Skip to content

Reading with Discernment

2009 January 27

Apparently Lifeway Christian Stores has created a cute little (trademarked) label for certain books sold at their website. The “Read With Discernment” label applies to authors who “may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.” Naturally, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell are on that list. Lifeway still chooses to sell these books “because we believe the books do present content that is relevant and of value to Christians and/or because pastors, seminary students, and other ministry leaders need access to this type of material, strictly for critical study or research to help them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in today’s postmodern world.”

While on one hand I find this amusing. Does Blue Like Jazz really need a warning label? You’ve got to be pretty sheltered if you find that book dangerous. But on the other hand I’m disturbed by the unspoken implication that the other books sold at their website don’t need as much discernment while reading. Apparently, if something agrees with historical evangelical theology then it gets a pass on reading with a critical eye. We only need to be discerning about those that are discerning about historical evangelical theology since such opinions are only valuable to those those who engage them “strictly for critical study and research.” So if an author encourages us to love others, portrays God in feminine form, or narrates a road trip with friends we need to be extra discerning. But if Beth Moore takes every other verse out of context then it’s all good because we don’t need to critically engage with someone safe.

I’d say either drop the label (or replace it with the “This Book is Dangerous” label they seem to be intending) or stick it on every book. I’d love to see extra discernment and critical thought applied to the typical devotional or Woman’s Bible Study. Discernment shouldn’t just apply to things we disagree with. We are instructed as Christians to be as wise as serpents at all times – not just when the authorities tell us to be.

(HT – Jeromy)


25 Responses leave one →
  1. January 27, 2009

    I hope that label ends up on their Bible section. :)

  2. J Armstrong permalink
    January 27, 2009

    For you, reality is something that happens to other people.

  3. January 27, 2009

    I have to say I’m with you on this…

    I’d be more worried about the books the label is not on, one’s they suggest you should swallow without discernment… surely the label should be on all the books… especially those that promote a single view/interpretation!

    Mind you that would be like putting “may contain nuts” on Honey Nut Cornflakes! Hey now there’s a thought perhaps that would be a more suitable label for those which they don’t yet label!? 😉

  4. January 27, 2009

    But on the other hand I’m disturbed by the unspoken implication that the other books sold at their website don’t need as much discernment while reading.


    If I had my way, I’d put a “read with discernment label” on almost everything written by Wayne Grudem, just to cite one example (for those who may not know, he’s at the forefront of the “biblical gender roles” arguments, which is to say that women must never, ever, ever be given the option of presenting a sermon, serving communion, or other pastoral roles, that simply must be reserved for males only).

  5. Tam permalink
    January 27, 2009

    I am new to your blog and I love it.

    I was at Borders looking at the Christian section and was just sick to my stomach with all of the traditional evangelical stuff that isout there. I was really wanting something new and different to read, but was totally turned off. I’ll have to check out the “Read With Discernment” label – I’ll probably find something there I really enjoy!

  6. January 28, 2009

    Excellent points.

    It is frustrating to me the dichotomy that they’re furthering here. It’s so unnecessary. “Replace it with the ‘This Book is Dangerous’ label they seem to be intending.” Exactly.

  7. mirele permalink
    January 28, 2009

    LifeWay wants to have its cake and eat it too. It can’t not sell those books by Bell, McLaren, Miller and Young, particularly The Shack. But they need to get certain people off their backs who are claiming that LifeWay, by selling these books, has fallen into apostasy. Printing up a bunch of stickers and slapping them on books is a way to save the market.

    Plus, if LifeWay knows anything about censorship, they know that “Banned in Boston” was a big selling point of lots of books and movies back in the mid-20th century and hope that the same selling genius rubs off on them.

  8. Karl permalink
    January 28, 2009

    Yeah, that label bugs me too. Disappointing, though not surprising.

  9. Don permalink
    January 29, 2009

    Don’t forget, Julie, that Lifeways is an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. At any rate, I rarely shop at any so-called “Christian” bookstores, because they typically DON’T contain books for discerning readers. Most of the stuff they carry is either Christian fluff or America-centric Christian pop culture (or both).

    On thing that always gets me is that the “end times” sections always contain books espousing dispensational premillennialism. One never finds book that discuss or promote other eschatological views; it’s as if such views don’t even exist among Christians, at least not among REAL Christians. And their section on Islam is all on Christian evangelism of Muslims or else anti-Islam screeds; one won’t find works written by Muslims there, unless they are ex-Muslim converts to Christianity.

    If one wants really discerning Christian literature, one must shop on the Internet, unless one is fortunate enough to live close to a theological seminary’s bookstore. Even Barnes & Noble is likely to have more “discerning” literature than the typical “Christian” bookstore.

  10. Don permalink
    January 29, 2009

    An addendum to my last comment:
    The last book I bought at our local Lifeways store was Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President. I suppose it’s a “Read with discernment” title now, for sure.

  11. January 29, 2009

    I hope that, if I’m ever published, I can earn a warning label. It would be a badge of honor.

  12. January 29, 2009

    I saw something similar a few years back when I was finishing one of Don Miller’s books. On the page after the last page, there was a disclaimer from the publisher– something like, ‘the views of the author are not necessarily the views of the publisher’. Which was really frustrating to see, for at least four reasons:

    1. Does anyone think that any author speaks for the publisher? How would that even be possible?
    2. Are readers running around blaming and boycotting publishers for ideas they disagree with? (I know, of course they are…)
    3. How rude is it for a publisher to throw their author under the bus like that?
    4. How duplicitous is it for said publisher to make money off of the book, then to declaim it? If you have hesitations about the book, why not take the high ground and let someone else rake in the cash on it?

  13. January 30, 2009

    John – seriously :)

  14. January 30, 2009

    You may also want to investigate how Lifeway had to explain what the “Discerning Reader” label meant after establishing the project. In other words, I think they had to put a discerning reader label on the discerning reader project label. Go figure.

  15. February 1, 2009

    This seems to me like an excellent service. If, on the unlikely chance I ever find myself shopping at a Lifeway Store. I’ll know exactly which books to buy! I am, after all, a discerning reader, so they must be trying to tell me which books are the best reads for me. :)

  16. dianne p permalink
    February 2, 2009

    We used to live down the road from TEDS – Trinity Seminary – and I so so so miss their bookstore. My few trips to the local “Christian” bookstore were painfully disappointing. Now it’s amazon for me.

    Would appreciate more comments on the Beth Moore bible studies. While I’ve started 3 of them, I’ve never been able to get past the first couple of weeks. When I’ve imprudently said aloud “I’m not a huge fan of Beth Moore”, the gasps and reproving looks were audible. I guess I haven’t spent enough time in one of her studies to put my finger on exactly what bugs me (aside from her hyper-cute bouncy blonde style), so appreciate some of your comments here Julie. Is there any other place that you’ve discussed this? And have you read Frederica’s piece about evangelical church’s need for “women’s” bible studies? (Unnecessary and inappropriate in her opinion.)

  17. February 2, 2009

    I wish the label said, “We don’t subscribe to the theology in this book, but we’ll take your money.”

  18. Guy permalink
    February 3, 2009

    What’s ironic to me about this, mirele pointed it out above, is that the ONLY reason these books are even available for sale in LifeWay stores is the sticker. Yet, they’re getting raked over the coals (lots of people seem to be talking about this) about having them. Without the sticker the book never even goes on the shelf.

    This bookstore is part of a company, that is run by a board that is BOUND to the Southern Baptist Convention. Mirele was exactly right, they probably have an obnoxiously loud group of pastors berating them about these books and threatening to call them on it at the next convention.

    What do you do when you’re trying to make resources available to the greater Christian community, but are bound by the conservative beliefs of southern Baptists?

  19. February 11, 2009

    I like comments #8 and #19 best; but I have tons of experience blasting LifeWay on a book industry blog I publish. Wish I’d seen this post earlier.

    The bottom line is you can’t have it both ways. Well, usually. Maybe LifeWay can. Remember, this is the company that banned the “Female Pastors” issue of a gospel music magazine, but reaps big bucks publishing Beth Moore. This is the company that claims its study guides aren’t really books at all but curriculum; thereby short-discounting the product to other stores. I could go on…

    For most of us, these stickers will represent the equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Or maybe you’re too young to know about that.

  20. webster permalink
    March 29, 2009

    Eep– I see this blog post was written in January– which would make this comment amazingly late, but just my $0.02 for what it’s worth…
    I was brought up in what I suppose is the equivalent of a US evangelical background and later began trying to understand my own Christianity through different frameworks. I have found myself entirely caught between the conservative and progressive ‘camps’, the conservative framework being too limited and the progressive camp dismissing or trivialising any serious questions that might be borne out of a conservative framework, rather than engaging with them… anyway my point is, it takes a lot for many in the evangelical viewpoint to be able to come to a place where they can say, look, I disagree with you but I respect that you have a right to be heard and read– which was my interpretation of those stickers.
    Many ‘traditional’ Christians assume that any Christian book they pick up in a Christian bookstore would be ‘doctrinally sound’– i.e. orthodox in the basics of the concept of Christ as both man and God and saviour. Whether this should be the case or not is something else altogether, but to me at least it is true that Brian McLaren’s books are far from consistent with historical evangelical theology. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, in the same way as I’m not saying an orange is bad for not being an apple– i’m just pointing out it isn’t an apple. And to me these bookstores are just pointing out to readers thinking that all books sold in the store are X, that no, actually some of them are in fact Y.

  21. April 18, 2009

    I agree with you. I have been troubled by this for years. Thanks, Doylene

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. .passionately curious.
  2. Christian Bookstore Puts Warning Labels on Certain Christian Books « Skepacabra
  3. Putting Warning Stickers on Books We Carry « Christian Book Shop Talk
  4. Christian Bookstore Puts Warning Labels on Certain Christian Books | Friendly Atheist

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS