Monday, September 10, 2007

"Inspirational" Equals....Pablum? Here Comes a Rant

Today I stood in the book section of K-Mart while I waited for a prescription to be filled. I wandered to the "inspirational" section. I know that the updated version of J. Lee Grady's, Ten Lies the Church Tells Woman is coming out at Wal Mart soon, and I wondered if K Mart might feature it too. (Not yet.) Looking at the titles was enlightening, and quite discouraging, to say the least.

Why?

There were at least 20 titles which I would characterize as from the "prosperity gospel" genre. One author had nine books in that section! Nine? I don't want to be overly critical, but I could not help but wonder, "Is that woman really finding time to write prolifically or are most of these books a rehash of the same theme?" I noted a large number of "Your Best Life Now" by Joel Osteen, and titles such as (my paraphrase) "Seven Steps to Greatness," "How to Overcome Your Fears," "God Wants You Blessed," "Being All You Can Be," and book after book with similar titles. Because all the books were in one relatively small space, I was struck with something that seemed overwhelming.

It was not that there is no truth in these volumns. There probably is. Do I not want to be the best I can be? Yes, of course I do. Do I want to overcome fear, or things that hold me back? Oh, very much! Don't I want to have the best life I can have? Yep, for sure.

So what is the problem?

The books do not turn one's focus to the greatness of God, the beauty of his holiness, do not call us to repentance and righteousness, do not rebuke us for our lack of sacrifice and submission and discipleship, do not deal with our pride (the perpetual sin of mankind).

It's all about....ME getting happy!

The topics are, with some exceptions, a rehash of self-help and pop psychology with religious terms attached to make it seem "Christian." Perhaps some will say that it is sour grapes for a pastor of a small rural church to criticize the pastor of one of the largest churches in America, but to me there is little of Christ in Joel Osteen's runaway best seller.

You may already know what I think about what is largely offered in most "Christian" book stores. I think the inflated prices and the "Jesus junk" and the shelves loaded with books characterized by shallow exegesis (if any at all) and humanistic theology and "devotional" baby food are disgraceful. As for the gender specific books like "Wild at Heart" and "Captivated" -- back away quickly! And it grieves my heart to admit that some of the worst offenders are in the "charismatic" camp.

Some stores are better than others, of course. All have sections with books that will genuinely challenge, stretch your brain, make you think and ask questions. Bypass the current best sellers and the books with girly or manly covers and head for the theology or the classics sections. Read Bonhoeffer and Murray and Moody and Chambers and even Billy Graham. And don't be afraid of contemplative authors such as Nouwen. Some wonderful devotional material is available from Catholic authors.

Or maybe don't read anything for awhile except the Bible.

I don't know about you, but I am not "inspired" by most of what is published today. It seems "inspirational" means "pablum." (Note: Babies need healthy baby food. Spiritual babes need good, wholesome spiritual baby food as well. Not self-help books with Jesus injected. For most of us, it's past time we grew up.) And as for Christian fiction--well, again, there are some notable exceptions, but for the most part, skip the current best sellers and opt for Tolkien, Lewis, McDonald (one of my favorites), Williams...If you are not a great reader, McDonald's books are being published in abridged versions for modern readers, but if you can find the originals I recommend them.

"In Search of that Which is True" has a blog post that is must reading. It is titled Popular Christian Literature as a Reflection of an Intellectual Crisis. Here is a quote from the longer post.

"I argue that this kind of reading is the reader's TV. It dumbs you down, is easy to get through, entertains you, and makes you feel good. The only lasting benefit is that it perhaps can improve your vocabulary.However, a meaty non-fiction book on philosophy, theology, apologetics, or even an old fiction book clothed in rich philosophical allegory, such as an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn work will be quite the opposite. It will challenge you, will sometimes be difficult to wade through, and is usually far from anything resembling a feel-good text. The lasting benefits include: increased brain function, improved speech and vocabulary, greater intellectual discernment, and more patience in study among various others."
WOW! Preach it, brother!
Another rant on a similar subject is coming soon....

12 comments:

Sarah Scott said...

Good post! Thank you for your link.

D. P. said...

I quit visiting Christian bookstores about six or seven years ago (although I'll poke my head into one of the Catholic or Orthodox persuasions when I can). Just too much junk to wade through to get to anything worthwhile!

Then again, most of the books I'm interested in reading aren't stocked in any bookstore that doesn't have "used" in its name...

zorra said...

Amen and amen.
I am so tired of the junky books you are talking about, and billboards around town inviting everyone to go to this church to "find the champion in you" (Osteen) or to that church because "you'll just feel good inside"!!

P.S. an after-thought said...

Yeah, if you attend a church and hear a sermon that convicts you rightly for your lifestyle, maybe you won't feel good inside.

I've felt the same way about some of the songs that are popular these days. I will praise you... I will do this.... I will do that. I I I I I.

Why are we singing about praising God? Some of the old songs, or I should say HYMNS, tell who God is and what God has done.

These certainly is a place for Gospel songs and praise songs, but let us sing more about God than about ourselves.

cheesehead said...

Preach it sister!

Iris said...

I hear you!

I think those books reflect well the "gospel according to Wal-Mart" that it is all about me. Gag!

I get the heebie-jeebies in a lot of the "Christian" bookstores, too. What sent me over the edge was the "Armor of God" playset for children.

Kris H said...

The sad thing is, that that is the crap that sells. If people didn't buy it, they wouldn't sell it.

chartreuseova said...

I read those "cotton candy" books from time to time. I think the problem is that it's easy to substitute those for nourishing books of substance, Bible reading, prayer, deep fellowship, etc. While it is sad that individuals have come to rely on these books, it's even sadder when they take a prominent place in the church and it's teaching programs. Just sugar and air.

I've seen people reading fad diet books while eating their fries and big big burgers...

People in financial difficulty use their credit cards that are nearly maxed out to buy the latest get rich quick programs.

And I've personally, watched exercise shows on TV (possibly there was a snack involved too) and read running magazines when I could have easily spent that time exercising.

As a society, we want it easy. We don't want to take responsibility for our lives. We don't want to feel bad. We idolize "experts". And the answer to any issue is to throw money at it, buy a book, video or "complete program" (that we may or may not follow)

So it's no surprise that people are drawn to the quick fix "it's all about me" book with a few Bible verses tossed in.

And the stores are catering to the market and so are some churches.

chartreuseova said...

sorry for my extra long comment. But the book to a woman's study group I used to attend is still sitting on my desk...

Singing Owl said...

Smiling at CO...

I do not mean to say that everything good is "heavy" reading. We can't all be brilliant like Dr. P. :^D

It's kinda like snacks. There are wholesome light snacks, and there are snacks that just are "cotton candy"--yes, exactly. Fill you up and make you lose your appitite for solid fare.

This gives me an idea...

Auntie Knickers said...

What you said! If you want to read some novels that will make you think while entertaining, try Susan Howatch's Starbridge series and the trilogy that follows it. I'm not Anglican, which is her tradition, but she has a lot to say about faith and also about the various kinds of temptations that appear to clergy and other people of faith.

Lara said...

Preach it, sister! I don't waste my time going into Christian bookstores anymore. What's the point? It's hard work looking for worthwhile Christian books. If it weren't for CBE and for a very few people whose recommendations I can trust, I'd be up a creek. I love to read, but I want it to be worth my time.