Conscienceby Andrew David Naselli, J.D. Crowley
Length: To read (149 pages)
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In the midst of seemingly endless debates over issues as complex as racism, cultural engagement, Christian liberty, as well as everyday temptations, how can we as believers respond wisely and biblically? A key starting point, as presented in Naselli & Crowley’s “Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ,” is the commonly neglected concept of the Christian conscience. Throughout this work, the reader is given an extremely helpful introduction to that concept and shown how the conscience, when rightly understood and rightly trained is one of the greatest gifts given by God in navigating our way through even the most complex issues.
Who Should Read This Book?
Every believer feels the weight that comes with navigating through those complex issues that life in a fallen world presents. What few believers seem to understand in our culture today, however, is that this is nothing new. As the authors of “Conscience” seek to show their readers, your unique conscience is s a necessary guide in every decision you make. The common failure to rightly understand and use the conscience, then, is both foolish and even dangerous. In light of its practical importance and its common neglect, every believer can benefit from reading through this clear presentation of the conscience.
From the outset, Naselli & Crowley seek to demonstrate that the conscience is a surprisingly common subject in Scripture and its use is, at its core, relatively straightforward. Throughout the course of their book, the authors set out a basic but biblical understanding of the conscience, a practical overview of how one ought to respond to their own conscience, and finally how a believer is to relate with other individuals who’s consciences might differ from our own.
Foundational to their entire argument is the Word of God. As a means of laying that foundation, the authors cite 30 separate New Testament passages (a number significantly higher than I would have expected) that all speak of the conscience. Although their focus ultimately is aimed at Romans 14-15 and I Corinthian 8-11, their inclusion of so many passages from the beginning stands as a clear call for every believer to listen closely to what God has revealed regarding this topic.
That revelation, then, stands as the foundation on which the authors build their definition and overall practice of following and developing one’s conscience. In unpacking that practice, the authors address the discipline of “calibrating” our conscience so that it is more in line with the desires and will of God and less in line with our fallen nature. According to the authors, “calibrating” consists of both taking unnecessary rules away from our conscious and adding neglected rules where they are needed. This process is by no means simple and it is never fully accomplished in this life. Rather, it is a process in which we are regularly resisting sin and always studying Scripture.
It is at the point of establishing that process of calibration that the authors address the final topic referenced in the book’s title: “loving those who differ.” This is, no doubt the issue that most readers will go to this book to better understand, as it is a regular conversation even now amongst Christians. It is a topic that requires a great deal of thought. Yet, as the authors demonstrate in the latter half of their book, it is also ultimately just as straightforward as any other issues related to our conscience.
In addressing those relational issues, the authors primarily look to the example of Paul in Romans & I Corinthians and the apostle’s discussion of Christian liberty. For Paul, the liberty that guided his conscience was not a liberty to do “whatever he wanted,” as it tends to be described by many professing believers today, but a liberty to do whatever would promote Christian unity.
In order to work towards that unity, the authors seek to show the necessity of discerning what qualifies as “Gospel issues” versus issues of preference. Obviously, when dealing with anything less than the Gospel, Paul’s example stands as a reminder to always strive for increased understanding and cooperation. Although the particular application of this approach might look slightly different in each believer’s life, the example and principles that the authors flesh out in these chapters are uniquely practical and proved to be greatly challenging to my own thinking.
To bring their discussion to a practical end, the authors close their work with a look at how this all looks specifically within the realm of foreign missions. For those serving in foreign environments, I can imagine their discussion would prove to be a great encouragement. For those of us living stateside, there still remains a great amount of application when it comes to practical evangelism and preaching.
When rightly followed, our conscience is, indeed, and incredible benefit to us all. It is, as the authors declare, one of the unique gifts offered to the believer. That gift, however, still requires careful use.
There are, as I will later address, a variety of issues that the authors could have addressed in a book on conscience. From the outset, however, the authors communicate that their goal of this book was relatively simple in that they were seeking to get the concept of conscience “on the daily radar” of their readers and help establish practical ways in which we are to respond to our conscience.
To that end the authors are successful. Although some of the discussions are at times a bit briefer than I would have desired, they are always practical. Every believer, regardless of the complexity of their particular environment or the present maturity of their own conscience, will have much to glean from the principles and practices of calibrating one’s conscience and engaging others with the Gospel.
Key to fulfilling their goals in writing this book and that which stood out as the book’s greatest strength was a clear dependence on Scripture. From the outset, the authors demonstrated an understanding of this topic that was, in every way, shaped by the Bible. This was shown both in their broad referencing of 30 New Testament passages as well as in their discussion of a few particularly helpful passages.
For me, their lengthier discussions on passages like Romans 14:22-23 stood out as the most helpful use of Scripture. It is in those particular discussions that the authors demonstrate an ability to practically walk their readers through complicated biblical arguments in a way that leaves the reader with a greater understanding of the cultural issues faced by New Testament believers, Paul’s pattern of thought as he approached those issues, and a practical understanding of how that pattern can still be applied today. Regardless of your present level of spiritual maturity, these discussions are incredibly beneficial and challenging.
Due to how short this book is there will undoubtedly be issues left unaddressed that some readers would have hoped to find. From my own perspective, I believe some of those issues could still have been addressed had the authors chosen not to conclude their book with a specific look at foreign missions. Although I greatly appreciated the missional focus of the authors and while I believe that much of what they say in those examples can be used in everyday experience even within one’s home, I also believe that most of their readers will face far more culturally charged challenges within their own cities and local churches. One does not have to serve overseas, after-all, to find those challenges.
As such, I believe the authors would have been wise to specifically address differences between generations, ethnic groups, denominations, and other cultural challenges faced every day within our schools, work places, and church congregations. Still, this one critique in no way diminishes the overall value of the authors’ discussion.
In an age where debates between believers are never ending, there is always a desire to find a simple cure-all solution. While many believers may desire that, “Conscience” does not provide any simplistic solution. It does, however, provide a necessary foundation to every believer who seeks to approach our own cultural debates and personal temptations in a way that brings unity to believers, reflects grace to those outside of the faith, and ultimately glorifies God. As such, it is a practical work that I would recommend to any believer.
“Just as God’s gift of touch and pain guards us from what would rob us of physical health, conscience continually guards us from the sin that robs our joy.” (page 114)
“When we share the gospel with on-Christians, we should stress this incredible promise of a clean conscience.” (page 46)
“Christian liberty is…all about the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of weaker believers.” (page 132)