In 1994, evangelical historian Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and as many authors have noted ever since, the real scandal is that there didn’t seem to be much of an evangelical mind to even study! I thought it would be helpful to conclude this issue, which we have devoted to important books and how truth is communicated in our time, by revisiting the largely pessimistic view that many of us have had of Christian publishing.
What can the most popular books on sale today tell us about the current state of the evangelical mind? Each month, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association sends out a list of best-sellers. Here are the current “Top 10” as I write this:
1. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (Moody) 2. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Nelson) 3. Live Fearless by Sadie Robertson (Nelson) 4. Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado (Nelson) 5. The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers (Tyndale) 6. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (Nelson) 7. Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst (Nelson) 8. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey (Nelson) 9. Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines (Nelson) 10. Jesus Always by Sarah Young (Nelson)
The first thing that strikes me about this list is the monopoly that a few publishers have on the general market: eight of the top ten best-selling books are published by the same company. The monthly list shows the top fifty books, and of those, almost half are published by Thomas Nelson. Nelson, of course, is now part of HarperCollins—one of the largest publishing companies in the world. While a large and successful company can marshal the resources necessary to promote an author’s book, it seems that they are in a rut with the same types of books and authors. Somehow these make their way to the “best-seller” list, and because they’re on the “best-seller” list, the average evangelical reader keeps buying them.
You can see that lack of originality in the kind of book that dominates the top ten list—Christian self-help. Whether it is in the form of mystical conversations with Jesus, inspirational sto-ries of success, practical guides to living, or the basic self-help books themselves, evangelicals can’t seem to get away from schemes of self-salvation. We should be quick to realize that this is not entirely the fault of the book-buying public. It’s generally what they find on the Christian bookstore shelf (again, because they’re “best-sellers”) or find on these lists.
Only one book doesn’t fit the self-help genre, The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers. Honestly, after reading all of those self-help books, who can blame the poor reader who just wants to escape into a bit of Christian romance! Still, as we have seen in this issue, there is a wealth of excellent books available for Christian readers. Let’s encourage them to look higher and deeper into those bookshelves.
Eric Landry is executive editor of Modern Reformation.