December 28, 2009

Book Review: "Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity" by Mark Batterson

Recently I received a book for free in exchange for a book review on my blog. The book is called Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity by Mark Batterson. And I have to say, I’m really glad I had the chance to read this particular book. I’ve had friends who told me to read some of Mark Batterson’s books, but this was the first one I had the pleasure to read. After reading Primal, I fully plan on reading his other books. But let me explain why I loved this book so much.

Primal is all about returning to the very beginning, the essence, of what Christianity is supposed to be about: the Great Commandment in Mark 12:30. To love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, is the truly the foundation of our faith. It sounds like a very simple idea, because it is! But Batterson insists that the problem within our churches is that we’re not great at the Great Commandment. Because of this, he writes about the four elements of the Great Commandment. He writes on page 7:

The heart of Christianity is primal compassion.
The soul of Christianity is primal wonder.
The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity.
And the strength of Christianity is primal energy.
Batterson notes, “But one thing is sure: loving God in one way isn’t enough. It’s not enough to love God with just your heart or soul or mind or strength.”

Along with the idea of returning to the primal form of Christianity, Batterson urges the reader to return to the first time and place where God spoke to you or did something powerful in your life.

So before going forward, let me encourage you to go backward. Go back to that place where God opened your eyes and broke your heart with compassion for others. Go back to that place where the glory of God flooded your heart with wonder. Go back to that place where thoughts about God filled your mind with holy curiosity. Go back to that place where a God-given dream caused a rush of adrenaline that filled you with supernatural energy.

Basically, the book is not an exegetical commentary on the Great Commandment found in the Gospels; rather, it is a “reimagination” of the four primal elements. Each element (heart, soul, mind, and strength) has two chapters dedicated to it, and Batterson creatively presents a new perspective on each.

That’s the book in summary, but let me add some of my personal thoughts and comments. I particularly enjoyed this book because I’ve taught/preached on the Great Commandment and the importance of understanding each element as distinct from one another. I’ve tried to stress what Batterson very creatively articulates in this great book. I know for a fact I’ll probably adopt some of his ideas into my next lesson or sermon on the Great Commandment.

I especially enjoyed the sections on loving God with our heart (compassion) and loving God with our strength (energy). In the section on the heart, one of the things that Batterson challenges the reader about is how we as Christians use our money. He constantly asks, how much is enough? When it comes to income, do we know how much we really need to live and how much we can give away? I felt convicted and excited at the same time about how I can use my money to love God. On page 44 Batterson writes:

What if, instead of sound quality or lyrical creativity, our litmus test for worship was a heart that breaks for the things that break the heart of God? What if we saw compassion as a form of worship? Worship without words. Worship beyond words.
In his section on loving God with all our strength, I couldn’t help but imagine what God was teaching me through his words. He kept talking about the “God-ideas” that the Father instills in us to pursue. At some point we have to stop thinking and second-guessing where God is leading us and finally go for it. That’s what it means to love God with our strength. On page 138 he says:

Are there any God ideas you’ve given up on? Any God-ordained passions that
you have stopped fighting for? Any God-sized dreams gathering the dust of
Through powerful illustrations and stories from his own experience, Batterson communicates timeless truths about the Great Commandment. Using Scripture as his guide, he takes us down a familiar path while pointing out the creative and re-imagined elements we may have missed along the way. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a little encouragement or new perspectives on how they live their Christian faith. But one thing I can guarantee: you won’t ever look at the Great Commandment with the same eyes. You will be rejuvenated and excited about your faith and about what God wants to do with your life.

December 6, 2009

Distinctly Christian

What makes you distinctly Christian? What makes our churches distinctly Christian?

I have been wrestling with these questions a lot recently. When I read in the Gospels and Acts about the first Christians, I can't help but notice a disconnect between the then-and-now. When I use the phrase "distinctly Christian," I mean, what separates you (or your church) from, let's say, a Muslim (or a Mosque)? a Jew (or a synagogue)?

Let's face it. There are a million belief systems throughout the world, from Christianity and Islam to moralistic therapeutic deism and pluralism. Almost all of them teach some kind of moral message... love other people, treat the earth kindly, be patient, etc. Christianity is not an exception. Jesus taught his disciples morality. A quick glance at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) will show many instances. I don't think anyone would disagree here.

But here's where the problem begins to surface. In our attempts to teach Christians about the faith, we often teach much of the morality presented in the Bible while leaving the Christ out of it. Think about it... have you ever heard a sermon preached that didn't reference the cross and Jesus' sacrifice? I bet almost everybody has. If you're 100% sure that every sermon you've heard has referred directly to Christ and the cross at least once in the presentation, I am amazed.

Recently I observed a Friday service at a mosque near Indianapolis with my World Religions class. The "sermon" was in English instead of Arabic so I got to hear what was being presented. The presenter talked a lot about patience and not giving into wrath. He talked about how important it is not to take our anger out in different situations. The emphasis was on self-control. Overall, it was a very nice - as I think that is the only appropriate word for it - presentation.

On the drive back I reflected upon our experience with my professor. We asked the question, could that sermon have been presented in a Christian church too? The obvious answer was yes. It did not teach anything contradictory to the Bible. (I don't even think he mentioned Muhammad.) But this got me thinking... and lead me to writing this blog!

There is something to be learned from this experience. The reason we gather in our churches as Christians is because Jesus Christ died on the cross. Neglecting to mention this in our worship songs, sermons, Bible teaching, etc., is neglecting the only reason we are here.

We cannot be content to teach Christianity to people in our churches without explicitly referencing Jesus and the cross. Don't misunderstand me. We must still teach the morality of the Bible, but we must also explain why we pursue this kind of morality. The "why" is what makes us distinctly Christian. It's what separates us from the religion of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. We cannot take the CHRIST out of CHRISTIANITY.

Moral messages won't cut it in the church. The early church in Acts was enamored with the love and power of Christ. Everything came back to Jesus. If we are to create lifelong disciples of Christ we must intentionally re-introduce the disciples to the person they are following at every chance we get.

With Christmas approaching I have heard the phrase, "He's the reason for the season!" (A big thanks to Bri and the Youth Conference cabinet for that one!) While a bit cheesy and trite, it is so appropriate. Jesus is the reason for the season. But he's also the reason for every other season, especially within our churches! The second we neglect Jesus and the cross, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is the second we lose our identity. If our worship songs and our sermons could be sung or preached in a mosque, synagogue, Buddhist temple, etc., we need to re-think our approach and embrace our Savior Jesus Christ once more!

CHRISTians, embrace your identity!