Why Are My Most Childish Customers Calvinists?

Derek Ouellette —  October 13, 2011

I’m venting a little. I know that not all Calvinists are represented in this, but the pattern is 100% consistent in my store. And truth be told, I even think moderate Calvinists are annoyed by these Calvinists.

You know, these, they, them. The extreme and narrow-minded ones. As one non-academic co-worker of mine astutely and elegantly put it, “they’re so childish.”

What did she mean by that? I may have blogged about this before on this site because it is one of my HUGE pet peeves. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the pattern of hiding certain books in my bookstore in order to suppress alternative theological perspectives.

Before I came along our academic section was quite pathetic, hardly taking up a single shelf. Pastors and Christians who enjoy taking their faith deeper than the Karen Kingsbury’s and Wanda Brunstetter’s out there stayed away and told there friends to do so as well. “All they carry is fluff” I would hear.

I came along and all of that changed. We now have an entire section of academic books boasting a wide spectrum of theological voices. I’m quite influential in this store and could, if I so chose to, make sure that we did not carry any books by authors I don’t agree with. I could, for example, make sure to keep Piper off the shelf. I could guarantee that Justin Taylor, Josh Moody and Anne Graham Lotz never see the light of day here.

The reason I don’t do that is not because I want to see their voices dominate the theological atmosphere of this community (quite the contrary actually!), but rather because I believe the dialogue is important. I want their voices to be heard. But I also want other voices to be heard. This is why I have to proactively and consciously get in books from the other perspectives as well.

But here’s where my pet peeve comes in. Occasionally I’ll get a KJV Only advocate who will, as they say, blow in, blow up and blow out. Their rants can cause quite a disturbance. Other times I’ll get someone who will irrevocably condemn me to the pit of hell because I have a tattoo of a cross on my arm. But most often, and much more subtly, I get others who will sneak over to our academic section – people who obviously know what they are doing – and will intentionally hide every book by N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Greg Boyd, Roger Olson and other similar authors behind books written by D.A. Carson, Michael Horton, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Josh Moody and others of that theological camp.

I literally have to dig out books from this first group and place everything back the way it was – in alphabetical order. It’s not enough that N.T. Wright is at the bottom of the academic section (“W” being at the tail end of the alphabet), but he must be covered up as well, lest some unsuspecting soul do what I did four years ago: stumble upon his writings and never look back!

As someone who comes from an Arminian background, I eschew the perception that all Arminians are liberal theologians. I engage and oppose liberal theology and will spare no words with anyone who says that Arminianism amounts to Pelagianism or liberalism. Balderdash!

In the same fashion I would like to see Calvinists oppose this narrow-minded and extreme branch. I would like to see more Calvinist bloggers – Trevin Wax, C. Michael Patton and Tim Challies to name a few of the biggies – encourage their readers forcefully that Calvinism does not amount to fundamentalism and narrow-mindedness.

I would like Calvinists to say, ‘here’s what we believe, but let’s leave room for the spectrum and the conversation‘.

Less of ‘farewell Rob Bell‘ and more of ‘feel free to read the book, but then lets have the conversations‘.

Less ‘I’m talking to fellow Calvinists and assuming everything‘ and more of ‘I’m talking to non-Calvinists who don’t share my premise, so let’s start there‘.

Calvinists want to stand up for the traditional view of Hell, but they want to make it all about their Calvinism.

Calvinists want to stand up for the gospel, but they want to make the gospel all about Calvinism.

And they wonder why there is such a big divide! The more this perception is exasperated the less attractive Calvinism becomes.

Afterthought: many of the points in the rant above deserve qualifications. Like when I say that many Calvinists make the gospel all about Calvinism or the traditional view of Hell all about Calvinism I have specific books and authors in mind (as but two examples, James Montgomery Boice and Michael Wittmer respectively.) All I’m saying is that I would like to see more influencers in the Calvinist tradition encourage those they influence away from a narrow-mindedness that leads their cohorts into Christian bookstores where they try and make it difficult for any other theological voice to be heard. Such tactics come fearfully near cultish manipulation.
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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://BeingTC.com T. C. Moore


  • http://www.theologyunderconstruction.com Brian Gronewoller

    On behalf of other Calvinists (at least I think I’m a Calvinist according to the way that people parse things in the contemporary milieu…but I like to go back farther than just 500 years to claim my theological heritage…Augustine, Gregory, Cyril, etc.), I apologize for these folks. I think that all traditions have those “crazy uncles” that you love, but you wouldn’t really associate with unless you were related. Of course, that’s true of Christianity-at-large, and each sub-section underneath it.

    Anyhow, I hope that next time a Calvinist comes in and yells at you that you calmly inform him that his/her fallen nature is a bit too exposed at the moment and that God has foreordained him/her to be outside the door and in his/her car within the next 10 secs.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Much appreciated Brian!

  • http://www.markbraye.wordpress.com markbraye

    love it!

    Derek, you need to post these thoughts on the store’s door like Luther.

    what’s new and exciting at the store?

    i’m really looking forward to Wright’s new stuff.

    i always enjoy when you write about the adventures of working in a Christian bookstore.

  • Brian MacArevey

    HAHA! lol…I think I actually did that before (when I was a Calvinist of course) 😉 Well, I guess if I can change there is hope for these folks as well. :)

    You are definitely right that more leading Calvinists need to speak up against the silencing of all non Calvinist voices. The fact that they don’t makes me think that they actually support this kind of behavior (which would not surprise me at all).

  • http://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com Kevin Jackson

    As an Arminian, I can’t deny that I’ve had thoughts to hide books I don’t like, but have never actually done it. Perhaps they’re stashing stuff so that they can come back later and buy it when they have more money. :)

  • Wendy

    I feel for you Derek, it’s frustrating but as one who has ventured into your bookstore every now and again, I am very pleased with the way the academic section is looking compared to past years. (by the way, I might have hid all the “Lord of the Bean” Veggie Tale DVDs behind the “Josh and the Big Wall” ones, sorry)

  • Ken Stewart

    I enjoyed reading this piece. Let’s hear some more of ‘Saga from the Christian Bookstore’! But about this particular entertaining piece, let me sound one or two cautions:
    1) You surmise, but could not prove if pushed, that it is your Calvinist customers who are hiding books they don’t like. This is entirely likely — even plausible — given which titles seem to be on the hit-list for being hidden. But it is still worth asking, “what is the threshold of proof employed here?”. If you know the perpetrators personally, and know what books they buy (rather than what they hide) your attributing their tactics to their Calvinism would be still more convincing.
    2) I grow more skeptical, still, when I see KJV-only people lumped in with the book-hiders (who are supposed to be motivated by their Calvinism). As a Calvinist of longstanding, I can honestly say that I do not know any KJV-only Calvinists. This is a point of view associated with a certain brand of fundamentalist Baptist. Here in the USA this Baptist point of view is associated with institutions such as Pensacola Christian College; importantly, this point of view about KJV only tends to be violently anti-Calvinist. Isn’t it true that Calvinists divide over ESV and NIV in about equal numbers? Next in line would be the NASV. The KJV-only crowd is now pretty much associated with other streams of conservative Protestantism.

    So, to sum up: clarify the standard of proof that Calvinists are the guilty party, and don’t assume that all bookstore guerillas share an equal doctrinal base. I believe that you have at least two kinds of difficult customers and you will need grace to understand the particular concerns of each.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      True Ken, I have no “hard evidence” and my reasoning is mostly deductive. But I think my deduction is sound. The evidence is not just based on what they hide, but more tellingly, what they hide them with. That said, I should make a clarification here. I did not mean to imply that the KJV Only people were Calvinists (though I know one who is!). Nor did I mean to imply that those who take me to task about my tattoo are Calvinists. In all likelihood, these folks are – as you say – fundamentalists Baptists or, in my experience, Pentecostal. The point of the three illustrations was to make a comparison of the mind-set and then to focus on the third group, not to equate the three groups as all being Calvinists.

      I also want to be clear about what I’m saying here. I’m addressing a particular “pet peeve” in this post. Other times I have addressed other pet peeves (recall the article I wrote about a KJV Only pastor who came into my store not long ago). I’m fully aware – as Brian Gronewoller pointed out – that every tradition has their fringe; even (maybe especially!) my own. But the subject of this particular article was about another recent attempt by some to hide books from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition by books from the Calvinist-Reformed tradition. That is the fact of the case, whatever we might deduce from it.

  • http://www.theruthlessmonk.blogspot.com LCK

    So sad and yet so funny! I’ve been known to hide a book or two (not in your store), but only because it was the last one and I was going to come back and buy it later.

  • Mike

    Ever since my two sisters both married Calvinists, I have been reading up on various authors you have mentioned in your blog. I came across your blog because I googled something about Josh Moody. Anyways, I think all positions represented in your article are a bit unhealthy, including your own. The one thing I can appreciate about fundamentalists is that they have made up their minds on important topics. Adults who jabber on and on about “dialogue” are simply undecided and therefore wishy washy in their approach to these important topics. I agree with you that Calvinists are annoying at times. But so are people who think all we need is more dialogue. If anything, people just need to shut up and find more productive things to do with their time. Along those lines, I guess I’ll sign off.