Takeaway: God has created pleasure, we should not feel bad when we enjoy what he has created.
I have been puttering through this book for about eight weeks now. I started it, read a few chapters, then got distracted by some other books. Then picked it back up as my pastor started a series called “Guardrails” (itunes podcast link). In some ways, Pure Pleasure is the opposite of the point of the Guardrails series. But I like to read several books together in tension. I have been reading three different books on virtue and keep stopping one to read another to keep them in conversation.
The short version of the thesis is Christians were designed as spiritual, physical people. But too often Christians reject physical pleasures as “less than” or sinful. Instead Christians should embrace both physical and spiritual pleasures as a form of worship.
In the author’s words, “Here’s the great irony: Most people outside the church (and some inside it) think of holiness and pleasure as opposites. They see holiness as the main threat to their pleasure. What a lie! Holiness is pleasure’s truest friend.”
There is a tension in the book, while Thomas continually advocates for pleasure, he also agrees that there is a limit to healthy pleasure. I think that one of the good emphasis is about sin and good pleasure. “In short, whenever you begin to sense the allure of sin, it’s time to find a holy and healthy alternative.” Late in the book, Thomas illustrates the idea by talking about what this means, when you see yourself tempted to cheat on your spouse, is when you need to seek pleasure in your marriage.
Another illustration is in this quote, “We find biblical balance in the fourth commandment (the Sabbath). One of my seminary professors, Dr. Klaus Bockmuehl, reminded us that the command to take one day off follows the command to work six days. Some Christians focus on the six days and only grudgingly give in to the day off. Others treat every day like a Sabbath, forgetting to labor diligently for the six days. When we find the right mix between work and rest/play, we live in the same rhythm as the God who made us. He made us in his image and designed us to operate in his image. Any imbalance—toward either work or play—distorts God’s image and design.”
There are multiple chapters that I think are useful for most Christians. One is on alcohol and the passage about “causing your brother to stumble.” A second one is about the importance of family (and other relational) pleasures. Another one is about pleasure in the midst of pain. One quote that really hits me is, “I don’t mean to sound harsh, but honestly, we are very vulnerable in this world. Pain and suffering—whether emotional, physical, or spiritual—are not only common but universal.”
Toward the end of the book there is an extended discussion about the use of humor. Not only is it physically good for us, humor really can help us with the message of the gospel. “If Jesus used humor, then by definition God uses humor. And if God uses humor, then why can’t his disciples? If Jesus thought he could make a particular point better understood and more easily received with a slight chuckle, how dare we shackle contemporary teachers of his truth to the somber, the overly serious, and the humorless? Sometimes as believers, and certainly as preachers, we do take ourselves too seriously.”
On the negative side, the book can be a bit repetitive. A good editor probably could have cut 30-40 pages, but most books could be cut by at least that much.
This is one of the better books I have read recently. Gary Thomas also wrote the best book on marriage that I have read, Sacred Marriage. I am looking forward to reading more from him.