Holiness is a difficult topic to discuss. About halfway through the book I thought of my comments in a review of a book on Christian giving. “Just because there has been so much bad teaching on the theology of giving does not mean that we should not talk about giving.” And in this context, just because there has been so much bad teaching on holiness does not mean that holiness is somehow unimportant. In fact we mostly likely need to spend more time discussing holiness. Unfortunately authors and pastors have to deal with the bad teaching in order for the good teaching to make sense.
Tyler Braun is very directly attempting to communicate the importance of holiness to the Millennial Generation (although this is a beneficial book if you are not in that generation) because holiness has been so badly taught in the past.
There are at least three major points that I really appreciate from this book. First, holiness is not just new behavior, activities or spiritual disciplines. Holiness will likely involve actions by us as Christians. But holiness can not be created by us as individuals. Instead, more important than external actions are the internal affections. This is a point that is hit repeatedly, and necessarily, because so many of us have been taught that to be holy is simply a matter of doing what their particular Christian culture defines as holy. (Or more likely not doing what their Christian culture defines as sinful or secular.) It is not what we do that makes us holy. It is who we love that makes us holy.
The second important point for me builds on the first. The importance of sin is that it separates us both from God and from the right use of our affections. “Adam and Eve were created in the imago Dei (image of God) in order to work on God’s behalf in our world as beings in relationship with one another.” I know that many will disagree about this, but I find it theologically important that God has wrath against our sin because He is jealous for us. God wants the best for us because we are his children. But God’s wrath is not an inherent part of his character and make-up (in the way that we would say that God is Love). Braun does not spend a lot of time on Wrath as part of God’s nature or not. Instead he spends his time talking about God’s wrath as bringing about God’s justice. And the meting out of justice is something that we choose because we have chosen sin instead of holiness. Again, holiness is not an absence of sin, but the presence of love and affection for the Lord.
The third point that I found really important in this book is that holiness is not something that we should desire for itself. Holiness furthers God’s mission by reflecting God to those around us. The work of the church and the work that we do as individual Christians is hindered because of sin. Abuse of power or of people or other flagrant and public sins give people cause to reject Christ and turn away from their own holiness. That is why it is especially important that Christian leaders are focused on holiness. (Again, not as rejection of specific cultural actions but a focus of our affection on God.)
All of these ideas may help turn some Christians back toward holiness. But if we view holiness as a straight line, something that is easily attainable or something that we can do on our own, then we have missed the point. Holiness is something that we strive after, only upon God’s power. And it is more about intention than result.
The idea that kept coming to me as I read this is intention. I have rejected a lot of teaching on holiness because people were focusedon negative actions not on affection toward God. I was never a part of a church that was extreme in its rejection of the world. But I was aware and on the periphery of those that rejected cards or games or alcohol or dancing or movies or music not because of the actual state of our hearts and our affection for the Lord but because of the image that we might portray. I understand that for at least some there was a good intention. But if my heart was not tainted by trying to play a game of cards or by a desire to have fun at a dance or to enjoy the proper use of alcohol then those things were not hindering my holiness. And others’ judgement might actually hinder holiness more than any of those activities that I could do.
The problem is that identifying specific actions creates an idea that we can be holy by following rules instead of following God. Holiness is hard. Because there are no easy answers.
My only complaint (and it is a complaint about almost everything that I am reading out of the Evangelical world today; so it is probably more about me than about this book) is that I want more of the church. I want more Christian history, more theology from outside the Evangelical world to inform our thought on holiness.
If you are serious about really striving after holiness (as affection for God) and not just following a set of rules then this book will be useful. Braun does not give an easy set of rules. But he does give us a path to start down and that is really what we need.
A paperback copy of the book was provided by the publisher for purposes of review. I was only required to give an honest review of the book. According to Bookwi.se policy the paperback was given away after the review process.