Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review - The Vertical Self

The Vertical Self, by Mark Sayers

I love sociology and anthropology. This book, which is about how our culture's fascination with media, celebrities, fashion, etc cause us to create horizontal versions of ourselves rather than vertical ones, looked fascinating to me. The horizontal self basically means that one's identity is found in how one relates, compares to, or rates in the eyes of others. Keeping up the horizontal self is obviously impossible. The vertical self refers to finding one's identity in Christ, and walking in holiness and peace because of the security, meaning, and purpose found in Him.

Sounds good. But actually, this book fell far short of my expectations. Sayers' points were very vague and repetitive. While several of his stories were interesting, they didn't really make the points he was aiming for. But I take the most issue with his theological explanations. He talks about how we are created in the image of God and therefore have value, meaning, and purpose. True. But then he talks about how living right with God is asking Him to redeem our desires and living in holiness (which again is attained by having our desires redeemed). No mention of repentance, the Cross, or salvation through Jesus -- or if it was mentioned, it certainly wasn't emphasized.

Sayers talks a lot about evil. Rather than living in strict holiness, we need to find a balance between good and evil. If we were purely good, he says, we'd never be moved to action by anything. We need the tension that our darker desires create in order to act. What?! And then later, he said the opposite when he quoted someone stating that truly evil people are the ones that actively avoid extending themselves on behalf of others. Redeeming our desires, not fighting them, is the way to holiness. And yes, of course that is sometimes true. But we still are imperfect people, and sometimes our desires are truly sinful. Managing sin is not the same as killing it.

Finding our true selves seems to be the goal of life, according to this book. Even though Sayers has us looking at who we are in Christ to find those true selves, he neglects to mention how we get to be who we are in Christ, namely, through Christ. And a life lived "for God," if the purpose of it is really to satisfy our need for purpose, seems narcissistic at best.

At the end of the book, Sayers challenges us to find three "soul friends," teach them what we learned from the book, and have them teach three more friends. Not much in terms of how to live out the vertical self. Lack of clarity, practicality, and most of all, Gospel truth. I'm sorry to say, this book is not one I recommend at all.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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