I was interested in grabbing this book the moment I heard of its release. The human conscience is a pretty fascinating aspect of creation. Most of us think of it as a “shoulder angel” or an “inner lawyer,” but conscience is a beautiful component of our humanity. No other animal or piece of nature gets to share this, and therefore it is one of the evidences that we are God’s “crown jewel” of creation. But despite the uniqueness and the power of the conscience, there is honestly not much talk about it.
Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley ask the question, “When was the last time you heard a sermon about conscience?” (15). I answered that I don’t think I ever have. Then I started to think about books I’ve read. I couldn’t remember a book I had read that dealt explicitly with the conscience. The conscience, while powerful and significant, is often sadly neglected, which is even more bewildering for Christians who should be even more sensitive and aware of it.
Thankfully, Naselli and Crowley have partnered together to bring us one of the most important books you could read this 2016, or even in this generation. The cultural climate needs this kind of discussion. It always has, really. Backwoods rural churches have come down with the hammer on Christian liberty issues, while other churches are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. The spectrum of need is wide, and Conscience speaks to all of it. It addresses, as the title indicates:
What it is (Chapters 1-2)
How to Train It (Chapters 3-4)
Loving Those Who Differ (Chapters 5-6)
Let me start by saying I read this book in its entirety in one sitting. It was that good. I couldn’t put it down. The combination of new, insightful material on a neglected subject, mixed with honest conversation and practical tips and help makes for a wonderful read. Here were some of the highlights.
First, Chapter 2 is a wide review of every single New Testament reference to conscience. There are thirty occurrences, and each is analyzed here. Talk about a helpful word study of Scripture right at our fingertips!
I appreciated this chapter so much, because instead of Naselli and Crowley spending half of the book setting up their arguments and proof-texting, they simply presented the verses, offered a little clarification for each, but mostly let Scripture teach us about conscience. Throughout the book Naselli and Crowley deeply examine Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10, even offering a corresponding appendix for these. The biblical focus of Conscience is one of its strongest selling points.
Second, the book is full of various charts, graphs, and figures, not meant to bog us down in analysis and statistics but instead to help us be able to think through and communicate these ideas with clarity. For example, one figure explains how my conscience differs from another man’s conscience, where they overlap, and how both of our consciences relate to God’s will. Another chart examines Paul’s solution of love when it comes to a weak conscience or a strong conscience (see p. 94).
One of the most helpful chapters for me and likely most readers is the chapter on how we relate to one another as Christians with differing consciences (Chapter 5). Naselli and Crowley use the image of “theological triage” to explain that some matters of conscience take priority over others (85).
Like a hospital triage that is going to address the most pressing, life-threatening cases first, theological triage must take seriously the first-order matters of conscience, then second-order, then third-order. Naselli and Crowley offer twelve helpful principles when we disagree with the conscience of others, a major one being having the right spirit and the right proportion when addressing them (101).
Again, I read the book entirely in two hours. It was well worth my time, and I think it is one of the most insightful and needed books for 2016. This one will be returned to. It is a wonderful tool for discipleship, small groups, preachers, and missionaries. You can’t miss this one.