Since I’ve known Mark Sayers I have been inspired and challenged by his incisive ability to analyse culture, and point to the achillees heel of the church – and more particularly my own foibles.
His first book ‘The Trouble with Paris’ did this in a broad sweeping way and his more recent book ‘The Vertical Self’ picks up from there and asks how do we live lives that actually reflect the priorities of Jesus rather than simply blending in with 21st C materialism and adding a little of Jesus on Sundays.
The basic premise of the book is that we have two potential ‘selves’, the horizontal – defined by culture, media and the forces around us calling us to conform to whatever is current and the vertical – shaped by our relationship with God and our understanding of how he sees us.
Where Mark really hits the money is that he ‘calls us out’ on our apparent belief in God and yet our actual practice of honouring our culture’s values more highly, as evidenced by our actions. He shows the incongruities of Christians who follow Jesus selectively – as long as it doesn’t impact on my actual life and looks at some of the implications of this for discipleship and our life as the church.
Its a simple and easy read, yet the content is challenging and confronting – if we choose to let it confront. Its impossible for it not to be when you live in a media saturated, self focused world. Mark presents some images of the kingdom and what that means for how we live now and he offers some practical suggestions for combating the allure of popular culture.
While Mark writes primarily for a younger generation what he says is of direct relevance to any of us immersed in western culture and trying to locate our identity in Christ.
If I had a critique it would be simply that as one who has heard Mark speak on many occasions I would say he is more a compelling communicator in person than in writing. But that is often the case. My tip – if you enjoyed the book then make sure you get to hear Mark in person. He is an unassuming, and gracious man with a great sense of humour, who will sneak under your radar every time and hit you in the guts with a big lump of 4 x2 and leave you glad that it happened.