Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lifeway Removes Discernment Labels

This post is a draft I wrote a while back. I have a goal to get this blog to 1000 published posts, so as part of it, I'm trying to clean up things I started writing but never finished.
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I think I vaguely remember hearing something about this. I don’t shop at Lifeway. Most of my books from from yard sales, library sales, and Amazon.com. When I first became a Christian, I’d shop at Christian bookstores, until I realized that almost nobody can compete with Amazon on price. Or convenience. If I see a book I’m interested in, I can whip out my iPhone, and if there’s a Kindle version, be reading in seconds. At the very least, I can know it’s going to ship within hours. Under the “old” model, I’d have to wait until I can get to a bookstore and hope they have it in stock. So my lack of shopping at Christian bookstores has more to do with price and business model than a doctrinal one. Also, only the really big chains like Lifeway are still around. Most of the small, local ones are out of business.

Lifeway apparently put discernment labels on certain books, like The Shack, Rob Bell selections, and Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles In A Thousand Years”. I reviewed that book here. I’m not sure what discernment issues are involved with that one. I thought it was a good book, and in no way was it marketed or presented as a theological or doctrinal book.

I have a problem with the kind of mentality of selling books while also warning your customers to be careful reading them. Yes, I know, throughout the history of Christianity, some people have read some really dumb or heretical books and been lead astray by them. I’m not sure if those people wouldn’t have been lead astray anyway through another means. The Bible says that some people will have itching ears and will be looking for teachers to lead them astray. It's kind of a chicken and egg problem: did the false teacher show up to lead others astray, or did the false teacher simply show up to fill a hole in the market?

I don’t think it’s right to assume that everybody else is stupid, and needs to be warned. I tend to enjoy reading books I disagree with (good books, anyway; there are plenty of dumb ones). Exposure to opposing viewpoints is good for healthy intellectual growth. Even among books I largely agree with, I will still argue with the author through my notes. I'm reading a book right now where I agree with the author's conclusions, but I believe his underlying assumptions are faulty and I'm making a lot of notes in the book.

When I first became a Christian in 2002, I turned to the Internet. I had a lot of questions, and church only met twice a week. Because I was left to do a lot of my own research and learning, I went down a few bad trails. I eventually ran some of those trails to their logical conclusion, and walked away from them.

One thing I noticed early on is there are plenty of book and movie reviewers on Christian sites who will watch some movies and read some books, then warn other believers not to watch those movies or read those books. Usually the warning had to do with "they'll lead you astray!". At first, like a good legalist, I followed those warnings, and tried to keep my friends from following that path. It eventually occurred to me that those people would watch the movies and read the books, and supposedly weren't lead astray by them. Did they think I was too stupid to watch a movie or read a book without losing my soul in the process?

I eventually stopped heading those warnings (and listening to those people).  C. Michael Patton wrote an interesting blog post about "Beware of Professional Weaker Bretheren", or people who spend a lot of energy robbing other Christians of their liberty in Christ because "you might cause somebody weaker to stumble". I think discernment labels fall into that category. It's also a silly business decision. "I'm going to sell you a product, but I have to warn you it might not be good for you in one way or another." Then why sell it in the first place?
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