Tuesday, August 6, 2013

(re)Discovery

"We are such nerds," my wife Wendy commented ruefully, as we entered the labyrinth-like used book store. And she had a point: with all the things that we could have been doing on BC Day in sunny Penticton, our greatest delight was finding a used book store.

I reminded her that we had done the same thing on our honeymoon - browse for several hours in a used book sale in Winnipeg. And my big score back then had been discovering a used copy of Bob Girard's out-of-print Brethren Hang Loose.

And as I perused the section of the shop labelled Christianity, I recognized numerous titles, spanning several decades. And as is typical for me, it started me thinking:
I was looking at a historical progression in the types of books that Christians have written -- and read -- over the past few decades.
Early Christian publishing seemed to mostly be about creating Bible and theological study aids for people who wanted to deepen their understanding of their faith. Not coincidentally, Christian publishing houses -- unlike today -- were owned by Christians.

During the 70's, there were books like Bob Girard's Brethren Hang Loose and Francis Schaeffer's He is There and He is Not Silent (a book which marked the turning point in Wendy's spiritual journey into Christianity), but there were also many "the end is coming soon" types as well.

It was a reflection of the times: even secular society anticipated nuclear war and/or environmental disasters.

Movies of that era were equally apocalyptic: Towering Inferno, Jaws, Frogs, Earthquake, Airport, The Swarm, The Posieden Adventure, The Hindenburg, and The China Syndrome, etc.

If Mother Nature didn't kill you, nuclear power/bombs would. (Sheesh! No wonder disco happened.)

So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that there were a lot of End-Times-themed books and movies in the Christian arena, as well. (ie. The Late, Great Plant Earth, and the Thief in the Night series)

Movie tag line: "The day Nature fights back!"
No wonder the original Star Wars was such a breath of fresh air back in the day: good triumphed over evil for once!
Christian books shifted in the 80's, both good and bad. There were lots of warning books about a variety of boogie-men (the New Age Movement seemed to be of considerable interest) -- it was almost as if the apocalyptic end-of-the-world types had to point the finger of impending doom somewhere.

Christian counseling books also became quite popular, as did an exponential growth in the number of (how else do I describe it in a short-but-admittedly-generalized phrase?) what amounted to Christian self-help books. In the non-Christian world, we had "power-everything": power suits, power ties, power drinks, and power lunches. And in Christian publishing, (as any Vineyardian worth his/her salt would know) Power Evangelism, Power Healing and Power Points by John Wimber.

Keith Green (1953-1982) lamented loudly in the late 1970's about what he called "Jesus Junk" (note: Keith's lament preceded the WWJD fad); and for those of us old enough to remember, Christian bookstores used to be predominantly full of BOOKS, with a small collection of Christian records (later cassettes), cross necklaces and a few creation-versus-evolution bumper stickers.

The Jesus Junk phenomenon has only increased in the past few decades, crowding out most of the books. There is even a Jesus Junk website that gives examples of just how bad it's gotten.

And in recent years, even the books could (arguably) be seen as increasingly light-weight, if not Jesus-junk themselves. My friend Luke Geraty laments at his blog:
"So where was the section I was looking for? In a small room located in the back that says "church resources" above the door. In that little room is a small shelf with all of the books related to theology, Scripture, apologetics, church leadership, and much more." (read the full article - really good!)
...almost as if the sight of theological books in plain view were as embarrassing to public morals and common decency as pornographic books used to be. (I wonder if Luke's purchases that day were put into brown paper bags to disguise that he was buying pastoral resources?)

One of the used books on the shelf at the Penticton book store was a 1981 copy of Joe Aldrich's Lifestyle Evangelism. And as I thumbed through a few pages, it started me thinking yet again:
What if there were gems to be mined by revisiting more recent classics of Christian publishing? (ie. recent compared to St. Bernard of Clairvaux's On Loving God)

And what if I were to blog my way through one (or more) of these books?
After more than a decade of books telling us everything we knew about church, theology and even the gospel was wrong -- resulting in something that strangely resembles "all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes" (Judges 17:6 NLT) -- isn't it about time to (re)discover what Christians used to actually do believe?

I bought the used copy of Lifestyle Evangelism. Much like discovering the out-of-print copy of Brethren, Hang Loose in Winnipeg all those years ago, I suspect that God has something to highlight that may have gotten obscured in recent years.

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