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Review: The End of Secularism by Hunter Baker

Freedom from God is desirable only by those who wish for their own destruction. In fact, the desire for this freedom is what caused humanity to plunge into sin and death—so there is no reason to pursue it. But somehow, freedom from God in the political realm is the greatest pursuit. A society which is free from God and religion is the highest and inevitable goal of human society—and that is the heartbeat of secularism. According to secularism, human society flourishes when it is free of both God and religion so that we can focus on our fundamental interests, which we all supposedly have in common. History demonstrates that religion has resulted in only demise for human society—wars, division, and strife. Therefore, politics and the public square shouldn’t be guided by superstition or the supernatural. Moreover, as the human species progresses in knowledge and rationality, there simply is no need for religion anymore.

By observation of our surroundings, it would appear that secularism is indeed our inevitable destiny as a society, given its dominance in our government and among our institutions, colleges, and culture. But quite frankly—nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing more than a second glance at secularism is required to reveal that such an idea is far from the best option for a flourishing human society. Secularism is simply not the answer to the question of how we can function in society with so much plurality—and that’s what Hunter Baker establishes in The End of Secularism. Baker succinctly demonstrates that secularism offers no such neutral ground which it claims, and it is not something into which society must unavoidably drift. Instead, it is merely a disproportionate reaction to the numerous calamities resulting from church-state alliances in Western history.

Baker reveals that secularism fails to accomplish what it was designed to do—create and sustain social harmony without religion. Instead, the way to have social harmony is by valuing a public square that welcomes all voices into the discussions surrounding the interests of society. That is the only way to preserve free speech, religious freedom, and a democratic society. The title of the book is very fitting, for Baker explains the end goal of secularism and the end of it, because it is a poor idea coming to its death.

Summary of the Book

Baker accomplishes his goal in two major parts: history and rebuttal. In the first portion of the book, spanning chapters 1-8, he walks quickly through the development of secularism in Western history. Baker demonstrates through historical events and key figures that there has been a struggle for power between the church and the state, and how various solutions have been proposed for how to maintain balance between the two. In the second portion of the book, from chapter 7 to the end, he offers a reasoned rebuke of secularism as supposedly the best answer to this struggle. He evaluates and analyzes the results of the happenings of history and applies that assessment to America’s founding and current situation. The most powerful part of the rebuke comes in chapter 10 on through to the conclusion of the book, where he explains that secularism utterly fails to accomplish peace in human society.

Personal Impact

Prior to reading this book, I had not realized how much secularism dominates in the public square. It appears that any view which even smells of the Christian religion is marginal, while secularism is regarded as not only normal but noble. Separation of church and state has been misinterpreted as a comprehensive privatization of religion, and Baker powerfully demonstrates this in a way I had never realized before. I come away from the book with a new perspective on both secularism and religion.

A Few Issues

Although this book is probably the best on the subject, there are several things that could have made the book even better, in my opinion. First (and this may be a matter of opinion), Baker takes too long to get to the main point of the book. Obviously, the history in the first portion of the book makes a powerful and necessary point. But the book would have read much better had he woven the failures of secularism through the journey of history he explained. The beginning of the book starts by explaining some of secularism’s failures, but that is seemingly dropped until the second portion of the book. In the history section, there are hints here and there of secularism’s detrimental goals, but it isn’t as clear as it could have been. The meat of the book in the second portion was like eating a delicious supper you’ve been waiting for hours on. I feel like he could have at least given appetizers in the first half of the book.

Secondly, there appears to be no clear solution offered for how we can move forward with all of this information. It’s possible that this is not even part of the purpose of the book—but it would have made it better. The last page of the book (194) is the clearest explanation of what we should do regarding secularism:

“Pluralism is better than secularism because it is not artificial. In a pluralistic environment, we simply enter the public square and say who we are and what we believe. We make arguments that advert to religion or other sources of values, and they are more or less convincing on a case-by-case basis . . . In order to preserve our freedom to talk about him [God] in all that we do, even in politics, we need only respect others by seeking to persuade rather than to coerce. Surely that is preferable to replacing the organic heart of our civilization which a mechanical one.”

This is very general, however—a detailed plan would have been better. I don’t feel like there is sufficient application of the ideas presented in the book.

You Still Need This Book

Although there are a few shortcomings in this book, its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. The book is a much-needed rebuke of secularism. Christians who fear vocalizing their ideas in the public square should be emboldened by Baker’s unmatched work. He is the best person to write such a piece—he has been on both sides—once a secularist himself. And his penetrating words are timely—written in 2009 but written as though Baker could see into the future as our culture has become increasingly secularized.

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Review: Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

Burnout is a serious problem in Christian ministry. It occurs when you are at the end of your rope—when all of your emotional, physical, and spiritual resources have been used up and you are exhausted. It is a cunning problem too, both because we are often unaware of it until it is too late, and because we usually think we aren’t suspect to it at all. But anyone can experience burnout, especially those serving in ministry. Pastors like myself are keenly aware of this epidemic. We have experienced it in our own lives, and we have painfully witnessed it in the lives of others. Scores of pastors leave their places of ministry every year because of ministry burnout. On the other hand, some pastors get so close to the cliff that they nearly fall, but by God’s grace have been awakened and renewed.

Is there a way to maintain our ministry passion and work fervently without burning out? Or is there a way to recover from a serious burnout? Thankfully, Christopher Ash answers those questions in his book, Zeal Without Burnout. Christopher is himself a pastor who knows exactly the kind of damage that burnout can bring. Through solid theology, raw testimonies, wise counsel, and practical suggestions, Christopher tackles the problem of burnout. He makes us aware of the seriousness of burnout, equips us with tools to prevent it, and may even take some on a drive down the road of recovery.

Summary

The book’s main premise is simple: God is God and we are not. We are merely creatures of the dust and therefore we are fragile, very susceptible to the problem of burnout. And there are certain things that we need, which God does not. Chris says, “We need sleep, but God does not. We need Sabbaths, but God does not. We need friends, but God does not. We need food, but God does not” (p. 41). Preventing burnout starts with a recognition of these things that we need for day-to-day sustenance. Things such as sleep, Sabbaths, friends, and inward renewal are all things which God has given us to serve Him sustainably without fizzing out.

Chris introduces the book by describing his own experiences with burnout, then he makes a distinction between sacrifice and burnout—noting that they are different in nature. In other words, one can make a sustainable sacrifice for the Lord without burning out—burning out is not a sacrifice. Then Chris expounds on the truth of our human nature, that we are made from the dust of the earth, and the next four chapters are implications of that truth. First, Chris talks about how we need sleep and how lack of sleep can contribute to burnout. Second, Chris explains the need for us to take regular days off, or Sabbaths. If we work on Sundays (like pastors do), we need to intentionally plan whole days off for worship, rest, and refreshment. Third, he expounds on the need for us to have friends—friends that will help us share the load and recognize potential burnout in our lives. And finally, he speaks of the need for inward renewal, that we need both time with the Lord and time for leisure activity to refresh ourselves. He is worth quoting at length on this point when he says,

“It is good to develop a healthy self-knowledge about what energizes us—what the Holy Spirit uses to bring us that inward renewal. But these activities will never be enough on their own to bring us true spiritual renewal. Each of us needs our personal devotional times with God: times of Bible reading and prayer, times to be glad to be in Christ, times of thoughtful reflection before the Lord: times to be refreshed. It is not selfish to guard those times, any more than it is selfish for a firefighter to take a break before heading back into the fire. Indeed, if we do not give space for renewal, there will soon be nothing left of us to give” (p. 77).

The final portion of the book concerns a warning to stay away from self-centered motivation, an encouraging note to depend on the Lord for our labors, and an exhortation to delight in God’s grace and not in our performance. The conclusion of the book is perhaps the most practical part of the work—there, Chris suggests four simple and wise practices for preventing or overcoming burnout. There is one more chapter at the end of the book, which serves as sort of a footnote to the book—it’s a concise psycho-spiritual analysis of burnout. It helps with defining exactly what it is and it lists some of the warning signs that burnout may be approaching.

Conclusion

I give the book five stars because it is a biblical, concise, and real treatment of the issue of burnout. Also, you can’t go wrong with the length of this book. You could easily read through the entire book in less than a week – the book is mercifully short. That’s a good thing because the principles in this book need to be learned and implemented immediately. Finally, the book is very relevant. The book is filled with testimonies and real-life experiences. Testimonies impact you in a very unique way, and this book is replete with testimonies of individuals who have experienced and recovered from burnout.

It was like sitting down with a doctor—a doctor who’s had the disease before and is most qualified to treat it in others. I have begun to implement the principles of this book into my personal life and ministry so that I can remain zealous in my service without burning out. And I would highly recommend that all Christians read the book so that they can have a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice without burnout.

You can purchase Zeal Without Burnout on Amazon in these formats: Kindle, hardcover, and audio CD.