Book Review: The Art of Turning, by Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung, The Art of Turning: From Sin to Christ for a Joyfully Clear Conscience. 10 Publishing, 2017. 42 pps, $4.29.
Most people assume they know what the word “conscience” means, even if they don’t know how to spell it. But in 2016, when Republican senator Ted Cruz told the Republican National Convention to “vote your conscience,” it became clear that “conscience” is like so many other words: commonly used, but rarely understood. Last year’s conscience controversy led me to admit—rather sheepishly—that my own theology of conscience was woefully inadequate.
“Everyone who votes thinks they’re voting the right way because their conscience tells them so,” wrote one blog commenter. “Who are you to say that their conscience is wrong?” That’s a good question. Can we know if our conscience is rightly calibrated? Whether we’re voting for presidents or deciding which shows to watch on Netflix, we want to know: Is our conscience leading us in the right direction—or is it leading us astray?
These are exactly the sort of questions that Kevin DeYoung seeks to answer in his excellent little book, The Art of Turning.
GIVE THIS BOOK AWAY
The main strength of DeYoung’s little book is just that: it’s little. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive book on conscience, Andy Naselli and J. D. Crowley recently wrote an excellent book that gives a robust theology of conscience [review here].
In just four chapters, DeYoung masterfully hits the high points of what the Bible says about conscience, as well as helping the Christian understand how to pursue a pure one.
WHAT IS THE CONSCIENCE?
DeYoung gives a concise, biblical definition of conscience: “The conscience is the moral faculty in human beings that assesses what is good and bad” (13). On the following page, his “Prosecuting Attorney” and “Defense Attorney” illustration superbly illustrates how the conscience is supposed to work in our lives. Chapter 4 may very well be the most helpful one in the book, wherein DeYoung clearly and carefully explains the four different ways our consciences can “misfire”:
- The evil conscience (Heb. 10:22)
- The seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2)
- The defiled conscience (Titus 1:15)
- The weak conscience (1 Cor. 8, 10)
The last section on “The Weak Conscience” is a fantastically simple explanation of a “weak conscience,” and may very well be worth the price of the entire book. Is there someone in your church trying to figure out how to think about alcohol consumption? Who doesn’t know what a “stumbling block” is? Do you know someone who’s not sure what to make of Paul’s treatment of meat offered to idols? Chapter 4 of The Art of Turning might be an easy way for you to help them understand how to think about such things. Give them a copy of The Art of Turning so you can discuss it together over lunch. I’m certainly planning to do that in my own church.
A GOSPEL NOTE
Finally, DeYoung’s book closes on a strong gospel note, encouraging believers to stand before God with a clear conscience by turning from their sins and turning to Christ. If we want to have a clear conscience before God, there’s no magic pill. The recipe is an old standard: repent and believe. “We are not meant to live with a low-level, persistent sense of guilt and shame,” writes DeYoung. Rather, “We are meant, as the Lord Jesus taught us, to daily confess our sins and know his favor” (37). Indeed.
It’s here you see DeYoung not merely writing as a theologian, but as a pastor who cares just as much about sheep suffering from conscience maladies as he does sheep who simply don’t know how to think about the conscience.
DeYoung closes The Art of Turning by asking this question, “Of all the times you’ve given your testimony, have you ever testified to the great gift of having a clean conscience?” Before reading The Art of Turning, I wouldn’t only have said, “No,” but also, “Why would I even mention my conscience?” But after reading The Art of Turning, it seems strange that I’ve never really talked about my conscience. Of all people, Christians would do well to think more clearly about our innate moral calibration mechanism, and I’m confident that DeYoung’s little book will help the church do just that.