If you were to scan the lists of the best selling Christian books of all time you’d see some truly amazing books there. You’d see some books that have helped us better understand who God is and books that have instructed us. and how we as Christians can live lives of obedience to Him, and like you, I’m genuinely thankful for these books. Sadly though, you’d also see some truly flat-out awful books. Today I’ve narrowed down that list to the five most ridiculous books to ever become Christian bestsellers.
Let’s begin with The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. This book was released in 2000 and it just absolutely exploded. It quickly became one of the best selling Christian books of all time. Only a couple have ever out-sold it. And this whole book was premised on just two little verses in 1st Chronicles, chapter four, where we come across this guy named Jabez, and he asked the Lord to bless him. And God blessed him. That’s all we know about Jabez and his situation. But Wilkinson turned this into a kind of global instruction for all Christians to go to God and get from Him whatever they want. Here’s what he said. In his book he said, I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It’s brief. Only one sentence, with four parts, and tucked away in the Bible. But I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God. Long story short, if you pray this prayer, as part of your daily life, God will give you what you want. That book went on to sell more than 10 million copies.
Now, what was the problem with The Prayer of Jabez? Well, there’s too many to list in just a short format like this, but perhaps the greatest one is this. It takes a tiny and descriptive passage, and it makes it a major and prescriptive instruction. We believe, of course, the scripture is breathed out by God. All of it breathed out by God. All of it, profitable to us. But that doesn’t mean that all scripture weighs equally heavy when it comes to what is true—when it comes to instruction—on how we ought to live. The Prayer of Jabez missed the entire thrust of scripture to deliver this ridiculous, ridiculous message. All Wilkinson really did at the end, was he took advantage of the innate greed within the human heart. To do that he overpromised and he underdelivered.
Bonus fact. Did you know that Derek Webb’s song Wedding Dress from the album, She Must and Shall Go Free, is all about the prayer of Jabez? If you give it a quick listen, just pull it up on Youtube, give it a quick listen, in light of the book, and in no time you’ll see how he absolutely savages it.
Book number two is The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. Now, if Bruce Wilkinson, he went to a minor passage to gain his inspiration, Batterson did him one better. He went outside the Bible altogether. He went all the way to the Talmud. And there he found a character named Honi. And this man lived in ancient Israel and at one occasion the region in Israel was experiencing this great time of drought, and so this guy, he drew a circle in the dust and he stood inside that circle and he informed God, I will not move until it rains. Well then it began to drizzle and he told God I expect more rain than that, and it began to pour. And he told God, you know what, make it a calm rain, and the rain calmed down.
Well, of course, Batterson makes this into something all Christians can do, all Christians should do. He tells us the purpose of the book is to draw circles or walk circles or imagine circles around anything that we want. And then because we’ve done that, God gives them to us. These circles, he says, are the key to effective prayer. What’s the problem with this? Well first, the whole thing comes from outside the Bible. That alone should be a big source of concern. Second, within the Bible, God gives us all sorts of instruction on prayer, but He never says a single thing about drawing circles, about making circles. And then third, what Batterson teaches, it’s completely indistinguishable from the whole name it and claim it of the prosperity gospel. Just like Wilkinson, he’s taking advantage of our greed and perhaps our lack of understanding about prayer, and he’s offering what appears to be an easier and more satisfying, a more immediate answer. And yet his book, and all the various books that came from it, they sold more than a million copies.
Next up we get to Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen. This is one of a bunch of books by Osteen that have sold in the millions of copies. They’ve been on the list of best-sellers, but this was his first and still his best known. The premise of the book is that God wants our lives to be easy and comfortable. God wants to bless us in such a way that we experience all the finest things that this life has to offer. We can, we should expect that God doles out this kind of preferential treatment to His people. So what Osteen does is he lays out the seven-step plan to experience your best life now. And what he lays out is basically just a mash-up of the gospel of self-esteem, or the gospel of self-empowerment, combined with the prosperity gospel. It’s basically just Norman Vincent Peale meets Oral Roberts.
So what’s the problem with it? Well, basically the problem is all in the title. That we can and should expect to live our best lives now. Osteen’s version of the good news that Christianity brings the world is that we can have all we want, we can have all we desire in this life. Really when you look at it, his gospel is nothing to do with Jesus Christ, nothing to do with the forgiveness of our sins, nothing to do with life eternal. His gospel is that we can measure our lives, and we can measure our spirituality by the pleasures we experience in this world.
Bonus fact. Did you know that there was a board game edition of Your Best Life Now? The game actually made no sense. It was completely unplayable. It’s regarded as one of the worst board games in history. Believe it or not, one of the tasks you actually had to complete in this game was to look into a mirror and to say affirming things about yourself and I don’t think it sold nearly as well as the book.
And now we move to that heaven tourism genre. And you knew it had to get to this at some point, right? This whole genre began with Don Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, where he claimed that he had died and he had gone to heaven and then he had returned.
Well, that book just absolutely took off, and wouldn’t you know it soon, everyone and their brother was dying and going to heaven and coming back of course. Or even better, people were remembering, oh yeah, I went to heaven too. So suddenly there was this entire genre of books that were all about sharing stories of going to heaven. Except for that one poor guy who spent 23 minutes in hell instead, but anyways.
Of all these books, and there were so many of them, the one that sold best was Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. And it told the story of his little boy Colton who survived this bout with appendicitis. But who after he recovered from surgery, began to tell his parents about some experiences he had had there in the surgery. Well he apparently died and he went to heaven and he met Jesus and he encountered angels and even met his sister who had died before he was born. That book also sold more than 10 million copies and it got turned into a movie.
Well, what’s the problem with Heaven is for Real and really what was the problem with all of these heaven tourism books? Well, first they all contradict one another in the details of heaven. Nobody seemed to notice this. Every single book speaks authoritatively of what heaven is about, but they all contradict one another. I mean that alone should make us doubt the whole genre, right?
But even more seriously, what they do, is they attempt to give us confidence in the existence of heaven when God tells us that confidence in the Bible, confidence in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is how we gain confidence in heaven. So these books then essentially nudge out our confidence in God and in His Word, and they replace it with confidence in the tales of little children. And even of people who clearly have no real understanding of the Bible. People who are heavily involved in the new age even.
Bonus fact. Did you know that one of these best-selling authors has completely revoked his story? The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven had sold more than a million copies before that boy admitted, he didn’t really come back from heaven at all. He had never been there. In fact, he and his father had fabricated the entire story. It was, in fact, a bunch of malarkey.
Finally, we come to Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. This is another book that sold well over 10 million copies and its sequels have accumulated millions and millions more. To understand that book, we need to be sure we go to the first edition and that’s kind of hard to find today. It’s in that very first edition that Young really tells us what her book is all about. Most of that introduction was scrubbed in every later edition.
But in the very first one, she tells about finding the book called God Calling. This book, God Calling, had been published in the 1930’s and it was this book that introduced her to the idea of Listeners, with a capital L, Listeners. These are people who would hear directly from God and then convey messages from God to other people. She was attracted to this. She decided to try it. So here’s what she said in her own words. She said, I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying.
Well, she did this, and she said that that became her most important spiritual discipline. It was that listening that helped her soar to this whole new level of spirituality. Now she was finally experiencing this higher kind of life. Those messages she received, that became Jesus Calling. And that became all her other books.
So what’s the problem with this? Well first, Young, she directly undermines the Bible in saying that the Bible’s not enough for her. Christians have long held that God’s Word is the final and perfect and sufficient revelation of God, yet she says, that wasn’t enough for me. She says, I longed for more. She wanted more than God has graciously given us. Well, that’s a problem. Not only that, but her messages from Jesus sound so, so different from His voice in the Bible. A sceptic might even say, you know, he sounds a whole lot less like a first-century Jewish man. He sounds a whole lot more like a 21st-century western woman.
As I said at the beginning, we’ve been blessed with some truly wonderful books in the Christian market, and I am very, very thankful, as are you, I know. Unfortunately, we’ve also been cursed with some truly awful ones. And so the point of this video is to encourage us all to exercise discernment, even when reading Christian books, and perhaps especially when reading Christian books. You know just because it’s published by a Christian publisher, just because it’s sold in a Christian book store, that does not mean that it’s good or that it’s reliable or that it’s consistent with scripture.
Christian, we need to know the Bible. We need to so know the truth of the Bible. We need to carefully evaluate every book we read, in light of its perfect and unchanging truths. A book is good only to the degree that it aligns with the perfect, infallible, inerrant, sufficient Word of God, the Bible.
Source: Tim Challies