David A. Booth
7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind, by Anthony Selvaggio. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011, 126 pages, $11.99.
God cares about our minds and calls us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Yet, while Christ is renewing our minds with his Word, the world is polluting our thinking through words and ideas of its own. What makes these worldly ideas so dangerous is that they are frequently taken for granted. Anthony Selvaggio, an RPCNA minister and visiting professor at Ottawa Theological Hall, wants to put an end to that. He has written this short book to expose the toxic ideas of our culture to the light of God’s Word. The seven toxic ideas that he examines are technopoly, neophilia (an inordinate love for what is new and a disregard for history and tradition), egalitarianism, individualism, materialism, consumerism, and relativism.
Selvaggio writes in an engaging manner and peppers the text with apt quotations and illustrations. The book rightly maintains that the root of worldliness is in our minds and emotions:
While external behavior practices do matter, the real battle to avoid worldliness occurs internally, in our hearts and minds. While we have been consumed with external matters, worldliness has gained a foothold in our thought processes. Satan has been very successful in getting us to think like the world. (11)
The chapters on technopoly and consumerism are particularly strong, and all of the topics addressed are worthy of careful consideration. Every congregation would benefit from grappling with the subject matter of this book.
Regretfully this work bears the marks of being hastily written and contains occasional, presumably unintentional, theological lapses. For example, Selvaggio asserts that “our present earthly bodies are not as important as our souls because they have different destinies” (86). By contrast, historic Christianity confesses the resurrection and glorification of the body rather than its disposal and replacement. Our bodies and souls share identical ultimate destinies. This book also reflects an eighth toxic idea which is polluting our minds: the belief that complex subjects can be treated in ever shorter and simpler ways. Trying to address topics like neophilia or egalitarianism in less than ten minutes may comfort the already convinced, but it is unlikely to bring about meaningful change in anyone’s thought or behavior. Furthermore, this approach easily moves from simple to simplistic with the result that opposing viewpoints are distorted beyond recognition. For example, Selvaggio asserts that “egalitarians genuflect before the idol of equality. For them, equality is all that matters, even if equality must be enforced by the iron fist of the state” (53–54). While that may describe some egalitarians, it is difficult to imagine prominent Christian egalitarians, such as Gordon Fee, F. F. Bruce, and Roger Nicole, being so sanguine about “the iron fist of the state.” Due to these shortcomings, it is difficult to commend this book as one to be handed out or placed on a literature table in the back of the church.
In spite of the above reservations, this book provides an excellent framework to help a minister or elder teach through these well chosen topics. It would be extraordinarily time consuming and utterly unnecessary to prepare a series on these topics from scratch simply because this tool is less than perfect. It would be even worse for a congregation to leave these topics unexamined while waiting for a better book on the subject to come along. The pastor or elder who lightly edits the contents of this book and then supplements that with the Larger Catechism’s teaching on the Ten Commandments will bring great blessing to those he teaches.
David A. Booth is an Orthodox Presbyterian minister serving as pastor of Merrimack Valley Presbyterian Church in North Andover, Massachusetts. Ordained Servant Online, April 2013.