Book Notice: ‘Anger’ in “Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins”

51hq8bhDM7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jonah was an angry man. The reluctant prophet of Israel, sent to Nineveh, was so reluctant because he was so angry. Or, so says Jonathan Parnell who writes the chapter on anger in a new book, Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins (ed. Marshall Segal; Desiring God, 2015). As a way of highlighting the value of the book, I’ll take a few moments to highlight Parnell’s excellent essay.

After introducing the angry prophet, Parnell offers three descriptors of anger. 1) Anger is among the most widespread sins. It is so widespread because it was one of the first evidences of the fall in the world. Cain was angry before he killed his brother (see Gen 4:5). 2) Anger is the most deadly of the seven deadly sins. Jesus points to anger as murder for a good reason (see Matt 5:21–22). 3) Finally, anger is not always sin. God gets angry but never sins––he is slow to anger (see Ex 34:6). Therefore, there is such a thing as righteous anger.

With these descriptors in mind, especially the point that some anger is not sin, Parnell helps us diagnose the cause of anger. “What do you have to be angry about?” is the question that we must ask (p. 40). To this question, Parnell notes that love is the answer. That is, “What we have to be angry about can be reduced down to one issue: love.” (p. 41) We must analyze our loves if we want to understand and correct our anger. Parnell states well:

Anger is how we respond to whatever threatens someone or something we care about. How we perceive and respond to reality has to do with what we value. Anger is love in motion to protect the object of our love. If we want to know what we have to be angry about, we should look to the objects of our affection. And if we want to know when anger is sinful, we look for how our loves have become distorted (p. 41).

Not only, then, does anger reveal the disorder in our hearts, our “disordered loves” as Augustine called them, but it also reveals the stupidity in our hearts. Parnell comments,

Sinful anger, therefore, is inherently stupid. It happens when we misperceive reality as unacceptable, when we are so blinded by our self-consumed loves that we want to annihilate anything that doesn’t serve us. Sinful anger happens when, instead of imitating God we try to play God by assuming the right to draw the lines, defining what should or should not be. In sinful anger, we respond in a manner disproportionate to the facts, forcing everyone around us to interpret the world on our terms, based upon what we love most––which is too often the object in the mirror (p. 42).

For Christians anger must not only be understood but also healed. As Parnell states, “The end of our anger only comes by shalom in our souls––a recalibration of our greatest love and devotion.” In order to achieve this recalibration, Parnell gives three wise steps: analyze your anger early, feel ridiculous for your ridiculousness, and remember and imitate the (righteous) anger of God (pp. 43–47). As you can see, Jonathan Parnell proves a wise guide for us into the unseemly places of our hearts so that we might truly repent of our anger and find the “shalom in our souls” that only Christ can bring.

Parnell’s chapter is one of seven in Killjoys, a book highly recommended for its devotional and pastoral value.

Guest Post (Andrew Spencer): Review of Andy Davis’ “An Infinite Journey”

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blogger is Andrew Spencer. Andrew is a PhD Student in Christian Ethics at SEBTS.] 

As David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell note in their recent book, How to Stay Christian in Seminary (Crossway, 2014), one of the hardest things in seminary is being a good Christian during your seminary years. Even here at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where the doctrine is sound and the people on campus are zealous about seeing the Great Commission fulfilled, there is a real danger of seminary students forgetting their first love. In most cases this does not result in seminarians losing their faith, but it can result in them losing ground in their spiritual maturity even while they are building a robust theological framework.

Mathis and Parnell offer some helpful tips in their short book and on a series of blogs for Desiring God. However, another book published just this year by Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, is more important. I wish An Infinite Journey: Growing toward Christlikeness had been published and I had read it when I started my time in seminary over eight years ago. It would have been worth reading several times during these years.

Davis structures his ministry and his book around the premise that in the Christian life there are two infinite journeys. He notes, “These two journeys have one destination, one ultimate goal, and in the end will prove to have been one and the same journey after all.” (17) This is an infinite journey with a horizontal, not a vertical, asymptote. In other words, there is hope that we can begin to become more holy, though we will never fully get there this side of glory. Though we will never fully attain perfect maturity in this life, recognizing telos in the ongoing pursuit of holiness is important: it tells us we are going somewhere not just hunkering down to endure until the millennium dawns.

Sanctification is not just a personal issue; it is an issue that relates to the advance of the gospel to all nations. The world needs Christians who have and are growing toward Christlikeness. As Davis notes, “It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs.” (24) A sweeping passion to see Gospel advance throughout the world is Davis’ motivation for attempting “taxonomy of sanctification.” (29)

The premise of the book is simple: there is a pattern disciplines that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will foster spiritual maturity and move the believer toward Christlikeness. The pattern, though, is not simplistic: Davis presents a map but not a recipe. An Infinite Journey does not offer a detailed set of steps that will lead to holiness. Rather, in this volume Davis explains, based on observation, experience, and study of Scripture, the regular order of steps that tend to lead to spiritual growth. As an analogy, instead of being a book that outlines a specific workout program, An Infinite Journey is the kinesiology textbook that explains the necessary elements for a successful workout program.

The order that Davis describes in sanctification is strikingly elegant. There are four stages in the sanctification cycle: knowledge, faith, character and action. Each one of these stages is necessary for the cycle to be sustained and for progress in sanctification to be made. Davis was a mechanical engineer, so a comparison to the four-stroke Otto cycle seems fair: if a diesel engine does not go through all four elements of its power cycle, it will not function and make your vehicle move or even continue to operate as an engine. Likewise, if the Spirit-filled Christian does not go through the pattern of increasing knowledge, growing faith, more Christlike character, and obedient action, then his or her sanctification will either slow or reverse.

Knowledge, as Davis describes it, is not merely the study of theology or Church history. Those things can be helpful, but Davis’ conception of knowledge is more complex and realistic. For Davis, there are two types of knowledge, the first is factual: the information gained from Scripture. This is obtained “only by consistent immersion in the word of God.” (95) The second type of knowledge is experiential: information gained from living in God’s world. Experiential knowledge is interpreted by Scripture, but is essential to understanding the Christian life.

Faith is the “eyesight of the human soul.” (130) According to Davis, “Faith is designed to perceive invisible realities, and press the certainty of them to the human soul.” (133) An Infinite Journey details five aspects of faith, with the key concept being that faith comes as factual and experiential knowledge are synthesized into spiritually understood realities that form anchors for personal spiritual growth. This is a faith grounded in revealed reality, which points to the unseen reality.

After knowledge and faith comes the development of character. For Davis, “Christian character is an internal nature conformed to Christ in five different areas, resulting in a variety of virtues.” (200) The five areas represented are: Affection, Desire, Will, Thought, and Emotion. Rightly ordering those areas toward God based on the foundation of knowledge and faith will lead to the development of Christlike virtues. Still, internal character is not the ultimate goal of sanctification.

If the internal nature of the Christian is rightly ordered, then the result will be action. Action “is such a true indicator of the actual state of our souls that Christ will be able to judge everyone on the face of the earth by his full record of all we said and did.” (272) This is not salvation by works, but a recognition that obedience after justification is important, and that our actions on earth will be scrutinized (cf. Rev 20:12–13; Rom 2:6–8). For this reason, we need to build on the knowledge, faith, and Christlike character by developing habitual patterns of action that reflect our justification.

Habitual, Christlike action will tend to produce experiential knowledge and well as factual knowledge that is, by God’s grace, increasingly better ordered to God’s truth in reality. Thus the cycle continues, fueled by the Holy Spirit. Just as in the Otto Cycle of a diesel engine, if one stroke in the cycle were not completed the engine would stop, so it is with the sanctification cycle. Similarly, without a regular supply of fuel an engine will stop. So is the continued grace of the Holy Spirit necessary in the cycle of progressive sanctification that Davis describes.

Davis’ book is a treasure for the Church but it is especially valuable for the seminary student. During years at seminary it is common to get too focused on two stages of the cycle: knowledge and action. We spend hours poring over books in study, and, because we love Jesus, we rush out to preach, teach, and serve in our churches. Subsequently, since we haven’t paid attention to growing in faith and developing our character, some of us begin to doubt our beliefs and even turn away from God, others slip into patterns of selfishness, anger, and pride that eventually work their way out in sinful actions. This isn’t a universal experience, but it is a common one, as Mathis and Parnell argue in their book.

An Infinite Journey is invaluable for the seminarian because it accurately represents the pattern of sanctification. Once the four simple stages are recognized it is possible to diagnose weaknesses and fix or prevent problems. This book doesn’t offer a cure-all for the busyness of the seminary years, but it does offer hope that years spent in theological study can be accompanied by real spiritual growth, so that we don’t graduate wondering why we came to seminary in the first place or having paid the high cost of losing unity in our families.

Whether you are a seminarian, a pastor, or just a Christian on your infinite journey toward Christlikeness, this book will benefit you. Buy it. Read it. Examine the patterns of your life in comparison to it. I promise you will find the book helpful, challenging and encouraging.

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How To Stay Christian in Seminary

How To Stay Christian in SeminarySatan is alive and well. One of the ways the enemy wreaks havoc in seminaries and Christian colleges is by causing young men and women to grow personally numb to the spiritual truths they are studying in their classes. We’ve all met seminary graduates who felt like they had to recover something that had become stagnant in their spiritual walk during their time in school. While I believe the prevalence of these stories is sometimes exaggerated–I know far, FAR more students whose spiritual walks have blossomed in seminary–there is no doubt that many seminarians have left school with hearts that have grown cold toward the Lord, his church and the lost.

I am very grateful that David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell have written their new book How To Stay Christian in Seminary (Crossway, 2014). David and Jonathan both work for Desiring God Ministries; John Piper wrote the book’s foreword. Jonathan is a graduate of The College at Southeastern, so we know him well around here and are awfully thankful that he has co-authored this book. The idea for this book first came a couple of years ago when David and Jonathan blogged on this topic for Desiring God. They also asked a number of folks, including yours truly and Bruce Ashford, to weigh in on the topic. (You can read the compilation of all the posts here.) I had the privilege of reading a draft of How to Stay Christian in Seminary last year and I can tell you that this is a book that every seminarian (or prospective seminarian) should “take up and read.”

What follows is an image of the Table of Contents that I shamelessly copied from my friend Andy Naselli’s website. I hope you’ll purchase a copy of this short, inexpensive, soul-stirring book and take it to heart.

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