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 good news is that there are accessible recent titles, written from a believer's point of view. Approachable scholarly histories can be found in Allen Guelzo's Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (Eerdmans) and Grant Wacker's history of early Pentecostalism, Heaven Below (Harvard). Recent evangelical biographies include John Perry's Charles Colson (Broadman & Holman), Bruce Shelley's Transformed by Love (on Vernon Grounds; Discovery House), and Kevin Belmonte's Hero for Humanity (on William Wilberforce; NavPress). Myrna Grant's Sacred Legacy (Baker) pulls together the writings of nine influential women in our history. And on it goes.

Breaking the Bind

How can we better showcase our heritage?

First, we encourage CBA to consider adding history/biography to its bestseller lists. Every quarter, 100,000 people read our sister publication Christian History. This market is too big to ignore.

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Second, Christian bookstores might promote a few titles as an act of stewardship. Most Christian bookstore owners got into the business because they wanted to promote the fine books they themselves loved. Surely they don't have to give that up completely in order to pay the bills.

Third, Christian publishers should recall their own first love, as well, and continue to do their best (within understandable economic constraints) to keep their history lineup full and fresh.

The Roman historian Cicero said, "To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child always." Like any movement, we are in constant need of maturity and wisdom. History is one genre that can help us.

Related Elsewhere

Articles also appearing on our site today include:

Inside CT: You Are What You Were | Past events are still shaping our behavior today.

Books mentioned in the above editorial include Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, Heaven Below, Charles Colson, Transformed by Love, Hero for Humanity, and Sacred Legacy.

Not only does our magazine's Web site have a special history section and a weekly history column, but our sister publication Books & Culture has another history section. In fact, another of our sister publications, Christian History, is devoted to the subject.

Articles looking at the history of the church in CT include:

History for Us | Who is writing the church's story? (July 9, 2001)
How to Serve Time | There is a Christian way to study the past without weakening the truth. (March 23, 2001)
Whatever Happened to Christian History? | Evangelical historians have finally earned the respect of the secular academy. A few critics say they've lost their Christian vision. Hardly. (March 23, 2001)

Other Christianity Today articles are available in our History archive. Extensive CT book reviews and coverage of the CBA is available in our Books section.

Last spring Christian History editor Chris Armstrong wrote a series of columns on becoming more engaged with the history of Christianity. The columns included:

Top Ten Reasons to Know Christian History | War reports deluge us every hour. Why should we read "old news?" (March 28, 2003)
Top Ten 'Starter Books' | Get rooted in the Christian past with these riveting reads of primary sources.(April 4, 2003)
Top Ten Entry Points to Christian History | Some enjoyable ways to get the most out of the work of church historians. (April 11, 2003)

Heaven Below by Grant Wacker was reviewed by Christianity Today, Books & Culture, and Christian History.

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