Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Toronto Baptist Pastor and My Spiritual Condition

My family owned a Christian bookstore that was pretty much like your average Christian book shop. The first thing you saw when you walked in wasn’t anything really deep but was the usual Max Lucado coffee table book (or at least something like it). Some people get annoyed with this aspect of Christian bookstores thinking, "We need deeper theology!" but a question I’ve been thinking about is, “How annoyed should we be?”

R.G. Mitchell Family Books was the largest Christian retailer and distributor in Canada so it was quite a shock to some when it went bankrupt. If you search “Mitchell Family Books Bankruptcy” you will get a variety of responses. One that interested me was by a guy named Toronto Baptist Pastor. The author’s real name is Pastor H. Schonhaar; he is the pastor of Toronto Baptist Church, a fundamentalist KJV-only church in Toronto, Ontario. The heart of his post was that Mitchell Family Books went bankrupt because the Mitchell family is spiritually bankrupt. I thought it strange that such a judgment should be made before I even met this man but it got me thinking about something, namely, “What kinds of products should a Christian retailer be selling?”

My grandfather, Robert Gordon Mitchell, was a conservative brethren lay-man who had a passion for the written word. He loved Jesus and served him with all his energy. His desire was to get good books into the hands of Christians. 75 years later Mitchell Family Books was quite a different store. It sold more general products under the broad heading “Christian”. These products varied from paintings, music, books, bibles, and a whole lot of trinkets.

Throughout the time I worked there I got to know many of the authors and titles we sold. Some were good and some were bad, some had all truth (i.e. the Bible itself), some had no truth, and some had a good amount of truth. So what should Christian retailers sell? Should they sell only Bibles? Should they sell any books by liberal authors? Should they only sell books that are faithful (keeping in mind that no book, other than the bible, is perfect) to God’s word? Is there a difference between a ‘theological’ bookstore and a ‘Christian’ bookstore? Is Pastor H. Schonhaar right that a person is spiritually bankrupt by virtue of the books they sell? These are all questions I have been pondering.

I am more inclined to think that there is a difference between a 'theological' bookstore and a 'Christian' bookstore. The first is aimed towards academics who are looking to study whether it be liberal or conservative (like the theological bookstore at the University of Toronto). The second, on the other hand, is aimed more towards the average Christian reader. It is important for Christian bookstores to carry the truth because many new Christians will pick up anything they can get their hands on. The question that I would ask before carrying a book in a Christian bookstore is, "Is it faithful to the gospel?" Is the book faithful to the message that Jesus, the crucified and risen messiah, is the Lord of the world and through his death forgiveness is available to all people? This allows for grace in the area of deciding which books to carry.

Any thoughts?


Brad in the 'Loo said...

Hi Nick, thanks for a really thoughtful, well-written post.

I was a long-time employee at RGM and knew your grandfather a little bit back in the late 80's when he was still able to come by the warehouse/store on occasion. I can assure you that Mr. Mitchell was a genuinely Godly man. I would often overhear him speaking to employees and was impressed with his heart for both reaching out to Canadians with the Gospel, as well as encouraging believers in their Christian walk. It's sad that strangers would make unfounded criticisms against him.

As for the question of what a Christian bookstore should carry, I think that's a question we all struggled with from time to time. I'm still not sure I know the answer to that one!


Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Hey Brad,

Thanks for the kind words. That's awesome that you worked at Mitchell's. I worked there for about 10 years of my life. I never really got to know my grandpa too much. I wasn't a Christian when he died. But he wrote a memoir that is kind of cool. From it I see that he had a true passion for the crucified and risen Christ.

Nick Hill said...

I agree with your post. I think that no Christian bookstore should carry teaching that is heretical. It should be faithful to the Scriptures and the gospel. However, differences of legitimate opinion should be welcome: e.g. dispensational versus covenant theology, complementarians versus egalitarians, cessationists versus continuists, etc. However, false teachers like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, etc. should not be sold, even if it means losing profits. A Christian bookstore is a ministry first and a business second. If being a ministry first means the owner has to get another job, then so be it.