On July 12, 2005, a friend offered to pick me up and get me into the Christian Booksellers Convention in downtown Denver. I have attended four of these circuses previously when one of my books was being promoted by one of my publishers. This time I was a civilian taking in the show, and what a show it was.
First, books and booksellers are marginalized—literally. The displays that feature bona fide books were at the edges of the huge convention hall. Most prominent were the religious trinkets—Scripture candy, religious "art," religious jewelry, and so on.
Second, nearly everything was advertised by video screens. One children’s video, "Angel Wars," was hawked by a mountain of various screens all showing the same hyperactive, violent, and nightmarish images. It must have taught "family values."
Third, celebry-ism (or celebrity-itus) was evident everywhere. The hall was filled with posters and videos of the sacred images of the hottest authors and speaker, most mugging for the camera shamelessly. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," said the Apostle John (1 John 5:21).
Yet, by the grace of God (which also held back the "cleansing of the temple"), four things made it bearable. (1) The companionship, wisecracks, and astute comments of my curmudgeonly friend, Douglas Van Dorn. (2) The fact that solid publishers with good books were in evidence, if in the phenomenological minority. (3) I was able to pick up a few free books (and not because I waited in line to have Jerry Jenkins sign one of his). (4) I brought my TV-B-Gone with me. This is a universal television remote control device that turns off most televisions. I have been learning the esoteric skill of temporary television termination for several months now, but this surfeit of screens made it possible to break my personal record for TV kills in one day: thirteen terminations (eleven at the convention and two at restaurant before that). I was able to hit four of the God-knows how-many screens showing "Angel Wars"—a partial victory, but one I savor. One must use this blessed device discretely, since one doesn’t want to be caught zapping the great Idol of our age. The downside is that you have to usually watch the screen for up to a minute to properly aim the device. (It cycles through possible frequencies in sixty-nine seconds).
What does this convention tell us about American Evangelicalism (if that term has any concrete meaning left)?
- Jacques Ellul’s observation that the image has humiliated the word in Western Culture is proved true in this domain, which is supposedly the domain of the word, the world of books! The image has triumphed in the minds of most evangelicals…but not all. The remnant remains. (See Ellul’s masterpiece, The Humiliation of the Word. For some reason, I didn’t see this book advertised.)
- Most of the evangelical business represented (some did not publish books at all) are dominated not by the virtues and vision of the Kingdom of God, but by consumer preferences. I remember the sad and oxymoronic phrase coined by Keith Green a quarter century ago: "Jesus junk."
- Many of the businesses represented were more concerned with personal religion and subjective values than with propagating biblical truth, which is always sharp, living, and active—exposing reality, no matter what the cost (see Hebrews 4:12). While the truth hurts (beore it heals), it may not sell.
- Of course, business, in itself is not wrong. Selling worthy Christian books can and should be a wonderful thing, especially considering that so many countries in the world forbid it or even confiscate and burn Bibles, such as Saudi Arabia.
What is the constructive curmudgeon to do? Keep buying and reading thoughtful books. Recommend them to others. Give them as gifts. Mention and quote them from the pulpit. Review them in newspapers, on Amazon.com, and in your blogs. Develop a substantial church library and put it in the front of the church. Turn off as many television sets as possible through TV-B-Gone or by any means necessary. Be an iconoclast by being a bibliophile.