9 Reasons Why Today’s Books on Christian Living Are Terrible

Bad, terrible, lousy, shallow booksI 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.

Here’s why:

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.

by Dan Edelen

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30 Comments

  1. Oengus
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Dan: “life lessons can be drawn from playing Master Chief in Halo”

    Are you kidding? Did someone really do that?

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      Oengus,

      Your question reveals the problem. Whether someone did or did not, that we are wondering if it might be true says everything we need to know about the state of things.

      In truth, I don’t know if someone did. But I don’t know that they didn’t. In fact, I can pretty much assume someone DID, since that’s about where we are in youth ministry today.

  2. bobp
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi,

    I read blogs not books so I’m out of it. (And the less blogs , the better. I want to be more blessed,not more perplexed.)

    The last “major” book I read that everyone else was reading was The Purpose Driven Life”. A fine book, and I’m glad Jesus got some publicity of it, but I can’t say it is the book I return to again and again like Tozer, for example.

    As for point number 1 , I made a somewhat similar comment to my pastor about pastors in general having a sheltered environment and how Methodists were encouraging lay speakers who were making their living outside the church.

    He not only agreed and took it further to my surprise saying maybe all pastors should be laity. (He had referenced that day some unfaithful Methodist ordained preachers performing same-sex marriages.)

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      Bob,

      the bivocational pastor issue is a toughy. I’ve been on both sides. If nothing else, it would be good if pastors had not spent all their lives in institutional ministry. The guy who was out there in the “real world” before becoming a pastor has more to say to me and to you.

  3. Diane R
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Amen, Dan. But you should see the books and conferences out there for women. We have to read and hear “Life Coaches, ” Inspirational authors and speakers (women cannot take any kind of doctrine you know) and Third Wave Charismatics that have been to the seventh tier of heaven and saw not only Jesus, but also God. The next 25 pages then are devoted to what God looks like and what He said to this “special anointed” author/speaker. Sadly, it’s the Young Calvinist movement that have the best books, both by men and women. I haven’t a clue to what happened to the Pentecostals and Charismatics, but out of desperation, I’m almost ready to go to anti-Pentecostal/Charismatic John MacArthur’s church (who has very good adult Sunday School teachers as well as great women teachers of the women’s groups).

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      Diane,

      I get the feeling that your place at this point in your life is to be the discerning stalwart who leads people onto the narrow path. Maybe you have to be in the tougher place so that you can pull some off that wide road. Time and again, that seems to be where I see your heart.

  4. akaGaGa
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, I can say with some assurance that “today’s books on Christian living are terrible” because … today’s Christian living is terrible. Rather than fill this space explaining that statement, I’ll send you to the article that prompted me to say it. It’s by one James Prasch, who – love him or hate him – doesn’t pull his punches.

    http://moriel.org/MorielArchiv.....huck-smith

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      I’ve heard of Prasch, akaGaGa. Heard a few of his teachings. Interesting guy. Has he had a Calvary Chapel affiliation?

      • akaGaGa
        Posted January 30, 2014 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        Not officially, but he knew Chuck Smith and shared the platform with him and other Calvary guys on occasion. But he’s truly upset with what’s going on at Calvary. He recently posted a video titled “A Word to Calvary Chapels from Jacob Prasch.” If you watch it, ignore the beginning and wait ’til he gets into the meat. As always, he says it like it is.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4qKLKhTL8Q&feature=youtu.be

        • Posted January 31, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          My observation is that CC generally doesn’t respond to(let alone act upon) what outsiders say. Now if the critic were a big name who is in the “club,” then maybe yes, the criticism might get some traction. Otherwise, no.

          But I ask, why did Prasch, if he’s got a beef about something, wait until Chuck was dead before saying anything?

          • Posted January 31, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

            Someone has written out an interesting response to Prasch.

          • Posted February 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

            Sorry about the 404’ed link I gave. WordPress says the authors deleted their website. That is remarkable when I consider that it was fairly large blog with plenty of entries.

            • Posted February 2, 2014 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

              I read it before it vanished, Oengus. Not sure I thought much of the response, as it rambled so much the points got lost.

              • Posted February 3, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                Dan, I took note of it simply because it was a response of some kind. But it sure is strange that they took down their entire blog.

                Anyhow, I will bet dollars to donuts that you will not find any kind of official Calvary Chapel Association response to Prasch. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.

                Like I said earlier, the S.O.P. at CC is not to acknowledge or respond to outside criticisms. Personally I think this is a counter-productive policy in the long run.

              • Posted February 3, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                Slapping all the yapping chihuahuas is counterproductive to most large organizations, Oengus. And there are more of those little beasts than you can shake an open hand at, espcially since the rise of blogging. If I were CC, I wouldn’t waste my time either.

              • Posted February 3, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

                Dan: “yapping Chihuahuas”

                Yes, I agree, it is true there are lots of those. But merely stonewalling everything doesn’t deal with the fact that CC does have some genuine problems, and occasionally the chihuahuas latch on to a couple of them, broadcasting them all over the place, and injecting plenty of confusion and misinformation in the process.

                But one doesn’t have to deal the chihuahuas directly. They can be ignored while addressing the real issues in a forthright manner.

                My “other place” is not friendly to chihuahuas, but it does mention some of what I think are the basic problems that need to be dealt with. The biggest problem of all is that nobody thinks they have a problem.

              • akaGaGa
                Posted February 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                It might be wise to ignore the messenger and listen to the message, lest we find ourselves beating Balaam’s donkey.

              • Posted February 3, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                Interesting perspective (and illustration), akaGaGa.

  5. wayne
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Dan,
    You ‘hit the nail on the head”, I really find in hard to read,much less agree with, most of the current market books. I will strend my time reading several blogs, that, at least to me, speak deeper and are of more help to me. Yous is on of the few I look forward to, thanks God bless

    • Posted January 31, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Wayne. I hope to stay tapped into what the Lord is doing.

  6. Posted January 31, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Dan, great wisdom.

    • Posted January 31, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Coming from you, Gary, that means a great deal. How would you change the current state of books on Christian living?

      • Posted February 2, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

        It seems to me that there is a very shallow view and teaching on progressive sanctification. This means that Christians do not understand what it means to grow in Christ nor how to disciple others to grow in Christ.

        The first few years of knowing Christ a believer people can grow just by being around older Christians and attending church. However, after the milk is drunk and mush is eaten, trying to teach people how to eat meat is almost impossible to fid. plus, most Pastors do not want their members growing into maturity and learning to minister to others. Books on the Christian life need to be focused on the spiritual age of the readers. Most is not only milk they are skimmed milk.

  7. Posted January 31, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Dan, you are, as usual, spot on. The reason for all this, in my insufficiently humble opinion, is that we (by which I mean 21st century western Christians) are generally so absorbed, fascinated and moulded by the consumer capitalist worldview that it drives everything including the Christian books we read and rave about.

    And at the root of it all is basically one thing: money.

    Until the church starts to seriously counteract the prevailing consumerist culture, this is only going one way, and it ain’t north.

    • Posted January 31, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Rob,

      Yes, money does drive a lot of it.

      But I also wonder if some of it is that something disconnected around the 1960s or so, and all those mature saints who should have passed along their wisdom didn’t. Reasons are plentiful, but the lack exists nonetheless. For this reason, too much of our material today is…well, weak. We lost something, and books prior to that era highlight this loss glaringly.

      • Posted January 31, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Dan, I absolutely agree with your thesis that the lack exists. And yes, the reasons are complicated. It if we don’t have some inkling what they are, how can we hope to reverse them?

  8. Posted January 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I suppose I’ve picked the right ones. I don’t recognize much of these things. In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson, Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. All fantastic. You have to pick the right ones. C.J. Mahaney’s book on humility, not so much, especially if you know what has gone on with him.
    Jeff

    • Posted January 31, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Jeff, yes, those are classic books, though I have not read the Ferguson. Thanks for the recommendations. My recommendations are here: http://ceruleansanctum.com/godly-reads

      • Posted January 31, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        It seems to me Christian Living is such a broad category. How would you define it? I didn’t even know the term until a few years ago, even though I had read a lot of them through the years.

        It seems a bit unfair to generalize that far, unless you mean the post as sarcasm. Most stuff that people produce, whatever it is, will be mediocre, and time will weed out the ones that aren’t worthy. I suppose that’s why reading the classics, like Edwards on your list, and Owen, who I’ve gotten to love, are pretty sure to be great.
        Jeff

    • Posted February 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      These books are the basics on faith vs works. They are foundational not much beyond.

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