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Book Review: Pure Pleasure:Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good? by Gary Thomas

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If you squirm a little inside when you read the title Pure Pleasure, you’re in good company. As the subtitle of Gary Thomas’ accessible treaties on the biblical role of pleasure in a believer’s life suggests, many of us have –- perhaps unknowingly –- adopted an attitude of ascetic martyrdom that is never suggested or recommended in the word of God. However, if you’re willing to put your discomfort and hesitations aside for a moment, Thomas is ready to redirect misguided pleasure avoiders into a balanced and godly understanding of the delights God has in store for us in this life and how they can draw our hearts closer to His.

Pure Pleasure arrived in my life at a time when I had begun to question the lack of joy, the lack of laughter, the lack of, yes -– pleasure -– in the lives of many of my brothers and sisters (and myself in some areas.) Not only was there a desert, but there was actually fear surrounding the prospect of allowing delight into the Christian life. Where was the room for rejoicing? For the jubilant celebration that Jesus calls us to? Not only was I asking this question about others around me, but of myself as well.

I’m always naturally cautious when a book so vigorously defends a certain aspect of the Christian life, and not having read any of Thomas’ work in the past I wondered if perhaps his was a new form of Christian hedonism -– I’m so glad that it’s not. In fact, Pure Pleasure is hands-down the most balanced, biblical perspective on the proper role of delight that I’ve ever encountered, whether by book, sermon, or informal times of fellowship.

Thomas writes accessibly, peppering his ponderings with personal illustrations from his own life’s journey and the thoughts of respected Christian thinkers from times past. He turns to the word of God apart from man-made, extra-biblical legalisms to examine what it truly says. Watch out -– Thomas realizes that he’s likely stomping on some toes, but he trudges forward in any case. I greatly appreciate his courage.

One’s response to the title of this book can easily enough determine if you would benefit from reading it (I believe most Christians would.) If you shy away from the prospect of pleasure or delight as having a positive, healthy role in your life and the title makes you wince -– even a little bit, on the inside –- I highly recommend you read this work. If you shout in acclamation, “Yes, I’m all about pleasure, there’s nothing I can’t do now that I’m redeemed, it’s open season on sensation!” I also recommend you read this work. Neither extreme is a healthy condition; Thomas helps to gently guide us back into joyful moderation through honest, tradition-free examination of the scriptures.

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About Jennifer Bogart

  • Thanks! (I actually do get back to my discussions, but it can take a while!) I’m going to read the book. I want to see what he says about “biblical boundaries.” My reading of scripture indicates that the boundaries are established by walking by means of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), which precludes sinning.

  • Hi Bob,

    By moderation and balance I mean that the author doesn’t endorse a free-wheeling spin into hedonism, as some might fear from one who writes on the topic of endorsing pleasure in the Christian life.

    Does that make sense? By balanced I also mean that the author keeps the scriptures in view, and doesn’t recommend taking pleasure beyond it’s biblical boundaries.

    I hope this is clarifying! I personally can’t speak to the author’s beliefs on life lived solely through the Spirit, as he doesn’t specifically address it, and this is the first work of his that I’ve read.

    Let me know if I can clarify in any other ways!

  • I emphatically endorse pleasure, delight and joy in the Christian life. On the other hand, I’m somewhat skeptical about terms like “balance” and “moderation.” Isn’t the whole range of feelings appropriate in the Christian life, depending on the circumstances? Were the lives of Jesus and His followers characterized by balance and moderation? When I read these terms I get a vision of a Christian reeling on a continuum of emotions, trying to find the precise mean upon which to stand. Do you think the author would approve of a standard of reaction to life that depends on being filled with and walking by the Spirit, even when doing so doesn’t result in moderation?