This week’s book review is of a 2016 release from Crossway entitled, “Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ” by Andrew David Naselli, J. D. Crowley, Foreword by D. A. Carson.
The book begins, as one might expect, with an introductory chapter working towards a definition of “Conscience.” After two chapters of discussion, they conclude that “The conscience is your consciousness (or awareness) of what you believe is right and wrong” (42). I found myself marveling at a statement that seemed to lack any particular meaning. However, as the book progressed I saw quite clearly why this discussion was important.
It is hinted throughout the book that our culture attempts to sear or ignore the conscience and that many Christians have learned to do so from the world around us. Naselli and Crowley urge us not to pursue this path and instead, to discipline our conscience and develop it according to biblical truth. While they write in a way that is antithetical to our culture, it should be noted that the overall tone is not aimed at criticizing the culture or any particular people group. Instead, they aim to shape personal conviction and practice in their readers.
The most compelling question answered by this book is, “How you should relate to fellow Christians.” The question is trickier than it first seems. When dealing with conscience, the authors admit that there are many issues where two Christ-following, God-honoring, Spirit-centered, Bible-believing Christians can disagree. For example, whether or not watching violent sports is morally permissible, the extent to which Christians can enjoy secular music, movies, and arts, or issues like public vs. private schooling. For most, all of these issues are before us on a daily basis. In light of an election year, this section of the book is most important. Operating primarily from Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, they expound on Christian liberty. Christian liberty, they assert, is, “the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of weaker believers” (132).
This book draws regularly from John MacArthur’s work on the same topic. That being said, it works much more charitably than that which is frequently associated with MacArthur. The authors will frequently illustrate their points with personal examples of convictions derived from their respective consciences. Yet, when this is done the reader feels no pressure or coercion to adopt a particular view just because it belongs to one of the authors.
In the end, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. It is graciously short, easy-to-read, and a helpful reflection. It might serve as good material for a small group or indeed, a helpful resource for small group leaders to learn how to resolve conflicts of conscience within a group discussion. One may finish this book with just as many questions as they had going in, but they will be better questions from having spent time reading this.