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Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Road Trip That Changed the World" (Mark Sayers)

TITLE: The Road Trip that Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory that will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and, Most Importantly, Yourself
AUTHOR: Mark Sayers
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (288 pages).

This is a book that has an inviting title with surprising insights into how to read our modern culture. It does this by looking back to our historical past to make sense of the present. It reads our current environment of secularism and the reasons for the downward spiral of morality and the upward rise of relativism. It tells of two road trips rather than one, of the road and the home. If the sixth century marks the beginning of the home pilgrimage, the enlightenment in the 17th Century marks the beginning of the road journey. The former produces virtues such as "obedience, eternity, foundation, and devotion." The latter adopts "journey, feeling, and experience" over and above the attributes of loyalty, faithfulness, and commitments. In other words, how our modern culture has come to be is mainly because of this road trip which has resulted in our modern society becoming secular and increasingly meaningless. We are modern refugees of this road trip looking aimlessly for a home. Sayers makes a distinction between pilgrimage and secular journey. The latter relates to secularism making a trip to nowhere. The former talks about a trip that has a destiny.

Part One talks about the road narrative, Sayers points out three stages. The first stage is one of happiness, fun, and pleasure. The second stage is about the barriers that impede any progress to happiness, pleasure, and fun. The third stage is true happiness once all the obstacles are removed. In doing so, these stages reflect the traveler on a journey that progresses on the outside but remain adolescent on the inside. One's sense of lostness becomes the journey itself. The secular world is a spiritual wasteland where morality has been de-emphasized in favour of subjectivity. The transcendence has been surrendered in favour of the immanence, of immediate gratification. Such a culture has been condemned by Sayyid Qutb, an influential Islamic thinker, whose teachings have influenced Muslim terrorists, the most notorious being Osama bin Laden. As one journeys along the path of nothingness, aimlessness, and meaninglessness, people soon believe that nothing matters. Since the 60s, the Church has been declining. The spiritual climate of America has been "Californianized" into a culture of individualism, narcissism, materialism, and entertainment. In a secular environment without morality, it is easy to objectivize women, rank feelings above faith, prefer the therapeutic above transcendent beings, nonconformity over authority, and where absolute freedom becomes an intense form of slavery. Jesus becomes not a deliver of sin but one who grants wishes and delivers wants. There is also a lot of cultural observations on social media why we reveal so much of ourselves in public, on why we continue to watch in glee the humiliations of people on TV, and how we remain connected online but disconnected from everyday life. We prefer the sensational 'wow' instead of the firm Word.

Thankfully, Sayers does not end by giving secularism the prize. The end of the road narrative is the cross. There is hope. There is truth coming amid our gloomy journey of doom. Part Two is about the home narrative. One of the first things we need to go up against is our tendency toward pleasure, comfort and a negativity-adverse mindset. Instead, the essence of life is to be willing to embrace our "fragility and mortality" and be open to be led back to God. Instead of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" metaphor, Sayers proposes we learn with Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" which begins with a deserted and desolate world. Without the distractions of attractive options, we are forced to seek out the fundamentals of life, to do what is deeply necessary, and ultimately most meaningful. It reflects a life of sacrifice, of putting others above self. It reflects a life of dependence on the transcendent. It is a call back to the "old kind of Christian" that is concerned about belonging to God and a real community. It is that kind that is mindful of one's true identity and destiny. The journey is no longer an aimless one of wandering in the wilderness, but a purposeful one of traveling the path toward God. Page after page, Sayers pulls in biblical images, personalities, and Scriptural references to paint a picture of hope of the future kingdom. In contrast to the secular image of building a home on the road, Sayers gives us an image of moving homeward while traveling on the road. The key to this homeward narrative is in getting God right first. We need to rid our idols and to accept God's sovereignty over us. For our sake. For our children's sake. For our community's sake. For our society's sake.

Further Thoughts

I must say that this is one of the most insightful books that intelligently analyzes the modern secular environment, and points us to reasons why it is secular. It blasts the Western model of Church that has substituted personal self-discovery instead of discipleship, self-actualization under the guise of worship. It cleverly adopts the secular terms and models that we are all accustomed to, makes a measured interpretations of it all in the light of both Christian and non-Christian literature, and explains the predicament of the Church so that the Church can do something about it. I admit that the first part of the book seems to be more depressing and painful to read. While the insights look so spot on and distressing, it leaves me gasping for Part Two. After all, it cannot be all that bad, I thought. I am grateful that from the point of the Cross, things change for the better. The road trip can be redeemed. The pilgrimage can be set right. The world has hope in God.

Well-researched and eloquently argued, this book is a must for anyone interested in Christianity and culture, evangelism and mission in the urban Western environment. I have not read Mark Sayers before, but after this book, I am looking forward to the next.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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