A Review of
|Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity
By Mark Batterson
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Over the last year, Waterbrook Multnomah has released several books that are targeted for evangelical audiences and yet call their readers to depths of faithfulness that go beyond the typical religious understandings of personal piety (I am thinking here especially of Joshua Harris’s Dug Down Deep and David Platt’s Radical). In this same vein, comes Mark Batterson’s newest book, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity. What Batterson undertakes to do in Primal may sound a bit familiar to those who know something of the history of the Christian Church tradition (and the broader Stone-Campbell tradition of churches of which we are part); he poses the question: “[W]hen all the superficialities [that have been building up over two thousand years of Church history] are stripped away, what is the primal essence of Christianity?” (3). In answer to this question, Batterson offers the “great commandment” of Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and one is, of course, hard-pressed to argue with this claim (although, it is striking that this great commandment is severed in Primal from its twin commandment named by Jesus: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”)
Over the course of the book, Batterson shows himself to be an engaging storyteller, weaving together stories of his own experiences and those of his church (National Community Church in Washington, D.C.) with compelling bits of narrative from history and literature. Following Jesus, Batterson explores what it means to love God with all our heart (which he describes as compassion), all our soul (wonder), all our mind (curiosity) and all our strength (energy). These four “primal” virtues that Batterson addresses here – compassion, wonder, curiosity and energy – are indeed lost virtues among many evangelicals, and Batterson does well to challenge us with them. Indeed they are at the heart of who we were created to be as humans, and our return to these virtues will go a long way in guiding us toward a deeper and richer life as the people of God. However, like other Multnomah titles (and particularly, Radical) the prevailing tone of Primal is one of heroic individualism, in which the fundamental relationship is between an individual and God. One has to wonder here why Batterson splits asunder what Jesus joined together, namely “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” and the first commandment to “love the Lord your God.” What God wants from us is not that we as individuals are “great at the Great Commandment” (Batterson 169) – as important as that may be – but that we demonstrate our love for God by “considering others better than ourselves” (Phil. 2: 3) and imitating Christ by pouring ourselves out in love for our brothers and sisters and our neighbors.
Batterson is right in his observation that we are in need today of a new reformation, and I believe there is much that we can learn from Primal about what it means to love God with every fiber of our being, but what we need most today, in a world where individualism is as essential (and as unquestioned) as the air we breathe, is not a reformation rooted primarily in personal character (as Batterson argues for here) but an ecclesiological reformation in which we understand anew that God is calling out a community of people who embody the love of God in the way that we sacrificially love and care for one another.
A Review Copy of this book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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I believe that Mark is correct to challenge us to enhance our personal relationship with God first and foremost. Once we are like Him, everything else falls into place. We share, give, sacrafice and evangelize as commanded. How can we follow God’s commands if we don’t know Him. We become “little Christs” through our personal relationship. Jesus spent most of His time on Earth in private communion with The Father and so should we. Our primal mission in our fellowship with God is to know Him personally.