Thrive bookTitle: Thrive

Author: Mark Hall

Publisher: Zondervan

Date: 2014

Pages: 230

Other: Casting Crowns

[In order to comply with certain rules and regulations enacted and enforced by the FCC, it is important that I remind you that I have received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review here at my blog.]

 I go into every book with a certain sense of enthusiasm because to my mind there is nothing more exciting than cracking open a new book and browsing through the publisher's page and the table of contents and maybe the index. And so it was when I received Thrive in the mail. I immediately cracked it open, fingered the pages, and began plotting my course.

This book is a fairly easy read and there is nothing terribly wrong with anything Mark Hall writes in the book. It was kind of nice to read some of the backstories for certain songs that Hall has written and performed with his band Casting Crowns.

The problem I have with this book is the same problem I have with any other book of this stripe: it's the same as every other book of this stripe. Let me be frank: I spent 15 years in local church ministry. I was faithful to God. I preached a faithful, biblical, sound doctrine. I prayed with and for my congregation. I reached out to the community we lived in with the Gospel and in good-neighborness  Yet, and I say this with a mixture of sadness and disappointment, yet, I never tasted anything remotely close to the success that I read about in books like this.

I am sorry to say that these books are all over the place, a dime a dozen. If you are a megachurch preacher or pastor or rock and roll star, it is so easy to tell your story. It is so easy to be a cheerleader for the church and tell about all the good stuff that has happened in your life. But the truth of life is this: christianity doesn't have to be all the bells and whistles and 'jump-off' points in order to be genuine, effective, or full. I seriously think we need less of this rah-rah christianity and much more of the serious deep reflection on Scripture that we simply do not get from these mass produced books written by super-successful, spot-light Christians. 

I have nothing against them. I'm genuinely happy for them. But just because they have had some modicum of success doesn't mean that their path is necessarily full of wisdom or that their path is the path everyone should or can follow. Truth is, Christians do not always wear smiles, and that is not a sin.

It is so easy for people to believe that success is so simple and that it is the desire of God for every Christian. So many of the books of this character follow the same basic pattern: a young christian is excited about Jesus, gets discouraged by an old-fashioned church, falls away from the church, has an epiphany, starts a church or youth group with two people, grows a church to a million, and then writes a book about the wisdom they have learned through all these experiences.

Just once I'd like to read a story by an author who simply does not get success in the end. That is, at the end of the day the story doesn't have a happy ending, they are still struggling, still suffering, still questioning, with the Psalmists, "how long O Lord, how long?"–and I'd like to read it from someone who still believes in Jesus and has faith in him. I don't want to read it from someone who has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Sadly, I guess, the stories of less-than-triumphant Christianity are just not the kind that sell books.

It's just a tired story. Here's my main complaint: I sense a lack of humility in this book. I think it comes out in anecdotes like one found page 29 when he tells us of replacing a member of Casting Crowns with a new guitarist. Hall comments, "He had no idea I was watching everything he did." I can't quite place why this statement bothers me, but it rankled me for some reason. And there were others.

Finally, one final complaint, Hall uses the phrase 'love-on' quite a lot in the book. It's really annoying. It could just be me, but I just thought it was unhappily overused.

That's enough complaints. There were some aspects of the book that I found to be most helpful, and typically they came in the form of sentences that I found to be especially insightful. 

First, I think it is especially insightful when he wrote, "God looked at David and saw something else. He saw the genealogy of Jesus" (31). It kind of makes me think that I wonder what God looks at me and sees. Then again, I think about some of the scoundrels in Jesus' genealogy and I wonder again about something different.

Second, he wrote, "If you think you did something to start your relationship with God, it's only logical to think you could do something to end it" (43). While on the one hand this smacks of an aspect of Reformed theology that I do not subscribe to, on the other hand it startles me anew with the refreshing whisper of God's grace. I did sense at times a reliance upon God's grace and this is one of the more redeeming aspects of the book.

I didn't enjoy this book, but neither did I hate it. I think this book is probably best suited for a high school-college aged students. I'm not sure this is a book that many readers will find sufficiently deep enough to satisfy their thirst even though its subtitle is 'Digging Deep, Reaching Out.' Like I said at the outset, there is nothing wrong with anything Hall said, it's just that I have heard it a thousand times before.

Yet, maybe I need to continue hearing the same message. Maybe all of us need to hear the same message over and over again that Jesus is the friend of sinners.



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