Here is a travel book with a difference.
Most travel books give information about a certain place. The good and bad hotels, the best restaurants, the sites to see. In The Road Trip Mark Sayers travels through the last 50 years of culture enlightening us on what’s happened to the West. Following the travels of Jack Kerouac, writer and experiential junkie of the 1950s, Sayers shows how Kerouac’s journey across America is now mainstream for the life of a Western young adult.
The book is in two parts. The first, offers a critique of young adult life in the 21st Century. The themes, illustrations, and connections between the journey of Kerouac and journey of today’s millennials resonates strongly. The second, turns toward the cross and gives broad examples of what the church must do to re-engage with young adults today. Following the journey of Abraham and centred of the cross Sayers describes how young adults can find true meaning for their lives.
Here’s what I liked about the book:
(1) The Cultural Analysis
In many ways Sayers depicts young adult culture; its aims, its experiences, its lack of meaning, its search for something better, its hopelessness, with compelling accuracy.
(2) The Writing
Sayers pulls you along with him. It’s hard to put the book down. There are illustrations, quotes, stories, and his own ideas, which keep you reading and reading. It’s a very well written book that enables you to travel the cultural contours with him.
(3) The Gospel
In part-two Sayers turns to how Christianity is to deal with this “culture of the road” that young adults seek to travel. The central answer to this ‘issue’ is the Gospel, which “reconciles us to God, others, and creation”. It is only through Christ’s death on the cross that gives meaning to this world and to this life. Therefore, it is this reality that provides the necessary answer to this “culture of the road”. It is an encouragement to see the explicitness of the Gospel within this book, and how it is the basis for further application.
(4) Morality and Covenant
These are two themes, among others, are tackled by Sayers toward the end of the book. They are themes put on the agenda for Christians and wider Western society to think through. Morality and covenant have both been thrown out the metaphorical window in recent time and so it is a good reminder to again reflect on these issues.
Here’s what could be improved:
I should say that I liked everything in the book. It was very good. There is much to take away and dwell on, particularly for those in youth and young adult ministry. It’s hard to come up with much in terms of critique or growth areas. However, when I put the book down I did feel there was something missing.
A couple of caveats:
First, I opened the book expecting big things. Maybe bigger than Sayers could deliver. I’ll name that.
Second, I recognise I’m involved in young adult ministry. I get to see the culture first-hand and affirm almost everything Sayers said about it. I believe these two factors affect my thoughts here.
However, toward the end I was wanting to know more. I was wanting to know what was next. I was wanting to know how to connect the young adult world of experience, journey, and meaninglessness to the worldview of the Bible.
I know I was offered suggestions; to bring back the transcendent, to bring back covenant, to bring back sacredness, to bring back commitment. In other words, to show that living the Christian life actually means giving up what the world offers and travelling the journey of God into full discipleship and devotion. This was made clear, I don’t want to deny that. Yet, this still leaves me hanging for more as I try to connect and apply these themes back to culture.
Since finishing the book I’ve worked out what I’m really asking. It’s the “How?” question.
How do we bring these themes back in a way that enables young adults to have a big vision of God and involved in His mission in the whole of life?
Maybe that’s not Sayer’s task here but mine as the practitioner. In any case, it’s left me pondering that task and something all of us should be pondering as we reach out to the young adults of today.
After writing this review Mark was kind enough to go back and forth on some of my thoughts. Below is an excerpt from our conversation and a reply to the “how” question. Many thanks to Mark Sayers for his time and willingness for this.
“…As I get around across the evangelical/charismatic/pente scene I notice that there is no one programmatic thing that is reaching young adults. Rather, it is the simple stuff in the book which I think is important e.g. covenant, living at the foot of the cross etc. I think because western young adult culture at the beginning of 21st Century seems so shiny and powerful we expect the answer to be so as well, but again I think that the answer is simple, humble obedience to Christ, simple non-sexy stuff that we already know. I have positioned our whole Church around this idea – no show, just less of us, and excitingly over time it is incredibly transformational…
…The other thing is that I often notice after workshops and talks that I do, describing western cultures journey to secularism and now post-secularism, that people become overwhelmed and want quick and easy answers. However, how do you reverse 500 years of this stuff in some simple ministry tips? I don’t think you can, it is going to take generations to turn things around in my opinion. No one likes to think of it this way but the questions of today’s young adults are essentially Hamlet’s questions at the dawn of the modern. We have a lot of work to do.”
2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Road Trip by Mark Sayers”
I haven’t managed to get through a single Mark Sayer’s book, because I always put it down feeling annoyed at the shallow and overly negative nature of his cultural analysis. You’re right Jon to summarise his analysis as focusing on the following — “it’s lack of meaning, it’s search for something better, it’s hopelessness.”But rather than finding myself agreeing with him, I keep getting annoyed at the whining and overly negative tone of Mark’s criticisms of non-Christian cultural mores. I rarely ever hear Mark say (when I’ve heard him preach/speak) or write “this is what is awesome about non-Christian young adults I know”. And yet, I’m constantly amazed at the generosity, grace and hospitality I experience among my non-Christian, young adult friends and family. Take my sister, for example: a non-Christian, and yet someone who has such amazing values and a love for the world. Her whole life is devoted to exactly the opposite of what Mark accuses young adults of: she creates meaning, searches for something better, and brings hope to the hopeless. After five years of working with NGOs in China, she now works in Broadmeadows teaching refugees English. Doesn’t sound like the meaningless, selfish ‘James Dean wannabe’ that I read about so often in Mark’s dribble. I’m just putting it out there: is the world of Australia Christian young adulthood all as bad as Mark makes it out to be? Why can’t we celebrate what is good about young adult culture, rather than just coming across as old foggies complaining about “kids these days…”?
Thanks for dropping by.
I can’t say I’ve had that experience in reading his books or hearing him speak. I will admit that there was one point in this book (towards the end of the cultural analysis) where I did wonder whether Mark was wanting to go back to the 1940-50s, perhaps to a “better time”. However, and of course I don’t speak for Mark himself, I sense that he is simply trying to find points of reference in the past that point to what is occurring now among young adults. History obviously teaches a lot of things!
I would like to think that he is seeing plenty of good and hope-giving activities that today’s young adults are doing. I’m sure he’d want to affirm those and recognise they’re there, your sister being one example. I hear what you’re saying but I tend to agree with Mark, out of this book, that most YAs (and I’ll include myself here, although the young part is quickly disappearing!) are on “quests” or “journeys” or “searches” for something greater than themselves. Hence the relevance of the gospel and the Christian worldview.
I do agree that there needs to be more promoted about the good things that young adults are doing throughout the world. Let’s celebrate young adults as much as critiquing them.