I recently attended a Pastors’ Conference at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary. This is the second conference I have attended, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both times. The faculty and staff are sweet people. They are focused on the right preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
In addition to hosting guests who are gifted (Heath Lambert at the first conference; Dave Doran and J. D. Crowley at the second), the seminary offers a free gift to a certain number of guests. The gift for this conference was Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley’s Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, published by Crossway.
The book is divided into 7 chapters:
- What is Conscience?
- How Do We Define Conscience from the New Testament?
- What Should You Do When Your conscience Condemns You?
- How Should You Calibrate Your Conscience?
- How Should You Relate to Fellow Christians When Your Consciences Disagree?
- How Should You Relate to People in Other Cultures When Your Consciences Disagree?
- A Closing Prayer
The book is relatively short (149 pages, which includes two appendices). However, its brevity does not demean its treatment of the subject.
I will admit, I was not altogether eager to read this book. Sure, the title sounded interesting, but it’s not a textual criticism book, or commentary. However, one page in and I was extremely thankful to have received this book.
As a student pastor, I interact with students and families with a wide range of consciences. This book has been a tremendous help in changing the way I view my own conscience and that of others. Pastors, you will be helped by digesting this work.
The strength of the work lies in its focus on Scripture. Every chapter (with the exception of the chapter on prayer) quotes Scripture. Thus, Naselli and Crowley anchor their work in the safety and security of Sacred Scripture. More than this, they provide a biblical treatment (at least from the New Testament) of conscience. They walk through each verse that addresses the conscience and then extrapolates its meaning and usage. Additionally, they treat both the positive and negative aspects of the conscience and what it does. Finally, they end the chapter (chapter two) with several conclusions, based on Scripture, which form the framework for the remainder of the book.
They spend the next few chapters covering how one’s conscience affects oneself, how to tune one’s conscience with God’s Will, and then how to handle disagreements between one’s own church members and members of different cultures.
I want to end with how I think this could benefit the church.
- For the conservative (possibly fundamentalist) Christian:
This book can help you understand the Scriptures better. It will help bring certain passages to your mind, and should you be open to the teachings of the Sacred Text, your knowledge of how our consciences work and what is a matter of conscience and what is unbiblical. Specifically, I recommend chapters four and five. Even if it does not change your convictions (which, if they change, were they truly convictions?), it will help understand the struggles between the strong and the weak brothers found in Romans chapter 14. Thus, you will be better equipped to shepherd those who are both strong and weak in the faith.
- For the liberal (possibly antinomianism) Christian:
Freedom seems to be the word summarizing evangelicals today. Is alcoholic consumption wrong? We are free. Can we listen to secular music? We are free.
Of course, this is an oversimplified. However, the desire for freedom (which is quite biblical, and its abuse unbiblical) should never outweigh the spiritual growth of a fellow believer. Conscience implores the strong (which, contextually is the freer of the two) to consider the weak and limit freedom for their spiritual growth.
This book will help anchor the discussion of freedom in the body of Christ. Our goal, whether weak or strong, is God’s glory and our good.
Brothers and sisters, read and meditate on this work and the Scriptures referenced, and you will be better equipped to handle: 1) your own conscience, 2) interacting with other consciences, 3) avoid conflict by limiting freedom for the sake of Christ.