Blame Rob Bell again; it was Velvet Elvis that ruined everything. Before Bell's debut book came along and redefined the genre with clean lines and classy fonts, Christian book covers were often a wonderful marriage of literalism, low-budget graphic design and occasional madness.
Many great moments in extraordinary cover design had almost been forgotten... until now. We've unearthed some beautiful specimens which showcase the design highs and lows of the 1970s and 80s - surely the golden age of bad Christian book covers. Now suspend your disbelief, and imagine you've wandered into the bookshop at Spring Harvest 1981. Fabulous wonders await...
Frogs in Cream - Stephen Gaukroger & Nick Mercer
This cover is either an unlikely tribute to surrealism or an unexplained metaphor. Whatever the true story behind it, this collection of resources for preachers is a perfect illustration of how the Christian publishers of the 1980s adopted a marketing strategy to make the man from Ronseal squirm. Although maybe I've entirely misjudged it, and it's actually a book about French cuisine.
Living it up - Jack Wiens
There was a brief period back in the 1970s when evangelical Christianity became strangely cool, or at least, groovy. That phase is no better characterised than by this strange American book-slash-comic, which in today's context makes almost no sense, but presumably made the Christian faith seem uber-appealing in 1971. Which causes us to naturally wonder: what will the people of the year 2070 make of The Shack?
Sex and you - Lance Pierson
Kingsway saved a few quid by choosing black-white-and-fluro over full colour for this masterpiece, which barely implies sex even when the word is emblazoned across 1/3 of the page. The courting couple are demonstrating what in 1983 constituted a healthy physical relationship between two keen Christians. The world's gone to hell in a handcart since...
Flirting with the World - John White
I knew a bloke who flirted with a world once. He woke up the next morning with Mercury poisoning. That's a terrible gag, but not quite as terrible as the 1980s church scene's love of Christian jargon, as demonstrated on this typographic monster.
God can do it for you - Ian Andrews with Pat Wraight
There's so much I could say. I'm not sure I should.
Satan is alive and well on planet Earth - Hal Lindsey
Well here's one to give you nightmares. Lindsey's book about how the devil has infiltrated the world through astrology and new-age-ism still sells well today, but this cover from the early 70s gives it - and him - an added sense of 'mad-as-a-box-of-frogs-ness.'
Be Daring - Warren W Wiersbe
Acts 13-28 - the section of the New Testament documented in this commentary - does indeed contain great feats of daring; Paul and Silas' escape from prison, the great apostle inventing cultural relevance at Mars Hill, and more. The publishers therefore, chose to illustrate this high-octane portion of Scripture... with a small girl learning to ride a bicycle. Although her dad's sock, trouser and shoe combo... now THAT'S daring.
Jesus spells Freedom - Michael Green
Long before irony, sarcastic website articles and Fifty Shades of Grey, this cover was deemed totally appropriate as an illustration of the 'freedom from bondage' which Christ offers. Today, it'd probably have to be sold in a plastic modesty wrap.
Enjoying being single - Elspeth Stephenson
Heavy-handed metaphor ruled the roost in 1980s Christian publishing, and this is a perfect example. It also illustrates how there are some titles which only Christians would ever consider. By the way, does anyone else want to sing 'whoaaa Bodyform!' when they look at this?
There you go: nine corking examples. And that's surely just scratched the surface. The Christian book covers of the 70s, 80s and even 90s are the gift that keep on giving - if you find more great examples on your bookshelf, please tweet me and we'll see if we can produce another round of these. And if you're still thinking about Hal Lindsey's cover, or indeed, Michael Green's, please, don't have nightmares...