What are Christians reading?
While on my trip to the city earlier this week, I popped into one of the larger Christian bookstores in South Africa to find something my wife wanted. I get extremely frustrated when entering a Christian bookstore nowadays. After we got married and especially after our children were born, whenever we had a chance to go to a large city in South Africa, my wife would go to stores to buy clothes for herself and / or our children (mostly our children) while I spent a few hours in a Christian bookstore, looking (and eventually buying) a number of books. We had an agreement that I wouldn’t interfere in the clothes issue and she wouldn’t interfere in my book issue. (I’m a certified bibliophile!) For the past few years I find it much more thrilling to go shopping for clothes with my wife than to look at the available books in Christian bookstores.
If I see which books are packed out onto tables and even onto the floor (indicating that these are the popular books) then I just shake my head in disbelief. It might be unfair to say this, but when I look at the quality of these books then the words in Hebrews 5:12-13 come to mind where the author of this letter tells the readers that they still need to drink milk as they are unable to digest solid food. Most of these books seem to focus on some kind of aspect to help the reader to improve his or her self-image, usually by way of 3, 5, 7 or 9 easy steps! (Odd numbers seem to be more popular than even numbers.) Another hot topic has to do with heaven. Even John, the author of Revelations did not know as much about heaven as today’s popular authors know about it! And then Bibles – I’ve never seen so many different Bibles: Bibles for men, for women, for teens, for boys, for girls (big and small), for business men, for travellers. There’s hardly a category in which a Bible has not yet been written, hardcover, softcover or leather bound. But looking through the books (I had to pass the time as I was waiting for something to be repaired) I failed to find a single book which I would consider to be something which would help me as Christian to change the world, or at least, change the community where God has placed me. There is nothing about mission. Nothing about HIV/AIDS. A friend asked me to look for a book about Muslims. Nothing! Not even after I told the guy behind the counter (much to his surprise) to do a search on Islam as well as Muslims. Still nothing.
Yesterday I mentioned the lack of commitment from individuals as well as churches to get involved with missions. Perhaps my experience in the bookstore is related to this and possibly this is just a symptom of a much greater problem in society as well as in the church, which is that we want everything to be as easy as possible. Why would I want to chew on a piece of meat if I can drink milk or be spoon-fed? Why would I want to read more about getting my hands dirty in an attempt to make this world a better place if I can read dozens of books trying to tell me how wonderful I am?
I’m not sure whether things will ever change. Books are written to generate money. If they cannot generate lots of money, nobody will publish them. Good books are available. But not in popular bookstores. And mostly at a higher cost. However, it will always be worthwhile making an effort to read books that will really influence your life on the long run.
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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