When asked by a Jewish legal expert to name the most important commandment in the Mosaic Law, Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, cf. Deut. 6:4, 5). Nothing in life is important as amo Dei, the love of God, which is referred to as the Great Commandment. Unfortunately, what Jesus said to the Ephesian church could be said to many Christians today: “You have forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:4).
Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal, is an insightful guide to recovering your first love. If you are a spiritual seeker or a new Christian, this book will outline a simple but powerful vision of what following Christ is supposed to be. If you are a longtime Christian, it will refresh your faith. And if you are a pastor, it will help minister to both categories of parishioners.
Mark is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC, as well as a personal friend. If I recommend the book, it is because I can first recommend the man. Mark is a creative thinker and a gifted communicator. The church he leads meets at multiple theaters throughout the Washington DC area, not because he can’t find a place for a more permanent building, but because that’s where the people are. NCC also owns and operates Ebenezer’s, an award-winning coffee house and performance space near Union Station. All profits from Ebenezer’s sales go to missions.
Primal is all about living out the Great Commandment and centers on four key practices: “compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy,” which correspond to “heart, mind, soul, and strength” in Mark 12:30. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t think naturally of Christianity in those terms—especially not as it’s practiced by American Christians. We are not always a compassionate, wonder-filled, curious, or energetic crowd. But once you’re done reading this book, you won’t be satisfied with going back to your old routines.
One of Mark’s great strengths is to explain old biblical truths in fresh ways and with new word pictures. This is a thoroughly biblical book, but it avoids tired clichés and conventional thinking. I’ve read a lot of books on Christian living. Mark wrote a lot of things in this book that exposed deficiencies in my own thinking and practice of the faith without making me feel hopeless or helpless in the process.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
· “Christianity has a perception problem. At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that Christians are more known for what we’re against than what we’re for” (p. 6).
· “The American church needs a heart check. Or maybe I should say, a bank check. It seems to me that we have spiritualized the American Dream of materialized the gospel. Take your pick. And any attempt to monetize a relationship with God cheapens the gospel” (p. 32).
· “When we lose our sense of wonder, what we really lose is our soul. Our lack of wonder is really a lack of love” (p. 51).
· “You are among the company of translators [of the Bible]. For better or for worse, your life is your unique translation. Just like the Septuagint or King James Version, your life translates Scripture into a language that those around you can read. God doesn’t just want to speak to you through Scripture; He wants to speak through you. He wants to write His-story through your life. And Scripture is the script” (p. 85).
· “The church ought to be the most curious place on the planet. We ought to be a safe place where people can ask dangerous questions, but all too often we’re guilty of answering questions that no one is even asking” (p. 97).
· “Lack of faith is not a failure of logic. It’s a failure of imagination. Lack of faith is the inability or unwillingness to entertain thoughts of a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine” (p. 112).
· “As Christ followers, we need to take a why not approach to life. It dares to dream. It’s bent toward action. And it’s not looking for excuses not to do something” (p. 139).
· “I have a theory: most church problems don’t come from the abundance of sin but rather from a lack of vision. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t sin problems or that those sin problems aren’t serious. But in too many instances, there isn’t enough vision to keep churches busy. Our vision isn’t big enough to demand all our energies, so we manufacture petty problems to keep us busy” (p. 148).
· “Let me ask you a question: It might be the question. Which do you love more: your dream or God? Do you love God for what He can do for you? Or do you love Him for who He is? In its purest, mot primal form, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is loving God for God. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else” (p. 165).
I could go on and on, but I hope you get the drift. Mark has great insights and asks some tough questions whose answers are revealing.
Read Primal! And start practicing the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy that should characterize all followers of Christ!
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