Thursday, March 18, 2010

‘The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self Obsession’ by Mark Sayers – Book Review

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Mark Sayers is the founder of über, a ministry that specializes in issues of youth and young-adult discipleship.  He is also the Senior Leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia and is a highly sought-after speaker, commentator, and thinker in the areas of faith and culture.  He is the husband to Trudi and the father to Grace.

The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self Obsession’ tackles a very serious subject in our world: the loss of identity.  This is from the back cover of the book:

The Vertical Self’ is about laying down the burden of creating your own identity.  It is a call to rediscover the one thing that can really fulfill: radical holiness.  We are being drawn, cajoled and beckoned by God to our true selves, Sayers says.  Yet this desire is derailed and sabotaged by our cultures, which offers cheap imitations of our true identities instead of the image of God.  By stepping into this journey of discovering what God truly desires for our lives, we won’t just discover a new way of living out our faith – we will discover a liberating, revolutionary, life-embracing way of being truly human.

I was intrigued by the concept of this book.  I am involved in a Women’s Small Group called Gracestoration in which we discuss different aspects of God’s grace and how it can be applied to our lives.  One of our ‘slogans’ is ‘Go Vertical.’   That translates to mean that we should go to God before we consults with other people.

Here is how Mark describes our current dilemma:

Welcome to the twenty-first century, where we can now purchase and change personalities the way we can clothes, depending on mood or circumstance.  Welcome to the world in which we are told we can be anything we want to be, where identity is no longer based in a sense of self but rather in the imagery we choose at any particular moment. (p. 3)

Mark explains that, as our world became more secular, we moved away from a view of ourselves as being created in the image of God and devolved into the individual looking sideways:

The horizontal self looks to others for a sense of identity rather than to something larger than oneself, thus finding a sense of self in one’s status within society.  With God playing no real authoritative role in informing identity, people look to others as the ultimate judge.  Whereas the vertical self looks to heaven for favor and approval, the horizontal self looks to the world for approval and acceptance.   For people who hold a horizontal sense of self, the creation and cultivation of a public image are paramount. (p. 17)

It is refreshing to see a young man (he just turned 36) who is enlightened to the truth of the state of the world in this day and age.  Most people don’t stop to consider that they are being sold a bill of goods in conforming to this world and adopting and imitating the concepts of sexiness, coolness and glamour are the path to wholeness and fulfillment.

I was utterly fascinated by this book.  It contained so many elements of interest to me: media, music, movies, etc…  Then he got to the meat of the matter – that the only way we will get to know who we are is to get to know who God is.  The majority of people under the age of 60, as Mark points out, are defined by their horizontal selves.  Here is Mark’s prescription for finding out who we really are:

I have come to passionately believe that if we are to regain understanding of who we are, if we are to find our real identities, we must rediscover what it is to be holy.  If we are to rescue ourselves and our culture from the crisis of self, we must re-image ourselves in the image of God….Holiness is the key to understanding our true selves. (p. 88)

I think this is one of the most important books that I have read in a very long time.  So many people – Christian or otherwise – are lost, and Mark’s book explains that we are really shortchanging ourselves by not becoming who God wants us to be in exchange for what the culture expects us to be.  So many churches are embracing the culture (in the name of ‘relevance’) and totally ignoring holiness, thereby taking their members/attendees down the wrong road.  Coolness, sexiness and glamour are cheap substitutes for the genuine holiness that emerges when the Holy Spirit is unleashed in us.  I thank Mark for writing such a valuable and eternally significant book.  By writing this book, he goes against the grain and the establishment – exactly what Jesus did time and time again!

You can order 'The Vertical Self' here.

This book was provided to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers for review purposes.

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