Mark Pinsky knows something about fantasy land, and not just because he lives within a Pinocchio nose of Disney World.

 

As a hard left-leaning liberal Jew, Pinsky’s perception of evangelical Christians had been influenced more by what he read, watched and heard than by any up close and personal experience. He grew up in ethnically-diverse Pennsauken, N.J., attended Duke University in 1965, and from there moved to New York’s East Village for graduate school at Columbia University. Not exactly a life closely connected to evangelical Christianity.

 

No wonder that after leaving the Los Angeles Times in 1995 to become religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, Pinsky had pegged all evangelicals as hard-core conservatives whose slight differences resembled varying shades of white paint.

 

Then something interesting happened. Pinsky, who had been writing about evangelicals for years, began associating with them. One day he would sit with the parents of one of his children’s friends at a soccer game or scouts meeting. The next day he would bump into another evangelical couple at a parent-teacher association meeting.

 

Slowly, as he got to know them – his neighborhood is comprised predominately of white suburban evangelicals – Pinsky began to notice differences in the way evangelicals lived out their beliefs. One family might support President Bush while another disliked him. One might tolerate civil unions while another would not. His previous stereotyping seldom fit every situation.

 

Ultimately, Pinsky decided to chronicle his observations. The result is A Jew among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed, a book that provides both anecdotal and analytical insights into the multi-textured fabric of faith among evangelicals.

 

A caveat: Pinsky makes clear that his writing applies only to what he has witnessed in the Sunbelt suburbs. He makes no attempt to discern how evangelicals think and behave when they live in more rural areas within or outside the south.

 

Pinsky also stresses he wrote the book with “outsiders” in mind.

 

“To an evangelical, not much of this is new,” he said. “But for people in the blue states I think it is new. What I provide is a perspective for those in blue states who are unfamiliar with (evangelicals) and who might listen to someone who, in his own words, is a left-wing Jew from Jersey who was raised in the suburbs himself.”

 

At the same time, Pinsky thinks evangelicals also will find the book interesting because "here’s a chance to see themselves as others see them, from someone who is not an evangelical,” he said.