Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint

Book title: How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint
Author: Peter Kreeft
San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2016
Number of pages: 170

Real People Being Holy in the Real World

From the way the title reads, you’d think someone has descended from a mountain top, some wise and holy guru, to condescend to tell us lowland commoners how to live to be like him and/or Mother Theresa.

But that isn’t the case according to author Peter Kreeft: “This book is not a great chef serving up a gourmet dinner; it is one desperately poor bum telling another where there’s free food.”

I love this quote. It definitely sets the tone for the book. Kreeft writes about the relationship between God and flawed man without sounding religious or beating up the reader (me/you) with guilt. I read this felt I could actually be holy. Holy is in reach.

Kreeft didn’t come holiness from the familiar, Calvinistic angle where you just need to believe all the right stuff. In so many books I read in my camp of evangelicals, they peddle a theology of holiness that believing all the correct dogma and creeds rather than doing good deeds. That, of course, makes me argumentative and leaves me feeling frustrated which isn’t a very holy feeling. I always walk away wondering how rock star preachers portray themselves as heroically holier than everybody else making people feel like “if only I was like him… but I’m not… oh well, I guess I’ll never measure up.” Their brand of holiness is somehow wrapped up in the size of their platform and giant warehouse church. You just know that you, a commoner, alas, will never be like them.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

But here’s what Kreeft is saying: holiness for the common man. That’s the topic this book explores. If you want it, you can have. Because you want it, it’s attainable with God’s help. God wants to help and will help as often as you reach for help. Every saint that’s attained sainthood started where you and I are right now in this moment when you’re reading this.

Kreeft covers the topic by asking this overarching question: “Which is more important, justification or sanctification (in terms of Christian theology)? Being saved or being saintly?”

Here’s one of the conclusions he comes to (I love this paragraph):
“Faith, which justifies us, is like a root. Hope, which expands us, is like a shoot. Love, which perfects us, is like a shoot. Which of these three equally necessary parts of the growing plant of our spiritual life is more important? Read 1 Corinthians 13 for the answer. The whole point of the root and the shoot is the fruit. The rest of the plant is for the fruit. The fruit is not an afterthought, an extra, an accident. Sanctification is to justification what babies are to sex.”
Life isn’t to be lived just so we get to go to heaven. Life is to be lived to do stuff for God the way Jesus did. The Holy Spirit stands ready to help us do this. We just need to get in on it. Get in line. Step up to the plate and be willing to take a swing.

The book is broken into short chapters designed to give you something to think about as you’re getting your day going. There’s a chapter called “God as your Guru.” That’s because nobody ever became holy on his own, you need a coach. Why not God?

There are a bunch of chapters with one word titles: Methods; Unselfconsciousness; Peace; Failures; Suffering; Grace; Detachment; Creation; Gratitude.

Some of the other chapters are as descriptive but have a few more words in their titles. Love and Sex; The Future; Little Things; Spiritual Warfare; Holiness is Easy. Not in this order. But you can see by this list that this is a book you want to read because you need to get some of these things up and running.

Oh, no? Is that because I didn’t mention this title: “Objection: I can’t be a Saint”? This chapter will also help: ‘When to find God: “The Sacrament of the of the Present Moment”. This was probably the most practical and thought provoking chapter I read. I didn’t list them in order because you really don’t have to read the chapters in order for this to work. Don’t tell Kreeft I said that. But once you spend the money on the book, it’s yours. Go crazy.

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