Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers

The Vertical Self is half sociological study, half spiritual discipline guide. Unfortunately, Mark Sayers shines as a sociologist and merely glows as a spiritual guru. However, this is not to say I did not enjoy this book or would not recommend it (I did and would respectively). This book is worth the price of admission for the first half alone.

The former half of this book reads a little like David Brooks. However, instead of writing about the blending of the bourgeois and bohemian classes, Mark Sayers delves into the Christian individual's abandonment of an identity defined by the vertical (God) in exchange for one defined by the horizontal (society, Hollywood, self, etc.).

With startling insight, Sayers perfectly describes a Christian generation that has turned its eyes downward for a sense of identity. Movies and reality TV have us all acting out our own scripts. The Internet has fostered our separation between who we are and who we want to be. Narcissism feeds off this horizontal self, "in which our worth is tied to what others think of us, we end up obsessed with ourselves".

If you are in any sort of ministry (especially youth), I highly recommend this book. Here's a brief reason why: "Ministers and church leaders assume that they are speaking to people who have a vertical sense of self, but those they minister to both inside and outside the church (if they're younger than sixty years old) almost certainly have a horizontal sense of self . . . The emergence of the horizontal self is one of the most pressing challenges for the church in our day. Most of our theology was written by people who lived during the time of the vertical self. Most of our evangelistic approaches were designed to communicate the gospel to people with a vertical sense of self".

While the second half of the book can't quite stand up to the first, I was still very impressed in the end. Despite a latter half that seems to meander and wander when trying to reform us to a vertical self, the spot-on description of the horizontal self makes Sayers' book a greatly beneficial read for anyone in ministry.

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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