White Elephant in the room [4]

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
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7. Let's talk about how your own faith enters into running a store. Do you ever look at a really good book that you know is not going to sell ten copies or at a really bad book that is going to sell 500 and say "I've got to do something to change that?" What can you- or should you- do?

Oh, it’s about me now, is it?

The answer to your first question is, “I task my staff to read all the books that we bring in which, subjectively, I have assigned as ‘core material’ for the bookstore”. And it’s not that many titles, really – at this point, maybe 25 books. There are some exceptions – like everyone hasn’t read Institutes of Christian Religion. I’m a bookstore owner, not a cruel despot. But when Dever’s Deliberate Church came out, we were reading that – so we could talk about it and recommend it. Piper’s God is the Gospel is on the current “must read”. So what we do to advance the cause of good books is to read them and then talk about them when they come up.

And let me make sure I don’t paint us up as an ivory tower here. I have 3 PT folks who do about 80% of the customer service in my store (my wife and I split the other 20%), and they are all very different people from me – Thank God! So if somehow you find yourself visiting our store, don’t expect it to be a somewhat prim and proper place in which no preposition ever ends a sentence, and where every statement comes with a 3x5 card of proof texts. I have one guy who’s a little emergent (well, prolly a lot emergent, but he works hard and I'm beating it out of him) and is all over music; I have a young woman who is a fiction reader more than a non-fiction reader; and I have the post-Wesleyan fellow I have mentioned before. And you’ll be shocked to know that while every one of them can ably tell you the difference between KJV, NASB, NIV and MSG (and all the flavors in between), they aren’t constantly blabbering theology. The first thing they ask every person who walks in is “How are you today?” They’re nice. That’s more important, in retail, than whether they know the difference between van Til and William Lane Craig.

So we set out to change the world one person at a time by being informed and by being nice about it. I know that doesn’t really sound like me, but that’s our strategy. And if you don’t mind, let me give you an example. Last year (as reviewed on my blog) James Rutz came out with the execrable book Mega Shift, and I found it somewhat disconcerting that after that, George Barna came out with Revolution, built on the same premises. Now, what did we do? Did we hide the Barna book and the Rutz book behind the counter and only sell it to people if they let us put it in a brown paper sack, and only if they watched our 10-minute DVD on the evils of inept ecclesiology? Oh please. Some local church was reading these books for who-knows-what reason, and I’m not going to march down there and have a Diet of Worms with their pastor because he’s a little carried away by some of the alleged trends in global missions – if you can call what those books describe “missions” in the Paul-and-Peter sense of the word.

What we did was this: we put one copy of each on the shelf (1 only), and restocked it weekly if it sold. We even put them on the top shelf – the “featured” shelf. But we put them next to Dever’s 9 Marks and Tony Evans’ God’s Glorious Church, and when people asked us about the not-so-hot books, we showed them the book they were looking for and the books we would recommend in that category. That way, people have the opportunity to think about the question “what is missions?” in the right context – “what is the church?” – and not get (frankly) fooled into sensationalism.

And consider it: are these two books the most high-brow books on the subject? Not by a long shot. They are hardly books of a systematic quality, but are books at a popular level which make no major errors of exegesis or application and are accessible to Mary Methodist or Charlie Community Church, but they drive the point home that the Bible tells us something about “church” which ought to be honored in some way. And when you read either of those and then sit down to read Mega Shift or Revolution, you have enough basic information to ask the question, “do Rutz and Barna bother to apply the Bible to their exciting anecdotes, or do they instead apply the Bible when they have run out of anecdotes?”

And, I think, this methodology works. We are not berating people who don’t know any better for making choices their pastors or Sunday school teachers have suggested, and we are offering guided options to them which, if they make the comparison, will result in their spiritual growth.

Have we transformed NW Arkansas into a teeming hotbed of theological geniuses who can spot a fraud by the way he handles the NLT? No – of course not. But the trend in our bookstore – which is atypical in the industry – is away from gifts and junk and toward books and resources. And we don’t have people who avoid my wife and I at the grocery store because “that’s the crazy lady and her mean husband who run the bible bookstore”.