About a month back a tweet came through offering to send a copy of The Greener Grass Conspiracy to the first 100 bloggers who would agree to review it by April 30. I’m a big fan of Crossway‘s efforts, so I put my name in the hat for Stephen Altrogge’s most recent book.
Unlike any lottery ticket I’ve purchased, I was lucky enough to have my name selected, and I received the book around a week ago. Good news is that it’s only 139 pages, so hitting the 4/30 deadline was doable. 🙂
Before I actually review the publication, I need to explain how I mentally approach critiquing any form of media. It’s probably easiest to explain with music.
I am not a big fan of rap music. I may own, at most, a dozen rap CDs (and my favorite rap song, “Epic” by Faith No More, is more hard rock than rap). However, I can appreciate the talent it takes to put together a truly talented rap song, especially one that has meaningful content. My general distaste for the genre would make it easy for me to dis most rap CDs, but if I was ever asked to review one I would do it based on characteristics other than style (and recognize that I cannot appreciate, and thus comment, on the genre as well as a regular, avid consumer of rap).
Which leads me to Altrogge’s book…
The punch line is that I highly recommend you buy it. It made me think. God has used it to point out some of my shortcomings and to encourage me. I plan on reading it again.
That last comment alone is probably the most significant compliment I can give Altrogge’s work.
However, I am more of a theologian than someone who likes warm-and-fuzzy or hip approaches, and Altrogge relies on a bit too many cutesy comments for my taste. Not enough to cause my eye’s to roll into the back of my head as I fall on the floor in convulsions, but enough where I have to take my rap music approach. 🙂
Altrogge himself seems to realize this is his method…otherwise he wouldn’t have led off chapter 11, “The Furnace of Suffering,” with:
This chapter doesn’t begin with a joke or clever illustration or mildly amusing personal story.
And I prefer that “bland” start as compared to:
I love drinking coffee. Coffee is a gift from God to be enjoyed. It defibrillates my body into working properly each morning. My workday orbits around coffee breaks. Sometimes I daydream about the coffee I’m going to drink after diner. Sometimes I dream about brownies too. Big, fat, chocolate brownies that are still slightly warm. Coffee plus brownies almost equals heaven. Not really, but you know what I mean (page 39).
Now, that’s not terrible (and not his most egregious case of his being cutesy), but it gives you an idea…and hopefully will encourage you all the more to buy the book if you think I’m whining about nothing. 🙂
Continuing with the bad news before the good news, my other main “complaints” about the book (all nitpicky):
- It quotes Thomas Watson and Jeremiah Burroughs too much. Not that either aren’t worth listening too…a lot. But after a couple quotes from each it made me worry that he might just be putting his wrapping around what they’ve already written (especially since the Burroughs book is titled The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment).
- Sometimes it is needlessly repetitive. For instance, on the bottom of page 63 he writes, “After all, what good would it be if our idolatry was forgiven but we still lusted after every shiny thing that crossed our path? What good would it be if our sins were forgiven but we couldn’t stop worshiping idols?” In the poetry Psalms we might call this synonymous or synthetic parallelism. In this kind of prose I call it unnecessarily redundant. 🙂
- Sometimes conclusions don’t have enough support (regardless if the statement itself is correct). This is a pretty common problem with Christian books—if you are going to give a Scripture and say it says X, it should unarguably say X—or give more convincing evidence. For instance, on page 97 Altrogge uses 1 Peter 2:9’s “royal priesthood” and “a people for his own possession” to claim, “No solo acts allowed.” I agree, God expects us to work as a body (not individual organs), but 1 Peter 2:9 isn’t making that point.
- Parts of Philippians 4 are included more than once, but in a way that doesn’t acknowledge the book previously did so. Kind of hard to explain, but even chapters apart it is a rough segue.
Okay…are you now convinced my complaints (especially the last one) are pedantic? Then, again, more reason to buy the book! 🙂
Now, why I will likely read the book again. The biggest reason is because (ignoring the style issues I had) it drives pretty much every point it makes home. I closed the book a sinner more aware of his sin, and that’s something every one of us needs.
Additionally, when it comes to issues of contentment in Western nations, I suspect all of us can especially use having those points driven home.
Some other reasons I recommend you spend a bit more than $10 to get Altrogge’s book (even less if you are an e-book type):
- It is 100% orthodox. That doesn’t mean I agree with it 100%, but especially considering the recent blockbuster written by a media-savvy mega-church pastor, boy that’s nice.
- It shares some awesome quotes—please be sure to read what Matthew Henry said when he had his wallet stolen on page 116/117. I can only hope to reach that level of understanding.
- Altrogge himself comes up with some pretty inspiring statements. A couple of his more pithy ones are that “discontent is the result of misplaced worship” on page 37 and “the result of idol worship is always discontentment” on page 42. They don’t have as much impact out of context as they do within, but I’m still chewing on the “misplaced worship” one. 🙂
- It has great review questions at the end of each chapter, making it perfect for both personal and group reflection.
- It’s short. There’s nothing wrong with long, meaty books…but with very little effort you can read the entire work in a couple of days. Lots to think about in a digestible size.
This is my first “official” book review, so I’m sure it comes up short. However, if I say too much then I’ll be revealing his punch lines. Well, maybe I’ll steal one for this article. Altrogge ends the book with this:
This is my hope [to endure suffering with contentment because of our guaranteed future]. I haven’t yet learned to be content in all circumstances, but I’m fighting. I’m fighting because I know this isn’t my home. I was made for Jesus, and I was made for heaven. And so were you.
If you aren’t 100% content in your Christian life, you need to read this book.
P.S. My second favorite rap song is “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio. I can put up with aspects of the song that are less than appealing because once the chorus kicks in it really doesn’t get better. I can put up with the parts of Altrogge’s style that are less appealing to me because when the Holy Spirit kicks in (with the help of his book) it really doesn’t get better.
P.P.S. Want to see a promo video?
P.P.S. As of this note Amazon.com has the paperback for $10.06 and the Kindle format for $7.99. You can purchase it directly from Crossway for $12.99 and $9.99 respectively. Of the places I would normally look, Christianbook.com has the paperback cheapest at $9.99.