Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Pure Pleasure

book cover

Pure Pleasure:
Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?
by Gary L. Thomas

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Back Cover Description:
Discover the power of guilt-free pleasure.

Pleasure is a good thing. It’s a powerful force that feeds your relationships, helps protect your spiritual integrity, and brings delight to our heavenly Father. Pleasure isn’t something Christians should fear, shun, or disparage; it’s something we should learn to cultivate in our lives.

Acclaimed spiritual growth author Gary Thomas will guide you into this way of life, which is foundational to a healthy relationship with God, with your loved ones, and with the world. He’ll show you that, for the redeemed, pleasure can be a powerful and holy force for good, leading to increased worship, spiritual strength, and renewed relationships.

In this invigorating and liberating book, Gary Thomas will energize, inspire, equip, and challenge you to experience life as God meant it to be: overflowing with pleasure.

If you feel guilty about enjoying the blessings God has given you, doing something nice for yourself, or taking a day off when there's so much need out there, then this is the book for you. But it's also for those who realize they're being tempted by pleasures that are condemned in the Bible. It shows how appropriate pleasure done in the God-ordained context will help prevent a Christian from being tempted by inappropriate behavior.

Chapter one gave the premise of the book. Chapters two through five explained exactly what he meant when he said Christians should enjoy themselves and why he thought God wanted us to enjoy life. Chapters six through fourteen dug deeper into how appropriate enjoyment of pleasure would play out in a Christian's life, and he included examples from his life.

The book was Bible-based, and he quoted Scripture to support his main points. I agreed with the points he made. However, especially in the first chapters, his tone came across as defensive--as if he assumed all of his readers would attack his premise and he wanted to reassure and calm them down before moving on. So some parts were repetitious, like he wanted to make really, really sure we didn't misunderstand what he was saying. I think I would have been more deeply engaged by chapters two through five if he'd presented his case more succinctly.

In any case, the rest of the book was excellent. The entire book was easy to understand and made good points. I'd recommend it to anyone who "feels bad about feeling good" or otherwise wonders if they really have a Biblical view of pleasure.

I really liked the example he gave in chapter one, quoted below, so I highly recommend taking the time to read it.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
“Got . . . to get . . . some water!”

Houston sweltered in clammy humidity while the summer sun baked the streets with 95-degree heat. It was smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon, and every sane person sat cool and refreshed inside an air-conditioned house. Some no doubt felt startled by an eminently foolish, middle-aged, fluorescent-white man from the Pacific Northwest, melting in his running shoes as he trekked through the suburbs.

I had been invited by two churches to visit Texas. Since I was to preach on Sunday morning and then lead a staff retreat that evening, any run had to be shoehorned in on Sunday afternoon between the two morning sermons and the evening session.

Because of the heat, I planned to run just six miles. I took no water with me, but hey, the entire run would take less than fifty minutes; I figured, how thirsty could I get?

In less than fifteen minutes, I found out. Imagine chewing on hot sand for ten minutes, spitting it out, and then letting someone blow the air of a hair dryer directly down your throat for another five.

That’s what it felt like.

Unfortunately, I still had another half hour to go.

Thirty minutes into my run, I felt like a ninety-year-old man. When a discarded, half-consumed bottle of Diet Coke lying in a ditch started to look inviting, I knew I was in trouble.

Finally, I saw a woman walking in front of her house, a house that--glory, hallelujah!--had a hose rolled up in front of it. I walked up to her and through a parched throat croaked out, “Excuse me; would you mind if I take a quick drink from your hose?”

“Not at all,” she said, so I turned on the hose, let it run for a moment, and opened my mouth to receive--the most plastic-tasting, mineral-encrusted water you can imagine.

Think about it--the water in that hose had boiled inside a rubber tube for days. The bacteria were probably multiplying by the millisecond--no doubt falling over themselves in their rush to reproduce. As that water coursed down my throat, a small voice in the back of my mind said, “You’re so going to pay for this. Three hours from now, you’re going to wish you were dead.”

But I didn’t care. Fifty degrees past thirsty, I wanted immediate satisfaction. I would willingly risk any number of gastric nightmares just to wet my throat. So I kept drinking.

I finally made it back to my car, immediately drove to a local drugstore, and proceeded to buy an armload of icy beverages. And then I smiled as I realized I had the perfect opening for my next book.

When Thirsty Trumps Trustworthy
When I drank from that hose, I knew I was flirting with disaster--but I didn’t care. My intense thirst made me willing to risk long-term suffering for short-term satisfaction. Every scientist in the country could have lined up back to back and used charts, Power-Point presentations, anecdotes, personal testimonies, and research tested data to demonstrate the foolishness of drinking that water, but I still might have put that hose to my lips and sucked down the liquid relief. I felt that thirsty. My urgent need trumped any other immediate concern.

My physical condition mirrored what many people face--spiritually, relationally, and emotionally. And spiritually thirsty people will put a lot of poison in their mouths, just to stop the thirst.

Nonbelievers are supernaturally thirsty because they do not know God, whom they were created to enjoy. Many believers are thirsty because they do not know how to enjoy God and the life he has given them. Some in the church feel suspicious, at best, of pleasure. We consider pleasure a synonym for sin. If it feels good, we think, it must be the devil’s handmaiden. So we set up our lives on duty, responsibility, and obligation--good things all--with little true pleasure to season our days. Over time, these lives that are devoid of holy and good pleasure become extremely “thirsty,” and we begin gravitating toward a release that is not holy or good or honoring to God--pleasures that war against our souls instead of building us up.

Read the read of chapter one.

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