Review: “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer
Recently, our church was encouraged to read a book called “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry”, subtitled “How to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world.”
So much of it I found intensely annoying, and yet it is a useful book. There seems to be a little family of US pastor-writers of a certain type. The older generation is made up of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. The younger generation include John Ortberg, Peter Scazzero and John Mark Comer. Many of them seem to know each other, and they recommend each other’s works a lot. So what I’m partly saying is: if you’ve read Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, you may not need to read this book too – but if you haven’t, it may be very helpful (see later caveat.)
The Biblical quote Comer takes as a theme is Matthew 11: 28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus’ yoke is an easy yoke, he says. But look at the lifestyle we’ve made for ourselves in the modern world! Endlessly full of psychologically harmful bustle, pushiness and consumerism, and that’s just in the church. He has a chapter called “A History of Speed”, which isn’t really that – it’s a history of time measurement, followed by a rant about the internet and smart phones.
It’s informative, entertaining and challenging – like the whole book really – but it’s also written in the modern lively style which has at least one drawback: if you make your point with a witty joke, and you think of another witty way to put it: yes, you end up making all your points over and over again.
The basic thesis is that: our lives are an overhurried mess; we should follow Jesus’ lifestyle (not just worship Him or even just keep His commandments); this means reviving the Spiritual Disciplines, and in particular four: Silence/Solitude; Sabbath; Simplicity and Slowing. (Four chapters; although you might object that it’s five disciplines.)
Much of what he says under the heading of these four is very good. I like his emphasis on the obvious but often neglected point that we have limitations (time, natural abilities etc) and therefore it is a lie to say that “anything will be yours if you want/work hard enough.” His chapter on Simplicity, ie money, is extremely challenging, along the lines of “Jesus was right about money but most American Christians don’t believe him.”
He gives extremely practical suggestions, and a lot of them. How rare this is!
I felt fairly smug at various points (not in the money chapter) when told not to do internet on my phone or spend all day on social media: HA! Technophobes win!
I have three main problems with this book.
- Since Comer is a pastor, and therefore leads a life that is by definition atypical, why does he (and he’s not alone) think he is the best person to write about Christian lifestyle? Occasionally he acknowledges that say, a single mother on benefits has a different life experience to him – but I didn’t notice him saying anything practically helpful to her. The almost contemptuous way in which he throws aside trade unionism and democratic socialism as a possible help in confronting society’s burnout nearly made me throw the book across the room. (It’s especially odd in that he is extremely sensitive to the issues of poverty in developing countries and the effect this should have on our purchases. Does poverty only matter abroad?)
- A similar point: like some of his friends, he seems to take the view that “what works for me is necessary for everybody.” Now I like being reminded of the spiritual disciplines, and was happy to be reintroduced to the concept of Rule of Life (initially by Scazzero) and Sabbath (as opposed to Day Off, which Comer quotes Eugene Peterson as calling the “bastard Sabbath”.) But then, like Comer, I am a rule person and an introvert. Does the author realise that he repeatedly implies “reading is good, TV is bad,” that he says getting up late and baking with your family are suitable Sabbath activities, but playing sport with your friends is not, that his hatred of Netflix is frankly obsessional?
- And then there’s that yoke. He contrasts the “gospel of America”, that one always needs more STUFF to be satisfied, with the “gospel of the kingdom”: “the good news that the life you’ve always wanted is fully available to you right where you are through Jesus.” “Whether you’re rich or poor, single or married, infertile or… (etc) you have everything you need to live a happy, content life. You have the Father’s attention.”
I’m sorry: is that the gospel of the kingdom? Or is it just part of it?
How can anyone write a whole book about Jesus promising an easy yoke… and never once mention that Jesus also said: “enter by the narrow gate, for the way is hard and the gate is narrow that leads to life,” or “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own life, he cannot be my disciple” and that James said “rejoice in your sufferings, for suffering produces endurance”?
Jesus came to give us life, yes. But a contented life, relaxed, unhurried?
There’s a reason this life used to be called a vale of tears. Christians are not exempt from this, and we have a particular calling to serve the suffering.
I know I’m being very negative. I do think that a modern Christian who reads (and not all Christians do) would benefit from reading at least one book by at least one of the five authors listed above. But you don’t need to read them all.
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