Remembering Reformation Book Service
During the Covid lockdowns the closest Christian bookstore to where I live closed its doors for the last time. As an avid book buyer, it has been deeply distressing to watch Christian bookstore after Christian bookstore fold in the past 20 years.
While the independent Christian bookstore must stock bestselling titles from the big-name publishers, it’s also able to sell volumes that would never normally be sold in bookstore chains and to represent small Christian presses. For the buyer, independent Christian bookstores can provide the serendipitous experience of discovering books you knew nothing about.
Part of the problem, of course, has been the advent of online book buying through such avenues as Amazon. But also at fault, I fear, is the general Christian public, who would rather save a buck and have the convenience of home delivery than support their Christian bookshop.
So now we are left with the Faith and Spirituality section of Indigo/Chapters, the books of which could sometimes fall under the category of what one dear Christian bookseller friend of mine Bob Shaker would have called "fluff."
Originally from Syria and raised in the Syrian Orthodox Church, Shaker owned one of the most remarkable bookstores I have ever frequented. I first met him in 1983 when a friend took me to his inimitable bookstore Reformation Book Service on Avenue Road in Toronto.
His store sold solid Christian literature at a time when few bookstores in the 1960s through the 1980s were carrying it. And what gems he had there – The Banner of Truth magazine, books by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer, and older reprints. There were fabulous biographies and rare studies in Scripture and Church history no other local bookseller would carry since they believed they wouldn’t sell.
The sign in his bookstore window said it all – "We sell books, not fluff." Bob knew books. The way he would be able to point you to relevant material in this book or that book in his store boggled the mind. Bob deeply appreciated how critical good reading is in the advance of the Christian cause.
The sign in his bookstore window said it all – "We sell books, not fluff."
Toronto pastor and church planter Darryl Dash once remarked, "It was a mystery how he stayed in business…. Of course, it never really seemed to be about money." He was a friend and mentor to hundreds of pastors who came to his bookstore, not simply to buy books, but to spend time with Bob.
Dash remembers his visits as "unhurried, pastoral, insightful hours." Another acquaintance said his store had the air of Saturday morning in the old country hardware store. He remembered people standing around and talking about faith issues.
In his latter years, I went to see him regularly at the bookstore where he dispensed nuggets of practical Christian wisdom about Reformed theology, how to work with other Evangelicals, the need for a solid Canadian evangelical witness and the importance of catholicity, and his love for T. T. Shields (he never ceased to admire him).
Bob used his humble bookstore, in the words of Darryl Dash, "as a front of sorts for mentoring countless numbers of pastors, professors and ordinary Christians."
Indeed, once you met Bob he was unforgettable. By the time he retired from the bookstore in his 90s, he was something of a legend in evangelical circles in Toronto.
Such people as Bob are a gift to the Church militant. His life and ministry in his bookstore are a great reminder of the Reformation truth of the priesthood of all believers.