Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Pursuit of Holiness is Pharasaical Self-Righteous Perfectionism @christianaudio @caReviewers

I recently received a complimentary copy of Jerry Bridges' audiobook version of The Pursuit of Holiness in order to review it (without any expectation of a positive review, as will be obvious here :) ). I had several theological problems with this book that bleed over to the larger issues of some of holiness movements. Let's go through these by way of some of Bridges' central points:

Factual certainty is central to faith. This, I think, is one of the most damaging elements of this book. At the same time, it was one of the most helpful to me, as it elucidated why so many people are obsessed with sin and the purging of sin: It helps certainty of salvation (more on this later).

Bridges states, "Faith must always be based in fact." I'm not sure where he gets this idea, as it's not biblical or humanly defined. Hebrews 10:1 defines faith as being certain, but based on what we hope for and cannot see. As emphasized by the positivist and empiricist movements, fact is really based on what can be observed by humans. That does not meant there is no fact of God. It means that there does not have to be proof in order to have faith. In fact, faith is more powerful without fact.

Secular definitions also define faith as not being based in fact. Wikipedia's first sentence in the article on faith states, "Faith is the confident belief or trust in a person, idea, or thing that is not based on proof." Other definitions of faith have more to do with the general idea of belief or trust, not necessarily rooted in fact.

This blog is devoted to people's struggles with faith, usually based on their reliance on facts that end up being unsupportable or not as they originally thought. Just because the facts disappear does not mean God or our faith have to disappear.

Reason must contain and control desire. Bridges rightly explains that our desires can be impure and lead us down some terrible roads. Therefore, he argues that we must always use our reason to contain our sinful desires. Reason is a very good thing, but it can also lead us astray. As a psychologist, I frequently see the reason-based defense of rationalization used to dissociate someone from their emotions and therefore move them away from truth.

Ransomed Heart Ministries is based on the premise that once we give our lives to Christ, he gives us a new, good heart. Heck, even the more conservative and sinlessness-driven John Piper's ministry is called Desiring God. We must listen to our desires. Yes, they may mislead us, but if we pay good attention to them, we will hear God speaking to us. Frankly, God speaks to us more through our emotions than through our intellect.

Holy is defined by sinlessness. Bridges states that holiness is "separation from impurity and moral evil." This is one of the biggest and most dangerous bad definitions in Christianity. A few months ago, I talked about how holy and sinlessness are not one in the same. Holiness can include sinlessness, but it is not defined by it. Rather, a better definition of holy is sacred, meaning set apart. Avoiding sin is one way to be set apart, but holiness is a lot more than that.

Granted, Bridges later says that holiness is in a broader sense "obedience to the will of God in whatever God directs," but by the content of his book, he clearly focuses on God's will being that we lead sinless lives.

One of the reasons this perspective can be dangerous is that it can lead us to assume that God dislikes us. Jonathan Brinks recently posted an article related to a video by Skye Jethani, exploring how God views us in the midst of sin. The answer: God loves us. When we forget that, our relationship with God becomes strained because we no longer trust him. But usually that's not our fault, but rather the fault of the Church. 

Sinlessness is the evidence of salvation. Bridges states partway through his book, "The only evidence of salvation we have is a holy life." Based on his definition of holy, this would mean sinless. Besides the fact that no person will ever be sinless on earth (Bridges notes this), this idea is simply not biblical. He argues that the Holy Spirit helps us become sinless.

Yet in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul states the fruit of the spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Do these correlate with sinlessness? Some do. But these indicate something much more than the absence of sin. They emphasize the presence of love. Frankly, most of these emphasize desire and emotion and not reason, contrary to Bridges earlier point about reason trumping emotion.

Finally, this brings us back to the idea of the role and motivation of factual certainty. It seems this whole book (and I would argue much of people's obsessions with sin) is focused on the need to be confident in their own salvation. This is definitely an understandable concern: We don't want to wonder if we'll be in Heaven. We want proof. So we look for it in various ways.

One of the ways is emphasizing a "pure," sinless life. Like the Pharisees, we can become self-righteous if we lead sinless lives, being certain of our salvation. But just like the Pharisees, it is at this time that we are the farthest from God, missing the true hope of salvation in a relationship with Christ.


  1. Hey,
    I just wanted to say that your review of Bridges' book is, in my estimation, right on target. I found your review over at and made my way over here to your blog. I'll be reading more of your posts in the days ahead!

    By the way, have you ever read the book by Wayne Jacobsen called: He Loves Me! I read it a few years ago and found it to be a simple, yet helpful story that hits on some of the same points you mentioned here. Of course I don't agree with everything he says, but there was enough there to resonate with me.

  2. Hey, Trevor!

    Thanks so much for your comments and following my blog!

    I have not heard of Jacobsen's book, but I'll have to look it up! :)

  3. Actually, faith is almost always backed up by fact in the Bible. This is the entire purpose of chapters like 1 Corinthians 15. Paul provides evidence after evidence, convincing his readers with facts rather than telling them to believe in something without proof. Further, he declares that if what we believe isn't real, if there isn't fact to back it up, then we are of all people the most to be pitied. In other words, the Christian faith has absolutely no value if it isn't completely true. If we don't have facts, our faith is worthless.

    For more evidence, just read Acts. Peter appeals to the Jews by saying "you yourselves were witnesses." He's not asking them for blind faith. They saw; now he's asking them to believe based on the facts they have observed.

    The description of faith in Hebrews that you mention is true, but your application of it is flawed. We are certain of what we hope for and confident of what we don't see precisely because we already have the facts to know that it is true. We don't believe in a vacuum; we believe because it makes sense to. Blind faith is worthless; God doesn't ask us to believe without providing solid reasons to believe. Why do you think God gives us so many stories in the OT and NT of Him acting throughout history? Why document everything and have it written down? If blind faith is so valuable, why not just tell people to believe without giving them any historical reason to?

    Consider the opening of 1 John. He begins his letter by immediately listing the reasons he trusts Jesus: he has heard him with his own ears, seen him with his own eyes, touched him with his own hands. He's not proclaiming some ethereal spiritual truth and asking for blind faith. He's saying that this Jesus is completely real, and I know because I have seen Him, heard Him, and touched Him. This is the foundation of why John expects you to believe him. He gives his evidence first, then moves on to teaching. In other words, John establishes the facts of the reality of Jesus first, then moves on to his teaching.

    I could list further examples, but I hope you get the point. The Bible is laced through-and-through with facts, with reasons to believe. Without facts, without truth, our faith is worthless and we are the most pitiable of all human beings.

    Without facts, we have no faith.

  4. Dude, i stumbled across your post on and I have read your post and asked myself some hard questions.

    I see you have some good points, yet I believe you miss the main point.

    HOLINESS is a byproduct of fellowship & knowledge with Christ, His Word & The Holy Spirit & total obedience to the Will of God.

    The question remains: Is my main aim in life MY OWN holiness or is it TO KNOW CHRIST?!

    Obsession with our own holiness and sinlessness is a sign of disobedience to the Call for Mission in Mt28.
    We focus on the wrong things, therefor we start to turn around ourselves and start bubbling BS and writing BS books and blogs, this applies also to many Neo-fundamental teachers as well to anybody else.

    I also read some of your other posts, your comments on some BIG NAMES and checked your links and the purpose of this blog.

    My conclusion is you have good thoughts, yet I want to encourage you to let go of BASHING BIG NAMES, who are faithful teachers of the Word of God, even if I don't agree on everything with Piper f.ex. and see some not healthy tendencies here and there or else where. I don't think you or I are as MATURE or have as much KNOWLEDGE as a JOHN PIPER.
    Secondly, I want to encourage you to dig deeper, I see you probably a part of Emergent church movement, as I used to be.

    Contemplative prayer/spirituality or non-dual spirituality [Romans 1] will lead you away from Christ, where you never wanna go.

    I encourage you to read Dr. Peter Jones' book 'ONE OR TWO' and search for the Truth.

    Truth is not INFORMATION, it's a person= Jesus Christ.

    Here's a trailer:

    I used to read many misleading authors and watch their sermons and shows too, I thankful to God, HE called me out of this confusion.

    "Truth is so obscure in these times and FALSEHOOD so established, that unless we love the Truth, we can not know it!" [Blaise Pascal]

    I wish God will open your eyes to the bigger reality.

  5. Hi, Erwin!

    Thank you for your detailed response. I think your perspective on holiness and that truth is Christ, not information is right on.

    I obviously strongly disagree with most of your other points, but I appreciate you sharing your opinion.




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