- Paperback: 144pgs
- Publisher: Crossway Books (April 7, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1433521156
Thanks to Crossway for providing an advance review copy of this book!
I haven’t yet mastered the art of embedding videos, so here’s the link to the trailer for this book: “Greener Grass Conspiracy” Trailer – Stephen Altrogge
Stephen Altrogge is a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA. He helps lead worship, preaches, and works with college students. He has also authored Game Day for the Glory of God.
I can’t really think of anyone who shouldn’t read this book. Jesus probably has a good enough handle on the subject matter to get a pass. I suppose if you’re name starts with “Saint” you might also be off the hook. Everyone else though can benefit from reading this book on contentment. Including I think, people who are not yet believers.
This book is fairly short, but I think the slim-ness of it is perhaps a deceptive ploy to lull you into thinking it’s just gonna be another fluffy book on Christian living with little to say. Well, as you should have learned from the Puritan Paperbacks, sometimes it is the smaller books that pack the biggest punch. The Greener Grass Conspiracy is no exception.
The format of this book is great. The chapters are fairly short and at the end of each is a section labeled “Stop-Think-Do,” which provides questions and activities for reflection. My wife is going through this book a little slower and journaling about those sections and she has loved it so far.
For me, I didn’t realize how discontent I had gotten in some areas until reading through Altrogge’s book. I am grateful for his wit and humor in pushing the reader towards recognizing areas of discontent as well as mapping the gospel onto them and providing a Christ-centered solution. The solution is not a particularly new one. You have been given Christ, any sustained dissatisfaction is a form of discontentment.
The advantage then of this book is its style. Altrogge’s humorous one-liners and witty style is disarming (in a good way) and so makes this a more inviting read than some of the classic works on contentment that are available to the Christian reader (like this collection which includes two of the sources Altrogge uses extensively). That, in part, is why I would say this book can be recommended to just about anyone, Christian or not, and will draw them in quickly.
To survey the chapters briefly, chapter 1 asks why we are so unhappy, especially given all that we have (we being Americans, or if you’re from Texas, ‘Mericans). Well, actually before that, the introduction suggests that a conspiracy might be afoot to steal our contentment (which it certainly feels that way). Chapter 1 then begins the case that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to remaining content in whatsoever state we find ourselves. Chatper 2 continues the thread by gently reminding us that we are not the center of the universe. Creation does not sing the glories of Nate, they sing the glories of God.
The best line, well one of the best lines in the book comes in chapter 3 where Altrogge asks “Do I need to become a silent vegan hobo workaholic to be truly content?” The answer of course is “What?” He is referring, to the restrictions placed on monks, and chapter 3, eschewing life in the monastery, defines contentment as “A disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be.” This definition comes from Jeremiah Burrough’s book on contentment (see above link) and the rest of the Greener Grass Conspiracy applies to 21st century living.
Chapter 4 explores idolatry and how easily captivated we can become by created things, even good ones. Chapter 5, using a great opening illustration with King Solomon, observes the various lies we tend to believe that undercut contentment. Chapter 6 gets to the heart of the matter and discusses the gospel and how contentment has been made possible because of Christ’s person and work on the cross. Chapter 7 points out effectively that we have to “learn the skill of divine contentment.” It is not natural for us, and some people learn it easier than others. Chapter 8 explores Paul’s secret of contentment, which comes from Philippians 4:11-12.
The books starts winding down in chapter 9 which argues against any legitimate reason to complain about anything. Chapter 10 urges us to literally count our blessings as a way to remind ourselves how blessed we really are. Chapter 11 details more clearly how suffering and contentment are related before the book comes to a close with chapter 12 exploring the eternal state.
I find that I resonate with Stephen Altrogge on a number of levels. We both seem to like sports, we are both musicians, and we were both home-schooled. He uses several short illustrations from his past home-school experiences which for me illicit a much more vivid image than I would suspect it does for most readers. I read a lot of books, and this is one of the handful books I have read in Christian living and theology that I really enjoyed reading. I mean I like dry and dense theology books, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that reading them is enjoyable in the same way reading a Bill Bryson book is. With Altrogge’s book though you get sound theology and a witty style that makes it an enjoyable, engaging read.
The only criticism I have of the book is actually in the last chapter. I didn’t think it was clear whether this world was our home, or whether heaven is our ultimate home. Personally, I hold the former view, and the while it is in the process of being redeemed, this world is in fact our home and heaven is what we’ll just be passing through until the new heavens and earth (if we die prior to the second coming of Christ). In that light, I don’t think the place we are homesick for is heaven, but is rather a restored and renewed earth and to be in the presence of Christ. This may just be a minor theological quibble, but it seemed to me that Altrogge affirmed my point, but also argued for heaven as our ultimate home.
In either case though, the position you take here does not affect the applicability of the earlier parts of the book. The final chapter ties everything together nicely, and if you hold a different position you can still appreciate and apply everything up to that point. Overall this a great book and I hope it gets read widely!