two kinds of Christian book

Sometimes it seems to me that there are really only two types of Christian books: Platitudes and Planners. The Platitudes tell us with great earnestness what everyone already knows and no one would contest: that the secret to the Christian life is to love God with all our heart not just part of it; that one of the ways we demonstrate our love for God is by caring for His creation; that we do damage to our Christian witness unless we show respect for all persons. The problem with the Platitudes is not that they are wrong, but that they are uselessly correct. They tell us what we already know, but skillfully (or in some cases not so skillfully) avoid the sticky wicket of how exactly we’re supposed to live up to the things that we know to be true.

The problem with the Planners is just the opposite. The Planners have the virtue of acknowledging that putting our beliefs and convictions into practice is the really hard part of the Christian life, but they are relentlessly (sometimes insanely) cheerful about this. They tell us that we just need to organize ourselves properly and follow an invariant sequence of simple steps in order to do and be everything that Jesus wants us to do and be. For the Planners, Christian life is the simplest thing there is: it just requires … planning.

My fellow Christians seem to have an endless appetite for both Platitudes and Planners. Platitude-pushers seem to do especially well on Twitter: if you want to get yourself tens of thousands of followers, just utter banal words of exhortation, challenge, or encouragement with an air of profundity (and, of course, in fewer than 140 characters). The prophets of planning tend to have enormously popular Facebook pages, and make lucrative careers of speaking before very large audiences.

The Christian writers who are serious enough to get beyond platitudes, but also honest enough to acknowledge the inevitable vagaries of Christian living and the consequent limitations of our organizational impulses, are hard-to-find. In more than 30 years of reading Christian writers I have found only a few of them. They are pearls of great price.

At some point I’ll make a list of the ones who have meant the most to me. Ordinarily I hate doing that kind of thing, but it might be that making such a list will help me to see what they have in common.