Primal—Book Review


Read and comment on my blog.

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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