Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Book review: The Encore Effect by Mark Sanborn

Waterbrook Press once again sent me a book to review: this time, it was The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do by Mark Sanborn. (I was actually supposed to blog this review by last week, but I hope they’ll forgive me of it.)

There’s no doubt that
Mark Sanborn is an effective communicator. A motivational speaker and a Christian, Sanborn has built his business and reputation offering wholesome leadership and personal achievement advice, peppered with biblical truth and spiritual reflections. The Encore Effect follows this model exactly.

There is a lot of good advice in this book, and a lot of good examples of how to put the advice into practice, whether personal stories from Sanborn’s life, accounts of others historical or contemporary, or analogies. Following something of a modern-day Norman Vincent Peale approach, Sanborn offers a classic take on life: “you can do it! Here’s how to focus your time, energy, and attention.”

Therefore, someone who is doubting their capacity for living a full life might find this book a great encouragement. Others, needing a few nudges in the direction of the pursuit of excellence, may also profit from a quick read. (The book isn’t long, and it reads fast-- I found it no trouble to put away 40-50 pages in a matter of 15 minutes or so.)

But here’s my concern, both for Sanborn and for Waterbrook: the book is published by a Christian publisher, and I suppose that Sanborn may present himself as a Christian author (though his website doesn’t make any specific mention of his faith). But the book doesn’t do great justice to the connection to biblical faith-- and in some ways, it does harm to it.

Each chapter ends with a section called “Intersection,” typically containing a quote of a Bible verse and a brief reflection about how Sanborn sees that verse applying to the content of the chapter. But there are two problems with this: first of all, these verses were frequently taken out of context, and Sanborn’s reflections further distanced the verses from their biblical meaning. It is a too-frequent commitment of a common mistake: having an idea, then finding a verse that
appears to have some sort of connection to that idea, and claiming the verse is then a support for the idea. Sanborn’s ideas aren’t bad ones-- they may be a bit saccharine, but they aren’t bad-- but his claim of their support from Scripture IS bad.

Secondly, and on a larger level: the whole “intersection” idea bugs me. Too often, Christians relegate their faith to a compartmentalized, segmented aspect of their lives. The idea I get from Sanborn’s “intersections” is that he views faith this way, too: live your life-- you can be remarkable!-- and every now and then, what you do and who you are will intersect with biblical Christianity. The fact that Sanborn almost never incorporates Scripture or even people or events from Christendom in the rest of the book underscores this; he quotes from secular philosophers and even leaders of other religions more than Christian folk in the main body of the chapters. I’m making some judgements here about Sanborn’s views on faith that may be unfair, but they are based on the portrayal he has put before me.

The net effect is like trying to straddle the two worlds, and it doesn’t really work: taking something popular among the unbelieving world, frosting it with a bit o’ Christianeze, then re-presenting it as something new and better. This is the model that most Christian popular music applies, and the results are little-satisfying to either side. Or perhaps it is like co-opting “
Free Ride” or the chorus from “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” to be used as praise songs; it just doesn’t really fit.

The Encore Effect isn’t a bad book; like so many other self-help and motivational books, it offers some nuggets of truth. It would have been a much better book had Sanborn resisted the temptation to spiritualize it and present it as something that is Christian in nature.

My rating: 6-

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