Hatmaker, Brandon. A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016. 205pp. $22.99.
Brandon Hatmaker and his wife, Jen Hatmaker, have been making waves the last few years with their widely accessible and practical books. The topics are easily approachable with desired outcomes of living what you believe. Some books focus heavily on philosophy and higher thoughts while others are so practical that a bit more thinking would have proven advantageous. Brandon Hatmaker in A Mile Wide has provided both thought and practice for a life of rooted deep faith.
Basing his thoughts off the phrase first founded by Edgar Nye when describing the Platte River, “A mile wide and an inch deep,” Hatmaker discusses the downward slippery slope faith has been on for decades now. What was once a concern is now an epidemic worth of revolution. Too many have such a shallow faith and this faith has been feed not only by churches basing ministry and training on consumerist models, but on the people who continue to choose an easy path to faith.
Did not Jesus say the path was narrow?
Narrow doesn’t mean exclusive. All are invited. Narrow means that it will take work.
Back to the Platte River. Hatmaker refers to Nye, “Nye wrote that the river “has a very large circulation, but very little influence. It covers a good deal of ground, but is not deep. In some places it is a mile wide and three-quarters of an inch deep.” Christianity has a large number of adherents but is continually, year after year, losing influence.
Superficial faith only leads to superficial thoughts and actions. Hatmaker charges us to find a deeper faith to create more lasting and long term changes. To illustrate this, he utilizes Jesus’ discussion of the soils. He takes a familiar story and utilizes that familiarity to teach on what it would look like if we had deeper faith, deeper roots, and deeper change in our communities.
One of my biggest take always from the book was his family’s use of #FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). It resonated with me because my personality is one of going and doing all the time. If someone, like my wife, kiddos, and close mentors, didn’t remind me to slow down at times; I would continually go…go…go!
Why is that? Because I have this deep set fear of missing out on something. If we are honest we all do. It’s why we check email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, IMs, Pinterest, Internet Forums, and so much more every second we can because we do not want to miss out. We do not want to be the person with the dumbstruck face when someone reveals the news we missed. God forbid! So it drives us to stay connected.
Brandon Hatmaker hits the nail square on the head with this fear! He takes it even further. We stay busy for Jesus because we fear we will miss out on something. How can we set at his feet and know him and be taught by him? We have to be up and busy! This only leads to a mile wide of work and an inch depth of true discipleship.
In Chapter 3, he focuses on identity. What a needed topic for today. I have worked with youth, young adults, and young professionals for over a decade and this topic is up front more than any other. Where Hatmaker adds new thinking is on how to apply Colossians 3:1-4 to our identities, to have a more solid Gospel oriented identity.
Position One: We Died with Christ (Colossians 3:3a)
Position Two: We Are Hidden In Christ (Colossians 3:3b)
Position Three: We Live In Christ (Colossians 3:4a)
Position Four: We Are Raised with Christ and Glorified in Christ (Colossians 3:1, 4b)
“When hope in the gospel becomes our default, we will no longer find our identity in the things of this world; we will find it in Christ alone” (58).
Another highly challenging issue Hatmaker brings up is the idea that many if not most Christians actually do church well. We all know when to go to church. How to read our Bible. What small group to attend. Where to serve. Yet, we are not so good at more biblically rooted mandates. We struggle in our neighborhoods, with our private doubts, with our lake of transformation, and so on. These things rarely find time for us to focus and work on, unless of course it falls on the small group lesson calendar. We spend little time on them because we have no idea where to start. Again, this is where beginning with an identity in Christ guides us to begin to work on our weaknesses through quiet study, meditation, accountability, and planned thoughtfulness. All of these take more time, vulnerability, and depth, but they are of utmost importance.
“A shallow religion survives from event to event and program to program. A deeper faith is rooted in trusting relationships where permission is granted to struggle, fail, and take risks,” Hatmaker explains (113). For him, deeper community cannot be achieved without certain factors, and especially vulnerability, permission, and inclusivity. I agree, these are needed for any relationship to be more than surface or superficial. Being open and honest about who you are and allowing others to do the same is the most difficult and yet most rewarding thing you can do to form authentic community.
One other part that stood out for me was the seven steps he lays out for seeking justice. More and more people are moving away from what used to be labeled the social gospel and are joining social justice movements. These movements, some religious and some not, have grown exponentially over the last decade. Millennials are cause-based at their core and so this social justice movement will be around for a while. His seven steps are helpful in understanding how to seek justice on a personal level.
Step 1: View the Journey as Discipleship
Step 2: Settle Your Gospel Theology
Step 3: Learn to Love Mercy
Step 4: Gain a Biblical Definition of Justice
Step 5: Learn to Identify Need
Step 6: Encounter the Need
Step 7: Engage the Need in Community
All these steps are unpacked in the book, so to learn more…wait for it…buy the book! Honestly, for some, this chapter may be worth the purchase price. Trust me on this. Brandon’s previous book Barefoot Church is a true testament that he knows and lives out what he speaks about here.
Overall I give the book 5 stars!
The fact that ideas dealt with in other books are summarized here, newer and tested ideas are presented, and it’s all done under 200 pages makes this book not only approachable but easily used over and over again. Too many books are repetitive and weighted down with excess information. Not so here. Hatmaker’s switching back and forth from Scripture, theology/philosophy, to actions is also admirable. He could have chosen one or the other, but we should all be thankful he chose both! Further, each chapter has questions that can be utilized as a family or community to take their faith deeper.
I recommend this book to anyone who pastors or minsters to people. You must first deeper your own faith before helping others go deeper. I know that anyone who leads young people (teens and young adults) must read this and utilize it to raise up this caused-driven group of Millennials to make sure they join the right cause and do the work of those causes for that cause with Gospel-minded locus.“Jesus’ people are made up of everyone. He loves near and far, the normal and the weird. Click To Tweet
Brandon Hatmaker couldn’t have stated it better than that. As we begin to truly love anyone and everyone, we will start to see how our faith has grown from wide and shallow to deep and rooted! The path is narrow. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.