Book You Should Buy: Conscience by Naselli and Crowley
Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and JD Crowley is one of the more enjoyable reads I have come across in the past year. It is a relatively short book on a subject that definitely deserves more attention.
I have never read a book specifically on the conscience before, and so it piqued my curiosity. I found that the book reinforced for me just how important the role of conscience is in the life of a believer. The Bible mentions the conscience regularly in Scripture, particularly the New Testament, and speaks of it as being vital to spiritual health. As the authors point out, the Bible says that:
- the aim of biblical teaching is, in part, a good and clean conscience (1 Timothy 1:5)
- a good conscience can save us from shipwrecking our faith (1 Timothy 1:19)
- a good conscience will help us endure persecution (1 Peter 3:16)
- our conscience needs to be guarded because it can grow dull (Titus 1:5)
- our conscience should dictate how we behave in certain circumstances (Romans 14:1-6)
…plus much more. The point is that our conscience—the little voice inside our heads, so to speak—is a precious gift that God has given us and we are to avail ourselves to it. We should inform our conscience, guard it, and obey it.
I found that a lot of the book covered material I already knew but had never really put into fleshed-out, articulate points. I knew, for instance, that Christians ought to give grace to one another on matters that Scripture does not speak clearly of. We should each determine our values and positions and not impose them legalistically on one another. But I had never thought of this in terms of our conscience, and how to make sure our conscience is being guided by faith and not by our sinful inclinations, or how all the little details of each situation should play out. The book was extremely clarifying in this regard. Let me give you an example to help you see what I mean.
As a test case, let’s use the several instances where Christian bakers refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding and were caught in legal trouble as a result. The Bible nowhere gives a direct command for how that believer should respond in this scenario. The Bible does name homosexuality as a sin, and it is therefore fair to say that gay marriage is unbiblical, but how then should a Christian respond when asked to bake the cake? A whole host of critical questions arise:
- Is baking a cake for a gay wedding by nature an act of supporting it?
- Is potentially offending the client the best way to demonstrate Christ’s love to them?
- Is a baker responsible for how their product is used, or only the producing of it?
- Would baking the cake confuse Christians who know the baker as to what their stance is on homosexuality? Might it cause other Christians to stumble?
- If the baker were to reject this client, would they also reject a Christian marrying a non-Christian? And if not, why not?
The list could go on. The point is that the issue is complicated and not something that can be resolved with a simple Bible verse. How should the baker respond? And how should Christians respond to the baker?
The answer is that the baker should study Scripture, pray, seek counsel, and then obey whatever their conscience is telling them to do. And, in turn, Christians who agree or disagree with whatever the baker chooses should be fully convinced in their own mind about how they would have handled the situation, without imposing their conscience onto another. In fact, Romans chapter 14 deals at length with how Christians should handle matters of conscience and treat one another when their consciences differ.
Here’s the rub: if Christians better understood how their consciences worked and how we are supposed to relate to our own consciences and the consciences of others, we would experience much more personal and communal peace. A lot of the hoopla that exists between Christians over matters of conscience would vanish overnight, and that would be a good thing.
Conscience is a small book that contributes to this end. The authors deal with every text of Scripture that mentions the conscience and essentially flesh out a helpful and practical theology of the human conscience. I know it was very helpful and clarifying for me, and I’m sure it will be for you too. I’m giving my recommendation that you add it to your personal library.