Christian Booksellers Association Convention
Earlier this month, I attended the annual Christian Booksellers' Association (CBA) in Atlanta to do a booksigning and interviews for my new book Jesus the Evangelist. It was my first trip to CBA and I am extremely grateful to the excellent staff of Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust. I see why it is a good thing for authors to go to CBA, because you really do get many opportunities to promote your book to distributers and media outlets. I also had a very good time with the Ligonier folks and was honored to attend a dinner commemorating R. C. Sproul's EPCA Lifetime Achievement Award.
I remember the good old days when Mike Horton would have a staff member doing interviews and surveys at CBA, exposing the lamentable conditional of the evangelical movement and alarming us with the blasphemous t-shirts that were being sold. Not having seen Mike or Shane at CBA, I thought I might give my own impressions:
1. First of all, I enjoyed looking at the displays of many outstanding Christian publishing houses, such as Reformation Trust, Crossway, and Christian Focus. In a sea of not-so-outstanding displays, it was great to witness the fine work being done by many. I also enjoyed personal conversations with John Hendryx of monergism.com and William MacKenzie of Christian Focus. I was especially excited to learn of the hard work Christian Focus is doing to bring quality Reformed literature to churches and Christians in the developing world.
2. My main overall impression of the convention is that the focus in on marketing, not ministry. That is no surprise, and I was not shocked. In fact, I was shocked by little that I saw there, having been forewarned years ago by Mike Horton and his guys. But what surprised me was the blatantness of it all. There was not the slightest attempt to hide or nuance the reality that this is all about marking goods to the Christian consumer market. I would expect at least some disingenuous attempts to convey the idea that this is service done unto Christ. But nope, it was pretty much all about money. This may be why a raw majority of the displays were selling trinkets and other Christian junk, instead of books. (Caveat: Of course, this is in part due to the fact that Christian bookstore owners have to feed their kids. I am sympathetic to this reality. But still, it was astonishing to me to see how the convention as a whole was targeting so overwhelmingly to marketing. I kept wondering what Tertullian would say. A publisher would complain, "But I have to eat!" Tertullian's famous reply: "Do you?"
3. Here we see the end result of a commitment to non-distinctive Christian theology. In seeking the lowest common denominator, we have gone pretty low. I understand that the CBA has no -- as in zero -- doctrinal requirements. I am sure that one could not sell a book at CBA advocating abortion. But one can most certain publish books there attacking the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, the atoning work of God's Son, justification through faith alone, or a biblical underrstanding of gender and sexual purity. In short, if you call yourself a Christian, then a Christian you must be. And that leaves us with little else left but, well, marketing.
4. It was also striking to observe the Christlessness of the Christian Booksellers' Association. The vast majority of it is about you. (You had to see the dominating image of Joel Osteen's upcoming book, Become a Better You. By the way, I used to always be reminded by Osteen of Anthony Robbins. But this time I could not stop thinking of Gilderoy Lockheart.) But the Christlessness issue was really driven home to me in the last interview I did. The woman interviewing me told me she had been doing non-stop interviews with authors for the previous three days, and mine was the first one in which Jesus came up. Of course, it is good to write books about subjects not directly related to the person and work of our Lord. But not one interview prior to mine even remotely connected to Christ himself.
5. Worst t-shirt that I saw: "Salvation: So Easy a Caveman Could Do It."
6. Okay, I really was shocked by one thing. That was the way that worldly sensuality is starting to permeate everything evangelical. (After all, it sells!) It was utterly shocking to see that the award given for best children/youth book went to one titled Sexy Girls.
7. Lastly, it sure was encouraging to see that Liz Curtis Higgs has followed up her groundbeaking "Bad Girls of the Bible," and "Really Bad Girls of the Bible," with the upcoming release "Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible." I think we have now covered that important and edifying theme adequately.