A personal theological library is a vital tool for anyone serious about serving the gospel. It is important to invest in good Christian books. But have you ever considered the importance of investing in good Christian bookshops?
It’s a fact that Christian publishing is big business. This is not entirely negative: the unprecedented array of Christian material easily available at relatively low costs is a direct result of this ‘big business’ phenomenon. However, there is also a downside: the Christian publishing industry is, like any other big industry, largely market-driven. This means that popular books are far more likely to make money for the publishers and booksellers than unpopular books. In turn, this means that popular books are more likely to be printed, promoted, discounted and stocked, whereas unpopular books are more likely to go out of print, get forgotten, remain high priced or unavailable. In many industries, this is perfectly appropriate: good ice-cream tends to be popular, so it’s fine for the ice-cream industry to be driven by what sells. However, in Christian publishing, popularity doesn’t necessarily equate quality. In fact, the Bible teaches us to expect the reverse:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)
This is why it’s important to support those Christian retailers and publishers who have taken the deliberate decision to prioritize quality literature over saleability in the mass market. This kind of policy means that they will suffer economically—they will have lower throughput, higher stocks and more cashflow problems. However, the benefits to God’s people are priceless—the easy availability of good quality Christian literature that supports sound and faithful teaching, which might otherwise disappear from the scene or get lost in a sea of junk.
Here are three examples of organizations in my part of the world that are particularly worth supporting. Each of them has slightly different aims:
Firstly (how could I not mention them!), Matthias Media provides high quality practical resources to equip and train all Christians in theology and ministry for the sake of gospel growth.
Secondly, Moore Books provides a comprehensive range of in-depth publications that are particularly appropriate for theological students and church leaders. Their stock isn’t chosen on the basis of theological ‘soundness’ (the authors and ideas are very diverse indeed!); rather, they aim to make available books that will stimulate and challenge at a scholarly level in order to exercise and equip Bible teachers for their task of carefully teaching the truth while refuting error.
Thirdly, The Reformers Bookshop fills another important need. This bookshop has a large range of books at all levels, but it deliberately aims to be discriminating in its choice of stock. Dave Hann, the manager, writes:
Both the assistant manager and I have studied at Moore College and the Presbyterian Theological Centre, and have benefited greatly from schooling in our Reformed Evangelical faith. This has in turn equipped us not to simply give people what they want, but to stock and commend what they need. Lord willing, through prayer and persistence, needs and wants will increasingly match up.
How can you support these organizations (and others like them)? Simply by making decisions to buy from them rather than from their competitors whenever you can. It’s unlikely to break your budget, but it will help to support what is good rather than just what is popular. And under God, it will help to make possible many more good quality, personal Christian libraries in the future.