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THE CHALLENGE TO HOLINESS FROM A SURPRISING SOURCE


I wanted to share with you some reflection on a marvelous book I have been reading (listening to). It is The Road to Character by David Brooks. I find it a wonderful and thought provoking work, and very challenging as I am forced to inspect my own character, or character flaws, if you will.

In this book there is some great critique on the popular culture we all live and breathe in. I found myself saying “amen” quite a bit as he speaks of the “big me” and the inability of this present generation to make moral choices except according to how things make them feel. In one fell swoop he explains, without actually saying it, why so many Evangelical young people can grow up in Christian homes yet make moral choices, and socio-political choices, as if there were no moral absolutes.

As far as I know David Brooks does not profess to be a Christian, though many wonder what God is doing in his life. If he is not a Christian (at least yet) that makes the book even more interesting to me. Many Christians don’t seem to think unbelievers or non-Christians really have moral or character struggles.

Our Evangelical theology tells us that they are all sinners, and our Reformed Theology tells us they are all totally depraved. So, we have difficulty believing sinners can have moral struggles, or be moral, or have better morality and better character than we do. Yes, you read me correctly, I do think the character and integrity of some so-called believers is terrible and shameful, while many non-Christians are seeking to the best of their own “lights” to be “‘good.”

Still other Christians think that once they are “saved” they no longer have any moral struggles, for to fall into sin would convince them they were not truly Christian. If you have that view then you might be really put off by David Brooks. However, I think you would be missing a feast of both moral philosophy and intellectual challenge, as well as conviction about how far we all have to go.

In some ways Brooks cannot help being an elitist. He is too educated and well read not to be. I confess that he makes me feel as if I haven’t read anything, nor had a very good or well-rounded education. I am still thankful for someone like him to be writing about some very interesting people and personalities in history, and the very personal character struggles they went through.

There is good stuff in this book for young adults, there is good stuff in this book for parents, and good stuff for all the rest of us.

As a Christian who believes in both redemption, transformation and deliverance, and the grace of God to help us in a growing sanctification I feel I come to the inner struggle with some spiritual weapons to help me. What I find embarrassing is that a book like this shows me how lightly I take my sins and failings, and how lazy many of us Christians are about our own growth in being more like Jesus Christ.

I am not sure what David Brooks thinks about sex. He certainly speaks about it, but doesn’t focus on sexual activity as sinful in and of itself, as many religious people would. So, while some of the personalities are promiscuous, homosexual, and adulterous that never seems to be their main problem. I sense just a little bit of denial in how he deals with it. Because of that I don’t think he is actually in touch with how guilty sexual sins make many people feel, except maybe in the case of Augustine, who David Brooks doesn’t think actually had as big a sex problem as Augustine says he did. This to me is slightly puzzling in what I think is just a terrific book.

This is not a theological work. I don’t think Brooks understands real grace and faith yet, nor true conversion. Brooks is not picking a fight with religion nor trying to substitute for one, but he is spot on about the inner struggle of character and brings us into the admiration for people who did see progress in their struggle.

I hope that the Lord has used this book to drive me to a greater humility, a greater readiness to deal with my own envy, ambition, and pride. As a believer I agree with David Brooks that the point of life is holiness not happiness and that everyone needs grace and that there is such a thing as redemption. What wonderful insights. I am also thankful that I am not left alone to struggle for those things without the very powerful and personal presence of the Holy Spirit, nor have to bear the shame of my failure without the blood of Jesus.

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