Book Review: Primal

Just finished reading Primal by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of NCC in Washington DC. Matt handed me this book last week and i’ve flown through it, albeit in a good way- with pen in hand- making notes and jots and underlining things. Oh, look! A book review!

The Summary: Batterson begins with the premise that the first things are the best things. Or, put another way, if you’ve lost your way a bit, then go back to where you started. He calls these first things, “Primal”- that is, primary and fundamentally needful for healthy, life-giving Christianity. Then he asserts that Christianity has, in fact, lost its way a bit and needs to get back to some of the first things, the “first loves” if you will (and he does). We then explore Christianity via what Jesus called the greatest commandment, (love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength) using each of the four lenses offered in the commandment itself ( i thought it was pretty smart to do!) which are as follows:

The Heart of Christianity is Compassion, the Soul of Christianity is Wonder, the Mind of Christianity is Curiosity and the Strength of Christianity is Energy. This all gets explained properly in the book with solid definitions and helpful stories.

Getting back to the Primal things that make us Christians is what will move us forward. And while it’s mainly about Christianity as a whole, he applies it to you and I as individuals in a direct and helpful way without being too preachy.

The Good: The book reads easily and efficiently with very little messing around and zero rabbit trails. He has something to say and just says it, which i deeply appreciate. The book is well structured and I was glad that only once does he use the same story to make separate points- I hate repetition of stories for dissimilar ends! What he has to say comes fully from his own experiences- not all the anecdotes are from his life, but the main ideas have grounding in who he is and where he’s been.

Specifically, I liked his piece on Critical Realism, quoting Russell Stannard, “We can never expect at any stage to be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are correct and will never need further amendment.” and suggests that this can apply to theological theories as well, with the standardized caveat that he’s not talking about non-negotiable articles of faith, but then reverses it by saying its hard to know which non-negotiable articles we can agree on. I thought it was rather well done.

He also talks about creativity as a dimension of spiritual maturity and defines creativity as “any use of the imagination” and doesn’t confine it to the arts. Nice! Creativity in teaching, in cab driving, in hr paperwork- all of these are opportunities for faith and love. I was given permission again to pursue my passions as an act of faith and of love. Didn’t see that coming, but i needed it!

The Bad: Two things. First, Mark talks over his head at times. This feels a little embarrassing to the reader who knows better and i wished more than once that he had used a different proof or wording. Example? He talks about logic as a natural law (which it isn’t) rather than a method of argument made up by some Greeks a couple thousand years ago (which it is). He doesn’t really mean “logic” and needed to find a different word. Secondly, there is heavy use of facts to instill a sense of wonder right next to his assertion that facts alone cannot beget wonder. It’s backwards. It’s incongruous. I know it’s cost-prohibitive, but I would rather have seen full color pictures of the glorious cosmos than numbers and statistics- printed black on white- trying to prove how wonderful it is.

The Brilliant Quote: “A decade ago I was trying to be a pastor. Now I’m trying to be myself.” Awesome.

The Takeaway: Ultimately, this book was better than it should have been. The material is solid and the goals of the author come through, but it isn’t a homerun or anything. But at the same time, it actually is powerful stuff. Dan Reiland observed that, “I think it all comes down to a communicator who is primarily a giver instead of a taker.” Mark Batterson is the giving kind of communicator, and it really caught me off guard. The message that came through the book was just exactly what I needed- and I didn’t even know going in that i needed it. Could also say it this way: that some books make you think, some books get you looking at scripture, and some books move you toward Christ; this is the last.

Pairs well with: A pen, a pad of paper and a prayerful attitude.

The Bottom Line: Would totally recommend it as an easy and refreshing, but somehow, mysteriously, challenging read.

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One Comment on “Book Review: Primal”

  1. Meg says:

    A refreshingly positive review! An excitement comes through, and I’m delighted!


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