Dr. Cook




Dr. Arnold L. Cook

Over the decades I have watched the rise and fall of Christian Bookstores.  As I was coming into ministry in the late 1950s they were struggling businesses.  On the mission fields they survived by generous subsidies as did the publishing houses.  By the mid 70s, greatly assisted by the recent arrival of the "Church Growth" thrust from the mission fields, book stores became financially profitable. Fuelled by the popularity of the "how to" philosophy and the new growth surge of mega churches, book stores became strong economically.  

In the Christian and Missionary Alliance, our Publishing House in Camp Hill PA predated our denomination (founded several years prior to 1887).  Even though they were balancing their books with the new surge in the 70s and 80s, they were criticized on two counts: "they're selling primarily "how to do" books versus theologically based books;" and secondly, "they're balancing their books by marketing "holy hardware." There was a proliferation of goods such as T shirts, ties, greetings cards, Christian jewellery, trinkets, mottos, musical equipment etc. etc. This was seen as a substitute for recruiting Christian writers to publish and sell Bible based books which supported and advanced our biblical and denominational mandate. During these good years a number of Christian publishers also yielded to the temptation to sell out to large secular publishers.

Since the mid 1990s the bookstore and publishing businesses have faced a new crisis. Our own operation, Christian Publications, had for over a century had been publishing and selling new books but also had bought and managed a growing number of Christian Bookstores.  This latter operation had become a major source of income for supporting our publishing operation based in Camp Hill PA.  But in 2001 they experienced a serious economic crisis. This financial challenge was concurrent with the major terrorist attack of "Nine/eleven" in New York, in 2001, which seriously affected the income from one of our most profitable stores close to the twin towers. This development ultimately led to the closure of our Publishing House and the sale of our bookstores in the early part of this new century.  However, an in-depth analysis of our financial problems revealed much deeper and pervasive issues were happening in our marketplace. i.e. The combination of the new competition coming from internet sales and also the large box stores such as Wal Mart and Costco were now selling Christian books at a fraction of the price of Christian bookstores.  The good news is several new organizations have emerged to continue publishing Tozer and Simpson materials.  For more information on these contact Ken Paton [kpaton@zurltd.com]. 

On the North America level, Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) continues to attract several thousand delegates to their conference in Atlanta annually.  This brings together authors, publishers and book store managers etc.  The amazingly successful series of Christian novels titled "The left behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins has now topped 65 million dollars in sales. This was announced at the CBC conference and these two authors received an award at the recent meeting earlier this year.

Rick Phillips, an evangelical author of the recent book, Jesus the Evangelist, shares his observations of his first trip to CBA.  He commends several publishers he met who have worked hard at continuing to publish literature for churches and missionaries in the developing world, e.g. Reformation Trust, Crossway, and Christian Focus.  But he raises concern about several aspects of the CBA and how it reflects the deplorable condition of the Evangelical church in North America

His overall observation was that "the focus was on marketing, not ministry."

  • It reflects the end result of a commitment to non-distinctive theology reflecting CBA decision to have no doctrinal requirements.  Books critiquing the Trinity, inerrancy of Scripture, sexual purity and other basic theological issues find a platform and are freely marketed.
  • He was shocked when an interviewer told him that his book "Jesus the Evangelist" was the first one she had done where "Jesus came up."
  • He was shocked to see the award for the best children/youth book went to one titled Sexy Girls.
  • "A raw majority of the displays were selling trinkets and other Christian junk, instead of books."

CBA is also referred to as ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) which seems quite appropriate. It draws from a broad spectrum of Christianity where marketing has become the bottom line.  The question "what is truth" has long been muted by the bottom line question "what will sell." I asked a long term member of CBA what the issue were at the most recent meeting in Atlanta.  His response was:  "What Canadian booksellers can charge for books printed in the US and sold in Canada.  Again a marketing question driven largely by the strong Canadian currency against the US dollar. 

Unfortunately we often have to step outside of mainstream Evangelicalism to hear a prophetic warning concerning our urgent need to recover spiritual discernment.  One such voice comes to us from the Independent Baptist Churches of Canada.  In an article on the "Dangers of Christian Bookstores" they remind us there are three crucial Biblical truths that can protect the child of God in these end times:  1) The last days are characterized by apostasy, not revival, 2) God warns His people to test everything by the Scriptures, and 3) Spiritual error is clothed in the appearance of truth and righteousness. ("O Timothy Magazine, vol. 24, issue 8/07  pp. 1-6, 4212 Campbell St. N. London, ON  N6P 1A6).  

Early 21st century evangelicalism has pontificated  the great Biblical truth: "God wants His church to grow" into a heresy, i.e. "we must market the Gospel and "therefore the end justifies the means."  A couple of little books recently written by pastor Gary E. Gilley speak to this tragic trend This Little Church Went to Market: 2002;  This Little Church Stayed at Home: Evangelical Press PO 825, Webster, N.Y 14580, 2006.  Professor/pastor David Fitch's book The Great Giveaway:  Baker Books, 2005 addresses the eight church functions we have lost to the marketers and how we can recover them.

I am encouraged that there are finally these prophetic voices being raised by "conservative Evangelicals" within our ranks.  May their tribe increase and their warnings be heeded.