I just finished a book on the concept of a rule of life (The Common Rule by Justin Earley). I had heard some good things about John Mark Comer, a pastor in Portland (he also created a podcast called This Cultural Moment), so I ordered his book on the same topic, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.
There was a lot of overlap in concepts - my biggest takeaways from Comer were that if we don’t make time for God in our schedules, then of course we’re going to drift away from Him, and that we need to stop ourselves from assuming a frenzied pace of life lest we miss out on the best things in life. I understand this sort of internalized feeling of always being in a rush, always feeling like you’re running to catch up or make the most of such limited free time, feeling unsettled when I just barely miss the light rail and need to wait an additional 6-10 minutes. (Comer explains this state of hurry or busy-ness as weaving in and out of traffic or watching checkout lanes at the grocery store to ensure you’re in the fastest one and won’t end up wasting time). His thesis statement (which he takes from Dallas Willard) is that hurry is the biggest impediment to our spiritual health.
This book is currently a #1 bestseller on Amazon for Christian living.
About 150 pages into it, I started feeling like this book was really human-centric. (The first 150 pages were mostly him talking about the problem of hurry in our culture and explaining a little of his story and how he came to see it as a problem.) The book has God in it, but God isn’t quite the focus of the book - it feels like self-help and how to live a better, less hurried, more enjoyable life. Comer’s solution comes from and fits into the Christian framework, but doesn’t actually focus that much on God. It also felt like a lot of the reasoning behind Jesus’ command to “take my yoke upon you” was, well… because you want a better life, don’t you? And Jesus can give you a better life. There wasn’t any talk on our own sinfulness, more of just our limitations, and Comer seemed intent to steer away from any semblance of God’s authority. He says several times throughout the second half of the book that Jesus doesn’t command us to do anything - rather, Jesus just wants us to see how He lived and copy that.
I’ve heard people talk about “celebrity pastors” and I think Comer, whether intentional or not, ends up fitting the archetype. I’m not sure how to pinpoint where that feeling comes from. Comer is clearly very well read (he mentioned that he reads multiple books a week) and cites a wide range of often-obscure sources and is admittedly happy to keep coming up with new ways to describe old things that already have vernacular. He prefers the term “apprentice” to “disciple”, calls Jesus “rabbi” a few times, and calls the Bible the “library of Scripture” a few times. And I mean, I think it’s great to take a fresh look at the gospel and figure out what it means to express it in our culture today, in ways that are meaningful and poignant to us (and consequently, in ways that are going to resonate with other people), but I think the way Comer does it somehow leaves me feeling “John Mark Comer is really cool, and I could never be that cool.”
I was thinking of Comer in comparison to Tim Keller. Keller also pulls from a lot of cultural references and often non-Christian sources to drive points deeper. (Speaking of which, I just read a great line in the introduction of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making - “rediscovering the cultural context of the gospel… is actually the key to it being fully good news for us”.) Apart from that, I don’t think Keller really puts himself too much in his own illustrations or arguments. And so I don’t walk away from any of his sermons thinking “Tim Keller’s really cool” - it’s often, “I hadn’t thought about God like that before.” Or, “because Keller quoted from something else that I understood, now I feel like I have a new insight as to how the gospel is more complete than I previously realized.”
And compared to Martin Llyod Jones (whose only work I’ve read is Spiritual Depression, and even then, only a handful of chapters), Martin Lloyd Jones is very dense in Scripture-based content. When the content isn’t directly Scripture, it still feels like the bulk of his content is within one direct degree of separation from Scripture. Like his footnotes would be references to Bible verses. He’s essentially pulling out themes and applications that come from a broader view of Scripture.
Very little of the book is him talking about himself. I think that might be why Comer comes off as a big personality. People might come to God, but a big reason they do it is because Comer has put himself into the argument of why to believe (but maybe Philippians 1:15-18 ought to be played).
I can’t exactly comment on Comer himself or his other books, which I believe to be much more theological in content. I have listened to some of Comer’s church’s podcast and found that it has been helpful in talking about the need for Christians to do the hard work of cultural engagement.