Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bookshopping

Paul, who I spent some time with today in Guildford studying Galatians, muses this evening about Christian Bookshops. What future for the Christian Bookshop? What place discernment in stocking the shelves? Where do you get your good books?

8 comments:

  1. Hehe, I was talking to Paul the other day about some shocking books in Christian bookshops...like i looked at this book about prayer and all it seemed to be about was this Pastor guy and how great he was and what he said and when etc..and i wondered where did Jesus and the Cross fit in this?...

    I think the Christian bookshop is significant to buy books in(funny enough)...it would be good tho - if they proof read some of the stuff in there!!

    And I get most my books from you Dave! hehe

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  2. Down here in Texas, we have Mardel's and Lifeway. Both bookstore offer meaty Christian books.

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  3. Cat - for prayer - the only good one I've read is Graeme Goldsworthy - Prayer and the knowledge of God. Its the only book on prayer that doesn't presume we can pray but sets out the Cross as the basis of prayer.

    And of course I shall remain the CU's faithful provide of IVP and Sovereign Grace books. You shall read much Piper, Grudem, Roberts, Stott, Mahaney and Harris before you graduate.

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  4. Good questions Dave.

    I'm amazed at the rot that our local Christian bookstores are happy to sell along with some very good books. I suspect the economics of it comes way ahead of the discernment.

    I tend to spend long hours on Amazon's website reading reviews and mostly purchase from there.

    I quite liked Timothy Chester's book on prayer, but am keen to get into Goldsworthy's.

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  5. It's good to see the erstwhile Mr. Bish coming up with the goods again isn't it. I have to say I read this particular one with some degree of interest having worked in a Chrsitian Bookshop (www.advancebookshop.co.uk)for nearly 2 years now and I'd just like to add in my two penneth on the subject. We don't claim to have all the answers but we try to be wise in what we do and trust in grace for those times when we get it wrong!
    Firstly, people bring up about the number of dodgy books. At one level I would have to agree. There are loads of books that are utter rubbish and should be avoided like the plague. There are the majority that aren't inherently bad have elements of great teaching in but could have been so much more. And then there are the few that are very good.
    But what to sell? At one level easy - the good ones, and not the bad ones. Problem is, certainly in our area, if we only stocked what I thought were good books, we wouldn't have a shop - We'd barely have more than a few shelves!
    In the cold light of day, economics is a factor (and one we'll consider in a moment). We need to sell stuff to make money to feed our families and pay our bills etc. We need to stock books that our customers are going to buy and read because we'll simply be another Christian bookshop going under if we don't.
    It doesn't govern discernment though. We are not make moey at all costs. For example, we don't stock books by prosperity teachers. They are very popular with a lot of peeople but we don't keep them on the shelves and this has made us unpopular in some camps. However, it is our decision that we will order a book if a customer wants it. We reason that they would get it anyway, and at least we can say that we don't like it becasue of ... when we give it to them and invite them to think about it rather then them just ordering it from amazon anyhow. We order secular books for people as well and have sold books requested by customers on Spiritism, but again, we can sell it with a caveat that non Chrsitians would not get elsewhere and we keep the business going.
    We also try and put good books into people's hands and suggest that they buy something good rather than something else. This isn't always easy though, as some people don't want good books, and to be frank, some of the books that we consider good are difficult to read! If you have £50 spare, don't hesitate to buy the complete works of Jonathan Edwards. But some of it is hard work, as he is exceedly clever and is a product of his time, writing in puritan english. I know however, that some of my customers with respect, would never be able to read it! Sam Storms 'Singing God' or 'Pleasures Evermore' however would be more up their street and relevent to them. for some, Phillip Yancey's 'What's so amazing about grace' would seem like froth, but for others it could really speak to them. Christian retail needs to be seen as ministry. Booksellers do have a responsibility to resource the church well, and doing that isn't always as simple as it seems.
    Secondly though, Christian customers have responibilty. We need to make money for the reasons stated above so that we can resource the churches in the area and in many cases act as a place of first contact for non Christians and help people with problems in whatever way we can. It all costs. Christian Bookshops (certainly in the UK) don't make loads of money. We sell academic books as well because on Chrsitian sales alone we can't make ends meet. And there are two problems. Firstly, there is a school of thought that it is wrong to make any money out of selling Christian books, and secondly, and more widespreadis the school of thought that says 'I should always get it as cheap as possible', which often means amazon.
    Now don't get me wrong, if you are on the breadline, and have no money then by all means get it cheap. We'd rather you had it cheap from amazon than not at all (depending on the book). I love Desiring Gods what you can afford policy. But how many people are there out there who can afford it, but want it cheap anyhow? I wonder how many people will pay double or triple or ten times the cover price when they don't have to? Some do - God bless them - but most don't. A quesiton - what did you do with the money you saved from buying from Amazon?
    Let me end with this: If you can afford it, use your local Chrsitian bookshop and support their continuing ministry to you and others. We need you to serve us so that we can go on serving you. Why not go down to your local today...

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  6. Wise words from Richard.

    I just thought I would add that in my opinion 'The Message of Prayer' by Tim Chester (published by IVP in the BST series) is very good. And in my opinion the best book I have read on prayer, although I think Goldsworthy's book is good too, for the same reasons Dave Bish has pointed out.

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  7. The Message of Prayer is good, though if I remember rightly it too doesn't establish that clearly the basis on which we can pray... looking more on ways to pray.

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  8. As Richard said, there are varieties of ways you can 'do' a Christian bookshop.

    -> W.O. & others go along the lines of: sell whatever is supplied by STL distributors, and will sell, at the best price you can get (possibly then put a percentage of the profit to charity/mission).

    -> Even for independents, there's obviously a variety of stocking policies. Richard described one - I'll describe another:

    -> The shop itself is a ministry - not to make profit (registered charity, just covering overheads), to sell only edifying Christian books to as many people as cheaply as possible. Clearly you need to define what's edifying - for the bookshop I know that means conservative (theologically) Evangelical (yes I know that's not a very indicative description but hey).

    But anyway, a tighter stocking policy needs a staff who are longterm committed to the ministry, prepared to take a ministry salary (usually less than a profit run bookshop can pay), and get to know (a) the people to whom they're ministering (the customers/potential customers) and (b) the things with which they minister (principally the books - also involves giving advice, encouragement etc). This needs staff as I say who are committed, but also have a good theological understanding, to discern the best books, advise pastor-teachers, theological students, and the church at large. Who of such calibre and passion for ministry would think of going into the undervalued work of managing/working in a bookshop longterm?? Faced with that, and declining interest from the church, no wonder shops are closing or selling out to looser policied profit run chains all over the UK.

    The ministry of such a gospel motivated bookshop is potentially Huge, in building the church, resourcing for evangelism, and actually in evangelism itself.

    If there weren't Christian bookshops like this, we'd miss out bigtime (many currently do). Getting online isn't the same - a big part of an evangelical Christian bookshop is bringing to the attention of the people the books of value - just having them available online doesn't do this, so you'd end up with a worse situ than we have with some chain Christian bookshops now - heresy being promoted to the church. As it happens, my local Christian bookshop often has reduced the books below what you can get them for online, because of its committment to passing on discount they get as much as possible.

    So there's my tuppence worth - calling to the ministry of serving the church with good books in local Christian bookshops!

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