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On any given week, of the top-selling 15 non-fiction books on The New York Times list, three to five are histories or biographies. In contrast, a weekly glance at the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) nonfiction bestsellers list usually turns up none.

Things are so bad that we are waving the white flag. Last spring, CBA multiplied its bestseller lists, so that separate rosters are now kept for Christian living, theology, Bible, inspirational, and other genres. But there is no list for the history/biography category. Apparently such books sell so rarely in Christian bookstores, there is no point in counting them.

As a movement, evangelicalism seems fascinated with ministering to generations X, Y, or Z, unearthing Christian insights from The Matrix, fixing marriages, revitalizing the church, inspiring the discouraged—and on it goes. But we struggle to find time to reflect on our heroes, to treasure the great moments of our past, to "remember the deeds of the Lord … of long ago" (Ps. 77:11).

One reason is that relatively few Christian books do the genre justice. Between hagiographies—inspirational histories—and academic treatises, lie relatively few accessible and responsible treatments.

The ones that do balance these twin responsibilities strain to get the attention they deserve. Publishers say they would publish and promote more histories if bookstores would give them more shelf space. Bookstore owners say there are not enough accessible history titles to create a lively section. Many evangelical academics are afraid to do something popular lest their colleagues think they are slumming; the popularizers are prompted by some publishers to whitewash their histories to make them more "edifying." A lot of Catch-22s here.

The ...

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In the Magazine

September 2003

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