Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review: Primal by Mark Batterson

Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity
By: Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson shares with us in Primal that Christianity has lost something.   It has become too tame. I could not agree more.  We live in a world of watered down faith. Batterson shares his in sight in to how to get back to the primal roots of the Christian faith to live it in a truly abundant way. It is a call to get priorities in order and really think about what Christianity is all about. It's not just going to church and trying to be a better person. 

I'll admit it. I'm not a huge fan of Batterson's work.  It's not bad or anything, but neither is it ground-breaking. I've recommended "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" to one or two people even.  But sometimes, he says something like this: "When all of the liturgies and methodologies are peeled back, what's left is the Great Commandment." No. .. When you peel back all the liturgies and methodologies, what's left is Jesus. Before you braise me for taking things "too literally" or something like that, I know what he was trying to get at here.  Jesus told us the Great Commandment was the greatest. Jesus is love. The commandment is about loving Jesus.  I get that.  We just need to be a bit wary of anything that says anything other than Jesus is at the core of Christianity. It's better to be too cautious with your words than to say something that could be taken wrong.

Overall, there is a tone to this book that feels like he is suggesting that  Christianity is about trying harder to be like Jesus, which is a little ironic, considering Batterson writes that we need a "new reformation." That said, this book is not without it's redeeming features. He has a good chapter called "Seventy Faces" that as a stand-alone essay on the importance of scripture would be very very good. 

"One of the common complaints people make when leaving a church is this: 'I'm not being fed.' As a preacher, I make it my goal to nourish our congregation via a well-rounded diet of sermons. And I try to preach every sermon like it's my last. But let me push back a little. My kids learned to feed themselves when they were toddlers.  If you're not being fed, that's your fault. I'm afraid we've unintentionally fostered a subtle form of spiritual codependency in our churches. It is easy to let others take responsibility for what should be our responsibility. So we let our pastors study the Bible for us. Here's a news flash: the Bible was unchained from the pulpit nearly five hundred years ago during an era of history called the Middle Ages."

That is, hands down, the best paragraph in the book. Some people rely on their own good deeds and being a good person to get into heaven. Some people are relying on someone else's good works to get them into heaven.l If you read carefully and with a erasure of caution, there are nuggets like that sprinkled in the book. Overall, the main thrust of the book isn't as powerful as I expected it to be from the write up. I will probably not recommend this books a whole to anyone because I believe the works-heavy Christianity called for is a slippery slope. The only thing that can create real life and faith transformation is Jesus.  And yes, there are disciplines in this book that can, and have for centuries, bring people closer to Christ. But they are presented in an imbalanced way. "The last reformation was a reformation of creeds. The next reformation will be a reformation of deeds," Does that feel like going backwards to anyone else?
My suggestion for reading this book is: proceed with caution. There are some good things to be gleaned from it. I agree that the Great Commandment is important.  There is nothing that is heretical in this book or offensive or just plain wrong.  Just be careful not to rely too much on your own power to do these things.  And remember that no matter how great you are at living out the Great Commandment, that is not what brings you atonement.
I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher.

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