There is a paradox at work in modern Christianity. On the one hand, it is popular to think that the gospel has primarily to do with how to handle sin (what Dallas Willard calls “the gospel of sin management”). On the other, we’re terrible at actually dealing with sin. All too often, the response to persistent sin is “try harder,” but this technique often leads to short-term results and long-term failure.
Todd D. Hunter (author of The Accidental Anglican) has written a book about how to deal with temptations to sin that doesn’t begin and end with “try harder.” He begins by saying that at the root of persistent sins is disordered desire—the “tyranny of what we want.” Desires are good to have, but we are tempted to pursue them destructively. Overcoming temptation starts with recognizing those desires and learning how they can be directed in more positive ways.
Hunter uses research from the Barna Group that indicates the top five temptations Americans deal with are anxiety, procrastination, overeating, overuse of media, and laziness. He spends a chapter each looking closely at these temptations, but these chapters are helpful even for people who do not struggle with those particular temptations. He spends each one talking about how to defeat temptation by reordering desires and becoming people who, “having feasted on God, his desires and purposes for us, would not entertain temptation” (63–4).
In the latter part of the book, Hunter focuses on “ancient and fruitful” ways that the Church has historically dealt wit temptation by reordering desires. These include silence, solitude, liturgical prayers, sacraments, and the lectionary.
This is a book on sin and temptation that I would recommend, for two reasons: First, since its goal is getting at the root of temptation rather than the symptoms. Second, it relies on the collected wisdom of the historic Christian Church to give guidance on reordering those desires that enslave us.
Note: Thanks to Thomas Nelson for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.
Second note: Two of my fellow Regent alumni are thanked in the acknowledgements, so that is another point in the book’s favor!