The Plight of Family Christian Stores® : Who's To Blame?

A month or two ago, Scott Bailey (from Scotteriology) wrote a post discussing his reticence towards the “Godtube” website. One of the reasons he did not like the site was because he did a number of searches, typing in some of the most influential names and important events in the history of God’s people and his searches turned up nothing. Piggybacking on Scott’s Godtube search, I decided to take the same list and search for each item on the Family Christian Stores® website. Before you read the results of each search (they are listed below), read the store’s comments from the “About Us” section of their site:

"Family Christian Stores® is America's leading specialty retailer with over 300 locations and over 5,000 employees in 37 states dedicated solely to the $4.3 billion Christian retailing market. Family Christian Stores® sells Christian products and church supplies through its chain of stores and via the Internet. Merchandising categories include Bibles, Books, Music, Childrens, Gifts, Apparel, Software, Cards, Church Supplies and DVD's."

Here are the results from my product search of one of America’s leading Christian retailers, some humorous (especially the first one), and others, well, just frustrating:

+Kant – 171 matches but none meaningful, however result #1 was: “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” – The Crabb Family CD
+Tillich – 0 Mathces, but there appeared an image of a Mercy Me album
+Barth – 108 Matches nothing meaningful but the #1 link was to the propsperity preacher's album titled: “Bishop Eddie Long’s choir”
+Bultmann – 0 Matches
+Schleiermacher – 0 Matches
+Hegel – 3 Matching records: 1. “The Great TV Turn Off,” 2. “Pickle Pizza,” 3. “The Stinky Sneakers Mystery”
+Ritschl – 0 Matches
+Kierkegaard – 0 Matches
+Neibuhr – 0 Matches
+Rauschenbusch – 0 Matches
+Intertestamental – 2 Matches but, of the Life Application Study Bible
+Septuagint – 0 Matches
+Qumran – 2 Matches: “Adventures in Oddysey” Cartoon
+Sadducee – 1 Match: V. Matthews, Manners & Customs in the Bible
+Essene – 21 Matches, none relevant but #1 entry is a picture of G. W. Bush
+Synoptics – 0 Matches
+Mishna – 0 Matches
+Talmud – 0 Matches
+Second Temple – 2 Matches, #1: G. Jeffrey: The New Temple & the Second Coming
+Atrahasis – 0 Matches
+Ancient Near East – 0 Matches
+Justin Martyr – 1 Match: The Apologetics Study Bible
+Marcion – 1 Match: The 1-Year Children’s Bible
+Diaspora – 0 Matches

What does this tell us? Well, probably not what we would immediately think. If you are like I was, you’d probably say that these results reveal that the store is only another cause of American biblical illiteracy. But not so fast… One of my close friends is actually a manager of a Family Christian Store®. When I spoke with him about the store not carrying items such as the ones listed above, he responded, “Is that the store’s fault or the Church’s fault? You know that our stores are stocked on customer requests right?” Actually, I didn’t know this. But what this tells me is that if the Church is the drive behind what Family Christian Stores® stocks and sells, then it is the fault of American ministers more than anyone else.

Indeed, how many ministers do you hear in any given Church on any given Sunday quoting Tillich or Kant? Hardly any! Does your preacher teach about the Talmud or the Mishna or the Intertestamental period? If you are a preacher/teacher, do you? Secondly, are these things, where they are spoken of, being taught so as to make congregants more interested in them or more turned off by them? Really, these questions get to the heart of the issue: American ministers need to be better about teaching and they also need to stop keeping the most influential resources of Christendom to themselves and to make them known to the laity.

So, next time you walk into Family Christian Stores® and see Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and Rod Parsley books lining the shelves, perhaps you need to shirk, not at the store, but at your pastor/preacher. To those of us who are teachers/preachers, may we take the time to share our history with our people and may we tease their minds into active thought, instead of watering everything down, arrogantly or foolishly thinking that they don't want to and just can’t handle the deep truths of theology, Scripture and life! If we want these stores to change, the change needs to start with Church leaders who value good, Christian education.


  1. "Merchandising categories include Bibles, Books, Music, Childrens, Gifts, Apparel, Software, Cards, Church Supplies and DVD's."

    I think they have stuck to what they advertise. This, and many others, are not geared toward seminary level scholarship but toward the general laity. There are other places to find and buy material for this level of study just as there are stores to buy items geared toward worship, praise, and devotion. It would be quite a large store if we attempted to cram everything into one structure. Let's not look down on those stores but support them for what they are and do and instead point our congregation to the appropriate place for the material they request: be it devotional material or hard-core Biblical references.
    I don't think it is a direct reflection of our ministers/teachers or those requesting material. There are different types of stores for different types of people just as anything else. I believe diversity is a good thing.

  2. Anonymous,
    Thanks for replying. However, you have a couple of assumptions that I disagree with. 1. "They have stuck to what they advertise." Well, they advertise books don't they? Yes. What is wrong with Church history, in-depth Bible study, theology, etc.

    2. You assume that that lay people cannot and do not want to understand seminary-level books. I think this is where much of the problem lies. I don't think the divide that you make shoul be there; the problem is, it has been this way too long. It should not be left to ministers to be hard-core students of the Bible and Church history and theology; this is the task of all Christians to some degree.

    3. If they are a user-driven store and stock their shelves according to what the people want, if people want deeper stuff, what is the problem with them getting such items? You seem to have a problem with that.

    4. As for the largeness of the stores, well, the stores are getting bigger. If some of the Perretti, Parsley, Osteen, Meyer and LaHaye books were off the shelves, that would free up a ton of space. Getting rid of those works would be a good start to making FCS better. Bad theology is never good and it is definitely not good when it is sitting in the place of good theology.

    Again, my biggest problem with your reply is that you, like many, foster the mentality that the minister is supposed to be the mind of the Church while the rest of Christendom works through personal devotion books and listens to happy cd's. What I am saying is that pastors have a responsibility to help shape the minds of their congregants as well as their hearts and hands. One way they can begin to help people love God with all of their being is to introduce them to some of the most important people/events/works in Church history. And it is a crying shame if America's number one Christian retailer cannot provide such materials (especially because the pastor's don't know of them or don't think their people are good enough for them).

  3. Actually, this is nothing new. Long before one could by books on the internet, I used to search new and used book stores, and even most seminary book stores carry a very limited selection. One good place to find new books was at the national SBL/AAR meetings. But older books were harder to find. I was forced to used mail order stores, like Dove Booksellers and others like them. Once the internet blossomed, one could find almost any book one wanted. But Christian bookstores have always been about toothbrushes for Jesus and other crap. One would be better off at a secular book store trying to find biblical scholarship than a Christian bookstore.

  4. Steven,
    Thanks for your reply. Well, and humorously put. Glad you stopped by; I'm going to go brush my teeth and use my crest or is it christ...toothpaste :)

  5. Judy's Research Blog had an interesting post about what people can and cannot understand in a book, arguing basically that if a person doesn't know something is a "hard" read, they won't have much trouble reading it.

    Anyway, I'd like to hear more Kant quotes in the pulpit, but not so much Tillich...how about Barth instead...?

  6. I went today to a Family Christian bookstore hoping to find a deal on some good books (good to me are commentaries, theology, some real meat and potato books) I had no luck. The section for reference and commentaries was so small I was bummed! I had better luck at Lifeway at least there I had 4 rows to look at.


  7. Mike,

    I think I would agree with that premise (on Judy's blog). As for Tillich in the pulpit, he did have some good things to say. Barth is good but probably much more than just an alternative.


    I'm not surprised; I know exactly what you mean. Perhaps when they don't have things we want, we should begin requesting them.


    Thanks for commenting. Your situation does sound a little better than the one here in the States. As for quoting people in sermons, I understand your lack of time. I don't usually do it unless it is something I've recently read, nonetheless, I still do it. Yet, there are other ways (outside of the sermon) that I do it. Each week in my Church newsletter I put a quote from influential thinkers/scholars. Recently, I visited a Church where they had a Paul Tillich quote on the screen between worship songs, it was a profound moment for me.

  8. 1. Yep, they advertise books and they sell books; just because it isn't the book you are looking for doesn't mean it isn't a bookstore.

    2. You jump to conclusions and only see what you want in my statements. I said "point our congregation to the appropriate place for the material they request: be it devotional material or hard-core Biblical references." Notice how hard-core Biblical reference is included here when speaking of the congregation.

    3. You seem to have a problem with people wanting devotional material, Christian fiction, etc. I have no problem with deeper material, in fact I like it, but the store will continue to stock what sells. If someone wants other things they can easily find them or request them; the internet can be a good thing! In many cases a store can special order material as well.

    4. They are growing!! This is great, they must be doing something right. I agree with the bad theology statement but theology other than yours or mine isn't always bad or wrong.

    - Well, if your biggest problem is "that you, like many, foster the mentality that the minister is supposed to be the mind of the Church while the rest of Christendom works through personal devotion books and listens to happy cd's" then we don't have a problem because I didn't say that. See point 2 above.

  9. Maybe we should request them but I am now going online and getting my books rather than dealing with the stores.


  10. Anonymous & Juan,
    I cannot respond at present, but I will later. Thanks a lot for your thoughts & comments, I'll reply this evening. --michael

  11. Juan,
    Like you, I do most of my book shopping online, mainly because used texts are way cheaper than brand new ones. However, if I need a new book, I may begin requesting it from the store. If enough people do this, things might change.

    You really do raise some good points. While I disagree with most all of what you say, I do want to say that if you felt like I was attacking you, I was not. I do not want readers of this blog to feel like they cannot disagree with me or argue thier point--i appreciate that you're doing that.

    That said, I still think you've got some things wrong. I'll follow your method of #'s:

    1. Point #1 of your argument is moot. I never said that it wasn't a bookstore, not once. My argument was that in the area of good, sound Biblical works, the do not have good resources. You put words in my mouth.

    2. I may have jumped to conclusions about your statements. However, you are completely errant when you say that I'm seeing what I want to in them. That is just not true. Honestly, I was just saying what I saw in them. I did not "want" to see any particular thing in them; I was just commenting on how I took your statements. I did overlook your "inclusion" of pointing them to hard-core biblical resources. Yet, my argument still stands: when the leading retailer of Christian sales in America doesn't sell sound but rather, crappy theology, that is a problem!

    3. Your comments on point 3 are all correct. I do have a problem with most devotional material but not all of it. Most of it is incredibly shallow and misleading. However, I wrote a post on a devotional recommendation a month or two ago (see the post: A Book Recommendation).

    4. Okay, point 4 is just off the mark. The logic here is incredibly flawed. Just because they're growing means they're doing something right? Wow! Hitler's regime grew and it did many things wrong. The drug and sex market is growing does that mean they're doing things right? Many Churches grow but that doesn't mean they're doing things right (e.g. Lakewood & Osteen). Suffice it to say: numerical growth does not always equal doing things right. I think FCS are doing some things right but there are other things they need to work on.

    As for differences in theology, I'm no an imperialist, you're right, theology that is dif. than mine isn't always bad. But bad theology can never, never, never be a stand-in for good theology, especially because its the bad theology that's selling! That's much of the American Church's problem today.

    Perhps we do agree. But in the end, that sure seemed like what you were saying (as regards your closing comment).

    Thanks again for replying, I hope I disagreed with you civily and at the same time, I hope you sensed my passion in debating. I'm not a jerk and don't want to seem like one. I believe that we can argue our opinions forcefully but also that we must still share the love of Christ towards/with one another.

  12. I just have a comment in your references to Rod Parsley books in your post and in your comment section. I have not ventured into the vast theological dispositions of Parsley, but I have read his books Silent No More and Culturally Incorrect and with the lack of theological focus in those books and the focus on our society and the need for Christians to rise up and be Christ like...I can not agree with the complete disregarding of such books.

  13. Brian,
    Thanks for commenting. Rod Parsley has some incredibly errant theological views. That said, when it comes to traditional Christian morals, he does issue a call for Christians to stand and speak up. Honestly, I used to like Parsley, I even went and heard him preach. I used to like Osteen too. But these were the days before I valued good theology. Please understand me, I do not think Mr. Parsely's books should be all burned or removed from the face of the earth, or to use you word "disregarded." My argument is that such books, which you agree, lack theological integrity and depth, should not stand in the place of good, sound theological works. I hope you can discern the difference I am making. I must admit, though, I will probably never buy a Parsley book--my money is spent better in some place else. I live in N. Ky and in these parts, a lot of people watch (and probably read) Mr.Parsley. Again, I am suggesting that the problem lies, not in those actions but rather those actions becoming stand-ins for reading/viewing good theology.

  14. So I suppose then you and I would agree on several areas. That the U.S. Christians have become focused on what God can do for them instead of what they can do for God. Granted not everyone is going to be a dedicated theologian, but are they expected to be? I think we would both agree that they are not, and that the most important thing in a Christians life is truly living like Christ. The term Christian is thrown around so much that people have forgotten that the word meant "like Christ." In our society they could not be further from that!
    With all that said, we would most likely agree that theologically speaking there are not enough resources out there in a typical book store, especially Family Christian Stores. Sadly I have found deeper theological books at Barnes and Noble! Sorry that Parsley's theological views have kept you from reading his two major books. I guess you could say he knows more about politics than he does about theology! LOL. I am one who loves both theology and politics, so from a political standpoint they were very informative. Other than that, thanks for the quick reply! I was not trying to be argumentative with my previous comment, nor am I trying now.
    Tone of voice is not well communicated over written words, so please do not take me harsh, defensive, or angry because I could not be further from those things in these replies.

  15. TMWH,

    So when you talk about sound theological works you have in mind the greats like T.D. Jakes and Benny Hinn, right?


  16. Brian,
    You are right, Parsley seems to know a bit more about politics than he does about sound theology. When I went to hear him preach, the whole sermon was on how we should vote for Bush (just prior to the last election).

    That said, when I think about politics I always try to do so in the context or through the lens of theology. We need more Christians doing this, I think.

    We do seem to agree on your point about the me-focused Christians in the US. As for the term "Christian," I'm not sure that it necesarrily means Christ-like, though it does have that connotation or end-result. I think it was meant to mean that we are "from" Christ (and the result is that we are like Him). Not nit-picking, I think this is important to notice. For example, when we call someone a Kentuckian or an Ohioan, we mean that they are from that place and thus, are, in some ways, like other people from there. Same thing with "Christian" - we are "from" Christ and not only are we to be like Him but we, in some ways, are to be like one another, especially of like-mind.

    Back to Parsley, I stopped having an interest in him soon after he sent me a prayer cloth that he, Benny Hinn and some others had touched. The letter said that if I would send them money and support them, well, pretty much, the power of the prayer cloth would be activated in my life. I didn't take you as being a jerk, remember, arguing is good and fruitful if done civilly.

    Actually, when I say sound theological works I mean people like Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Hagin, The Copelands, etc. :) Benny Hinn has nothing on them! :)

    I think I'm getting sick...