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Monday, February 18, 2013

Mark Batterson's "Wild Goose Chase"

A Chase Worth Pursuing

Pastor Mark Batterson uses the imagery of the wilderness, the unpredictable, unsafe nature of nature to depict what it is like to follow God’s Holy Spirit.  Batterson writes both pastorally and ambitiously.  He has lived in great blessing, being filled with joy, when in his own life he has followed God’s lead and done so at cost to himself and his family.  When he has shown willingness to risk, he’s been blessed by God tremendously.  He wants that joy and richness of life for his readers.
The strength of his book is his call for people of the church to abandon their comfort zones and safety zones.  Christianity in America can be quite comfortable.  In some places, the church can be the location of social, political, and personal power.  It can be as much social gathering as it is body of Christ.  Batterson wants to see Christianity be dynamic – the unpredictable journey on which God knows the way but we do not. 

The high point along this line of thinking comes when Batterson writes, “When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things?  God wants to send us to different places to do difficult things.  And if you chase the Wild Goose, he will lead you into the shadowlands where light and darkness clash” (p. 106).  Batterson continues, quoting a man who reaches out with the gospel to porn-addicts in Las Vegas, “I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of Hell.” 

Such a faith is daring, uncomfortable, and scary.  It only works if Batterson’s “Wild Goose” points us to the true Spirit of God.  Jesus laid out a future as unsettling as this for Peter when he re-commissioned the disciple after Peter had denied him.  Upon their reunion on the beach, Jesus re-established the fisherman and told him he would one day be led where he did not want to go (John 21:18).  In Batterson’s terminology, Jesus was setting Peter on a wild goose chase.

In this very good book, an extended sermon really, I find a few points to critique.  First, his imaginative depiction of Adam naming the animals (from Genesis) to me sounded kind of corny.  He supposes a literal first human who has the task of setting out over the entire earth to discover (without aid of microscope or scuba gear or mountain climbing equipment) all the animals on the earth and name them.  If he is going to read Genesis that literally, he has a problem because there are so many species, one man could not observe them all in 10 lifetimes.  I assume Batterson was striving for the “awe” factor, but I don’t think it worked. 

Second, he did that bit of creative writing in the midst of his description of time spent in the Galapagos Islands.  To me that seems like a trip many of his readers could never take.  Who has the time or money to go spend 10 days in the Galapagos?  Maybe it is cheaper than I imagine.  But I can’t believe that for the majority of his readers such a trip is even possible.

Third, he refers to his college preaching in a very small church.  Today he pastors a church of thousands.  His view of that experience is that it was to prepare him for “bigger” things (p.30).  He recommends giving your all in small things, which is excellent teaching.  But, those 12 people who received his preaching in that small church aren’t small to God.  Batterson is excited that now he gets to preach to 1000’s most of whom are young (it’s always sexier to preach to young people than to senior citizens), professional (it’s always more impressive to preach to “power-players”), and to do it in a power city like Washington DC.  But in God’s eyes, as Biblical stories attest over and over and over, the big church of sexy, young political staffer is no “bigger” than the church of 12 people.  His work now is not more important than it was when he was unknown and not yet an author. 

Pastors of small churches made up of people with blue-collar jobs who don’t take trips to the Galapagos are not less important than pastors of big-city mega churches.  They aren’t doing smaller work.  They are chasing the “Wild Goose.”  Batterson talks about the Wild Goose showing up in unexpected, wild places.  But most people live most of their lives in normal, everyday places.  Real faith is seen when we earnestly seek and see the Holy Spirit in normal places, in the mundane comings and goings of our lives.  The “Wild Goose” shows up there and those seemingly innocuous places become “thin places” and the normal becomes the transcendent. 
The instances from Wild Goose Chase I have critiqued and a few I have not lessen the force of an otherwise very good book.  That said, it is worth reading.  Batterson preaches well through his writing and more often than not I found myself saying “Amen,” as I read.  I appreciate his inspiring story-telling and even more, I appreciate his ambitious attempts to rile believers out of spiritual slumber.  Mark Batterson’s style is inviting and his intent is grounded in scripture. 
For an interesting analogy, for very optimistic, positive writing, and for an honest attempt at being true to the Spirit of the New Testament, I recommend Mark Batterson’s Wild Goose Chase.

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