June 28, 2016 by J. Truett Glen
I first connected with Jon Hirst on Twitter. I didn’t know GMI or Jon from Adam, and when he said he wanted to talk worldview, I was a little ambivalent about the whole idea. I didn’t have a whole lot of space on my table at the time, and I really didn’t take the time to wrap my head around what GMI was all about. For the next year and a half Jon and I shot Twitter and email messages back and forth, looking for a convenient time to connect. It wasn’t until the Q Conference in Denver this past April that I was blessed with the opportunity to be truly educated by Jon about what GMI does and how it can serve the broader body of Christ.
He carved out some time for me on the first morning of the conference, and we met for coffee at a trendy Denver breakfast joint. Jon was an unassuming man who could easily get lost in the crowd at a convention for CPA’s. It was actually refreshing after already feeling the thick hipster hair vibe coming from the Q crowd. I quickly got the understanding that Jon was a passionate professional at what he does. He’s a data guy. But he’s also a missions guy. Most importantly, he’s a guy who loves Jesus, and it showed. After an hour of discovering lots of shared values and passions through conversation, Jon reached in his bag and pulled out several resources for me to check out. He had an impressive selection of statistically heavy paperbacks that looked a bit intimidating to an “ideas guy” such as myself. After sharing a bit about each, Jon invited me to write reviews on any that I felt intrigued by. I was honored to oblige him. GMI is a “Barna” type group and to be invited to speak into that world feels above my pay grade at times, but Jon understands that statistics and data can serve a powerful role in moving minds and hearts toward a more informed and actualized worldview. My interaction with Jon and GMI is good for both of us. I’ll be reviewing more of GMI’s resources down the road, but I wanted to first focus in on one in particular that Jon co-wrote.
In 1993 Tony Compolo came out with his book 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch. Tony dared conservative and moderate Christians to pay attention to the socially complex issues that liberal Christians had been building their identity on for quite some time. The book definitely leaned left, but it raised issues that needed to be addressed by the Evangelical community. The book was political and biased, and a little too heady for many churchgoers.
Our Anchor recognizes the same need that Tony’s book did over 20 years ago, but it comes at it from a completely different direction. This book, written by Jon Hirst and Marlene Legaspi-Munar, addresses the “hot potatoes” of our day, but uses simple biblical analyses as it lays down heavy statistical data points that help frame the complexity and severity of the issues. The book is accessible and manageable (it’s only 73 pages of reading), and that will create an easy pathway for churches and schools to incorporate this book into small group programming. It also has a pretty clear template for the reader to follow. The topics are first presented with biblical admonitions or context builders, and then they are framed with the complexifying data points that GMI is so good at employing. Each topic is then wrapped up nicely with suggestions for how a Christian can and should approach the issue. The book covers the following 7 issues:
There are certainly other very relevant topics that could have been addressed in this book, but Hirst erred on the right side by not biting off more than he could chew. Unlike other culturally engaged Christian “current trends” books on the market, Our Anchor simply does a good job of not coming off as pretentious. The writers stick to manageable amount of information that is directed by a genuine heart for the Gospel.
There are certainly a few criticisms I have for the book, but none that derail the positive impact that the book will have on individuals and communities that employ it. That said, one of the most glaring absences within the book on the issue of social medial and technology is the breadth of negative effects that over consumption produces. The authors do an adequate job of addressing the social issues that can develop from too much use, but in this chapter they do not adequately address the psychological or biological consequences. There are plenty of scientifically proven data points about the effects that usage has on the human brain and moods. The chemical dependency that can form is well documented as well. What is most striking is the fact that in the actionable advice section of the chapter the authors do not give even any rudimentary advice on how to balance digital consumption with regular engagement with nature. It’s one of the few misses in this book, but it’s an important one. My time interviewing digital device users on four continents has taught me that it doesn’t matter what the intentions are for using them, if people are not taught to manage their consumption and usage of social media and digital devices they are more likely to become habitually connected to them. As GMI has put out a separate book on Serving God in a Migrant Crisis, they should probably also publish a book on serving God in a digital world.
The only other general criticism I have is that I felt the theological content could have been just a bit clearer and meatier. As stated before, the simple biblical admonitions were refreshing, but they are dealing with some deeply rooted issues within humanity, and a little more theological and/or philosophical framing could have made the book even more edifying. There were places in the chapter on suicide that left me confused about the theological presuppositions and takeaway.
I almost hate to even mention it, but it could have used some pictures as well. Younger generations are so visually driven that it is important that you keep their eyes engaged. Add some color to the charts, throw in some pics, and you have an even better resource.
The statistics in the book were highly informative, and at times caught me off guard. For instance, the fact that 25,000 people committed suicide in Japan in 2014 is just gut wrenching. The statistics drive this book (even the chapters are designated by “stat”), but they drive it to a healthy conclusion. Over and over again I was encouraged to find that the authors always landed on the gospel. An added bonus to this resource is its list of resources and organizations in the back. They do a good job of forwarding you on to others that can help in further study or partnership on the issues addressed. The responsibility of good networking covers over what limited deficiencies might be found in the book.
I look forward to reviewing more resources from GMI in the coming months, but in the meantime, grab a copy of this book and see if it can help motivate you and community to live out the gospel in an increasingly complex world.