Should you judge a church by its bookstore?

A few weekends ago I attended a new church (new for me anyway), and checked out its bookstore. I was so pleased to see some of the very same authors we’ve interviewed on our program. Of course the Bible was front and center, but I also saw many titles from those warning Christians that time is short; that we need discernment to navigate these muddy, confusing waters of modern churchianity.   I even saw a display at the entrance of the library featuring my co-host’s excellent book, The Suicide of American Christianity: Drinking the Cool-Aid of Secular Humanism. (The local pastor has been a supporter of the program since its inception.)

If you want to know what your Church wants you to read, check out its resource center, book store or library. Are there books that build up the Body of Christ, or introduce new “paradigm shifts” into mysticism or emergent theology?

A couple of years ago, Chris Charmichael visited the bookstore of the biggest mega-church in the midwest, and found the pickings there to be anything but solid teaching. I am sharing his article, Willow Creek Bookstore Peddles Error, in hopes you’ll be inspired to check out your own resource center to see what’s in there:

When Churches Promote Books Instead of The Book

by Chris Carmichael

Imagine one Sunday morning you go to your local Christian church and find that something very odd is going on.  As you approach the church building, a stranger wearing a “Gay Pride” T-shirt opens the door for you and says, “Come in. God loves you just the way you are!”  Confused, you hurry to the worship service and find that a New Age guru has been invited to preach.  After the error-filled sermon, you stagger to your Sunday School class and hear the shocking claim that Christ is NOT the only way to heaven, but that eternal life can be found in all religions.  You are then asked to seek a spirit guide to verify this “truth” through Eastern meditation.

Horrified, you run to the pastor and demand to know why these unbiblical teachings are present in the church. He quickly assures you that the church’s beliefs haven’t really changed.  “The teachings available through our church may not always reflect our doctrinal position,” he tells you matter-of-factly.

Sound far-fetched?  It’s not. Sadly, it’s almost exactly the situation currently taking place at Willow Creek Community Church’s Online Resource Center. Despite their professed allegiance to biblical doctrine, Willow Creek’s “Seeds” bookstore is indiscriminately offering many books for sale that openly promote unbiblical teachings without due warning.  Willow Creek’s only disclaimer?  A small sentence on their site reads, “Materials available through The Seeds Online Resource Center may not always reflect the doctrinal position of Willow Creek Community Church.”  But does that lame disclaimer let them off the hook?

Think about it: is spreading falsehood an appropriate activity for an influential evangelical ministry like Willow Creek?  For that matter, is it appropriate behavior for ANY Christian church that has been given charge over the spiritual welfare of its people?

Remember, we aren’t talking about a secular publisher or retailer that exists to peddle any popular book that makes them money.  We aren’t even talking about so-called “Christian” booksellers who try to walk that fine line between secular and religious for the sake of profit.  We are talking about a Christian church that professes to be dedicated to the orthodox teachings of Scripture and the spread of the Gospel, yet sells books that undermine those very imperatives.

So what’s going on here?

If you go to Willow Creek’s Seeds bookstore website, you will see that they have a search engine which allows you to peruse the various titles they offer for sale online through the ministry.  You can search their online book inventory online here:

Out of curiosity, I recently used Bud Press’s “Master List” of Heretical, Cultic, New Age Movement and Pro-Gay/Homosexual authors (available at Christian Research Service) and typed in a few names to see what kind of teachers Willow Creek was willing to promote through Seeds.  Guess what?  A bunch of Bud’s “red flag” authors came up.

Beverly F. Brandt (author of The Mystic Reality of Christ Consciousness); Brennan Manning (inclusivist/universalist); Tilden Edwards; Thomas Ryan; Thomas Keating; Basil Pennington; Stephen Covey (Mormon author who promotes New Age principles); Melody Beattie (New ager); Madame Jeanne Guyon (mystic); Hannah Hurnad; Nancy Roth (teaches Christian Yoga?); John Marks Templeton (humanist); Marvin Mahan Ellison (promotes same-sex marriage); Andrew Harvey (practicing homosexual author); John Jacob Raub (promotes the heretical A Course in Miracles); Robert Schuller; and Joel Osteen, to name a few.

(To get an idea of what these people are teaching, I recommend Bud Press’s web site to get more specifics on what these so-called “Christian” authors are teaching.  This isn’t orthodox Christianity in any way, shape or form. See for more information.)

Author John Jacob Raub, for example, writes in his book (available through Seeds): “Since judgment and punishment are so much a part of our world, we continually read them into the gospels.  Our bifocal vision of good/bad is so much in our mind that we impose it onto Christ’s mind.  We even call one thief on Calvary “good” and the other “bad.”  Christ didn’t!  He didn’t turn to the one, saying: ‘And you won’t be with me in Paradise, because you are bad‘” (from Who Told You That You Were Naked?).

Since when is judgment and punishment not found in the gospels?  Raub’s distorted view of Scripture implies that Jesus will not separate the sheep from the goats (Mt. 25:31-33), and that both thieves, repentant or not, will be found with Christ in Paradise.  Such teaching has no basis in God‘s word, but is part and parcel of the heretical A Course in Miracles, of which Raub bases his false beliefs.  In fact, the cover of his book boldly states that his work is “based on key principles from A Course in Miracles.” (This should have been a huge clue for Willow Creek to refuse to sell this book.)

And what does A Course in Miracles teach?  According to the Course, there is no real sin or judgment, and therefore, “there is no need for help to enter Heaven for you have never left.”  In addition, “…sin is not real, and all that you believe must come from sin will never happen, for it has no cause” (A Course in Miracles, Vol. 2, p. 179).

The Course also dares to teach that Jesus is merely “an elder brother entitled to respect for his greater experience.”   The “Jesus” of the Course proclaims, “There is nothing about me that you cannot attain. This leaves me in a state which is only potential in you.  I bridge the distance as an elder brother to you on the one hand, and as a Son of God on the other” (A Course In Miracles, Vol. 1, p. 5)

What possible justification could Willow Creek have for offering a book based on this drivel?  These teachings are nothing but lies from Satan; and yet Willow Creek markets the fruits of this blasphemy without apparent concern.

I would think this information might make any committed Christian question the integrity of Willow Creek’s ministry.  This list of suspect authors verifies to me that Willow Creek has little discernment about whose teachings they promote.  Moreover, it corroborates the obscure 2004 online report by Mary Fairchild, who saw extra-biblical teachings being used in a Willow Creek women’s group.  Fairchild’s disclosure about the endorsement of false teachers within the inner parts of Willow Creek is almost identical to the obvious pattern at Seeds.  The evidence seems clear to me that Willow Creek, throughout their organization, has dismissed the dangers of aberrant Christian thought and New Age spirituality and is allowing those unscriptural concepts to be available at their institution.

Let me ask you: would your church be comfortable selling these authors’ books in your church lobby?  I sincerely hope not.  But Willow Creek doesn’t seem to have a problem with marketing these books through their church’s on-campus bookstore.  On the outside Willow Creek may appear very orthodox in their official statements, but underneath it all they are cultivating an ecumenical atmosphere in their organization that freely allows for false, unbiblical teaching to influence their members and visitors.

To me, this is the most compelling evidence as to why a church does not need to be aligned with Willow Creek’s parachurch organization, the Willow Creek Association.  Churches involved with Willow Creek need to wonder if WCA resources and training seminars may have been corrupted by Willow Creek’s lackadaisical attitude towards doctrinal purity.  If your church is a member of the WCA and your pastor dismisses this information outright, then he is not protecting his flock as he should, but is much too enamored with Willow Creek and their attractive Church Growth principles to see the problem.

Whether allowing a Muslim into their pulpit or selling the books of a New Age mystic, Willow Creek has consciously founded much of its ministry on the spirit of ecumenism. As such, they have mistakenly equated this open exchange of religious ideas as a sign of Christian love and tolerance, but at what cost? For all intents and purposes, Willow Creek’s bookstore has rewritten Paul’s directive in Romans 16:17 to read: “Now I beseech you, brethren, MARKET them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and SELL THEIR BOOKS.” But is that what he says?

The fact is, that any time a church begins to place less emphasis on biblical doctrine for the sake of pragmatic unity and growth, then they have failed in their duty. It is time for churches like Willow Creek to quit promoting all these so-called “Christian” books, and only focus on one. The Bible.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-5).

UPDATE:  It has been pointed out to me that the Willow Creek Online Resource Center is now powered by, a “trusted” online Christian bookstore, and that Willow Creek cannot be held fully accountable for the types of books this company might have in their inventory. This fact, however, does not absolve Willow Creek for their poor judgment in partnering with a company that has little discernment in what they promote. Regardless of the situation, Willow Creek is still responsible in this matter and should not be marketing these questionable books directly or indirectly.



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5 Responses to Should you judge a church by its bookstore?

  1. Jenny says:

    I believe it is entirely appropriate to turn away from a church that promotes ideas (in this case through the means of "Christian" resources in a church bookstore) that undermine the authority of Scripture despite its use of hollow disclaimers. This breeds confusion. If the church is be obedient to try the spirits, to have the mind of Christ, and to love the Lord with all our minds, we should guard our minds/hearts very closely. That pertains to extrabiblical "Christian" teachings and "bible study" resources. In my opinion looking for the next great book may even hinder our spiritual maturity.


  2. Liss Askew says:

    This infuriates me! What is going on here? Have churches gotten lazy? Does no one want to take the effort to stand up to TRUTH? Well, you have given me another article to write about. I am going to have to look at my church library to see what books are being sold. I have a feeling my church library will be fine, but I am curious, now. What has happened to discernment? It saddens me what I am seeing in the culture and what is infiltrating the Christian Church.


  3. Rick Frueh says:

    The entire Christian book phenomenon is just a business. Money and clever covers rule. Would yo retrieve a nickel from a spitoon? So it is shopping in a "Christian" bookstore.


  4. Mr Davis says:

    Even with the flags and the naming of names, that is little help against the onslaught of false ideas promoted as doctrines of God these days.

    Unless you know the word itself (the Bible) and the Word Himself you will not be able to stand. Clever words and honyied tongues will catch you every time and books are filled with them. The day is coming when the use of clever words will throw up flags and honyied tongues will belay trust.

    2 Corinthians 3:12 KJV
    Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech

    2 Corinthains 4 KJV:1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; 2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:

    1 Corinthians 1 KJV:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel : not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect . 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

    Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned (FROM THE APOSTLES AND PAUL HIMSELF); and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

    ACTS 2 KJV 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together , and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

    Today in America not many churches care for the apostles doctrine. Not much of what is stated above happens in them and that doesn't seem to bother us.


  5. dan long says:

    I have to give a related note that the same disclaimer is posted on Lynn Hybel's website that promotes anti-Israel ( Israel is an occupying force) drivel. The very least I wouldn't trust anyone that Barack Obama appoints to his "Faith Council".


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