Primal Blog Tour…
by Travis Pickell
This morning I finished reading my review copy of Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity. I remember hearing about Mark’s church, National Community Church (www.theatrechurch.org) while I was living in Northern Virginia, and I have been reading his tweets and blog posts for a while now. This book, however, was the first time I have been able to get a glimpse into what he is all about. And I liked what I saw.
The basic premise of Primal is that we tend to overcomplicate Christianity. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he said “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12). The problem with Christianity in our day, according to Batterson, is this simple: we do not live out the Great Commandment.
In Primal, Batterson explores what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He identifies a key inward characteristic and a key outward characteristic of what it means to love God with each of these four dimensions of our personhood. Loving God with our heart is exemplified by the experience of compassion and the act of generous giving. Loving God with our soul is exemplified by the experience of wonder and the act of meditation on and obedience to Scripture. Loving God with our mind is exemplified by the experience of curiosity and the act of prayerful creativity. Loving God with our strength is exemplified by the experience of energy, and the simple act of relying on God’s energizing Spirit.
The content of this book is great. At times, however, I wondered whether his “vehicle” [as my wife, the former speech competitor calls it] was the most effective one he could have chosen. Batterson alternates between the metaphors of (a) stripping away the layers of history, (b) being great at the Great Commandment, and (c) starting the next Christian Reformation in order to deliver his message. Each of these “vehicles” would be effective on their own (and granted, they are certainly related), but at times the mixing of them was confusing.
That being said, I found the book very enjoyable to read. Batterson’s strength lies in his ability to incorporate psychology, sociology, and the natural sciences in ways that make the Gospel come to life. In doing so, he shows how the Christian message is relevant–how it relates to the way we think and interact and how it relates to the world in which we live. He has a great ability to explain theological concepts in accessible, engaging ways. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the punch-line of his chapter on loving God with all our strength: namely, that loving God with all our strength means to rely on God’s strength in us. Batterson manages to make his book a call to action, while affirming the Reformation Era slogan Sola Gratia (“by grace alone”).
There are no new theological ideas in this book. As a seminary student at the end of a long semester, that was refreshing. Primal is a reminder of the basics, and an encouragement to see the profundity of the Great Commandment. I would confidently recommend this book for an adult education team looking for a 4-week curriculum on the Great Commandment, or for a youth group leader looking for a book to go through with a small group of high school kids.
Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity can be purchased here.