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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Primal—Book Review

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Mark Batterson wants to change the world. He wants to see a new Reformation, one that will get Christians back to the basics of their faith and make them a powerful force once again. Using the framework of the Greatest Commandment, Batterson calls for renewal in four areas: compassion (heart), wonder (soul), curiosity (mind), and active involvement (strength).  He envisions a newly unified Church, laying aside its doctrinal differences and working together in ways that could lead to significant change.

It sounds great. In fact, it sound too good to be true, and Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity starts to feel like an infomercial on late night cable. Glib and breezy (though better than most), Batterson’s book belongs with a plethora of other spiritual self-help books. It is heavy on inspiration and light on practical suggestions for its readers.

Like many inspirational writers with big ideas, Batterson gets carried away by them. He likes science, so he uses science to bolster some of his claims, apparently unaware that he has not offered any evidence. Here’s a typical passage:

The human brain typically produces beta waves that oscillate between thirteen and twenty-five cycles per second, but when we are in a state of relaxed alertness, the brain produces alpha waves that oscillate between eight and twelve cycles. So what? Well, some truths are only comprehended via contemplation. You quite literally have to get the right wavelength. If surface knowledge is sufficient, beta waves will suffice. But the only way to get truth into your soul is via alpha waves. You can’t just think with your mind. You have to think with your soul.

Here are a number of deep questions airily dismissed! I won’t deny that some truths become clear only with meditative reflection. But I also won’t admit that adding the bit about the difference between alpha and beta waves does anything to clear up the mystery of why some truth is easily accessible and other truth less so. Primal is full of such odd bits and pieces, and Batterson seems not to notice that the facts he relates serve only as metaphors, not as evidence, for his central arguments.

I share Batterson’s hope for a new Reformation. Maybe Primal will get some believers thinking about what could happen. If it does, it will help, but I think it lacks sufficient weight. It is also too centered on American Christianity. Real change in the American church will require rethinking the church’s relationship to the American dream. Few Christians are willing to go there because it may require so much personal sacrifice. But the whole message of the gospel is about sacrifice for a cause so great that no price is too high.

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All Things

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He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

All things.

I used to think this meant that God would give me things I want. He already gave me Jesus. He won’t withhold anything else. But if you read a little further, you find out what things Paul has in mind:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Trouble? Hardship? Persecution? Why would a loving Father give me that? But wait. He didn’t spare his own Son. Why would he spare me? Did Jesus have trouble? Check. Hardship? Check. Persecution? Check. Yet Jesus remained so secure in his Father’s love that he could face all those things. He even faced something we do not have to face: God’s rejection.

My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46)

But to us he says:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you. (Heb 13:5)

So our loving Father graciously gives us all things—trouble, hardship, persecution—along with Jesus. Because it turns out that life always comes at us with trouble, doesn’t it? We have accidents. We lose jobs. Friends and loved ones die. But now we regard all these things as gifts graciously given by God, who assures us of his surpassing love by giving Jesus too.

How tempting it is to think when trouble comes that God hates us or is displeased with us or at least doesn’t care about us. Then we remember Jesus, and the sacrifice God made for us to demonstrate the incomparable greatness of his love for us. This, too, comes from (or was allowed by) my loving Father, the same Father who showed how great his love is by sending Jesus. I am sad. My soul is downcast. I grieve. And yet….

In the midst of my pain, I know he loves me. While grieving, I remember his goodness. Though I do not understand, I trust.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All scriptures taken from Romans 8 (NIV) unless otherwise noted.

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