Book Review ~ The Road Trip That Changed The World, by Mark Sayers.

Karl Barth used to teach his young students to read the Bible and the newspaper at the same time, so that they could interpret culture through the grand story of Scripture.

Mark Sayers is a champion at this.

The Road Trip That Changed The World is a diagnostic narrative on the lightweight spirituality we inherited from Jack Kerouac, who, in his novel, On The Road, reacted against the conformity of the 1940’s by abandoning home, family, and place in search of the unfettered freedom of the road. But even if you haven’t read Kerouac’s definitive work on the Beatnik generation, you are certainly affected by it along with the rest of our culture. Ever wonder why American Christianity seems so lackluster and flimsy? Well, this is a book you should read. Sayers gives extensive treatment of Kerouac’s worldview–known hereby as “The Road”–that wound up affecting the spiritual climate of Western culture with consumerism, individualism, and a thirst for change. Charting this affect as it ripples through decades of both secular and Christian culture, a reoccurring theme in The Road Trip is that people today want a spiritual experience without being shackled down to the spiritual requirements. This “on-a-journey-with-no-destination” mentality paved the way for the Sixties, and post-Christian America, creeping all the way to the coast, with California symbolizing a dead-end to a spiritually frustrating road trip. In what Sayers describes as our endless search for the next “woosh” moment, life became a series of cheap thrills with no backstory.

The book begins with an illustration of a fork in the road which helps bring together two major sections.

The first section is the diagnosis. He presents the road of unrestricted hedonism that our culture is following. Chapters 5 through 15 work out some of the less desirable implications that go with the journey on “The Road.” Sayers is a masterful story-teller, so you never feel like you’re sitting through a history lecture. It feels more like theatre. In Seinfeld-ian style, the reader is drawn through vignettes of American culture, before piecing them together into an image revealing how deeply this generation is hurting. One of my favorites was his portrayal of Sayyid Qutb, whose religious devotion provided a contrast to Kerouac’s shallow excesses. These vignettes all serve as indictments against the thin spirituality so common in our culture.

The second section is the prescription. Sayers directs the Christian on a different road with the cross in view. He calls for consumeristic Christians to come back to the gospel, and the rich practices of historic Christianity. Sayers pleas for a church with “believers who are deep”(267), in an attempt to peel back the lid that has stifled the Christian imagination. He often explains the worldview of “The Road” alongside destructive facets of contemporary culture that came as a direct result. While his conclusions are more broad and immeasurable than I was hoping for, it was still a much-needed call for returning to the self-denial that used to identify a disciple of Jesus. And throughout these 271 pages, the visible backdrop of the gospel looms, with a hope that transcends cultural and social norms by evoking our hearts with a greater story.

You can purchase the book here.

You can see what else I’ve been reading…

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the value of our union with Christ in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on December 8, 2012, in book review, community, Culture, reading, realitysb. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. “People today want a spiritual experience without being shackled down to the spiritual requirements.”

    That is so true! Sounds like an interesting book. Kevin DeYoung has a similar chapter in “Why we’re not Emergent” called Journey: Are the Pilgrims Still Making Progress. While there’s a good measure of truth to the notion of spiritual journey it shouldn’t disregard the many certainties that aren’t negotiable or up for interpretation.

    For all the collective journeying our culture is doing now, somehow it seems a bit flimsy compared to the Sixties counterculture. I think we like that idea of unrestricted journey and freedom but don’t really believe in it. If the Sixties taught us anything, it’s that people need a destination. We eventually need a period, a purpose, not an eternal question mark.

    I wonder if this is where the whole “the meaning of life is whatever meaning you ascribe to it” or “the meaning of life is to create a compelling narrative” thing came from. Narrative value versus moral value. Does he discuss that?

    • Kyle,
      That’s a major underlying point Sayers makes on Kerouac’s influence:

      “By seeing life as a journey we can enjoy the moral cost-free benefits of secular living, but then later can Photoshop a layer of meaning over our lives by recounting our experiences as part of our life journey” (p.48)

      • If that quote is typical of Sayers, I might just have to pick it up! You’d like this NY Times article from a year back called the Meaningfulness of Lives. I did a post on it back then, but it’s interesting to me that “meaningfulness of lives” is replacing “meaning of life.” The argument is that as long as your life tells a compelling narrative it is meaningful. The Photoshop layer analogy is a telltale illustration of postmodernism and multiple ‘readings.’ Thanks again for the review.


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