Friday, December 18, 2009

Primal: A review

I’m not a professional book reviewer or critic and I don’t play one on TV. But I follow a blog by a pastor in DC, Mark Batterson. He’s written three books now (I’ve read two of them). He mentioned that his publisher was looking for bloggers to review his latest. All we had to do was send an email and a URL. They’d let us know if our blog was selected.

Shortly thereafter I got an email telling me I had been picked and my review copy was on its way. How cool is that?

But with the copy came responsibility; I need to write a cogent review, publish it on my blog, mention the book on Facebook and in general spread the word.

Readers may not be able to tell but I’ve selected American Typewriter as my font. I thought it smacked of publishing. I don’t like Courier (too spread out for me) and I’m tired of the usual Palatino et al. It (AT) also looks sufficiently old-fashioned. Getting back to the roots or writing on an old Olivetti. Almost primitive if you think about it.

Primitive. Webster’s defines this as ”pertaining to the beginning …” also “imitative of the earliest times; crude, simple, rough.” These all describe where things are about to go.

Batterson’s 3rd book, Primal, is subtitled “A quest for the lost soul of Christianity.”

He begins his written quest in Rome venturing down into some of the catacombs. I’ve been there too. Maybe not to the exact places he and his wife visited but I’ve been underground and seen the places where early Christians hid. Many were buried there.

If this book had just been titled Primal, it might have attracted some of the John Eldredge crowd or even the guy who took other guys into the woods to beat drums. But the subtitle does at least two things: it dramatically narrows down the potential audience and begs the question (or perhaps requires the assumption) that you think Christianity has lost its soul. Or maybe as eventually became my case as I read and liberally marked up this free review copy (hope they don’t ask for it back!), you begin to wonder about the soul of your own faith.

The book is a relatively short 171 pages. But it made me stop and think so much that I took more than a week to read it.

Batterson echoes some of my thoughts early on when he exhorts the reader to go back “to the primal faith you once had. Or more accurately, the primal faith that once had you.”

Mark 12:30 is the main thesis of the book; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Batterson takes each one of these four parts of our being and digs into what they represent; or perhaps should represent in the life of every Christian.

Batterson pastors an Assembly of God church but from what I read about his church, five churches actually, (to get some details about his congregations around the Capitol area of DC, you need to check out – his blog, which will give you all sorts of insight into his role as a pastor and his ministry), his church is atypical for the Assemblies of God and this is most certainly not an AG book or even Pentecostal in that sense of the word. He points out early that Christians “will disagree about a variety of doctrinal issues until Jesus returns.” And rather than expand or add to the many discussions about this or that little jot or tittle of Christianity we could all most likely disagree about, Batterson takes us back to the roots of our faith. Those core things that the early Christians staked their lives upon.

I started reading with a pen and highlighter in hand. I think I used up one highlighter and ended up underlining most of the things that jumped out at me on first read.

But let’s at least outline a few things. He calls Mark 12:30 the “Great Commandment.” As noted, he spends much of the book fleshing out those four things: heart, soul, mind and strength.

I think most of us would agree that the public (and even private) face of Christianity is not always pretty. Batterson notes, you can change that face or get a “face-lift” but what we really need is a “change of heart.”

Our faith tells us that Jesus comes into our heart when we ask Him and begins to change us from the inside out. Some more than others and some more successfully than others! Batterson has a somewhat different interpretation (disclaimer #2 here: I am most certainly NOT a theologian). Instead of the more traditional Jesus-lives-in-my-heart belief, how about thinking and living as if we had a transplant? We actually have the heart of Jesus inside us in a spiritual sense. Batterson calls this being part of the Tribe of the Transplanted.

Delving into the soul Batterson describes the wonder of looking at a work of art. He recounts the wonder felt by God Himself as He observed His creation and saw that it was, indeed, good. We should, according to Batterson, have the same, well actually much much more of a, sense of wonder about the things of God.

Good storytellers know how to get our attention; how to draw us into their stories. Batterson has a way of doing this with personal examples. He gets us interested in something we can all relate to, then deftly moves to a deeper insight.

He shares how his son had an incidence of sleepwalking. From there he describes an empty soul. How can we love God with all our soul, if we are half-asleep and unaware of what He is doing all around us? And just like the sleepwalker eventually becomes conscious, so must we to God.

Ultimately though the way to love God with all our souls is to be obedient. The best way we can find out how to be obedient is to read what God has to say.

Christians and curiousity? Sound like the beginning of an oxymoron? Batterson thinks we should to be the most curious people. Using an archaic definition of that word, many in the world might think we Christians are a curious lot! Being curious means asking questions.

In an age where one stereotype of Christians is having our collective heads in the sand, Batterson admonishes us to be curious. Explore science, for instance, rather than being afraid of it.

What is one goal of all this curiousness and creativity? “If we are going to have an eternal impact on our culture,” Batterson writes, “We’ve got to create it.” He notes that churches may be suspicious of creativity because it can breed change. And Lord knows we don’t like change! If you don’t believe this, just try using a different version of an old hymn sometime in your worship service!

As someone who would like to be more creative, Chapter 7, One God Idea, spoke to me more than probably any other. There is hardly an unmarked-up page. No way for me to do it justice. One reason right here to find the book (

Finally we get to strength. What does it mean to love God with all our strength? For Batterson this one is simple: do something. He uses the phrase “sweat equity,” or to risk mis-interpreting his intent, in the same way we add value to a fixer-upper by doing the work ourselves, we need to be doing something for God. This is not a “works-over-faith” book. Just an exhortation to do something. He sums it up best here: “Some people spend their entire lives getting ready for what God wants them to do.” And then they die. Please note this last line is outside the quotes. I added that one.

So, back to the beginning. Batterson says the “… quest for the lost soul of Christianity is about rediscovering the primal energy that sustained the first-century church during persecution.”

And finally since we live in a world of conflict over ideas and ideals which most certainly include religious ones, Batterson has a reminder: “… we are called to reflect God – His compassion, His wonder, His creativity, and His energy.”

Batterson brings it home like this: “We have to be great at what matters most. And what matters most is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.”

If this is where you want to be, grab a copy of Primal.

Vince Crunk

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