Blog Review: Primal


Title: Primal

Subtitle: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity

Author: Mark Batterson

Publisher’s Synopsis: Our generation needs a reformation.
But a single person won’t lead it.
A single event won’t define it.
Our reformation will be a movement of reformers living creatively, compassionately, courageously for the cause of Christ.

This reformation will not be born of a new discovery.  It will be the rediscovery of something old, something ancient.

Something primal.

Mark Batterson, Primal

What would your Christianity look like if it was stripped down to the simplest, rawest, purest faith possible? You would have more, not less. You would have the beginning of a new reformation—in your generation, your church, your own soul. You would have primal Christianity.

This book is an invitation to become part of a reformation movement. It is an invitation to rediscover the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy that turned the world upside down two thousand years ago. It is an invitation to be astonished again.

This is my official “Book of the Year”.  When the invitation came into my inbox, I was more excited about this book than I’ve been about any other book since I started doing the book reviews for Multnomah/Waterbrook.  I must say, it didn’t disappoint.  Everything I hoped this book would be and more– it’s in here.

Starting with a vivid description of the descent into Rome’s catacombs, this book slowly peels away the layers of modernity that shroud our Christianity in the twenty-first century and leaves us with a stripped-down and raw faith.  This faith  looks like a stalk of wheat before it is battered, pounded, threshed, ground into flour, enriched, bleached, and refined, and then kneaded into dough for the perfect loaf of homemade white bread– perfect and pretty, but having lost some of the best parts of its essence.  This raw faith is what Mark Batterson termed primal.

The first quote that grabbed my heart and squeezed it in a new and invigorating way (much like a masseuse works a muscle), was in chapter two.  Batterson says, “in my experience, it is much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one.  Anyone can put on an act.  But your reactions reveal what is really in your heart.  And if you love God with all your heart, you won’t just act like it.  You’ll react like it.”

Wow.  That’s all I’ve got to say there.  Wow.

I nearly stood up and cheered when he talked about people who come to the pastor/minister/preacher and say that they’re leaving because “I’m not being fed.”  His illustration that his children learned to feed themselves as toddlers, so if a Christian is starving, it’s their own fault, was brilliant!  It is about time we as Christians took responsibility for the fact that if we own a Bible, can own a Bible, or are anywhere near a place that we can find a Bible, there’s no excuse for spiritual malnutrition.  Take this quote:

“We are too easily satisfied in our study of Scripture.  Or should I say, we are too easily dissatisfied?  Maybe that is why we’re so infrequently astonished.”

He describes what he calls “Bibleolatry.”  I fear I may be guilty.  I’m praying about that one.

Learning, wonder, curiosity, mental capacity and acuity– he addresses them all in the chapter titled, “Holy Curiosity.”  I wanted to shout “Batman!” when I read that title.  Isn’t that the cartoon where someone calls everything ‘holy’ instead of using foul or slang language?  I have to admit, I laughed hysterically when he said, “So how do you love God with your medial ventral prefrontal cortex?”  I think that was the point.

Can I just stop now and say how deeply I felt the call to creativity?  Mr. Batterson whipped out a fresh canvas for me and painted a picture of absolute beauty.  With his reminders that Psalms repeatedly commands us to “sing a new song”, combined with the fact that we are made in the image of a magnificently creative God, I felt drawn from a part of my soul that I often forget is there, to create.  I crave that part of me that is inspired by all that is beautiful in the world– the Word.  I long to express my joy in who He has made me to be in some tangible way.  Failure of imagination, as J. R. R. Tolkein called it, too often rips at the heart of who I am– who Christians are.  We’ve handed over almost all of the arts to the world as beneath us from our spiritually lofty heights and as a result, the world has cornered the market on not only what defines art, but how and by whom it can be legitimately expressed.  Christians, once leaders in artistic expression and innovation, are rapidly becoming the poor relation– copycats trying to baptize their work in the holy water of Christianity to make it relevant to a world that already owns the “real thing.”

This is where the author and I did disagree strongly.  He took this creativity into a new path– worship.  At the core of this, I agree with him wholeheartedly.  There is nothing spiritually superior in maintaining the ‘old ways’ simply because they are the old ways.  However, the fear of, as he puts it, “fad[ing] into irrelevant oblivion” is a dangerous one.  He says that he is very aware that ther are “ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet.”  This is where he and I deviate hugely.  I think the point is, we don’t “do” church.  We are the church.  If we want to get Primal, let’s really get primal and quit trying to make church a to-do list or an experience and simply experience being who we already are.  What characterized the first Christians?  Does it characterize us?  Do we meet together; are we bubbling over with our joy of the Lord?  What about simple beauty defined in actions such as singing, praying, and reading scripture without trying to create an experience around it.  Why not let our worship be the experience rather than create an experience as an act of worship?  However, at the core, as I said, I do agree.  His one line captures the heart of what I think is the crux of the issue.  “Faithfulness is playing offence for the kingdom even if some Pharisees find it offensive.” (emphasis mine)  Thankfully, he does say he recognizes that there is no virtue in being different for difference’s sake.  His examples don’t always fit that acknowledgment, but it’s a beginning.

One line still haunts me though, “Is our lack of ideas really a lack of love?”  And from that,  Mark Batterson’s book ends with a  rally cry for a new reformation-  a call to Amo Dei.  Love God.

Was the book what I expected?  Nope.  Was it the definitive work on the subject?  Nuh uh.  Did he come from the perspective that I would?  Hardly.  Do I recommend it?  Absolutely.

I don’t agree with everything he says.  I didn’t think I would.  I doubt he’d agree with everything I say so we’re even if that matters.  I can’t see why it would.  I want to offer the book for someone else to read, but I’m not quite finished with it.  I’ll eventually put it in the bundle I’m building for a large give away.  Meanwhile, I want to reread sections and explore some areas with my Bible open to see if some of our disagreements aren’t because I’m wrong.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But don’t wait for me to pass it along.  If you possibly can, run, don’t walk those fingers over your keyboard and order a copy.  Better yet, drive over to the local Christian bookstore and bring home a copy today.  I can’t imagine that anyone would regret it.

Now my question for you.  I am tempted to do a “Primal Project”.  Three hundred sixty-five days of seeking what being “primal” would mean for Chautona Havig.  What do you think?  If I did do it, what would I do and how would I do it.  I’m intrigued.  Fascinated.

Thank you Multnomah for providing this copy for review.

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20 thoughts on “Blog Review: Primal

  1. This book sounds intriguing! Reformation in the church is so needed today and I’d like to read what he has to say.

    I’ll have to pick up a copy. Thanks for the review!

  2. Actually, my ‘light reading’ is bending this way – I agree with the premise of the book – and find the one quote from Chap. 2 so very real – “we” do NOT react like Christians – The premise of the book reminds me of the song –
    “Heart of Worship” – When all is stripped away.

  3. Oh, how I would love to read this book! It is going to the top of my wish list. (I hadn’t heard of it before either.) The Primal project sounds fascinating…I’d love to hear more if you do it!

  4. Thanks so much for this review, Chautona. I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas and I now know one of the purchases I will be making with it. Looking forward to exploring this book more.

  5. That looks like a good book. I will put that on my reading list. Cleaning my room today and based on the stack I have I have plenty of reading but I can always add another book.

  6. Let’s just say this quote from Batterson, “in my experience, it is much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one. Anyone can put on an act. But your reactions reveal what is really in your heart. And if you love God with all your heart, you won’t just act like it. You’ll react like it.” made me go Ouch! Sounds like a really, thought provoking read!

  7. I’m going to take your advice, Chautona. Getting it ASAP. My heart is hungry right now, and this seems like a good place to start.

  8. Pingback: Book Review: Soulprint | Paradoxology

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