Monday, November 01, 2010

REVIEW: The pursuit of the holy

'The pursuit of the holy: a divine invitation ' is the new book by Simon Ponsonby which I happily read last week as I holidayed in Cornwall. Simon asked me to share some thoughts here as I have done before. My plan, to be honest, was to read each chapter slowly day by day, but as it turned out I found myself wanting to read on, which I duly did, and one chapter easily turned into three and more. Having said that, this is a book that deserves to be lingered with, to be picked up and put down and to be revisited periodically.

Why don't I let Simon tell you in his own words the passion that propelled him to put pen to paper once again as he lays out his challenge to each one of us:

"Our gospel won't be listened to if it isn't lived by us. Church cannot influence or infect society with something that has not infected her. A salt-less salt cannot savour and flavour. A church cannot light a fire if she is not on fire. And so, faced with a society in crisis, in wickedness, it is time for judgement, repentance, holiness to begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4 :17). We need a reformation, a revival- and holiness is at the heart of it. The Church must again find and follow Jesus-not as doctrine to be believed but as Lord to be served, a life to be lived-only then can she speak with integrity and be accepted"

You see I think most of us want the Church to be marked by lots of things-prayer, community, mission, passionate worship, church planting, cultural engagement, empowered preaching, justice- but how many of us would include in our lists holiness. That's all a bit up-close and personal. Perhaps many authors might shy away from a book on holiness fearing accusations of legalism or a 'works-based' gospel or quite simply that they don't feel holy enough themselves to write about such matters. Simon by his own admission (and as he frequently tells us!) is not very holy-he tells a lovely story in the book of the catalogue of sin he recognized in his heart during a short walk along a street in Oxford from St Aldates to Blackwells. But he does desire holiness. That is perhaps the whole point of this book- to birth a desire for such things in his readers.

The danger of books on holiness like those written by Foster, Ortberg and Willard is they end up being books about the disciplines or 'sanctification-manuals'. I still remember the day having read my way all the way through Ordering your private world  (and loved it by the way and I still do), I learnt that Gordon MacDonald had ended up falling off his bicycle. I was under the delusion that if you read this sort of thing and did the stuff they recommended it was supposed to prevent you running off with the church warden. The message is so often do lots of waking up early, writing in journals, reading old books by Saints, fasting from telly and a bit of time in caves up mountains alone and you ("one day my son") might be as holy, wise and learned as me [or not as it turns out!]. The trouble is, if you don't understand the gospel when reading this stuff, you simply embark on a rather dissatisfying joyless life of religion. Unless I missed it, Simon hardly mentions such things at all except to critique John Wesley on his misguided pursuit of perfectionism. This is not a 'how-to' manual on fasting, bible reading and solitude instead it is a work of practically applicable doctrine to be ministered to your soul in the hope and prayer that it will birth renewed Spirit-filled holy living in us.

I think his chapter entitled 'Without blame' is at the core of what Simon wants us to know. In Christ, we have been made holy and are justified once for all and set free. What a huge relief all round this news is- you might even go so far as to call it 'good news'. We are sanctified out of this justification and never the other way around. The response then is live life out of this reality, live life out of grace and live life better and holier because that is who we are. We are loved sons and daughters-adopted, forgiven, cleansed and equipped to go into a lost and broken world.

Why then is this not happening in the Church you may well ask? Well, perhaps because many who attest to know the gospel don't actually know it. Even some, dare I venture to say, who are in the midst of leading churches that, in name at least, call themselves 'evangelical' but are in fact killing themselves in justification by works and are subsumed in Jesus + 'me me me' idolatry. Perhaps this realization is what has caused Simon by no coincidence, having written this book, to now take on the formidable task of preaching through the entire book of Romans. He has a good chapter on Romans 6 and it will be interesting to see if Simon changes any of his thoughts once he has preached through chapters one to five. I confess I am with MLJ and am not sure I quite yet get Chapter 6. As it happens, I preached on Romans 1 only yesterday so give me a little more time.

Do make time to read this book and I would love you also to spread the word if it blesses you and you think it has value for others. Maybe even a reader the other side of the water might take on the task of reviewing it? The chapter on justification alone is worth the price of the book but it contains so much more- not least a wonderful bibliography which theology geeks will enjoy.

Thanks Si for this book. I know how costly it was to write it and I pray that it's message may bear much fruit for Jesus and the glory of his bride in this nation and beyond.

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