Review of “Buyer Beware,” by Janet ParshallBook Reviews — By Mackenzie Mulligan on November 8, 2012 at 7:00 am
Buyer Beware: Finding Truth in the Marketplace of Ideas was not the book I thought it was going to be. I don’t know what, exactly, I thought it was going to be: I just know that I had not expected the Introduction as well as the first several pages of the book proper to be dedicated to John Bunyan and his book The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the surprises continued from that point on. My experience with this book was a mishmash of positive and negative, and so I suppose my review will be the same.
I was eager to get into the real meat of the book. I quickly tired of Bunyan, his pilgrim Christian, and their journey through Vanity Fair, but when Jeremiah and the captive Israelites entered the picture in chapter 2, I found no relief. It took me a few chapters to realize I’d been chewing the meat for some time now: It was just a different dish altogether than what I had been expecting. Jeremiah, Israel in captivity, and Christian’s journey through the Fair do remain constant themes throughout the book, but Parshall uses them to good effect.
Shortly after introducing Jeremiah and noting the captivity of Israel in Babylon, Parshall begins introducing the basic premise of the book: The eternal kingdom of Heaven and the temporal kingdom of earth are, at this time, intermingled. We are primarily citizens of Heaven, making us exiles in a foreign land. But we are not just exiles, because an exile has no obligation to the land he finds himself in. We possess a kind of “dual citizenship,” as Parshall puts it: In light of that, how are we to live?
One thing that Parshall makes very clear is that we are to engage in our culture. She calls out those who deride cultural engagement and insists that the evangelical life of the Christian is not opposed to, but rather goes hand in hand with cultural engagement (she uses the life of Paul to great effect here).
And according to Parshall, this cultural engagement takes place in two fairly distinct ways. In Section 2, titled “Home Is Where the Heart Is–Or Should be,” Parshall says that God wanted the Israelites to “live, really live, even though they were strangers and aliens” in Babylon. Using Jeremiah’s words to Israel– “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” “Build houses and live in them.” “Plant gardens and eat their produce.”–Parshall makes the point that we, too, are to “really live” in the earthly kingdom. Although Parshall ends up trying to make these verses do much more heavy lifting than seems wise, she does make some excellent points on the necessity of really living in the world.
We are citizens of this earthly kingdom… and yet still exiles, according to the second half of the book. We are to fully live in this earthly kingdom, but we owe ultimate allegiance to our heavenly one, and it is from heaven that we learn how we are to live. Here, Parshall covers topics ranging from marriage and divorce to abortion and homosexuality, along with a surprising look at many contemporary heresies.
This section was definitely the most “mixed” of the experience. She mixes good, strong arguments with inflammatory, entirely-unsupported hearsay and anecdotal evidence. Parts of it seem unorganized, almost stream-of-consciousness, arguments being written down as they strike Parshall’s mind. At points she mentions strong, compelling arguments, but refuses to flesh them out, leaving them to fall flat at the slightest opposition. Her arguments on homosexuality are particularly weak: Insisting that Scripture is the inspired Word of God, without an in-depth look at what Scripture actually says, is worth very little in an argument.
And yet there are also many moments of compelling truth, strong arguments, and cutting observations. She calls out many modern “New Age” movements as “a little Scripture… cover[ed] with a layer of narcissism and mysticism.” She points out that the belief, so popular in today’s “spiritual but not religious” crowd, that we are gods, finds its roots in the garden of Eden. She notes various historical cultures of death and sacrifice, comparing them (with varying degrees of effectiveness) to abortion. She warns against the vanity that finds Scripture wanting by the modern, sophisticated senses of today. She also pulls many, many examples from history, both biblical and more modern, to make her point.
Ultimately, Parshall makes an very effective case for actively engaging the culture, for both living in it and seeking to change it for the better. Her points for the necessity of living out our “dual citizenship” are solid, and they’re especially welcome at a time when the balance seems to have become lost: Some Christians withdraw from the world, while others embrace it as if it was their home country. The first half of this book is a helpful corrective to this idea.
Unfortunately, when her time comes to argue for how that comes about, what stands we should take as citizens of heaven, her arguments too often fall short. They may well encourage those who already agree with her, and they may convince those Christians who merely haven’t thought a whole lot about it… but several of her arguments will merely irritate the opposition.
This book doesn’t work as a corrective to “liberal” Christianity in many respects. As an argument, much of it won’t stand up. But it really does shine as an exhortation to Christians to “really live” in the world, to work and make it better, to live as citizens of heaven and citizens of earth. If that’s what you’re looking for, then I can definitely recommend this book.
Thanks to Moody Publishing for a copy of this book for review. The review was provided free of charge, and is the sole opinion of the reviewer. You can follow the author of the book, Janet Parshall, on Twitter, or check out her website.