12/21/2007 11:35 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Would Jesus Do About Jamie Lynn?

Among the casualties of the Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy -- alongside Jamie Lynn's career, Nickelodeon's cash cow, and the last remaining shred of 2007's dignity -- is Lynne Spears' memoir, Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World.

Maybe any publisher would have pulled -- sorry, "indefinitely delayed" -- Spears' book, but it's also possible that some might have simply slapped on a new afterward and moved the pub date to coincide with the first photos from the maternity ward. Unfortunately, Spears' book was being put out by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher whose market tends to frown on teenage sex and children out of wedlock.

Nelson was always a strange fit for Lynne Spears, of course. Not only is Britney out of control as an adult, but we now know that, despite her early good-girl posturing, Britney lost her virginity at age 14, an age when decent parenting might have made a difference. So why did Nelson buy the book in the first place? It was probably part of a calculated strategy to push into the secular market. And this week's flame-out is likely stirring up a fierce debate within Thomas Nelson, and the Christian retail industry in general, about how much Christians can engage with the world at large without losing their souls. (By "Christian," I mean here a particular evangelical subculture).

Thomas Nelson is by some measures the largest Christian publisher in America and the ninth-largest publishing house of any kind. Over the last few years, it has been aggressively expanding beyond its core market, with a great number of books that have little or no overt Christian content: Memoirs by Denise (wife of Alan) Jackson and Robin (wife of Dr. Phil) McGraw; Pop business manuals with titles like Neuromarketing and Corporate Canaries; Books about Ronald Reagan, Bear Bryant, and Blondie (the comic strip, not the band); The Complete Vegan Kitchen and Life Lessons From Your Cat. Basically, as long as there's no chance it's going to offend any Christians, Thomas Nelson will publish it.

The philosophy is that the secular world is not irredeemably bad and should not automatically be shunned as un-Christian. This approach to Christian publishing (and its analogs in music and other aspects of Christian pop culture) is not without critics. There are many people who believe that Christian publishers who do not boldly proclaim the word of God are at best selling out and at worst exposing the body of Christ to grave danger. The secular world, they argue, is entirely corrupt, and the proper Christian stance is to be entirely separate (except when necessary to pull other people out of it). This week, those voices just got a lot louder and more smug.