Book Review: The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge

Whether you know it or not, you’re a part of a conspiracy—one that isn’t driven by government agendas or secret clubs with special handshakes, passwords and rituals that aren’t that far off from hazing new recruits to the fraternity.

This conspiracy is much more insidious because it’s driven by our discontentment.

Discontentment is sneaky, taking often perfectly good desires and making them our gods. We can’t live without them, we sacrifice for them. The greener grass on the other side of the fence never satisfies.

That’s why Stephen Altrogge has written The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence. In this book, Altrogge offers readers a helpful and biblical look at how gaining contentment frees us from our idols to appreciate the blessings that God has already given us.

My wife, Emily, and I took a few minutes to discuss our thoughts on the book and share a few of our own struggles with the greener grass conspiracy:

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Continuing with the theme of contentment, if it’s true that as Altrogge writes, “Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be” (p. 28), I suspect we’re all in a lot of trouble because, if there is nothing that happens to us that falls outside of God’s will, then we have no grounds for complaining. And, Altrogge explains, “God takes complaining very seriously.”

It’s not a little sin in his eyes. In Bible times, people died because they complained against God. People who murmured against the Lord were playing with death. Complaining is serious business.

Complaining is like smoke. Smoke proves there’s a fire somewhere, and complaining proves that discontentment is nearby. Discontentment and complaining go hand in hand. If we’re going to kill discontentment, we need to kill complaining. And if we’re going to kill complaining, we need to get our minds around why complaining is so wicked. (pp 102-103)

Being confronted by The Greener Grass Conspiracy on this particular sin is something that I really needed. More often than not, I find myself complaining about really stupid things (which in turn feeds the “if only” game). Just the other day, it happened while we were driving to the walk-in medical clinic when we discovered our youngest had pink-eye. It took me a couple minutes before it even registered that I was doing it; but as soon as I did, if felt like I’d been hit with a hammer.

Moving (briefly) from content to style, Altrogge’s got a fast-paced writing style and an engaging sense of humor; these really help the reader get pulled into the content. Just as a rule of thumb, if a reference to Star Wars sheets and Star Trek flannel pajamas appear in the same book, you know you’re in for a good time.

Altrogge’s humor also sets you up for a few unexpected twists. Here’s one example:

Altrogge describes himself as a very needy person. He writes, “According to renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ if I don’t receive food, shelter, love, sex, self-esteem, self-actualization, and the NFL Sunday Ticket from DIRECTV, I’ll be a very unhappy person who spends his days panhandling for change on street corners.”

He continues:

But Maslow was way off. I need much more than self-actualization. Let me tell you what I really need to be happy. I need to own a house that has a sprawling backyard surrounded by friendly neighbors who are fond of giving me monetary gifts and/or T-bone steaks and is located in a neighborhood that is drug-free, bully-free, and speed-walker free. And I would like that house right now, if you don’t mind.

I need a salary that gives me the freedom to buy whatever I want . . . . I need career success, which for me means having a church that is packed to the rafters every Sunday. . . . And I really need some rest…

If the apostle Paul and I happened to be best buds and were sitting in Starbucks sipping Venti cups of coffee and discussing my needs, I think he might lovingly and gently throw his coffee in my face. Not in a sinful way, but in a way that says, “I care.” (pp. 75-76)

When I read that, two things happened:

  1. I was glad I wasn’t drinking anything because it might have come out my nose
  2. The image of Paul throwing coffee in Stephen’s face really brought home the reality that life isn’t so bad, if you actually stop and pay attention to all the good things God has done with you, through you and for you.

True contentment—the kind that will actually last no matter what situation you find yourself in—doesn’t come from getting stuff, but it comes from a Person:

It’s not found in getting what we want or in having difficulty removed from our lives. Contentment isn’t the result of the absence of pain or the presence of material blessing. It’s found in Jesus Christ. Period. Without Christ we can never be truly content, regardless of the blessings that surround us. And with Christ we can be content in the midst of every circumstance. (p. 87)

We must not grow weary of hearing this message, not in a “convince ourselves it’s true” kind of way, but facing the truth that our hearts are prone to wander and we will pursue contentment and joy in anything and everything other than our Creator left to our own devices. I’m grateful that Stephen Altrogge decided to share this message in The Greener Grass Conspiracy. I trust you, likewise, will be grateful as you read it.


Title: The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence
Author: Stephen Altrogge
Publisher: Crossway (2011)

A complementary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.

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  • http://mrben.jedimoose.org/ mrben

    Loving the goatee! ;)

    Interesting review – it served as an interesting counterpart to my current read (“Crazy Love” by Francis Chan), and made me wonder about the fine line between “contentment” and “comfort”, and also being content in all things, but also being spiritually hungry for more.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      It’s definitely a tough balance. I’m still wrestling with that same balance of being content with whatever I’ve got materially (whether in abundance or need), yet having a holy discontent in my desire for more of God.

      When reading books like Crazy Love, I almost have to wonder if it’s the necessary “overcorrection” in some ways (although much of it is simply necessary correction)—because we’ve been too apathetic in the past, we overreact in the opposite way, yet are still equally unhealthy. (At this point I’m just kind of thinking out loud, so I’m not really sure where I’m going with this…)

  • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber

    I agree that having a heart of complaining and discontent is a sin, but we also see from the Bible that God is gracious and listens to our problems. The Psalms are primarily David bellyaching, and David was a man after God’s own heart – many would say precisely because of his earnestness. Job also freely aired his troubles to God and was not condemned. Jesus himself expressed to God that he wasn’t happy with his circumstances, but was willing to face them if it was God’s will. I think this is an important distinction to make becuase some go too far in believing that we need to “pretend” with God, when we see from Scripture that God does want us to be content, but that he also is a God who listens to our cries.

    I also think that saying that every situation is God’s will and it’s a sin to complain against God’s will is an oversimplification. Yes, God *allows* situations and in that way they are his “will.” But we clearly know from Scripture that both Satan and sinful human will are making choices that are not God’s (husbands cheat on wives, children are abused, etc). Saying that all bad situations are God’s will leads people to believe in a God who is all powerful, but not all good. God is both all powerful and all good.

  • http://www.craighurst.wordpress.com Craig Hurst

    Aaron, you and your wife remind me of what my wife and I would look like if we were to do a book review together…..uncanny!

  • http://www.blamelewis.com Chris Lovie-Tyler

    Now that sounds like a book worth reading! Contentment with what I have—and who I am—is a theme that recurs with me regularly. Imagine what the world would be like if we were all content ‘on our own side of the fence’!

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  • http://twitter.com/JeremiahFyffe Jeremiah Fyffe

    I did appreciate the humor that ran throughout the book. The fact is that he was tackling a very serious topic that should touch a very sensitive nerve. His humor helped to keep us sane as we read. I particularly like the appearance of King Solomon. I mean, I need that guy to help fund my church plant.

    I’m giving away a copy of “The Greener Grass Conspiracy” at http://tgthr.co/gl

  • http://twitter.com/JeremiahFyffe Jeremiah Fyffe

    I did appreciate the humor that ran throughout the book. The fact is that he was tackling a very serious topic that should touch a very sensitive nerve. His humor helped to keep us sane as we read. I particularly like the appearance of King Solomon. I mean, I need that guy to help fund my church plant.

    I’m giving away a copy of “The Greener Grass Conspiracy” at http://tgthr.co/gl

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