The decline of Christian bookstores

FamilyChristianStoresAppletonWisconsinThe biggest Christian bookstore chain, Family Christian Stores, is going out of business.  Then again, mostly what it carried was Christian knick-knacks.

As for books, the top 20 Christian bestsellers last year included, the words of one observer,  “three versions of Sarah Young’s controversial Jesus Calling, two kids joke books, two adult coloring books, titles by HGTV stars and athletes, and, of course, the latest from Joel Osteen.”

Better Christian books are still selling, largely on Amazon, but they often aren’t even carried by Christian retailers.

Then again, all brick and mortar bookstores are having a rough time.  Having put small mom and pop shops out of business, the big chains are now struggling against online sales.  Borders is gone, and Barnes & Noble is having a rough time, kept alive mainly by its own online offerings.

I regret the closing of bookstores.  There are still some excellent Christian bookstores, such as Wichita’s Eighth Day Bookstore (which also sells books online).  But Christians and the general public are still reading, helped too by Kindle and other readers that can download books instantly.

An article in Christianity Today, linked after the jump. argues that the end of Christian Retail that trades mostly in “Jesus junk” is not necessarily a bad thing.

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A new Bible translation from Lutherans

I recently blogged about the new Bible translation, the Christian Standard Bible.  I didn’t realize until alerted by commenter MarkB that a new translation led by Lutherans is also in the works, the Evangelical Heritage Version.

This comes from an independent venture known as the Wartburg Project.  Those doing the work are scholars from the Wisconsin Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  The publisher will be Northwestern Publishing House, the publishing arm of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

For how the new translation will be different from other translations, check out the  FAQ’s on the website and the distinctives.

The plan is for the completed Bible to be released this Fall, in time for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 31.  You can download The Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Psalms  on Kindle for 99 cents at Amazon, or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. You can also get free downloads of the lectionary readings  and the passion history.Do you see a problem with a “Lutheran Bible”?  Is that too much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses having their own Bible so as to give support for their own idiosyncratic teachings?  The American Translation by William F. Beck is another Lutheran translation, but its clarity of expression has won it non-Lutheran fans. The Wartburg Project insists that the Evangelical Heritage Version is not sectarian but can be used by all Christians.

That was certainly the case with Luther’s translation.  When Luther was in hiding at the Wartburg castle, he translated the Bible, known at the time only in Latin,  from the original Hebrew and Greek into vernacular German.  William Tyndale, who studied at Wittenberg, emulated Luther’s translation (including its phraseology) by translating the Bible into English.  Tyndale was burned at the stake for doing so–in Brussels at the behest of  the Anglican King Henry VIII, not the Catholics, as I had long assumed–but his Bible (and thus Luther’s Bible) had a great influence on the King James translation that would come.  The Bible began to be translated into many other languages.  The Wartburg Project evidently seeks to be part of that tradition.

After the jump is an excerpt and link to the project’s website giving the “Rubrics” for the new translation.

Here is why I am excited about the Evangelical Heritage Version:  At the Christian Standard Bible post, I complained about how so many contemporary translations get rid of the Bible’s ambiguities and figures of speech in their zeal to explain what the verse “really means.”  I want what the text says.   That includes the poetic and stylistic features of the original.

According to these Rubrics, the translators of the Evangelical Heritage Version agree with me!  I put the Rubrics that show the translators’ literary sensitivity in bold. [Read more…]

How our politicized media would review the Narnia books

Our media is highly politicized across the spectrum, obsessed–pro- or con- or somewhere in between–with the Donald Trump phenomenon.  No one can escape it!  And in print, on screen, and online pundits are interpreting non-Trump phenomena in Trumpian terms.

My former student John Ehrett, of whom I am proud, has a hilarious piece in The Federalist about what various outlets would say if The Chronicles of Narnia were to be published today.

He looks at 21 media outlets, from The New York Times to Patheos, and nails the sensibility and obsessions of each one.

Samples after the jump.
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The two kinds of romantic love

8096547973_367546a4eb_zOne kind of romantic love leads to life–to marriage, fruitful sexuality, children, family, virtue.  The other kind of romantic love leads to death–to sin, sterile sexuality, abortion, family destruction, ruin.

These two kinds of romantic love are explored in one of the most morally illuminating books of literary criticism I have ever read:  Love in the Western World by the Swiss Christian scholar Denis de Rougement.

A romance novel will often set up a triangle in which a woman has to choose between two suitors:  One is a good guy who cares for her, whom her parents like, and who would make a good husband.  The other is nearly a villain, an “anti-hero” who sometimes mistreats her, is a social outcast from her circles, and who even seems dangerous.  Young adults novels are often built around the same pattern,  with the choice between an all-American popular boy and a troubled, misunderstood, passionate “bad boy.”  Many literary novels have been about a happily married man who is lured away from his angelic wife by an exotic, sensual, forbidden beauty.

Sometimes the characters make the right choice in committing themselves to the good person.  But, more often than not, they choose the one who is bad “in society’s eyes,” but who offers them excitement, passion, and the thrill of transgression.  Romance and young adult novels often stop when the choice is made, imposing a “happily ever after ending.”  But honest works of literature, like Anna Karenina, show what happens next, with the forbidden love resulting in ruin, despair, and even death.

More importantly, the pattern keeps asserting itself in real life.   [Read more…]

C. S. Lewis, atheist

C. S. Lewis, one of the foremost Christian apologists, had been for 15 years a convinced and rather militant atheist.  My friend and former colleague Joel Heck has written a splendid study of Lewis’s atheism, published by Concordia Publishing House:   From Atheism to Christianity:  The Story of C. S. Lewis

There are many kinds of atheism, just like there are many kinds of Christianity, and Joel unpacks the influences, books, and ideas that defined Lewis’s particular variety of unbelief.  In tracing Lewis’s life and intellectual development from his school days through the early years of his academic career, the book is a compelling biography.

In his recreation of the intellectual atmosphere of pre-war Oxford, Joel shows the important influence of idealist philosophers, such as F. H. Bradley and Henri Bergson.  Most studies of early modernism focus on materialism and existentialism.  And yet, arguably, the idealists–who said things like “”the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine” (James Jeans)–may have been even more important.  After all, T. S. Eliot, a founder of literary modernism, wrote his dissertation on Bradley.  Certainly the artistic modernists–Yeats and Joyce with their mythmaking; Stravinsky with his neo-primitive music; Picasso’s Cubism, Dalí’s Surrealism, and Kandinsky’s Abstractionism–are hard to reconcile with the definition of Modernism as an “age of reason.”  [Suggestion for graduate students:  Lots of good material for dissertations here!]

Both idealists and materialists could be atheist, and Lewis seems to have vacillated between the two, but idealism best accounted for his personal and aesthetic yearnings.  This new book also describes in detail how and why Lewis gave up his atheism, turning first to belief in a personal though philosophically-abstract deity, and then to the God of Abraham who became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis fans, apologists, intellectual historians, and atheists will all want to read this book.

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Letter from a Birmingham Jail 

512px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USATo observe Martin Luther King Day, read his classic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  It was written to fellow pastors who were concerned that a man of the cloth would engage in protests that would get him arrested.

The letter is interesting in itself for the case that it makes for civil disobedience, under certain very restrictive conditions.  Some of what he says will resonate with pro-lifers and religious freedom advocates.

The letter also shows how it was possible back then in 1963 to continually quote and allude to Scripture and to appeal to moral absolutes.  I don’t know if a person could do that today.  I don’t know if the Civil Rights Movement, with its moral appeal to the nation, could happen today.

Read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” after the jump. [Read more…]