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Reclaiming Pleasure
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Gary Thomas
Pure Pleasure:  Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling So Good
(Grand Rapids:  Michigan, 2009.  251p.)

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We all remember the Puritans, who seemed afraid to allow themselves any fun, and tried to deny everyone else the right to enjoy themselves.  That is a somewhat stilted stereotype, but seems valid enough.  The Puritans had such an idea about holiness that they were concerned that if you enjoyed something too much, you would be shifting your vision from God.  Having fun was somehow thought to be evil.

Too many of us have some degree of this false piety in our background.  This misguided and unscriptural idea about life, joy and sin has so perverted the concept of God and life in certain circles that for some time in great segments of western society, fun or enjoyment became synonymous with sin!  Gary Thomas makes an attempt to rectify this and re-center our vision.

The western Reformed tradition has suffered under a dour cynicism about life, focused around fear of sin, instead of the love of God.  This contradicts the foundational perspective stated in the first statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647):

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Enjoyment is indeed holy, and the enjoyment of God is an opportunity Faith provides and enables us to fulfill.  Fun is holy, relationships are holy.  Sex is holy – the relationshp between Yahweh and his people is portrayed most commonly in sexual language!  Thomas describes some practical ways in which enjoyment of various aspects of life is an instance of the enjoyment of God.  He portrays this concept by telling numerous true stories of his own experiences and those of many others he knows.

Thomas builds a biblical and theological foundation for the concept of pleasure.  He draws upon the perspectives by John Calvin to correct the view of those who are more Calvinist than Calvin.  Calvin provides insights to his followers on taking a holy view of pleasure as reclaimed by God and dedicated to him.

Another reviewer of this book has expressed one problem I had as I read.  While this is a very practical and focused view of the goodness of God, and the high desire of God that his creatures live the full life, at times Thomas' analyses seem to be self-indulgent.  The author is sensitive to the problem of self-justification, and I appreciated his self-monitoring comments along the way.  But at times it seems like he stretched the Divine approval thin in rationalization of benefits he enjoys.

Overall, this is a thoughtful and helpful book.  This thesis is by no means new, but perhaps for the audience Thomas addresses, these will be new suggestions or insights.  I was not familiar with Thomas, though on occasion I had seen a reference to his name in works by other authors.  I recommend this book.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Integrating Mind and Spirit with Body and Emotion
[review] Victory out of Despair

Related on the Internet:
Westminster Shorter Catechism – Wikipedia
Westminster Shorter Catechism, with Proof Texts

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Reviewed on Amazon 8 January 2010
This version developed for Thoughts and Resources 9 January 2010
Posted here 11 January 2010
Reviewed on Barnes and Noble 12 January 2010
last edited here 5 September 2015

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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