Recently I had an opportunity to endorse a new book “Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins” by my friend Brian Hedges. Here is what I said about his book:
“We live in a culture in which spirituality is on the rise, including a resurgence in mysticism, Gnosticism, and every other -ism. Many are confused about what they believe and why it matters, and sin is often minimized or hidden. Hedges draws on the best wisdom of the church to help readers better grasp the seven deadly sins and how the gospel frees God’s people from them. As Hit List blows away misconceptions about the sinfulness of man, readers will be captivated by the magnificence of what Jesus has done so sinners can put their sin to death and grow in the grace of God. This is an excellent and needed book. It can convict you of your sinfulness while pointing you to the sufficiency of the finished work of the Savior—Jesus Christ.”
Brian: Hit List is about sin and grace, brokenness and redemption, vice and virtue. It is a collection of detailed dossiers on seven of our most lethal enemies, those vices traditionally known as “The Seven Deadly Sins” – namely: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust. But the goal of this book isn’t just to see our sins more clearly, or even to repent from them, but to experience the transforming power of Christ and his Spirit in our lives.
Dave, “This is your second book with Cruciform Press. What’s the relationship to your previous book with Cruciform, Licensed to Kill?”
Brian: Licensed to Kill is subtitled “A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin.” My purpose in that book was to give detailed help on how to kill any sin. Hit List, written as something of a sequel, builds on the general principles in Licensed to Kill, but with the aim of attacking the specific sins themselves.
Dave, “You acknowledge in the book that the seven deadly sins isn’t an explicitly biblical list, but you’ve still written a book on it. Why?”
Brian: The origin of this list is almost 1500 years old and has been used by Christians of all stripes for helping them understand the nature of sin. Some of the early theologians called these “capital” sins – “capital” coming from caput, the Latin word for head. They viewed these sins not as the worst sins, but as the “head” sins, or root sins: the leading, breeding sins, which produced all the others. The idea was that you could never deal with the fruits of other sins unless you addressed these root sins. And while this specific list of seven sins is not given in Scripture, the idea of root sins certainly is, and a good case can be made from Scripture for seeing these seven sins as root sins – or to use Dorothy Sayers’ phrase, as “the Seven Roots of Sinfulness.”
Another reason I’ve written the book is because studying the history of the seven deadly sins has helped me personally. It started several years ago when I first began realizing my own propensity to the sin of acedia – the older designation for sloth. Sloth, in ancient Christian spirituality, wasn’t just laziness, though that could be a symptom. It was an inward spiritual resistance to God, what Dante called lento amore, slow love. My interest in understanding this particular vice lead me into a study of the other deadly sins as well. And then I began to see just how influential the list has been not only in theology, but also in literature and in popular culture. All of that lead to writing this book.
Dave, “One of the rubrics you use for explaining these sins is “disordered love.” Can you say more about that?”
Brian: Augustine, who believed that sin was the result of wrongly ordered love and desire, developed this concept. Augustine said that “living a just and holy life requires one . . . to love things . . . in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally” (De Doct. Christ. Bk. 1).
The idea, in other words, is that there is a proper order to our loves, with God obviously deserving our highest love, and that we flourish as human beings only when that order is observed. The roots of this are clearly in Scripture, for example, in Jesus’ teaching on the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:37-40), and the New Testament’s frequent use of the word epithumia, which means inordinate desire.
I find it helpful because (1) it affirms the legitimacy of our human longing for happiness, but teaches us to relocate our happiness in God; and (2) it affirms the inherent goodness of created things, such as food and sex, while reminding us to keep our desires for these things ordered under the Lordship of Christ. Sin results when we seek our joy in created things, rather than the Creator (this is the essence idolatry) and when we fail to observe God’s revealed will in how we use these lesser goods. But the practical solution to such sin is not asceticism – severe bodily self-denial — but the reordering of our desires, such that we embrace all created goods in their proper order.
Dave, “What do you hope lay Christians get out of the book?”
Brian: I hope they will get both practical help and gospel hope. Practical help, in understanding their own hearts and their propensities to specific sins. And gospel hope, in seeing afresh the riches of God’s grace, the redemptive power of Christ, and the transforming ministry of the Spirit. I also think believers can be helped by recovering a basic understanding of this list of seven sins. I regularly use the list in confession by simply praying through the list and asking the Lord to show me where these sins are evident in my life. We all need help in self-examination, so perhaps others would benefit from this as well.
Dave, “How advice would you give to pastors on preaching the seven deadly sins?”
I would suggest three things:
(1) Be biblical: if you preach on these sins, be sure to expound what Scripture actually says about each one. Because there is such a wealth of material written about these sins, it would be tempting to build sermons on that material rather than Scripture. I think we have to resist that temptation, start with the text of Scripture, and then judiciously use the other material to help with illustration and application. But as expositors, we must let the text itself speak.
(2) Be practical: teaching on these sins is a great opportunity to talk about the nitty-gritty ways in which we sin and to offer practical help in “putting off” and “putting on.”
(3) Point people to Jesus: teaching on sin that fails to hold out gospel hope is nothing more than moralism. One of the weaknesses of the monastic and medieval writing on the seven deadly sins is that they spend a lot more time in diagnosis than cure, and the remedies they do suggest sometimes fall short of the full-blooded gospel. The way to fight sin is not merely with spiritual disciplines, as important as these are, but with a strong dose of justification by faith alone and the transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Dave: Thanks for your time today Brian. I truly enjoyed reading your book and interviewing you today about it.