Christian theology has many tensions and mysteries including: divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the immanence and transcendence of God and the two natures of Christ as fully God and man. We recognize that we will never fully comprehend these truths that can at times feel contradictory. Alas, we are human and trust in the divine wisdom of our Creator God.
Currently there is a debate among evangelical Christians about the doctrine of sanctification. Books and blog posts have been written in an effort to hone in on the Christian’s active responsibility in their sanctification process. The debate has centered on what the Christian is to do now that they have a new identity in Christ. There is no argument that our salvation is made possible on the basis of Christ’s work for us through His death and resurrection. But for some evangelicals this is where it gets tricky. Does the Christian life require effort? If it does, then are we no longer relying on Christ’s work but rather ours? With a theologians mind and a pastor’s heart, Brian Hedges has jumped into the discussion with his new book Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life. Brian is no stranger to this discussion on sanctification as he previously touched on this topic at greater length in his book Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Readers of Active Spirituality who have not read Christ Formed in You will be well served and strengthened in reading both.
The essence of Active Spirituality is to give a biblically faithful presentation of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. As Brian rightly emphasizes throughout the book, this doctrine has balanced emphasis on both the grace of God through the working of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification process and the responsibility of all Christians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). At the beginning of the book Brian notes the emphasis on action in the Christians life
The Christian life is called a walk, a race, a contest, and a fight. We are told to run, to wrestle, to watch, and to stand. And the victors – those who conquer and overcome – receive great promises whereas terrible warnings go to those who grow sluggish and neglect the great salvation secured for us by Jesus. (13)
Hedges wants the reader to see that while God’s grace is certainly at the heart of our growth as Christians, we need to couple that with a serious desire to fulfill the many commands God has given the believer to obey as Christians. Though we are saved by grace and no longer under the Law, we are still under the Law of Christ and Christ has required of His people to live a certain way and work towards obeying His Word.
Active Spirituality is written in a unique style in that each chapter is crafted like a series of correspondences between Brian and a friend seeking spiritual counsel. The friend is fictional and the reader is not provided the content of the letters they might have written. What we are given are the responses by Brian to this person. For Brian though, he has in his mind the lives of those within his congregation that he counseled as well as friends outside of his pastoral ministry. The way the book is set up really helps the point of the book to hit home with the reader. The writing is warm and inviting and his skill as a pastor shines through. Additionally, Hedges knowledge of Scripture and theology are just as strong. He interacts with much helpful literature on the subject such as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday’s book The Race Set Before Us.
Active Spirituality packs a powerful punch in a short space. Hedges walks the line between grace and responsibility in the Christian life with care and wisdom. I recommend this book for new Christians and any Christian who is going through a time of great struggle over how to work out the so great a salvation that they have been given in Christ Jesus.
You can also listen to an interview with Brian Hedges about his book on Bible Geek Gone Wild’s author podcast by going here.
I received this book for free from Shepherds Press through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”