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Trinkets or truth?

"Trinkets or truth?" Continued...

Issue: "Nifty 50 Books," July 1, 2000

A visit last week to Family Christian Stores may illustrate her concern. Aisle after aisle featured theologically robust content: Works by Augustine and Spurgeon sat alongside the writings of contemporary authors like J.I. Packer and Billy Graham. But a trip through a section labeled "Spirit-filled Living" turned up weasels in the woodpile: at least six titles by "word of faith" preachers Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.

Mr. Copeland, a proponent of the "prosperity gospel," which claims that God wants every believer to be materially affluent, wrote that "God cannot do anything for you apart or separate from faith," for "faith is God's source of power." Mr. Hinn's Good Morning, Holy Spirit is still on the shelf nearly a decade after Bible scholars, including Hank Hanegraaff, debunked it. Mrs. Cooper wonders how Christian retailers, most of whom say they're in business to reach believers and non-believers for Christ, feel about "selling books that propagate error."

CBA president Bill Anderson answers flat out: "If there are books and products that run cross-grain with Scripture, we shouldn't be selling them." But retailers do face challenges, he says, in trying to keep up with new titles coming out. "Most retailers I know are committed to pleasing the Lord, and running a business that is honoring to Christ. None I know would intentionally carry a title that runs counter to Scripture."

"Christian retail is a ministry in the arena of business," Mr. Anderson told WORLD. "The resources we sell should help a person understand the Bible better, apply it to life, and live life more effectively."

Family Christian Stores president and CEO Les Dietzman says his company's point of view is "to serve the total Christian church, but not to compromise on the most fundamental doctrinal issues, like the deity of Christ or the inspiration of Scripture. We will not carry products just because they sell." He has, he says, booted doctrinally deficient books off his stores' shelves in the past, and he echoes Mr. Anderson's contention that Christian retailing-even in the form of ceramic teapots and smiley-face key chains-is a legitimate ministry.

"Our method is retail, but our message is Jesus Christ," said Mr. Dietzman, whom friends describe as a genuinely humble man, and grandfatherly, but with a wide competitive streak. "We supply materials that can literally change people's lives, and I think that's a tremendous ministry."

Bibles definitely change lives. Books, too, sometimes. But can Scripture neckties also spark transformation? Mr. Dietzman thinks so. His customers, he says, buy and use gift and apparel items to reach out in Christian friendship, to encourage those who are hurting and to witness to non-believers. Sometimes, he says, a well-placed Christian product leads to conversations with people who have questions about spiritual matters.

"We might tend to look at some of the gift and apparel items as sort of lighter fare," Mr. Anderson explained. "But sometimes it's a young Christian who buys a lapel pin to wear because he knows he's supposed to share his faith, but doesn't yet know how. That lapel pin leads to a witnessing situation where tough questions come up. Those questions, in turn, send the young believer back to his books or his Bible where he can become more equipped to answer questions the next time."

CBA literature contends that the opposite-pole movement of secular society and Christian conviction "makes the Christian's desire to build a bridge to ... neighbors and co-workers increasingly difficult. Christians today are more aware of their need to be able to articulate their faith.... They're coming into CBA stores to buy products that help them do that." According to the 1997 CBA Customer Profile and Satisfaction Survey, 43 percent of customers at the group's member stores come in to purchase Christian products as gifts.

Mr. Anderson admits there is a tension in Christian retailing between ministry and commerce. But it's no more a balancing act, he says, than for other believers who are struggling to please God in their work. "For [Christian retailers], the issue is, are we maintaining perspective on why we do what we do, and whose work it is we're doing? Are we keeping our motives pure, and is our message truly one that is biblically accurate?"

Brian Chapell believes it is, in the end, this heart-motive that should concern every Christian retailer: "I understand that Christian marketers feel that they must at times tolerate the sale of merchandise they consider questionable in order to be able to stay in business and make available materials of greater merit," said Mr. Chapell. "I respect deeply those who weigh these matters as carefully as Paul did when he allowed Timothy's circumcision in order to be able to present the gospel. Those who do not weigh such matters, however, are in danger of selling out the riches of eternity for the treasures of this world."

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