Yes, Holiness Does Require Effort
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness
August 31, 2012
160 pp., $11.57
I was surprised to learn on Monday that Christianity Today was running four reviews of my new book The Hole in Our Holiness. I consider it a sign of respect that they think the book deserving of this kind of analysis. I'm grateful too for the invitation to round out this week of reviews with a response of my own. Though I'm hesitant to respond—because rejoinders often appear (or are!) defensive and thin-skinned—I'll venture a few thoughts on each review.
Erik Raymond has written the sort of review every author enjoys. He understands the book, appreciates the book, and recommends the book. I'm particularly grateful that Raymond sees, and agrees with, my emphasis on grace-based effort and my use of various confessions. Since both of these points were criticized by others in this series, it's good to see not everyone considered these elements to be mistaken. I'm thankful for Raymond's kind, encouraging review.
Mark Labberton and Tyler Braun hit on different themes, but both have written the same sort of review. They like a lot about the book, but would have said more or less in some areas. Since the book was short, 146 under-sized pages, there is certainly more that could have been said about a number of important issues. Labberton wishes I would have said more about what lies beneath the biblical call to holiness (and our dismissal of it) and the public implications of a holy life. It's hard to know how to respond to this criticism except to say I addressed some of both, but could have done more. I could have talked more about consumerism and social justice and (especially) the kingdom, as Labberton suggests. I also could have talked more about abortion, statism, and religious liberty. Holiness touches on all of life, so almost any topic would have been fair game. As a pastor, I addressed the sorts of issues I see people struggling with most and the issues talked about most directly and most frequently in the New Testament. That leads us to recurring concerns with sexual immorality, relational sins, and vices associated with the breaking of the Ten Commandments.
Braun's concern is that The Hole in Our Holiness may be too much like "a seminary textbook" and not do enough to reach out to those far from Christ or falling away from God. He fears I may be too entrenched in a Reformed Christian subculture to relate to outsiders. I suppose all those critiques will hit the mark with some readers. Some people will think the book is too heady. Some people will think it references the Reformed confessions too often. Some people won't feel comfortable handing it out as an evangelistic tool. On the other hand, some people will think I've only skimmed the surface of a very deep topic. Some people in the Reformed community will think I haven't engaged the confessions enough. Some people will consider the book ideal for struggling sinners. It depends on your expectations. I'm not meaning to dismiss Braun's concerns, except to suggest that they strike me as largely personal preferences. He would have liked less interaction with the Reformed tradition and more emphasis on drawing "back to Christ those who are too lost in their own sin and shame to see beyond it." Not surprisingly, the latter is precisely what Braun sets out to do in his own book on holiness. The main critique with my books seems to be that I wrote the book I did instead of the book he did.