything worthwhile in the name of Jesus. In addition, a friend noted that the only way to make money blogging is to write a blog about making money blogging, and I wonder if that circular focus afflicts too many Christian nonfiction titles today. The way to sell Christian books on a topic is to get all your buddies who also sell Christian books on that topic to refer to your stuff in their books. The incestuousness of it all bugs me. That’s also a recipe for not only multiplying errors but also for believing too much of your group philosophy’s press.
8. Stop with the constant reference to your other books. If you’re going to publish a new book, don’t spend half of the new book referring to to something you wrote in a previous book that I’ll have to read before I can make sense of what is written in the new book. I get that you need to make a living through your writing. Great. How about achieving that noble goal by writing better books?
9. Where’s Jesus? We know Waldo is hiding amid the crowd, but why must Jesus be reduced to lurking amid the plethora of words in a book on living the Christian life? People are dying for Jesus. They’re not dying to hear an author ramble about his favorite video game and what life lessons can be drawn from playing Master Chief in Halo. I don’t care how big that pastor’s megachurch is or how fast it’s growing. Jesus’ Church is bigger. Tell me and everyone else about Jesus. Christian books from long ago did.
The Christian life deserves better. I wish I could find more of that better in the pages of today’s bestselling books on Christian living.