Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christian icon will be missed in San Diego

When we returned to San Diego last month to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, we made a trek over to Evangelical Bible Bookstore, a mainstay for many years on Grim Ave with probably the best overall selection of Christian books anywhere in town. There is no bookstore like it in all of San Diego or, for that matter, the entire state of Utah.

Yes, they don't carry everything. Owner John Cully is very Reformed, so if you wanted to get him going, you just had to go up to the front desk and ask to see the latest installment of the Left Behind series. The reaction was priceless. (Ok, I don't do that anymore, and he says I've been forgiven.) Yes, they carried no music or videos. So what? I never went there for these things anyway. I only wanted to hold the latest books in my hands and see the available resources. And yes, it wasn't the prettiest store. I remember when it used to be a gold/bullion store, which was quite the happening place in 1980 when inflation hit 15% plus. I know, because I have kept a San Diego Union newspaper article that had a picture with my dad and I waiting in line for our turn to buy gold at $600 an ounce. (Wish I would have saved those coins!) Once gold and silver became less of a commodity thanks to Ronald Reagan, the Coin Exchange became history, which was our gain when a Christian book store moved in.

But even with its quirks, Evangelical was a happy place to visit. It even had a bargain basement; going down there was like going after buried treasure. Today Evangelical is a victim of the times. At the end of the year, owner John Cully will close its doors for good after 40 years in business. When John told me the news at his front counter, I couldn't believe it. He said that people aren't reading as much, and those who still enjoy books find it much too convenient to order on the Internet. (Yes, I'm guilty too--shame on me.) A good day at his store used to be $2,000 gross, as they would hit that total a number of times in any given month. Now they had a hard time making even $1,000 a month. The family was losing money, which is not good if you're a business that wants to stay open. As much as it killed them to do it, the decision was terminal.

John's daughter bemoaned the fact that this store represented not only her life but her inheritance. She would have to find a new career despite being in her 50s.  (Man, did I feel for her.) Now the store would have to be emptied and boxes full of books returned, leaving San Diego with no good place to find such a selection of Christian books. Please don't even mention Joshua's or Family--these stores specialize in the popular and latest fads, but the ownership has little discernment. While I certainly wasn't a fan of every book Evangelical displayed, I knew that by going there I wouldn't have to crawl past huge displays of the latest TD Jakes, Robert Schuller, or (help me God!) Joel Olsteen drivel. No fat, no fluff has been served daily for 40 years in the North Park area.

Culturally, I believe that we're headed in a direction where many Christians are satisfied with the "tasty Jesus" rather than the biblical version. Give me the latest, tickling ears inquire. Tell me how to find success, the 10 steps to financial security, and make my latte' with extra foam. How many Christians at your church have even picked up a quality Christian book (and no, Left Behind and The Shack don't count) in the past month? The past six months? The past year? Don't ask or you might be shocked.

Christian, I challenge you to get into God's Word as well as tackle some good Christian reading. Pick up a Lewis, Piper, or someone who's more than just a Johnny-come-lately. And don't just see the movie version either (though I plan to eventually take the fam to the latest Narnia film). While there may be no more Evangelical Bible Book Store, that doesn't mean we should stop reading...or thinking. And thanks, John, for the sacrifice you and your family made in this very important ministry. I was blessed. May God bless you.

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Anonymous Mitch said...

I think what we have is really two things, if recent polls are to be believed: 1] More youngsters simply turning away from the faith, primarily because they don't like how that faith is prominently evidenced in American culture, with an obsessive focus on politics and selective interpretations of scripture used as rallying cries for particular candidates or policies; 2] More youngsters [those Christian hipsters we keep hearing about] looking to deepen their faith not by reading classic Christian literature, exegesis, etc., but by reading "secular" literature that helps them identify with the rest of the world. A Christian bookstore is a very confining intellectual space for many of today's youth.

As you point out, the Osteen drivel is for people who neither want to think critically or conduct anything other than skin-deep self-examination, but I would regard a diminishing market for Evangelical Christian literature as simply a sign of changing theological proclivities and an increase in those who would self-identify as skeptic.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Honestly, I don't think your second point is accurate at all when it comes to youth. They're not reading as much, across the board, period. The competition with the mass media along with video games, IPhones, and the rest is proving too much for books. Look at the newspapers and how they're folding left and right. Magazines are fighting for their lives,yes, even secular ones, and they're trying to go online to stay alive. Yet their circulations continue to fall, even when online readership is counted. No, I think this is more than just a Christian thing; rather, it's a cultural movement away from books and, I believe, deeper reflection on higher levels. Having been a teacher for 17 years, I can attest to this even in this short amount of time. Finally, many are just plain lazy when it comes to spirituality, and while they may certainly go outside the faith, many never learn to own the Christian faith they may have been raised in and instead are easily satisfied with an agnostic mindset.

5:24 PM  

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