LIFEWAY SAYS: READ WITH DISCERNMENT
By Paul Proctor
June 10, 2008
At the bottom of the LifeWayChristian Stores website, there are a couple of hyperlinked subjects that need to be addressed. One is titled: Read With Discernment and the other is Third-Party Distribution - the latter of which contains a press release from Mark Scott, LifeWay Christian Stores' vice president - a message that was posted as a result of some problematic publications they were found to be offering for sale early last year.
You see, on January 26th, 2007, I wrote an article for NewsWithViews.com titled Beware of Christian Bookstore Hypocrisy in response to Southern Baptist criticism, via The Baptist Press, that Wal-Mart was "offering book selections that cater to the gay and lesbian crowd" - all while the SBC's own LifeWay Christian Stores was unwittingly offering pro-homosexual books through its online outlet.
Three days later, on January 29th, after reading my article and searching LifeWay's website for himself, Bob Allen, editor of Ethics Daily, wrote about what he found there in a piece titled Gay-Friendly Authors Populate SBC's LifeWay Site.
LifeWay's response to the resulting whoopla came the very next day from VP Mark Scott who confirmed the problem and attempted to explain it on the Third-Party Distribution page, which included the following:
LifeWaystores.com is enhancing its efforts to ensure that questionable books are filtered out of a massive list of titles available online through its third-party distributor�
Even so, no system is perfect, and because we're human and make mistakes, a few inappropriate titles occasionally make it through our filtering system and onto the online list. When we become aware of these titles - often through an email from a customer - we investigate them, and if we confirm them to be inappropriate, we remove them immediately.
That's what happened this week as several Web logs reported that LifeWaystores.com was offering a number of pro-homosexual titles. We checked it out immediately and found that, in fact, several titles did appear on our third-party distributor's list. We were unaware of these and removed the titles immediately. We appreciate it when such titles are brought to our attention and we invite our customers to contact us if they discover titles or authors about which they are concerned.
Needless to say, I was grateful that they not only took immediate action to remove the titles in question, but that they also expressed appreciation publicly for the matter being "brought to their attention." Unfortunately, more often than not, it requires numerous customer complaints or a high-visibility complainer to affect real change in an industry that seems to have frequent lapses of conviction - which is precisely why watchmen are compelled to warn.
It is however, the final paragraph of Scott's posted press release on the Third-Party Distribution page that troubles me. This is how it reads:
LifeWaystores.com also will be providing Read with Discernment tags on certain titles that are requested for scholarly study but may not be appropriate for a broader Christian audience. Many of the titles available through the distributor are made available for critical study or research so that pastors, seminary students and ministry leaders have access to material that helps them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in a postmodern world.
On the Read With Discernment page, they reiterate this line of reasoning a little differently:
Here on our website, LifeWaystores.com, we list over 100,000 titles. Any product we stock and promote should be consistent with historical evangelical theology. In addition to the products we stock and promote, there are some additional titles that can be found through our search engine that are available through our 3rd party distributor. These titles are made available strictly for critical study or research so that pastors, seminary students, or ministry leaders may have access to material that helps them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in a postmodern world.
On yet another online page they put together, also titled Read With Discernment, a third and similar explanation is offered that includes hyperlinks to what are called "Author Briefings" and "Book Briefings" that provide specific information on controversial writers and works that LifeWay has for sale. This is, in part, how it reads:
However, we are making these titles available to our customers (along with the background and additional insight offered here through Read With Discernment) because we believe the books do present content that is relevant and of value to Christians and/or because pastors, seminary students, and other ministry leaders need access to this type of material, strictly for critical study or research to help them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in today's postmodern world. Our prayer for you is that in whatever you read, you place the material under the magnifying glass of scripture and read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you so that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:9-10, "...your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ..." (Holman CSB).
Apparently, this is what they came up with to justify offering their third-party distributor's problematic products through their search engine - just claim they are "relevant," "of value" and "strictly" for the benefit of pastors, seminary students and ministry leaders doing "critical study or research."
Since when are pastors, seminary students and ministry leaders immune to the seductive and intoxicating words of false teachers? If swayed with unbiblical instruction, worldly philosophies and pragmatic principles, will they not pass them along to their unsuspecting brothers and sisters in Christ who trust them for solid scriptural guidance?
Then what do you suppose happens when a concerned church member speaks up and challenges the erroneous teachings that are brought in from said leadership? Well, I can tell you that all too often they're accused of causing division and disunity in the fellowship by questioning the leadership's authority and wisdom and are promptly shown the door.
What a great way to undermine the Gospel and initiate a paradigm shift in the overall direction and purpose of the church, wouldn't you say? And to think it can all be carried out under the radar because the instigator pulls it off with a book he or she writes that makes it into a church they never even have to visit to persuade.
Or is LifeWay just postulating these excuses because it's easier and cheaper than having to perpetually police their third-party distributor's offerings for the protection of customers?
Either way, the result is the same.
Well friends, I don't know about you, but my discernment tells me this is a precarious and unbiblical approach to handling heresy. And how they claim certain books and materials sold by a Christian retailer are OK for some brothers and sisters in Christ and not OK for others is beyond me.
Just where does the Bible make such a distinction?
Moreover, where did Jesus, Paul or any of those from the early church tell us in scripture that it was permissible to reward the enemies of Christ with our patronage for purposes of "scholarly study?" Seeing as that money goes to help support their causes, enhance their lifestyles, advance their agendas and further spread their erroneous teachings, wouldn't that make gullible customers not only "partakers" of their "evil deeds" but also cosponsors of their erroneous endeavors as well?
"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." - 2nd John 1:10-11
The point is - Christians are not to have anything to do with it or them.
"A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject" - Titus 3:10
But, if this is to be LifeWay's template for handling controversial publications, then why not offer the works of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Alice Bailey, Anton LaVay, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Larry Flynt for "scholarly study?" Just imagine the list of infamous names and titles that could be assembled under this stated rationale.
On LifeWay's Read With Discernment page, they have the following posted at the top in red:
We at LifeWay Christian Stores are dedicated to providing biblical solutions that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.
Would you consider LifeWay's Read With Discernment program to be a biblical solution? Sounds more like a business solution to me - and frankly, spiritual problems aren't resolved with business solutions in spite of what management guru, Peter Drucker taught those in ministry through the Leadership Network. Drucker's earthly objectives were Results and Relationships - God's are Repentance and Righteousness.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 55:9
And if "transformation," in the scriptural sense, comes only from the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the Power of God, what kind of "transformation" will LifeWay customers likely experience from books, materials and solutions that contradict the Word of God?
It is important to remember that just because someone uses words like "transform" and "transformation" to describe their ministry's goals, that doesn't necessarily mean they are talking about salvation or sanctification in the scriptural sense. It is often through the ambiguity of undefined terms that spiritual subterfuge goes unnoticed.
Remember: Double meanings make for dual agendas. So, when someone uses familiar terms in unfamiliar ways, ask them for a definition - don't just assume they mean what you hope they mean because they call themselves and/or their organization "Christian."
So are these "solutions" being offered by LifeWay really transforming the lost into the saved and sanctified or are they covertly transforming clergy, the church and the culture into something more globally acceptable through Christian compromise and camouflage?
On that same Read With Discernment page, they go on to say:
One way you can grow spiritually and intellectually is through reading.