Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness

By Jerry Bridges, 253 pages softcover, Navpress.

The Discipline of Grace offers a terrific introduction to basic evangelical theology, something that the author calls a necessity given that few evangelical leaders, in his opinion, have a sufficient grounding in the faith:

“[P]art of the problem is our tendency to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive the Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. As a result, Christians are not instructed in the gospel.”

The integrity of The Discipline of Grace issues from its simplicity and clarity as well as a love for Jesus -- three basic ingredients to evangelization. These lead the author to make keen insights into the Christian spiritual life, as in the relationship between justification and our conscience. Though justification means that God has freed us of our guilt, even after this event “Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty.”

This key relationship leads to an central theme of the book: “[W]e must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven,” something Bridges calls “the pursuit of holiness.”

The author makes clear that those who have accepted Christ's forgiveness must avoid the attitude that because they are living under grace they do not have to watch their sins. He is calling for what some Christians refer to as critical self-awareness.

Repeated sinning by the saved might indicate that the saving event reflects a formula rather than the real thing. The real thing leads to a life of grace, and a life of grace leads people to really struggle with sin rather than to cave in. The leading of this conflict has concrete results in a person's life.

Nevertheless, Bridges warns against the dangers of guilt: “To the degree that we feel we are on a legal or performance relationship with God, to that degree our progress in sanctification is impeded ... because nothing cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of sin.”

Only after all the basic, solid theology (including excellent biblical exegesis), does The Discipline of Grace turn to spiritual practice. Because he has carefully laid the prior theological foundation, when discussing spiritual practice, he doesn't sound airy-fairy or preachy. Christian spirituality with integrity follows from Christian theology with integrity.

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