I’ve admired the work of John Eldridge for some years now. I have known a number of men who have experienced extraordinary growth in their relationship with Christ as a result of reading his books and going on his retreats. I’ve started reading a couple of his books but never managed to get too far. Something about them just didn’t resonate with me or answer a question I was asking. In my perception, his themes largely revolve around reclaiming inner masculinity and adventure and connecting this to following Jesus.
Right or wrong about my perceptions, his most recent book title came as a complete surprise to me. The Utter Relief of Holiness: How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Plagues Us (FaithWords, 2013). He had me from “holiness.” I immediately purchased the book, downloaded it onto my iPad and moved it to the top of the queue. The book captured me from the first page through the last as I literally ran through the pages. Here are five things I liked about the book.
1. I like that a popular writer, has written a popular book on a not so popular subject.
Not many people are reading books about holiness these days. Eldridge gets to this early on.
Holiness is not exactly a hot item these days, in great part because we have come to associate all sorts of crushing and unattainable things with it.
Over the years, the term has come to be defined more and more narrow and rigid as the circles of its adherents have grown smaller and smaller. What is perhaps the most brilliant word and highest calling of Scripture somehow developed the most narrow and unattractive reputation across the church. “Holiness” is used more as an adjective to describe a group of people or a particular camp than as the beautiful life of a radiant follower of Jesus. It brings me to the second thing I like about the book.
2. I love that he begins with Jesus rather than starting with sin.
Eldridge depicts holiness as the life of a person whose presence exudes the goodness of Jesus. When holiness starts with sin it leads to the predictable place of behavior management. When it begins with Jesus, it leads to a beautiful life set free from the power of sin. The life of holiness is the life of Jesus which he readily and willingly shares with his followers. A couple of quotes:
What you see in Jesus is what he is after in you. This is a really core assumption. Your belief about this will affect the rest of your life.
The more I get to know Jesus, the more he changes my understanding of what holiness is all about. And the more I see him operate, the more I am captured by the beauty of his life.
Eldridge defines holiness with profundity in the simplest of terms:
Our journey to holiness is the process whereby we receive more and more of the holiness of Jesus Christ into more and more of our being.
3. That said, he doesn’t shy away from talking about sin, however, he reframes the conversation from behavior to brokenness.
He unfolds the life of holiness as the path toward wholeness, depicting it as a journey of healing from the inside out. At the same time, he is careful not to define holiness from a therapeutic framework. Early in the book he states emphatically,
In fact, the assumption of the New Testament is that you cannot become whole without becoming holy; nor can you become holy without becoming whole. The two go hand in hand.
4. Eldridge writes from the posture of one immersed in Scripture and who is taking God at his Word.
It is clear he has lived in the trenches of human brokenness, both his own and that of many others. He possesses an infectious spirit of grace. He understands human frailty and weakness and is thereby able to both caution and challenge with a firmness and gentleness. Quoting George MacDonald, Eldridge sounds more like a Wesleyan than most Wesleyans:
The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sin is a false, mean, low notion. The salvation of Christ is a salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is deliverance into the pure air of God’s ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure with the will and the choice of the heart to be pure. To such heart, sin is disgusting. George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
5. This book is practical.
The title says it all. The Utter Relief of Holiness: How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Plagues Us. He urges us to “look at it this way,”
Ask the anorexic young girl how she would feel if she simply no longer struggled with food, diet, exercise—if she simply never even gave it another thought. Ask the man consumed with jealousy how he would feel if he woke one day to discover that all he once felt jealous over was simply gone. Ask the raging person what it would feel like to be free of rage or the alcoholic what it would feel like to be completely free of addiction. Take the things you struggle with and ask yourself, “What would like be like if I never struggled with this again? It would be an utter relief. An absolute utter relief.
He spares the reader of rants about the corruption of society and the ineffectiveness of the church. He chooses rather to lay out a clear approach one might take to pursue a life of holiness. In places he breaks it down into a step by step process. He laces the book with major helpings of scripture and with prayers he has written and designed to be prayed regularly by readers. He even collects them all into an appendix at the end.
I did think the book could have been stronger in its articulation and teaching about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Along that line, it calls out for a sequel. That said, I would highly recommend the book to anyone. Order it here now.
To the Wesleyan-Methodist tribe, he’s singing in our key with this one. We would do well to sing along.
Have you read the book? I wonder what you think about it? Or what questions my short analysis might raise? Share in the comments.