Every year the Christian Booksellers Association, the trade organization of the evangelical publishing industry, holds a big convention—this year, in New Orleans, where CBA was held last week. And every year, ironic observers are dispatched from the mainline, from the bastions of East Coast secularism, and other assorted centers of enlightenment to report on the latest evangelical grotesqueries. Often, too, evangelical intellectuals get into the act, deploring the latest tide of prophecy books and Christian knicknacks, in turn prompting counter-charges of elitism. Who are you, Mr. Smarty Pants, to say what God can or cannot use to bring the lost into his kingdom? All this gets pretty formulaic after the twentieth time around, so that one's natural inclination is to dismiss the subject altogether. But that temptation should be resisted. CBA has much to teach us about ourselves—those who answer to "evangelical"—and if the lessons are unwelcome, that's because we would rather not look in the mirror.To walk the aisles of the floor at CBA, where publishers and all manner of entrepreneurs show their wares; to flip through the official program; to soak in the fragments of conversation among convention-goers: this is to enter a portal into the evangelical mind, the evangelical imagination. You find yourself in a world of Extreme Niceness—preferable to the stench of Bourbon Street, yes, with its scenes from a contemporary Pilgrim's Progress, where Mr. Carnal-Minded waves a crudely painted sign beckoning you to witness "Love Acts," oh most certainly preferable to that, but nonetheless weird, leached of so much of our humanity that it becomes disorienting. There are exceptions—in New Orleans, most notably, Frank Peretti speaking with ...

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