Playing on fears of conspiracies and Antichrist lookalikes may sell books, but it subverts the gospel’s confident hope.

Four friends gathered for overpriced milkshakes in a posh Orlando hotel. The annual Christian Booksellers Association convention was nearly over, and it was time to take stock. There had been many solid books from reputable publishers; we chuckled over the march of the “recovery book” clones. Nevertheless, we were each troubled by the same discovery: an increase of fear and scare tactics driving the marketing of many books.

Perhaps most outlandish was a stack of books with the title Satan-Proof Your Home, apparently treating the Devil as if he were radon gas. Most were more tasteful, yet clearly appealing to readers’ self-protective instincts: there were books that played on fear of psychologists, fear of charismatics, fear of 12-step programs, fear of the Antichrist, fear of school-teachers, and fear of New Age influences.

What these publishers’ wares tell us about the Christian public should give us cause for concern. Christian book publishers have become savvy marketers. If they have placed their bets well, it means some of the Christian public is driven by fear, and that’s not a good thing.

Fear was designed by God to give our bodies the sudden bursts of strength and speed we need in emergencies. But when fear becomes a permanent condition, it can paralyze the spirit, keeping us from taking the risks of generosity, love, and vulnerability that characterize citizens of God’s kingdom.

In a famous 1964 essay, Richard Hofstadter identified a “paranoid style” in American politics, which he characterized as “overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression” and which assumes ...

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