Every generation or so someone writes a go-to book for mid-teen Christians and young adults interested in Christianity that captures the tone and mood of the times.
20 or so years back that book was John Dickson’s A Sneaking Suspicion. Those of us involved in Christian youth ministry in Australia bought it in bulk and handed it out to anyone and everyone who crossed our youth group path. It’s still going strong and is in its fifth edition.
There’s a good chance this new generation’s go-to book will be Chris Parker’s equally excellent The Frog and The Fish: Reflections on Work, Sex, Technology, Stuff, Truth and Happiness After School.
And if the sell-out first print run, now being followed up by a second, is any indication, this book will prove, like Dickson’s did, to have picked the times and to have tapped into how young people think, what their goals in life are, as well as their fears.
As you’d expect, especially with the word “technology” in the title, it has been written in perhaps the biggest cultural transformation since the Sexual Revolution ensured that we’d put the word “sex” in the title of books for young people (or at least put that chapter first as Dickson wisely did).
For make no mistake, the Information Revolution has shaped the world of all that other stuff, including the Stuff of the title, beyond what we could have even imagined. Parker explores how technology has transformed how we think, not simply what we think.
And the title? The frog is the famous frog in the slowly boiling pot. It’s the lack of awareness about the culture were are in. Parker wants to alert young people to the slowly changing culture marinade, one in which the temperature is rising without them realising it.
And the fish? That’s the lack of awareness of anything existing outside of one’s own framework. So if you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish, right? This idea taps into the loss of transcendence our secular frame has experienced, and the uncritical acceptance by so many – including young people – that this is all there is to life.
What makes this book a stand-out is the plain, but vivid language, the lack of pretence, and the manner in which the biblical framework, culminating in the gospel of Christ is employed to explore these big questions.
It constantly points towards a better vision of the good life, a better life than what the culture can offer.
Chris does a great job at sketching out the various world-views and exploring briefly what they mean and what they lead to. He comes back to these constantly, putting each of the topics he discusses through their template. So, for example, how does a materialist view sex, or how does spiritualism shape our response to ecology.
There’s a humility to this book too, an honouring of those who think differently, but also a list of questions at the end of each section that push young people – all people – to think hard about why they believe what they believe and – just as importantly – why they do what they do.
The final chapter on grace provides the beautiful escape route from the angst and endless self-focus that leads so many down the rabbit hole in search of significance and self worth.
But perhaps the true – and timely – strength of the book is how well Parker engages with such pressing matters as work, the ecology, justice, and how the Christian community can make an age-to-come difference in small, but significant ways.
Parker has sensed the desire by many young people to be involved in something bigger than themselves and he makes no bones about the fact that the Christian community offers that.
There’s certainly some kudos too in being an author who studied river science, and who has not bought any new items of clothing since 2006; his way to reduce waste and pull himself out of the “buy stuff to encounter meaning” cycle that modern advertising puts us into. He’s practicing what he preaches.
Parker’s treatment of work is fantastic. That the subject of vocation and work is almost non-existent in the conversations of most churches is criminal, and for young people living in such vexing times, doubly so.
The tension of our times is that work is increasingly being presented as a way to find significance, but job-security is a precarious pursuit given how the digital age is sweeping so many mid-level jobs aside. This book’s treatment of that tension is a breath of fresh air.
In all of his topics Parker shows how finding our identity in Christ gives us freedom to enjoy the good creation without worshipping and serving it, and thereby being enslaved by its false promises. He pulls no punches about sin, or about God’s desire and plan for sex, but he does so in a way that makes us wish for something more than the shadowlands of our fallen strivings, whatever our sinful or sexual proclivities.
oh, and by the way, I happened to meet Chris Parker last week at a national conference, and despite the second hand clothes he looked pretty smartly dressed. We also ran a very hilly, rocky Parkrun on a very cold Canberra morning, so I just assume he’s got a hall pass to buy new trainers every once in a while.
There’s a humility to the man that comes out in the book, a humility he first met in the kingship of Jesus when as a teen himself, Chris became a Christian.