Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review: Active Spirituality: grace and effort in the christian life by Brian G. Hedges

In a progression of fictional letters, author and pastor Brian Hedges explores the tension between grace and effort in the Christian life.  In this way Brian helps a fictional Chris understand the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as he seeks to grow in his walk with God in the midst of temptation and discouragement.  I thought the book started out a bit slow, but by the third chapter, I was hooked.

One of the striking features of the book, is Brian’s use of solid Christian fiction and nonfiction to help illustrate the many scripture references he uses.  For example, in the chapter on backsliding, after carefully laying out the scriptures in which God reminds us to remember his saving acts, Brian uses the memorable story of Jill seeking the lost prince of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair.  In this, and other chapters are frequent uses of Paul Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress, several of C.S. Lewis’s books, excerpts from John Owen, John Newton, J. I. Packer, Leland Ryken, Charles Spurgeon, Octavius Winslow, William Gurnal, Gordon Fee, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Augustine, William Bridges, John Calvin, D. A. Carson, and many others. He also uses Baptist and Presbyterian church standards and hymns.

In no way do these other illustrations get in the way of or take away from the impact of scripture. The illustrations taken from literature serve to add weight and clarity. Brian is quite pastoral and not wooden, shallow or dry. The letters have the feel of good literature, in that they evidence progression in the emotional life of Chris and his relationship to the letter writer Brian. They realistically deal with the ups and downs of the Christian life and thus serve as an encouragement to us who need assurance.

The book has two very useful bookends.  The first chapter is an opening letter to the reader explaining how the resurgence of Reformed theology has increased the awareness of the extent of grace not only in beginning the Christian life, but in living the Christian life.  While he applauds this, his experience has been that this truth can seem to dismiss the necessity of effort in continuing as a Christian.  In laying out the definition of doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, he explains perseverance as requiring both grace and effort in order to find our place in heaven.

The last two chapters contain more detailed information on the sources he quotes.  Many of the works noted in the Bibliography should be on the new Christian’s reading list, and contain both old and new works well worth reading.

Are you struggling with assurance or the relationship between grace and effort in the Christian life? Then this book is one you should read.

I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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