Check back tomorrow to see how you can win a copy of this book, courtesy of Zondervan Publishers!
Little did I know when I tore into the envelope that I was the lucky recipient of something I never knew I needed. With the kitchen finally quiet, I embarked on the kind of delightful journey one rarely finds in non-fiction: a work so thoughtful and sown with so much depth, my underlining pencil never left my fingertips. Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good? would change me.
I grew up in a Christian home with parents who were raised under the pressed thumb of loving, yet legalistic parents. My dad, in particular, often recounted wonderful, innocent opportunities he missed out on as a child because his mother and father thought they were “sinful.” Riding a bike on Sunday. Playing organized sports. Befriending Christians of different persuasions: all “sinful.” And while I always had an ache in my gut, a rebellion to this errant type of Christianity, I never had the words to describe why it might ache the very heart of God. Gary Thomas most eloquently explains why:
“Prayer and fellowship are among life’s richest pleasures, but let’s not stop there. Let us learn to fill our souls with beauty, art, noble achievement, fine meals, rich relationships, and soul-cleansing laughter. When we acknowledge these pleasures, we acknowledge God as a genius creator of brilliant inventions. Let us be wary of a faith that denies these blessings as “worldly” and unfit, as though Satan rather than God had designed them. Let us refuse to fall into the enemy’s trap of denying ourselves God’s good pleasures so that we end up deeply vulnerable to illicit pleasure.” [pg. 17]
In my estimation, the strength of Thomas’ writing is threefold: amazing research and breadth of literature upon which to draw, impeccable theology drenched in insight, and wisdom sprouting from love, compassion, and truth. Time after time as I folded over yet another page corner, I found myself saying, “Wow. That is so true.” And to be honest, while I knew I would enjoy the book, I didn’t fully reckon the weight it would have on my thinking.
The scaffolding undergirding this book comes from the considerable attention given to Scripture, fortifying the position that our joy matters to God. Thomas’ scholarly approach unfolds a new picture of who God is, pointing to the life of Christ for examples and instruction, and laying out sound defense for soaking up pleasures as good gifts from the Father. So that we may better claim this joy, Thomas asserts that we must spend time discovering what things truly give us pleasure. For some of us, the beach and a good book are all we need! Others enjoy physical fitness, travel, cooking or baking, photography, golf, or motorcycles. Whatever it is, these gifts, when in healthy balance, are to be accepted with gratitude.
Thomas points out, however, that many folks are still hung-up on the old way of thinking: if pleasure involves laughter and does not explicitly carve out time for prayer, this time is not quite as well spent as it would be within the four walls of a church. Nonsense, says Thomas. God is the creator of everything! And while considerable attention is given to the balance and control we must exert to remain pure in heart, he is quick to point out that our enjoyment of healthy pleasures gives God great joy–perhaps much like the joy an earthly father feels watching his spellbound children swoon over Christmas presents.
In a world so bombarded with instant gratification of all kinds, Pure Pleasure also provides the kind of practical guidance we need to navigate confusing passageways. Thomas includes invaluable information on “spiritual ferns”, those innocuous things in our lives that may cause us to stumble or falter. He challenges us to be honest about our limitations and boundaries, and to recognize the dangers that come from both avoidance and exhaustion: “If your spiritual enemy can’t get you to apply the brakes to keep you from ministering, he may well try to get you to push the gas pedal to the floor, hoping to drive you off a cliff.” [pg. 122]
The author arranges this book in fourteen chapters which are brought to a close with questions for discussion and reflection. For those desiring further study and contemplation, the end of the book offers additional small group discussion questions, guiding the reader to purchase optional videos available online.
When I received this book, I didn’t realize I had so much to learn about the heart of God or about how he wants to father us. I didn’t realize that our enjoyment of life’s good things is so vital to effective witness and healthy spirituality–that God gives us these things, often times, as a protection from dangerous pleasures. And that if we’d just lean back and drop into the arms of God and accept these things, we’d be all the better for it.
Bravo, Gary! Reading your book, for me, was a pure pleasure.
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Thank you, Zondervan Publishers, for graciously providing me with two copies of this book, and to The Blog Tour Spot for including me in this tour.