I found this book to be really fantastic and inspiring. Not only did it present some ideas that we seem to just be hearing about now (the embodied apologetic?), but it was well written with a lucid and enthusiastic style. Alexander got me all riled up when I read it the first time and I still go back now and then, ecspecially to chapter 8. Fantastic chapter. Occasionaly, I found the first portion of the book to drag, as I as already aware of much of the historical info, but it was necessary for showing part of his argument. And in any case the rest of it was great as a whole and in tiny tidbits. It was terrific. I don't really know what to say. The other person who wrote a review really missed the point of a lot of it, I think. Ecspecially the part about Julia Roberts and Arnold S. (which i won't go into, but it was about the value of stories and the story schemes and characters that are prevelant in today's western culture.) As well, perhaps the only part I didn't like was the title, which i found a little cheesy at first, but with a book like this inside it, who really cares? John! Keeping writing more stuff, it's wonderful, entertaining, and more importantly inspiring and truthful. Read this book. Period. The end.
A confessed disciple of the late Francis Schaeffer (the Calvinist philospher/theologian), the self-styled counter-cultural evangelical John F. Alexander seems to have moved around quite a bit in the 1970s and 1980s. And not just from one physical locale to another, either. Intended as a prophetic critique, TSS was published in 1993 when the author was 52; he says he worked on it starting in 1984 -- 8 years.
With the progressively evangelical IVP (its reputation in the 21st century, anyway) as the publisher, and "secularism" rising as a critical issue in the US and the West, I decided to give this 21 year-old cri-de-coeur a try. I found my copy this past weekend at a Christian thrift store in mint condition. Perhaps, I thought, Alexander was staking out this issue early on before heavyweights like the philosopher Charles Taylor made their pronouncements.
The previous owner of my book had underlined in yellow marker Alexander's points that sparked his/her interest, but stopped at page 27. I can see why. (and please DO read all the way through my review for a surprising conclusion about Alexander)
While the author expresses his gratitude to mentors Schaeffer and Basil Mitchell, he is incapable of making a sustained and developing critique, or writing in complete sentences. Indeed, his superficial complaints/accusations about American society recur page after page, with virtually no meaningful analysis.TSS reads like a mid-life spiritual and intellectual crises that never got resolved. The author strikes me as someone who was ready to take the next step, but was confused about where that might lead.
Like many Schaeffer-ites, Alexander is overly fixated on works of art as big signifiers of what is right and wrong with a culture. This leads him to force a polemical comparison between a 17th century Rembrandt Crucifixion painting (signifying a good culture!) and an Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup can painting from the 1960s (you guessed it). From then on, Alexander repeatedly uses the Campbell's soup can as an image of what's wrong with American secular culture. "How much can you expect of an age whose icon has been squeezed down to a soup can? (p. 27)" Huh? American consumerist culture is certainly due for a critique, but awkward, ham-fisted and off-the-mark analogies end up being unintentionally funny, and discredit Alexander's critique. No one I know, if they bother at all, thinks of a Campbell's soup can as an icon.
Alexander closes his critique with a metaphor of absence: we've left God out of the picture in our secularized age. Awkwardly, he claims we've invested our ultimate meaning in science, the family, self-help programs, etc. He's on target when he says we should sink our "taproot" into God's story, and he is correct to discern that supplanting secularist ideology with the Gospel view will be a gradual process. We don't become obedient and effective believers at the moment of our conversion or even repentance. There is a lot of unlearning to do as we work out our conversion. On p. 276, Alexander falls into a Schaeffer-ist trap of the simple solution, e.g. ALL we have to do is read the Bible and, well, things will work out for us. Problem is we live in a POST-MODERN secularist milieu. We have to reckon with that ecology before we can order a forced march back to our Gospel Sources. And then we need to drink slowly, deeply from these sources to discover the flavors that we previously missed.
Alexander was not yet close enough to the "promised land" of a 21st century mission to see this. Dimly, but accurately, he recognized the challenge of secularism. But he did not live long enough to learn of the rising ideas about the "emerging church" or the "missional church" and participate in that discussion. He could not anticipate the rise of post modern Christian theology and the greater flexibility it gives Christians in living out the gospel. And it is a blessing that he did not live to see the fall of Schaeffer, and his subsequent misuse by far right wing political fundamentalists.
(Since its original publication in 1993 and Alexander's death in 2001, his supporters decided it needed a re-appearance, securing a re-print by Wipf & Stock 12 years after IVP issued it -- apparently without any revisions. Alas, this did the deceased Alexander no service; sad thing is that TSS was even more irrelevant in 2005. However, the REAL and more authentic story of Alexander's faith journey began AFTER the publication of TSS: he dropped out of sight, and devoted his work to a house church in San Francisco and racial reconciliation. Let's remember him for THAT work, a gracious, future-leaning labor that got him just across the threshold of the 21st century to grapple with the "gospel on the ground.")
changed my life. deeply moved. thank you Mr. Alexander! can't stop talking about this book to everyone i know. and yet speechless at what to say for a review. But i hope this book impacts everyones life, the way its massively impacted mine.
The Secular Squeeze: Reclaiming Christian Depth in a Shallow World. What a fantastic title, I thought to myself as I snatched the book from the bookshelf at my local Christian bookstore and raced hurriedly to the checkout counter. I could hardly wait to get back home to my easy chair and begin reading this tome that seemed to echo my take on modern civilization in These United States. I was anxiously looking forward to partaking of the views, insights and philosophy of a person who would be so moved as to write a book such as this. Sadly, after completing the book, some 307 pages later, I'm still waiting. What a letdown. With such an incredible piece of subject matter, how could a book such as this not be exciting? Well, truth be told, it was as flat and shallow as the secular world it was trying to describe. Yes, modern society has lost its spiritual base and is totally caught up with the acquisition of things and the idea that "it is not enough for me to succeed, you have to fail", but there was little more than cursory reference made to this. Mostly the book was made up of weak analogies and philosophies run wild. If reference was made one more time to Andy Wharhol's paintings of soup cans, or Arnold Schwarzenegger or Julia Roberts as being symbols of what is right and what is wrong with modern civilization, I think I would have screamed. The Schwarzenegger ("Total Recall") and Roberts ("Pretty Woman") references were meant to mean their movies I gather, but the reference was to them as people rather than actors playing roles. Schwarzenegger was depicted as what is wrong with society, when in fact he would be a stellar role model for anyone. He has a good marriage, great kids and is a good citizen. Julia Roberts on the other hand was depicted as what is right. Am I missing something here? She's a good actress, but has had serious problems with relationships. Then again, elsewhere in the book, the references to these two seems to flip flop. But flip flopping seems to be a major problem with the book. Every time I thought I'd caught on to where the book was heading, it doubled back and ran in the opposite direction. The author got so caught up in right-brained/left-brained diatribe that I often lost the point of what he was saying - but maybe that's because I'm just to the left of middle-brained and don't look at any one thing from totally one perspective. The author also needs to understand that many words do not a point make. Over three hundred pages of utter drivel could have been reduced to about twenty pages of possibly meaningful dialog - I think. In short, John F. Alexander, do us all a favor. Please don't write a sequel.