The shot through the rattlesnake’s head had all but demolished it. The rattler was still twisting on the driveway as the family gathered around to see the latest snake kill. One of the dogs eased forward to finish it off, and the snake struck again. The dog jumped back.
Then one of the grandchildren reached out to touch it. Bill grabbed him and held him back, explaining how deadly even a dead snake can be. The young grandson, totally without fear, was determined to grab its tail. Again the mangled head struck out. The boy jumped back, getting the message. Rattlesnakes and copperheads, the only two poisonous snakes in our region, are to be feared.
“Education,” wrote Angelo Patri, “consists in being afraid of the right things.”
We taught our children to be careful with matches and to be respectful of open fire; fear of house fires and forest fires prompts sensible precautions. We also taught the children never to run into the street without first carefully looking both ways; a proper fear of cars is also legitimate—as are accepting rides from strangers, using unprescribed drugs, not wearing helmets when riding motorcycles, breaking the law, and dishonoring one’s parents or one’s country.
There is one grand, noble fear we are taught from Genesis to Revelation. It is “the fear of the Lord.” This is more than “being scared of” (though there is a bit of that in it, too). It is “a reverential trust,” not only a fear of offending, but a loving to the point one would not want to offend.
“In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Prov. 14:26).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10).
“O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29).
“To guard against all such blasphemous chumminess with the Almighty, the Bible talks of the fear of the Lord—not to scare us but to bring us to awesome attention before the overwhelming grandeur of God” (Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction).
We live in a world wracked by fears and anxieties. The following appeared in Le Monde (Paris) in the summer of 1981:
“A Long Bastille Day Weekend
“In France, overheated and overcrowded prisons are about to explode. In Northern Ireland, IRA inmates are dying one after the other. In El Salvador it’s murder unlimited. In Chile, ‘order’ reigns. In Asia the refugees keep looking for refuge. Poland fears the summer. Afghanistan resists in silence, Iran rants on. Purges are under way just about everywhere.
“The South is hungry, the North is afraid.
“Happy weekend, everybody!”
But God reassures his church in Revelation, “Fear none of those things which are to happen.” We are to fear only the Lord.
It is the fear of God that puts all other fears in proper perspective.
According to the leaders in Christian publishing whom CHRISTIANITY TODAY consulted, here is a profile of today’s Christian book reader:
1. Today’s Christian book reader is looking for concrete answers to many of life’s problems. According to booksellers Harden F. and Maxine Young (Hardin is president of Christian Bookseller’s Association), today’s permissive society that says anything goes forces people to seek help to shore up the crumbling foundations of families, marriages, relationships, churches, and even businesses.
“Readers are looking for help for themselves and for others in order to handle these extra pressures,” the Youngs say. “Authors need to write more confrontational material to square off against permissiveness.”
For these readers, books dealing with home and family will continue to be popular, but with an expanded range of topics. Wesley R. Willis of Victor Books says publishers must also meet the needs of single parents, divorced and widowed, and others who have traditionally been neglected.
2. Today’s Christian book reader is older and more conservative. According to statistics in U.S. News and World Report (Nov. 22 and 29, 1982), our population growth and mix point to a median age shift from 30 in 1980 to 36.3 by the year 2000. There are simply more book buyers now who are elderly.
“We will have to meet the particular needs of the over-65 age group,” says Harden Young. “And the fads that created some of our sales should diminish now. As the median age increases, fadishness will decrease, for the older we become the less we like change.”
3. Today’s Christian book reader is more mature. “The reading public is sick and tired of fluff,” says Wesley Willis. “Book buyers are selecting volumes for purchase with great care, increasingly demanding value for their money. They want the contents to be substantial, both in the concepts presented and in the quality of writing and editing.”
Abingdon’s Kent McNish says today’s Christian is ready to move from froth to serious reading in matters of Christian faith. As evidence he cites his Creative Leadership Series, edited by Lyle Schaller, which has sold more than 300,000 copies.
Jerry Jenkins of Moody Press says publishers have responded to this growth spurt in readers by themselves becoming more serious, businesslike, and careful. “We’re publishing more books every year, but our mix now is more heavily weighted toward scholarly works. A year and a half ago, 18 percent of our titles were textbooks compared to 50 percent now.”
Even Moody’s popular-level material, he says, particularly that written for adults, has had a corresponding turn toward the more substantive in biblical and doctrinal content.
4. Today’s Christian book reader is also maturing as an evangelical in matters of faith and learning. “There has been a maturing of evangelical scholarship, a tangible, sophisticated wrestling with key issues in biblical and theological studies,” says James W. Sire of InterVarsity Press.
He credits Carl F. H. Henry with giving impetus to this trend 30 years ago; his efforts are bearing fruit not only in his massive newly completed theological work, God, Revelation, and Authority, but also in the work produced by many younger scholars.
One of these, Anthony Thiselton, in The Two Horizons, for instance, effectively grapples with the central problems of hermeneutics, and does so without fear of contamination by nonevangelical scholarship.
Gilbert Bilezekian says evangelicals are looking for more substantial books because they are changing their approach to complex and sensitive issues. “The more common reaction of biblical Christians is one of growing sophistication,” he says. “They are extricating themselves from dead ends, such as preoccupation with end-times minutiae and the use of charismatic repertories as toys rather than tools.
“As a group they are reluctant to join Christians who have made a big splash in the shallow waters of single-issue politics. Instead they are headed in a new, more mature direction; redefining their identity, exploring their common roots, seeking each other reflectively, and mapping out strategies for united action.”
5. Today’s Christian book reader is searching for ways to integrate his faith with other areas of learning. When he was in graduate school 20 years ago, James Sire remembers preparing an annotated bibliography on the relationship between Christianity and literature. The list included no more than a dozen works, most of dubious value.
Today Sire says there are hundreds of articles and scores of major books by Christian scholars on the subject. And what is true of literature and Christianity is equally true of psychology, sociology, history, art, and music, plus Christianity.
Some fields, such as economics and educational theory, still need work, but nonetheless, there are more Christians writing in other academic fields than in earlier decades.
Sire also points out a noticeable trend by key Christian writers in the sixties and seventies who have shifted emphasis today in an attempt to broaden the focus of Christianity. Throughout the sixties, for instance, John Stott’s attention was focused on biblical study, evangelism, and the health of the local congregation. Today, without losing any of this interest, Stott is addressing major social issues such as abortion and nuclear war. Sire says similar shifts can also be traced in the writings of Francis Schaeffer, Howard Snyder, and others.
6. Today’s Christian book reader is looking for guidance in current social, ethical, and moral issues. Wesley Willis says Christians are seeking out printed resources to help them find answers to complex questions dealing with the value of individuals and our responsibility to them such as: How should we relate to the unborn? To the senior citizen? The terminally ill? To those more conservative or more liberal than we are? To the rich, or the poor? To members of other races? To those in authority over us or our subordinates?
Authors are needed, says Willis, to write books of “well-reasoned analysis based upon profound spirit-led biblical exegesis rather than emotional condemnation of those with whom we disagree.” He uses the current rash of books on secular humanism as an example. “For every legitimate critique of secular humanism there are countless emotional diatribes,” he says. “We must do more than encourage Christians to turn over rocks to find secular humanists. We need to help guide readers into a biblical understanding and lifestyle that will constitute a solid offense against all unbiblical philosophy.”
7. Today’s Christian book reader is becoming serious about understanding Scripture and presenting its message to non-Christians. Evangelicals are realizing that a society saturated with technological wonder working but bereft of spirit will sooner or later turn to Christians, clamoring for guidance from the Word of God. Consequently, they are preparing to come up with biblical answers.
Inductive Bible studies fill a need not met by the popular devotional or the more scholarly expository books. Women’s groups, neighborhood Bible studies, couples organizations all want solid Bible study material. Publishers are adding topical Bible study books to their ever-growing line of inductive study material.
Gilbert Bilezekian suggests that apologetics, “thoughtfully measured to persuade rather than antagonize,” is making a comeback. Contemporary Christian apologists seek to gain an entrance into the mind by presenting Christian alternatives to issues over which secular society has reached an impasse,” he says. “But the mood—following the tone and manner of C. S. Lewis—is one of gentlemanly détente rather than of the strident confrontation characterizing the fundamentalist-modernist controversies that occurred during the early part of the twentieth century.”
8. Today’s Christian book reader is looking for specific ways in which he can practice his faith. “Being a practicing Christian, like being a practicing doctor or lawyer, means developing one’s profession,” says Kent McNish. “If we profess Jesus Christ, we will want to do that as effectively as possible, whether that be as lay Christians or full-time church workers.”
That may mean learning how to teach the Bible more effectively, learning how to relate better to young people, or learning how to cope with personal or family problems.
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