Posts Tagged ‘Christian books’

Amazon recommends…

August 12, 2009

I’m a sucker for recommendations… most of the time. Most of the time, their clever statistical analysis manages to mail-merge some books, music or DVDs I’d really like to me. Today though, I was recommended something truly awful, so I clicked on the little “Why was this recommended to me?” link to find out why they thought I’d like it. Here’s the surprising connection I discovered: recommends recommends

Turns out, Calvinists who are into New Testament studies are flocking to buy The Shack… While Amazon presumably don’t distinguish between people who buy books because they like them and people who buy books to do a Robert Fisk style debunking of them, I was surprised that these books were statistically linked to The Shack. But perhaps the reason is that these books are all “Christian” books (and categorized as such by Amazon), and The Shack has sold many copies, topping the “Christian bestseller” charts.

I’m developing a theory about “Christian bestsellers”, to wit: The most read books are often the least helpful ones. The last time I actually went into a physical Christian bookshop (that of a well-known UK chain named after two theologians of stature) the ground floor was filled with dross – health-and-wealth titles, less-than-God-centred biographies, success manuals and Christian fiction. These were obviously the ones selling, by their places on the “chart”. In fact, you had to go to the basement to find theology books, bible study guides and so on.

I don’t suppose it’s entirely the fault of the booksellers, or the publishers who advertise and market books like The Shack (though I’d rather they promoted some popular-level edifying, biblically faithful books!) because part of the reason bad books sell well is that we like what they have to say. We find the challenge of biblically faithful books a bit too much to bear, so opt for ones which flatter our preconceptions and tell us that we’re OK as we are. Or perhaps we like how the prosperity gospel books offer us health, wealth and success. Or we feel our Christian lives are not where we want them to be, and instead of the slighty vague and always hard approach of going back to the gospel and working it out from there, we feel more comfortable with a bullet-point “How to…” guide of being suddenly awesome at prayer, or an expert at leading Bible studies. So maybe if we want to see better Christian books, we should start buying, reading and applying some good ones, rather than taking the self-flattering, easy options that don’t confront us with the biblical gospel and the living God.