Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Greener Grass Conspiracy

One of the great benefits of running a blog and following publishers' blogs is that you occasionally get a free title to review. In this case, I got a copy of the short Crossway piece The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge.If that name sounds familiar, it's because he authored Game Day for the Glory of God. He is a Sovereign Grace pastor, so that should help you understand where he comes from.

The book weighs in at a modest 139 pages, 10 of which are front matter. It is divided into twelve bite-sized chapters, plus a short introduction. This made it the perfect book to take to the beach since I could honestly say "just a minute" to my three-year old son while I finished a chapter and then went to play with him. Each chapter ends with questions that would be great for a small group discussion.

The overall thesis of this book is that with the Fall came a conspiracy to discontentment. This started when Adam and Eve were not content with God's good provision in their lives. They chose to seek something more when they ate of the fruit. Of course, it's tempting to look down on them in hindsight, but we are no better. We think that they had it completely made in that they simply had to work the garden and avoid a single tree. What could be easier?

Altrogge makes the point that as recipients of the grace of God through the cross of Christ we are just as blessed as they were, but just as discontented. He gives a lot of examples that should hit home with men and women. He deals with the obvious examples for men like status and sex, but for women he discusses relationships. As a man who reads almost exclusively male authors I tend not to notice how strongly biased the illustrations tend to be toward men. It really stood out that Altrogge reaches out to women as well.

The overall tone is conversational and pastoral. I get the sense that this book could easily be a series of conversations over coffee. All the chapters but one open with a very short story that illustrates the point of the chapter. He uses familiar illustrations quite liberally throughout and they keep each chapter flowing. This makes the book readily accessible to most Americans.

Make no mistake, this is a book directed squarely at middle to upper-middle class Americans. This is a book for those who are living in the suburbs and have no serious trials in life. This is a book that will rock some worlds. Altrogge makes that clear by contrasting the trials of the typical American's life with those of people who don't know where their next meals are coming from. And by "typical American" I mean that he uses examples from his own life so that you really connect with him as you realize that although he is a pastor he is just a regular guy too. As with any good gospel presentation, Altrogge describes the situation we're in, explains the problem, and then gives the solution to the problem.

The solution is found in the cross of Christ. What it comes down to is that if we are saved then we need to understand what we've been saved from. We also need to realize the hope that we live for. Our hope is not in more stuff. It is not in relationships. It is not in affirmation from supervisors. It is in the hope of our eternity with Christ that was bought at the cross. This focus will help us overcome the conspiracy because we will realize just how trivial most of our life's pursuits really are.

If you've read any John Piper this should not be a new concept to you. If you've gone a step further and read some of the Puritans then this should not be new either. Altrogge has done a great job of taking Puritan writings and distilled them into an easy, popular form. The endnotes cite writers like Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Watson, John Calvin, and John Piper. If you know these writers you will recognize their teachings, but if you don't then this is a fantastic way to be introduced to them.

However, if you have read a lot of Piper or the Puritans then you can probably skip this one as there will be little new in it for you. As a future pastor, I plan on keeping this book on my shelf as a gateway to those kinds of authors though. I would love it if everyone under my care read and appropriated Desiring God or The Pleasures of God, but I know that won't happen. This slim volume should serve as an easy, accessible way to help folks change their thinking about the centrality of the gospel in all we do. If they want more depth then I can turn them on to Piper. But for the guy who is living Ecclesiastes 1-11, this book will be a huge help.

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