Book Review: Primal by Mark Batterson

I recently received a pre-release copy of Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity.  Can I be honest? I was a little skeptical. I mean, I enjoyed his first book: In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. But a lot of “Christian living” books are all the same. They have good points. But they have the same points. And they’re about 200 pages too long.

But with Primal, I was impressed. It was a quick, interesting, and challenging read. Batterson has the ability to weave interesting examples around real truths, and it’s all built around a framework of application.

I really believe that as the “Church” today most of us are educated beyond our level of obedience. We need more books like this. It’s filled with simple truths you’ve probably heard before. But there’s also more than likely a few new perspectives in here, as well as fresh ways to apply that wisdom you already “know.”

Primal is wrapped around a desire to return to a basic, primal Christianity – to look at what it means to love the Lord with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Mark unpacks each section in detail, looking at “heart” through the lens of compassion, the “soul” through wonder, the “mind” through curiosity, and “strength” through our energy.

I was personally challenged by Mark’s thoughts about money. In his section on loving God with all of your heart, Mark tells the story of Stanley Tam, a man who transferred all of his successful business to God more than 50 years ago. For him, that meant he worked off of a salary. All of his profits above that went to kingdom work. He’s given away more than $100 million.

“A man can eat only one meal at a time, wear only one suit of clothes at a time, drive only one car at a time. All this I have. Isn’t that enough?” Batterson quotes Stanley as asking.

I’m at a point in life where I’m concerned about money and the future. How will I provide for my family? How can I bring security? There’s a real battle there between comfort and security and much of God’s call. I love Mark’s idea of setting an income ceiling – determining how much you need, tithing along the way, but once you hit that cap, giving everything else away.

“I stopped setting income goals and started setting giving goals,” Mark writes. “I finally come to terms with the fact that making money is the way you make a living and giving it away is the way you make a life.”

Primal is filled with more challenging, thought-provoking ways to apply Jesus’ simple message.

Mark’s publicist encouraged the advance copy readers to challenge our readers to make this their first book of 2010. That may sound a little PRish, but I actually think it’s a useful idea. I know Grete and I are going to be reading through and thinking through some of the concepts together in the coming weeks.

So overall, I’m excited. Sometimes the small steps we take are the most significant. And most of us have a list of things we know we should do that we just don’t get around to doing. Primal‘s like a list of basics attached to motivation and ideas of how to put them into practice. If you can unpack what it says and apply it to your life, I know it can be tranformational. That’s what I’m going to try to do.

(Disclosure: The links to the book in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click that way and buy, I get 4% or so of your purchase. I’ve made about $0 off that on this blog so far and only reviewed it positively because I really like the book, but if it bothers you, you can click here to get to without the affiliate code…)

Review: The Blogging Church

“If everyone in your community is talking about something and the church isn’t, then the church is showing itself to be 100 percent relevant on Sundays but 0 percent relevant the rest of the week.”

That’s probably my favorite quote from The Blogging Church, a book I just finished reading (see previous post) about how church leaders can use blogs within their ministries.

Although it took me a while to get to it, the book itself is a quick read. It’s easy to skim, which means that whether you’re considering blogging, setting up a blog, or wanting to improve what you’re doing, you’ll be able to quickly jump to the section that matters.

Brian and Terry do a great job outlining the important steps along the blogging journey, but what I enjoyed the most were the interviews with pastors about blogging and the last chapter, which is filled with advice from bloggers with many different backgrounds (think marketing evangelists, Microsoft bloggers, and graphic designers).

The book is a great all-in-one source for church blogging. That’s its strength and its weakness. Chapters on RSS feeds and podcasting will either help you tremendously or leave you realizing you’re ahead of the curve and already know this stuff.

So is it time to click on over to Amazon? Here’s my suggestion:

Buy it if you’re a pastor or church leader interested in blogging or considering how blogs could work at your church. It is the primer on everything from considering whether a blog is a good fit for your context to choosing a blogging software to deciding what to write.

Borrow it if you feel comfortable with technology and the internet, read blogs, and have a blog but want to grow what you’re doing and hear others’ insights. Honestly, when I started the book I felt like I wouldn’t gain much from it. But I’m glad I took the time to read it. You can learn a lot from simply reading blogs and seeing what other people are doing, but reading the book was like participating in a blogging conversation focused on church leaders. You just pick up new insights along the way without really realizing it.

Ignore it if you’re not a church leader or not interested in blogging. It may seem obvious, but The Blogging Church is focused on church leadership. Anyone who’s new to blogging could benefit from some of the talk on how to set up a blog and write with purpose, passion and voice, but there are probably other books that would provide a better primer.

In the end, here’s one clear take away: Be authentic. Be passionate.

While there are many suggestions on how to blog, the motivation behind the content matters most. The authors mentioned authenticity and passion, and the bloggers they interviewed mentioned authenticity and passion. If you’re going to blog, be real and be you. There will always be a tension between being real and being polished, but in the end, blogs connect because they have a clear voice.

Book Review: The Social Movements Reader, edited by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (Blackwell Publishing, 2003)

imagedb.jpegThe Authors
Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper edited The Social Movements Reader. Goodwin is an associate professor of sociology at New York University. Jasper is an author who has written many books covering social movements including The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements.

The Book
The Social Movements Reader is an incredibly thorough and useful book that takes a comprehensive look at what social movements are and why they exist. It is structured around ten basic questions: When and why do social movements occur? Who joins or supports movements? Who remains in movements and who drops out? What do movement participants think and feel? How are movements organized? What do movements do? How do the state and mass media influence movements? Why do movements decline? And what changes do movements bring about?

After a brief introduction on each chapter, the editors include selections from a variety of researchers and practitioners that seek to answer each question by focusing on specific movements. What results is a practical and thorough primer on what makes social movements work or fail. The editors have done a terrific job selecting a wide range of authors and topics and cover succinctly and clearly the growth of understanding of social movements throughout history.

The Reaction
The editors’ take on mobilizing a social movement was of particular interest to me within the context of social movements and Christianity. Although equating Christianity to a social movement risks greatly narrowing the scope and impact of Christianity, there are certain similarities and things that can be learned from how groups have mobilized and connected people within movements.

It was interesting to see the analysis of why people join and stay in social movements. While it involves availability and belief alignment, the primary factor was connection to others who were involved (p. 94). This fact is true in involvement with almost any organization (or religion). Regardless of marketing and communication, individual connections have the most impact.

The use of elite white students during the civil rights movement was an excellent example of using power in an unexpected way. It wasn’t coercion. It wasn’t a power play. Instead of trying to get powerful but sympathetic white college students to lobby their friends for change (which would have been difficult to organize and would have seen little success), leaders encouraged the students to come and serve. This brought both media attention and FBI protection that would have otherwise been non-existent.

Although it was a risk to call in white people for ‘help’, the movements’ leaders understood the powerful images it would provide. Those images helped to turn tides of media attention and public opinion (p. 57).

In the end, there is an unavoidable difference between Christianity and a typical social movement. Christianity uniquely impacts the world. It lasts throughout time. Some people hold the beliefs and ideas of a social movement with religious ferver, but in the end a movement typically encompasses just one part of life. Christianity is an internal change that results in outward action. Social movements must create their plan as they go. But Christianity has its map for action in the example of Jesus Christ.

Book Review: Culture Jam by Kalle Lasn (Quill, 1999)

culturejam.jpgThe Author
Kalle Lasn is the founder of Adbusters Media Corporation and Adbusters magazine. Lasn, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, has helped launch campaigns such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week to raise public awareness about the power corporations and media hold in the Western world.

The Book
Culture Jam is a manifesto that pleads with Americans and residents of other First World countries to reexamine their assumptions about consumerism, capitalism and consumption. From the fashion industry and fast food to tobacco executive and logging empires, Lasn breaks down the assumptions readers may have about the power of companies and the rights of individuals.

Lasn says a corporate environment where messages are tightly controlled by a handful of people can lead to a lack of diversity and of true dialogue.

The Reaction
A book by a man with a passion will obviously lean at times toward extremes and hyperbole to make a point. But I found Culture Jam to have a more solid foundation than previous books we have read that primarily advocate protests to raise public awareness. While a protest can be successful, Lasn said, a group must first know what they stand for and must be able to reframe the topic (page 152). By doing this, one connects with the public and challenges their expectations. The story becomes one of individuals with a real point, not zealots searching for the next cause to embrace.

Lasn showed that many heavy issues need to change in our society for future health, but he didn’t stop there. He provided a “how” along with the “why.” Lasn believes change is actually possible, and that vision is both challenging and motivating.

While it is clear from small statements inside the books pages that Lasn does not believe in Christ’s message (“When I showed them a picture of Jesus Christ on the Cross [they said] “This cannot be a god … He looks too much like a loser to be a god.” p. 199), many of his goals and tactics connect with Christian values. He dreams is of a life again filled with community and real connection. He wants people to wake up from the context of a lifeless existence and live out a life of purpose and meaning. In the Gospels, Christ calls for the same things. Christians are called to be countercultural and to stand up against injustice.

Lasn’s theory of working from the top and the bottom simultaneously (the “pincer”, page 134) is a healthy framework of action for churches. We must engage the infrastructures of society, not content to just watch over the religious domain. We must also serve from the bottom up, blessing our neighbor and serving the least.

Much has changed since this book was published seven years ago. Tobacco rulings have been made, fast food quality is at the tip of the American consciousness, and the public’s placid acceptance of corporate dealings was stirred by Enron and company.

If nothing else, this proves Lasn’s point. His strategies work, and things can change. But comfort is a difficult thing to give up, and some comfort must be sacrificed for sweeping changes to take place.

For More Information:

Culture Jam
Kalle Lasn

Book Review: Transforming Power by Robert Linthicum (InterVarsity Press, 2003)

The Author
Robert Linthicum is a specialist in urban evangelism and urban renewal. He directs the organization Partners in Urban Transformation, which “strengthens international networks of urban ministry and provides encouragement and resources for urban workers.” He has also been head of the Urban Ministries division of World Vision.

The Book
Transforming Power takes a Biblical approach to the challenging question of how church leaders can handle and use power to transform communities and lives. Linthicum weaves stories from his experiences of working in difficult urban environments with examples in scripture to provide numerous step-by-step, practical examples of how leaders should use power to change communities and meet the needs of the people around them.

The book identifies two different kinds of power, unilateral and relational. Linthicum then works to convince the reader that relational power is the key to transformational success.

Linthicum’s book is filled with practical lists, from what a church should focus on within a community (become God’s presence, pray for the city, practice faith through action, and proclaim the good news) to how Nehemiah used relational power to rebuild a wall in 52 days that the Israelites could not rebuild in 141 years. While some of the detail may be cumbersome, each piece is a goldmine of practical ideas that can produce incredible fruit if put into action.

The Reaction
Transforming Power was the most useful book we have read in class to date, primarily because it took the previous two books’ strong points and combined them. It took the active practice of a book like Irresistible Revolution and combined it with a theological and sociological understanding found in Transforming the Powers to bring a holistic picture of how a church or organization can use power to transform a city into a more kingdom-focused place.

I appreciated Linthicum’s Biblical examples that were fused with practical experience to show how Nehemiah, and even Paul, viewed power and used it to transform society. There is a tendency in church life to lean toward extremes when working to influence culture. One will either focus solely on serving the least and avoid government and power completely or get so focused on changing the governmental structures they lose sight of the needs of the least.

Linthicum’s examples of how to work as a leader to empower people to make changes for themselves also spoke to me directly, as I am just starting to work within a ministry where a shared vision for intentional community and community development are needed. His writing helped me remember that it is more important to spend time in prayer and take the time to listen to people than it is to sit alone and develop a plan to help people with the problems I perceive.

It will be a healthy challenge to see what it means to live out the Iron Rule of Power presented in the first half of the book: “Never do for others what they can do for themselves.” As church leaders, we must help both those inside the church and those outside the church work for change in society. And just like so much else in life, that is best done in community.

Related Links

Robert Linthicum talks about Transforming Power

Amazon Link

Author Bio

Book Review: Transforming the Powers (Fortress Press, 2006)

transformingthepowers.jpgThe Authors
Transforming the Powers was edited by Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud. Contributors to the book were Gingerich and Grimsrud, as well as Walter Wink, Nancey Murphy, Daniel Liechty, Willard M. Swartley and Glen Stassen. The contributors are all professors of topics including theology, social work, Christian ethics and philosophy at universities and seminaries across the United States.

The Book
Transforming the Powers is a collection of essays based on the writings of Walter Wink, including his “powers trilogy”: Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament; Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence; and Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Wink’s thesis centers around the Biblical idea of “Principalities and Powers.” In short, “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed.” (2) Governments, businesses, universities and other institutions must be understood in light of these truths, Wink says.

Transforming the Powers takes Wink’s ideas and opens the floor for other scholars to comment and expand the discussion. It is divided into three parts: Worldviews and the Powers; Understanding the Powers; and Engaging the Powers. The first section does an excellent job laying out the ideas behind the Powers and how people’s worldviews affect their interaction with society. Throughout the book, much of the discussion centers on pacifism, nonviolence and nonresistance.

The Reaction
There are a number of brain-stretching ideas worth grappling with inside this collection of essays, including Wink’s idea of a new worldview and Liechty’s discussion on how a necessary “simplifying of evil” in a person’s mind can eventually lead to one justifying unjust actions.

It was interesting to read some more academic views on Christianity, especially Murphy’s view that the hierarchy of the sciences is not complete without ethics and theology. This more integrated worldview is unique and not something I have been exposed to often. As many of the writers mention, most people either embrace science and ignore theology or embrace theology and ignore science. It is intriguing to hear what discussions emerge when the two systems converge.

Unfortunately, the third section on engaging the Powers is the shortest section in the book. While many of the scholars analyze past actions to understand the affects of passivity and nonviolence, it would be helpful to hear from practitioners who are working to live out these values on large and small scales within today’s society. The challenge we must constantly keep before us is one of application. Once we understand the nature of the powers, what will we do with it? Much of the writers’ points seem to center on government actions and protests to change these governments’ actions. We can encourage the government to act, but we must also understand that the Powers, while redeemable, are also fallen.

I would like to see more discussion on how individuals and church bodies can respond to this scriptural understanding of the Powers, God’s value for justice, and serving the least. Glen Stassen touches on this idea on page 140 when he says that when groups adopted Jesus’ practices, they became distinctive within their local communities. As individuals and groups use their resources for good, governments will begin to take notice.

Book Review: The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (Zondervan, 2006)

The Author
Shane Claiborne is one of the founding members of The Simple Way, a community of faith in Philadelphia, PA. The stories that fill the pages of The Irresistible Revolution flow out of Claiborne’s life journey that led him from living with the homeless during his time at Eastern College to flying to Iraq to worship with Christians on the eve of the American invasion.

The Book
In The Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne simply tells his own story – one of recognizing there was more to following Christ than what the typical American church revealed. “A ‘silent majority’ is developing,” he writes, “as a growing number of folks are deliberately distancing themselves from the noise and arrogance that have come to mark both evangelical Christianity and secular activism.” (18)

It’s this middle road that Claiborne rides so well. Throughout the book, his stories show he doesn’t fit into a traditional model of either an evangelical conservative or liberal activist. He shows that there is a way to care deeply about Christ, care deeply about the world (and the suffering and marginalized), and live out a faith that reflects the whole Bible, not a select few verses.

Claiborne begins his collection of stories by sharing the story of growing up in a safe, trendy, comfortable Christianity in East Tennessee, complete with the entertainment-filled youth group. “I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death,” he writes. (39)

But during his time at college, a trip to hang out with some of his buddies’ “homeless friends” (47) started a journey that led Shane to reexamine what it means to live by faith and how he related to the world around him. This journey, which has included many run-ins with the police, lawyers, and even the Department of Homeland Security, has shown that change can happen from the bottom up, not the top down. Claiborne shares stories showing that simply standing up for the needs one sees can make a tremendous difference.

The Reaction
Revolution is a challenging book. Even as someone who reads with a skeptical eye, I found myself embracing Claiborne’s thoughts and agreeing with his actions and observations. It makes sense. His approach seems holistic and healthy.

But the challenge comes in application. His approach may be holistic and healthy, but it’s also different and uncomfortable. It’s one thing to believe and understand the message of Christ. It’s another thing to live it out and sale your possessions to give everything to the poor or move to the rough part of town to share a home with other believers.

We should all consider living by the values Claiborne’s life exhibits, though those values may not lead each person down the same path. We need to see the poor and suffering and be willing to go and treat them like our brothers and sisters simply because of love. A man I respect says the key to global and local impact is to “grab what’s in front of you.” That is what Shane has done, without backing down or seeking comfort. That is what we need to do as we seek to honor God and serve the least. Those simple actions will make the Gospel more relevant to – and transform – contemporary culture than any worship service ever will.

The Details
For those of you who want more than just the name and title of a book, here’s the detailed info:
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
Copyright 2006
Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.