I was privileged to be apart of the blog tour for Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal. I’ll go ahead and give you my overall rating and then go into a little detail as to why I rated it what I did.
I would give the book 3 out of 5 stars.
Mark is attempting to take us on a journey to the heart of Christianity. He feels the essence of the faith has been buried under years of man-made additions. He wants to strip it all back and expose the heart of the faith to his readers. The book is really an exposition of the Greatest Commandment. Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Each way we are commanded to love God (heart, soul, mind and strength) is given a section of the book. Mark ends the book with a challenge to engage loving God in one the ways that doesn’t come easy to us.
What I Liked
There were several things to like about this book. First, Mark writes very readable prose. I cruised through this book very easily. At no point was reading this book laborious. I also really appreciated the heart of this book. Like myself, Mark sees problems with the western, American church. But he starts with himself. He spends some time talking about the problems he sees in himself and this book seems to have been birthed out of rediscovering what truly mattered. Mark has seen the log in his own eye, before beginning to remove the speck from the church’s eye. This is commendable.
I really liked Mark’s discussion of simplicity on the far side of complexity. There is too much simple Christianity for my liking. Mark shoots a hole through by it talking about how we need to explore the depths of Christianity if we’re ever going to understand it’s simple truths.
I hate endnotes. With a passion. Unfortunately, this book is full of them. While this is most likely an editing/formatting decision, it’s one that detracts from the overall rating of the book. It also seemed like every time there was a quotation of Scripture, it was in italicized font and indented. But not all of those quotes were Scripture. And since there was no reference or footnote for me to quickly find, I’m left wondering if this actually came from the Bible or another source. I didn’t like that the Bible was put on equal footing with other sources. I’m sure Mark or the editors are Multnomah meant nothing by it, but I believe it to be a poor decision (regardless of who made it).
One area that I felt uneasy with was how the issue of the sovereignty of God was handled in the book. In a section on “counterfactual theory”, which is a branch of history that asks “what if?” questions, Mark begins to ask all these questions about the story of Joseph. He basically comes to the conclusion that if Joseph had not made a few key decisions, both Egypt and Joseph’s family would have perished. While that seems okay on the surface, it creates far too many theological problems than it solves. For starters, it assumes that one man can thwart the will of God. And if that’s true, we are one pitiful people; worshiping a God who we can overthrow if we just realized it. God will accomplish his plans with or without our involvement. Why waste time asking what if questions? It seems silly. God is not a God of “What if”, but “What is”. This world is his plan and his idea. Later on in the book, Mark says that he believes that God is sovereign. But he then starts talking about free will, like it somehow stops God in His tracks. Mark creates a tension (between God being sovereign and man having free will), but does nothing with it. While I’m quite sure that Mark never intended to give an in-depth exegesis of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and responsibility of man, I think something more was required given the assertions made. Had Mark done so, and even if I disagreed with his theological conclusions, I would have been satisfied that he at least interacted with the tension he created. Instead, I believe readers are left with a more muddy picture, rather than a clear one.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. While I wouldn’t make it the first book I read in 2010, if you’re looking for a book that talks about the basics of Christianity, this is a good starting place.