NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS)—Southern Baptist bookstores quietly have suspended a four-year-old program that alerted customers to read with “discernment” books by several up-and-coming authors whose books “could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.”
Chris Rodgers, director of product standards and customer relations for Nashville-based LifeWay, said the advisory labels were discontinued because they were “irrelevant to our customers.”
“There was little to no interest in it,” Rodgers said. “No one asked about the authors.”
The program flagged the writings of several emergent authors with labels that advised readers to exercise caution and “extra discernment” when reading particular books.
The labels provided the address to a website to learn more about the work or author; the website has been disabled.
The program recently came under attack in a blog post from Christian musician Shaun Groves, who was upset that LifeWay was willing to warn customers about a book but still continued to sell it.
The label read: “Read With Discernment. This book may contain thoughts, ideas or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology. Therefore, we encourage you to read it with extra discernment.”
LifeWay, the official publisher and bookstore of the Southern Baptist Convention, downplayed the program and the decision to end it, saying the labels were not warnings but rather an attempt to provide customers with more information.
“They were not warnings; there is no way at all you could read those as warnings,” Rodgers said. “The program has been called controversial, (but) the only real controversy was the Groves blog.”
But some authors of the marked books—including popular authors Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Brian McLaren and William Paul Young—were happy with the decision to terminate the program.
McLaren, a sometimes controversial emergent author whose books were flagged, said a decision to censor writings by another Christian went against the Baptist tradition of personal conscience.
“I think it is concerning when, especially a Baptist bookstore acts as if a central organization can make decisions on which books are accepted and rejected,” McLaren said. “Yes, I am very pleased” to see it end.
Young, who wrote the New York Times bestseller The Shack, said he wasn’t bothered by the program, but still thought that LifeWay made “a good move” in ending it.
When Young heard his book had been labeled, he shared a laugh with his family and friends. “Like most people are saying, ‘Put it on every book, or you put it on no book,”‘ Young said.
Young believes, however, that LifeWay had good motives and understands the difficulty of their situation.
“LifeWay has a tough job, they have to figure out how to be a part of a world in which ideas are larger than their community, but still maintain their allegiance to their denomination,” Young said.