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Monday, February 7, 2011

Review of "Soul Print" by Mark Batterson

Review of the Book Soul Print

Mark Batterson, Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2011

Mark Batterson follows the life of David the king of Israel whose story is told in the Old Testament Books of 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings, and 1st Chronicles. Batterson uses David’s supremely strong sense of his own identity and his own calling to encourage readers to discover God’s calling in their lives. Furthermore, Batterson insists that each individual read has a special calling and will be miserable until he or she discovers his or her own calling. In one of the numerous instances in which he masterfully draws principles from David’s life and applies these principles to the readers’ lives, Batterson says, “There comes a point in all our lives when we need the courage to take off Saul’s armor” (p.15).

David succeeded when he decided not to be Saul, but to be who God made him to be, David. Preachers must not try to be Billy Graham, but to be who God made them to be. Leaders cannot try to be Vince Lombardi or Colin Powell. They have to be true to their own identities. Mark Batterson is brilliant in communicating the way one’s faithfulness to one’s own true self is an act of faithfulness to God. Batterson says to the reader, “You owe it to yourself to be yourself. But more important, you owe it to the one who designed and destined you” (p.2).

I don’t know if Batterson has any experience in Family Systems Theory or family therapy techniques and theories. What he’s writing about in Soul Print is the concept of differentiation, first described by family therapy pioneer Murray Bowen in the 1950’s. Bowen wrote about the differentiation of self, which is one’s ‘autonomy from others and separation of thought from feeling.’ When merged with faith in the Christian God, differentiation dictates that an individual be true first and foremost and only to God, and thus to whom God created the individual to be. David could not be who his father wanted him to be (the youngest, the unseen and unheard, the shepherd-boy), and he could not be who Saul wanted him to be (a typical, armored warrior in the 10th century BC Israelite fashion). As Batterson so aptly puts it, David had to shed Saul’s armor (see 1st Samuel 17:38-39).

Similarly, Batterson invites the reader to shed false identities lived in service to images of our age, and instead to put on the identity God formed when God made each of us. I found this to be a deeply challenging invitation from the author because my entire life has been plagued by the sin of comparison. In high school, I compared myself to the star of the team or to the guy with the prettiest girlfriend. In college and to a lesser degree in graduate school, I compared myself to the most academically gifted among my friends. As a pastor, I have compared myself to the most widely-published pastors or the pastors of 10,000-member churches, or to pastors who are often on television. In all these comparisons, I fail to consider my calling and the unique way God created me. Again, I don’t know if Batterson has studied Family Systems or is aware of Murray Bowen or of differentiation, but what he is encouraging is that one be a differentiated self.

So, I personally am very thankful for the book Soul Print. Batterson has reminded me of what I already know. I am special because I am God’s. I am a servant of Jesus Christ. Mark Batterson brings that truth to my mind. What helps are the many occasions throughout the book where Batterson expresses his own experiences of false self-expectations. He’s not afraid to share his own mistakes and his own shortcomings. I don’t know if I think the same way Batterson does about the redemptive quality of embarrassing moments (p.94-96), but I appreciate that he shares some of his own and I hope I can look my own embarrassments and in “die to self.” Batterson is on the mark when he writes about humility and how it is a holy quality that can be gleaned from embarrassing moments or experiences.

One aspect of the book that caught my attention in a slightly negative way comes in Batterson’s attempt to be emphatic at points. “The key to fulfilling your future destiny is hidden in your past memories” (p.6). “Character development is the key to your future” (p.32). The primary issue is who you become in the process” (p.69). The story of David disrobing (2nd Samuel 6:14) is “one key to discovering your soul print” (p.99). In each sentence, the italics are mine. I understand in these cases, Batterson wants to emphatically make his point. But, there is more than one key to a person’s future destiny, and there is more than one primary issue. I think authors sometimes use ultimate-type phrases (“the key to …”) too easily. The same point could be just as strongly made without such extremist terminology.

That critique aside, I heartily recommend Batterson’s book. In fact, in our church there is a group of 20-somethings, and I contacted the leader of that group and told her to have every one of her young grad students read Soul Print. In his last chapter, Batterson, wisely departing from his use of David as a metaphor for the differentiated life, turns to the final book of the Bible, Revelation. There, each believer is promised a white stone with a new name (Revelation 2:17). Batterson closes his wonderful book by encouraging the reader to begin a journey of discovery, a journey that ends when we know our new names, the name given by Jesus.

Thus, each person has two destinies according to Mark Batterson. We are to be like Jesus and unlike everyone else. [Jesus] “sets us free from who we’re not, so we can become who we were destined to be” (p.13). The author speaks the truth. I am grateful Mark Batterson has written Soul Print and I hope a lot of people read it.

Disclaimer - I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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