The Simple Life

The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture

David E. Shi, Oxford University Press, New York, 1986, 332 pages, $8.95, paper.

Reviewed by Reg Shires, pastor, Alexandria Seventh-day Adventist Church, Alexandria, Virginia.

Throughout their history Seventh-day Adventists have promoted a simple life style. As other Christians are taking a new look at the simple life, it becomes even more crucial for Seventh-day Adventists to rediscover its principles. But the simple life is hard to define.

In general, Christians have always advocated the simple life for believers. The Bible is filled with stories of individuals who chose the simple life over material excess. Shi analyzes the history of the Puritans and Quakers, and Americans in general during the Revolutionary and World War periods, to see how historic events influenced our thinking on the simple lifestyle. He does not, however, discuss the pietistic sects who follow the simple life today in certain geographical pockets. This is unfortunate because they offer models worth studying.

Shi's writing holds the attention, offering facts, comparisons, and insights valuable in understanding contemporary life. If you have wondered where your guilt feelings over being rich stem from, you will find much historical background here. Pastors may be inclined to relate to the challenge of the early New England ministers in dealing with those straying from the vision of the founders as prosperity breaks out over the land. The author shows how old beliefs and practices persist along with conflict in individual minds. The marketplace and workplace put heavy demands on us.

Living a simple life is a personal matter. Is it possible to live such a life in modern society? While Shi is not writing the usual how-to book so popular today, and though he is inclined toward simplistic answers to difficult problems, he does point us in the right direction. He states: "There is no cosmic guidebook to follow.  . . . As an ethic of self-conscious material moderation, [simple living] can be practiced in cities and suburbs, town houses and condominiums. It requires neither a log cabin nor a hair shirt, but a deliberate ordering of priorities [so] as to distinguish between the necessary and superfluous, useful and wasteful, beautiful and vulgar."


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Reviewed by Reg Shires, pastor, Alexandria Seventh-day Adventist Church, Alexandria, Virginia.

December 1988

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