Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review: Respectable Sins - Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges

Respectable Sins

If you'll notice in my sidebar, I've moved Respectable Sins into the category of "finished in 2008". I didn't mean to finish it so quickly. I really did want to take my time reading it but it was too hard to stop reading. Imagine that, a book that deals with the most troublesome, most persistant, most commonly overlooked sinful conduct, was too hard to put down.

I don't pretend to be a book reviewer but I'm going to give it a go.

Style before Substance

Before I get to the content of the book, I wanted to take a moment to address the style with which Jerry Bridges writes. This is an author that has been recommended to me for several years, and for one reason or another I had just never had the opportunity to read his work. I must say, I've been missing out for a long time. Jerry Bridges is indeed a gifted writer in that he understands full well how we are prone to think, and prone to allowing our thoughts to drift off focus. Not only does he remind us in this book to stop thinking about other people as we read about the sins we tolerate or overlook as not so sinful, he reminds us several times that our focus should be ourselves, and not others. This was especially helpful for me, as I found my thoughts drifting in places to seeing the particular content I was reading, in the conduct of others around me. Each time I'd "go there" I'd see again another reminder that this book is for me, and not them. I needed this reminder and I certainly appreciate it.

Content Unbecoming

If someone could peek into my heart and mind and look at my mental list of issues that grieve me about myself, they might be able to come up with a list very similar to the one Jerry Bridges uses for this book. I'm pretty sure if we were all completely honest with ourselves, each of our lists might look quite similar. The list used in the book:

Anxiety and Frustration
Lack of Self-Control
Impatience and Irritability
The Weeds of Anger (Resentment, Bitterness, Hostility, Strife)
Envy, Jealousy and Related Sins
Sins of the Tongue

Even before I began the book, as I read over the topics covered, I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. I knew also that it was exactly what I needed to hear (read) and while not all of the things on the list seemed to apply to me directly, some of the things surely did (and do) and those were the ones I was a little nervous about reading.

During the course of reading this book I was discussing it with a friend and she asked if the type of sins covered are simply pointed out, or handled in the way that cause the reader to be introspective in a productive way. I think this is an important question, since its quite easy to just say "you're sinning, stop that!" and leave it there. This is not what Jerry Bridges does, at all. Not only does he remind the reader that these are sins common among all believers (himself included) but offers a very practical and very Biblical method of dealing with them. Using a combination of honest, humble self-examination over each topic, reminding yourself that the gospel is for sinners, not just the lost, continued reliance on the Holy Spirit, applying and memorizing appropriate verses, Bridges gives a very methodical and applicable way of approaching these sins within our our thinking and conduct.

Another friend I discussed the book with (who has already read it) commented that Bridges could have gone much deeper with each section. I agree that he definitely could have, and I would have still read this book if it were twice as long. It's only 180 pages long, so considering the amount of material covered in 180 pages, its pretty clear much more could have been said. Bridges actually agrees with this and mentions it several times in the book. His purpose wasn't to provide an exhaustive look at each subject, but to give the reader key things to think about and humbly ask themselves if that section applies to them, even in the smallest way.

Some More Than Others

As I read through the chapter headings before I started the book, I already knew that some things were going to apply to me more than others. What I didn't expect was to find that some of the examples given in the sections that I didn't really think applied to me as strongly, helped me to see certain things in a way I had never considered before. Once I applied those examples to my own situation and my own reactions, I realized that yes, those too applied to me.

One of the biggest struggles I have personally, is to read this kind of material and then forget to apply it. I'm not sure why I do that, unless its just a mixture of being lazy, being busy with other thoughts, and doing what we all do in allowing myself at times to tell myself that I'm not 'that bad'. In this book Bridges strongly encourages the reader to make the content a matter of daily prayer, and to even survey your own family members to get an honest opinion of others closest to you, to see if these things indeed apply. There are several other ways he lists to help keep you from "forgetting" what you've read and to daily apply to the remedy to these things.

I briefly discussed this book last night with a friend, and suggested to her that in some ways, I couldn't help but think of this book in a similar way as a burn victim goes through medical treatment to recover. The process is excrutiatingly painful but required for the ultimate goal of healing and restoration. As you read through this book and realize that each of these kinds of "respectable sins", these sinful beahviors that we tolerate in ourselves are truly a form of "cosmic treason against God" as Bridges describes it, you will begin to see things in a different way.

Each person's circumstances will vary to some degree, but I read this book as a mother, wife, teacher, evangelical believer, blogger and business owner. In each of these areas of my life there are opportunities each day, in various ways to interact within the bounds of personal relationships. Some of the material covered in the book applied more directly to marital relationships, while other things applied directly to how I react and respond to my children. In truth, there wasn't a single area of my life or a single personal relationship that I have that something in this book didn't apply to. Your own circumstances may be different but no matter if you're a student, a child still living at home, an employee or a leader in your church or community, you'll find that those areas will be covered as well, since these things are truly a matter of the heart, and apply to any believer, in any situation.

I can't think of anyone that wouldn't benefit greatly from reading this book. I highly recommend it, and also recommend getting the study guide as well.