TITLE: Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ
AUTHOR: Andrew David Naselli and J.D. Crowley
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (160 pages).
In chapters 1 and 2, the authors show us what conscience is and is not. In it, we learn that conscience is more than shoulder angels/demons. Animals do not have a conscience. Our consciences reflect the image of God and for us is very personal. Two simple principles apply. First, God is lord of conscience and second, we need to obey our conscience. The word conscience in the New Testament is "syneidesis" which occur 39 times in the Greek New Testament. It is used positively in two ways and negatively in six ways. Positively, it means being blameless and clean. Negatively, it means being weak, wounded, defiled, emboldened to sin, guilt, and seared. Conscience can lead us to witness, to judge, and to act upon. With such powerful links between conscience and behaviour, Naselli and Crowley highlights four challenges to be covered in the later chapters.
- What do we do when our conscience condemns us?
- What does it take to calibrate our consciences with God's will?
- How do we relate to people whose conscience clash with ours?
- What about clashes between consciences and cultural differences?
In chapters 3 and 4, we learn how to deal with our own personal consciences. We learn how to care for others as we are led by our conscience. Conscience helps us to bridge the gap between knowing and obedience. As we encounter the gospel, we realize that even as our conscience may lead us to despair, there is always grace and hope in Jesus Christ. We calibrate our conscience with truth, with due process of wisdom.
In chapters 5 and 6, we learn about relating to other people. The authors give a helpful "theological triage" to list issues according to three levels. The first level is most central and essential to Christianity. This is usually doctrine. The second level is about reasonable boundaries such as denominational barriers and different types of churches. The third level is about matters of dispute which are not easy to distinguish who is right and who is wrong. Comparing the strong and the weak consciences, we learn about the tricky path the Apostle Paul had to navigate as he writes to the disputing parties in the New Testament. We also learn of 12 principles in which to disagree with people on such matters.
Andrew David Naselli is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is Administrator of Themelios and considers himself a conservative, confessional evangelical Christian. J.D. Crowley is a missionary and linguist, serving in minority communities in Cambodia since 1994.
This is a really useful book that touches a topic seldom covered in Christian communities. What seems to be commonly present in people is also something least talked about. Thankfully, Naselli and Crowley have taken the initiative to bring this topic back on the Christian radar. I am grateful for that. The most powerful part of the book is the relationships and the unity the authors are concerned for. I think the use of conscience here is a clever and innovative way to bring out the need to love God, to love neighbour, as much as we love our own selves.
The late Martin Luther King Jr once said powerfully: "The Church must be reminded that it is not the master of the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. "
The Church is essentially the people of God. The people of God comprise of individual members of the body of Christ. When the Spirit of God leads, people of godly conscience will come together in unity. Then and only then will the Church project a strong voice as one people, to be able to be the conscience not only of the state, but to be a conscientious voice for the very things God cared deeply about. Wonderful book!
Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.