Conscience. We all have one. We all know the feeling of our conscience tugging at our hearts at different moments of life. We also know the feeling of running into someone else’s conscience when it differs from ours and the frustrations that come with that. We have probably all seen or been a part of a discussion that turns into more of a heated debated as two believers, whose consciences differ on some issue not clearly stated in Scripture, seek to apply their knowledge of Scripture in two different ways. Believers are likely pretty familiar with the standard conscience passages in Scripture such as Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. Both deal with relating to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when consciences differ on certain issues. We’ve also likely evaluated our conscience related choices and preferences and thought, “How does what I’m doing or not doing fit in with what Paul said in Romans and 1 Corinthians?” We are also familiar with the world’s “Jiminy Cricket” view of conscience or the devil and angel on the shoulder view of conscience or worse yet the world’s apparent agenda to suppress conscience in favor of feelings and doing what feels good. In all this, a believer must be careful. Careful to listen to their conscience, careful to not suppress it, to evaluate it and shape it regularly by understanding what is clearly stated in Scripture and what is preferential choices in our lives. This is an exhausting but necessary work in our pursuit of holiness and Christ-likeness. This is where Andy Naselli and JD Crowley have done the Christian community a favor in writing a book on the conscience. The subtitle of their book really puts their agenda in perspective as well as touching on what often challenges and confuses us in discussions regarding the conscience: Conscience: What is it. How to Train it and Loving those who differ.
It doesn’t matter what circle, brand, or stripe of evangelicalism you are in, this book does more than just provide us with theological information about our conscience. The authors do an excellent job of helping the reader contextualize and apply the Bible’s teachings on conscience to many modern day preferences between believers such as worship styles, tattoos, Halloween participation, biting your finger nails (the discussion centers around Bible rules vs family and cultural rules), what is appropriate dress code standards for church and life. Now don’t see this resource as a pocket handbook to keep with you to know how to safely navigate any and all conscience related situations. The authors do a great job and presenting ways to navigate situations and question to ask yourself and others but they do not give a black and white list of what to do and not do in situations related to our conscience and the conscience of others.
Because of our un-ending struggle with our own depravity we have a constant struggle with judging each other. This issue of judging one another is addressed by the authors in their discussion of the weaker and stronger brother. They do an excellent job in helping the reader understand that whether a brother or sister in Christ has a stronger or weaker conscience on any, what they call, third level issues, it does not give others the right to look down or judge them for their position.
The helpfulness of this book is the textual work done by Naselli and Crowley to help the reader understand what the Bible says and means in its discussions on conscience as well as an intentional approach to applying that teaching in areas the bible discussion does specifically address. Their discussion of the weaker/stronger brother texts and challenging the reader to realize that being the stronger brother in one areas doesn’t mean that you are the stronger brother in all areas reveals their skill in the Biblical texts.
Finally, the authors keep the body life relationships of the church in view in how we are to navigate these areas of conscience. They repeatedly remind the reader that there is something bigger at stake here than just one’s Christian freedom and preferences. I highly recommend this book not just for a “one read and to the shelf,” but for multiple reads in an attempt to properly shape and train our consciences according to God’s view and then as a reminder for applying one’s Christian freedoms and preferences within in the context of other believers and especially in the household of faith.
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Review by Jeremy Stephens