It is the 25th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
An email from Nicole in Manchester Tennessee
[[Writes the obligatory nice things (thank’s Nicole!) enjoys the new music (yes, that’s a common one) and has a question about the best selling Christian books of all time.]]
“Do you know the best-selling historical books in the church? Can this tell us something about the church at different times?”
Ah! Such a question with such a difficult answer. So let’s try it:
According to my favorite book during grade school silent reading: the Guinness Book of World Records,
“as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed”
2nd? You might see “the Imitation of Christ” or “Mere Christianity” and maybe they are right. But I have yet to be convinced by any criterion that we could actually know. Consider the following
The church is huge- what are our parameters for space and time?
What’s a book? Tablet, parchment, codex?
Does it have to sell or can it be given out?
How do we account for the pre-Guttenberg era? How do we count for time and locations with very low literacy rates?
A few more thoughts:
Why do books become popular? Title? Reputation? Infamy?
Most sold and best are not synonymous!
How many books sold are also read?
So let’s keep to the broadly western modern (1500 to the present) tradition.
16th: Imitation of Christ by A’Kempis, Luther’s Writings, Calvin’s Institutes, Spiritual Exercises of Loyola
17th: Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress (does this count?) if not Pascal’s Pensee’s
18th: A plain Account of Christian Perfection by Wesley and the Religious Affections of Jonathan Edwards (in the English speaking world)
20th: Mere Christianity (but if you took Pilgrims perhaps you take Narnia or LOTR here)
If I want to know what people are thinking a good question is “what are they reading?” Or at least “pretending to read” by purchasing and displaying on their shelf.
And despite what some historians- especially those of the Puritans- might have you believe… people are shaped by ideas in ways that rarely go straight from the page to the brain. Pay attention to the books, but also the conversation, context, and community.
OK, Nicole, I don’t know if this all helps except to raise a few questions about the books we have read, the books we will read, and what this might say about us.
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While Christopher is indeed from West Lafayette, Indiana, 99% of the things I say in his nickname are completely made up. Just in case.
The last word for today comes from the end of the Gospel of Luke.
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite book is a five-way tie between the Twilight installments. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who has only enjoyed the Twilight series in their original Latin. I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.