There has been a lot of talk over the past several months about the role of works within the context of the gospel. Much confusion has come about by those who promote antinomianism (licentious inactivity disguised as “grace” that is accompanied by a blatant disregard for the Law) as well as legalism (salvation is not by grace alone, but justification is attained by effort). “Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life” by Brian Hedges is a timely book that seeks to provide a biblical framework for Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). I’m thankful for my friends at Cross Focused Reviews for giving me the opportunity to review this book from Shepherd Press.
This is the first book by Hedges that I have read, though “Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change” and “Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin” are on my ever-increasing “to-read” list (I have the Kindle version of the former). I am grateful for brother Hedges’ labors for the gospel and the practical resources he has provided for the Church.
“Active Spirituality” is not written as a basic theology book, but as a series of letters to a young Christian. It was refreshing to see this format in a book that deals with a few challenging topics. As someone who spends much of his time reading systematic theology or biblical theology, it was nice to see a different approach to theology by utilizing this genre. In my opinion, the use of fictional correspondence helps capture the pastoral heart of the author and helps to emphasize the overall message of the book.
In these letters, Hedges interacts with a new convert who is pondering the Christian life. He covers topics like assurance of salvation, the necessity of the local church, the perseverance of the saints, repentance, self-examination, and spiritual weariness (amongst others). While offering pastoral insight into texts such as Philippians 2, Romans 7, and the warnings in the book of Hebrews, he pulls from a wide variety of sources like Augustine, Bunyan, Owen, Ryle, Edwards, and Lewis to assist him in shepherding this young Christian who is seeking to live for God’s glory.
Overall, any disagreements I have with the book are hair-splitting objections to how something was worded, or knee-jerk reactions to his interpretation of a passage (that he has undoubtedly spent more time studying). While I am not particularly fond of some of the sources he cited, he refers to Bunyan and Owen quite frequently (which I applaud), and does an excellent job synthesizing references. Hedges is also great at creating illustrations from a number of different stories and genres. Unfortunately, this book has no footnotes or Scripture index, but there is a helpful “Notes on Sources” appendix as well as a bibliography.
“Active Spirituality” is a useful little book for people who have recently embraced Christ as their Savior and King. Helping to navigate through the various challenges that await Christians in this life, the author provides pastoral care and concern throughout and offers wise biblical counsel to someone that needs guidance in their sojourn to the celestial city. This is a title that I would use in discipling new believers, and I’ll continue to dip into for it’s practicality and vast bibliography. Hedges has done the Church a service by giving us an easy-to-read and immensely practical book about the balance between grace and effort.
For more on this subject, please visit the Pastoral Theology page.