SBC stores pull warning labels from certain books

February 28, 2011

Southern Baptist bookstores have quietly suspended a four-year-old
program that warned customers to read with "discernment" works by
several up-and-coming authors whose books "could be considered
inconsistent with historical evangelical theology."

Chris Rodgers,
the director of product standards and customer relations for
Nashville-based LifeWay, said the warnings 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 some emergent authors with labels
advising readers to exercise caution and "extra discernment" in reading
particular books. The labels provided the address to a website to learn
more about the work or author; the website has since 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."

Some authors of the marked
books, including popular writers Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Brian McLaren
and Wil­liam Young, were pleased 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 especially when 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 ended]."

Young, who wrote the New York Times best seller The Shack, said he ­wasn't bothered by the program but still thought that LifeWay made "a good move" in ending it.  —RNS