• My first eBook “Cleansed and Abiding” is now live!

Feb
21
My first eBook “Cleansed and Abiding” is now live!

Hey Dojo readers,

I’m excited to announce that I am officially a published author!

I mean, self-published eBooks count, right? I’ll just assume my Pulitzer will be arriving shortly…  😉

One thing many readers may not know is that over the past 15 years or so I have had a strong interest in the theological concepts of sin, holiness, sanctification and perfection. These aren’t exactly cocktail party banter terms, nor are they hot-button current event/social issues I’ve blogged about very much.

However, during  my college years I experienced a major spiritual turning point as I realized that “Sin” was not simply some trait humanity is born with…rather, it is an enemy that we’ve been enslaved by ever since Adam and Eve took that fateful bite of the forbidden fruit (this notion of Sin will be the subject of a future book in this series, in fact!).

Throughout my years in seminary and continued study since then–reading and listening carefully to voices on all sides of the theological discussion surrounding these concepts–I’ve become more convinced than ever that many of us have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Sin. The practical result is that overall, we live Romans 7 lives…when in fact we’ve been given all things necessary through faith in our Redeemer and the empowering presence of Holy Spirit to live Romans 8 lives!

In “Cleansed and Abiding: A Proposed View of Christian Perfection” I attempt to bring some clarity to the various approaches Christians have taken when looking at sanctification, sin, and the Biblical concept of “perfection”, surveying four different overall views and then proposing a fifth which I believe makes the most sense of all the Biblical data.

I know there will be many brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me on a number of points in it and in the spirit of Disciple Dojo I welcome your criticisms, comments, questions or points of disagreement! As long as they are respectful and given in a spirit of unity and “in-house debate” I would love to hear them!

And if you’re gonna label me a “heretic”, do me a favor and at least get some high-profile Christian celebrity to Tweet it…I could use the sales!  😉

Here is a short description of the book below. Please take a moment to read it and if you’re still curious you can even read a sample of it over on Amazon!

Also, let me make it clear…YOU DON’T NEED A KINDLE TO BUY THIS BOOK!

You can download the FREE Kindle Reader App and read it on your iPad, PC, Mac, iPhone, Droid, Blackberry or Windows Phone 7!

The book is not very long, most of you can probably read it in a couple of hours tops. And it’s only about the cost of a trip to Starbucks!  [Translation: It’s short and cheap, so since sales of it go directly to funding Disciple Dojo and allowing me to continue in ministry you have no excuse for not buying it! haha!]

Also, it is part of the KDP Select library, so Amazon Prime subscribers can borrow it for free! (See Amazon for more on this!)

So please download it, read it, prayerfully consider what I propose in it, and then come back here and share your thoughts in the Dojo! [So you can return quickly, the direct link to this page is http://jmsmith.org/blog/cleansed-and-abiding]

 

Thanks for all your support and stay tuned for more such books in the coming months. I have a few more that I’m working on!

 

Blessings from the Dojo,

JM

———-

Cleansed and Abiding: A Proposed View of Christian Perfection

JM Smith

$3.99

Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” -Jesus

Since He uttered these words, Jesus’ followers have often been quite puzzled over their meaning. How can anyone be ‘perfect’? Isn’t sin inevitable for all humans, even those who’ve given their lives to Christ?

Over the centuries various theologians from various traditions have attempted to describe what it means–and what it DOESN’T mean–to “be perfect.” Some Christians have claimed to have reached a state of perfection in which they no longer struggle with sin. Others have claimed that perfection is an unattainable goal so long as we are in this fleshly body. Cleansed and Abiding seeks to offer an alternative view of Christian ‘perfection’ than those which are commonly associated with the term.

Though this is indeed a controversial doctrine (and has been for hundreds of years!), it need not be a divisive one. Believers all agree on the reality of sin, the necessity of sanctification, and the fact that Scripture calls us to somehow be ‘perfect.’ How these are worked out in detail is where the differences lay.

It is for the purpose of clarifying the debate that this book is offered. Not every reader will be persuaded by the view proposed in its pages, but hopefully every reader will be persuaded that holiness is not some minor point of doctrine meant only to be pondered by theologians safely within the confines of academic debate.

Rather, it is the call of Jesus on the life of every person who claims to be His follower.

—————–

UPDATE:


Disciple Dojo guest contributor, Olatunde Howard, has also published an ebook on this same subject (which I provided the cover illustration for!).

Is It Possible To Live Without Sin?

Olatunde Howard

$3.00

Originally Olatunde and I talked about combining our two books together and releasing them as one volume, but we felt that our styles and the feel of each book lends itself to different readers.

I would absolutely recommend reading this as a follow up to my book (or vice versa!), as it elaborates on some of the more personal aspects of what it means to pursue holiness on a daily basis!

And best of all it’s only $3.00…so you could buy BOTH of our books for still less than you’d pay for lunch at most places! 😉

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Comments

  1. Chris Bowers

    James Michael Smith’s Cleansed and Abiding is a step on path down a not well traveled but interesting and important topic for Christians: that of moral conduct and moral perfection. James (or JMS as he likes being called) provides an insightful and interesting take on this topic, which seems to span different branches of orthodoxy, sometimes appearing Catholic in content (with an emphasis on ethical behavior) and sometimes Wesleyan in application (with an emphasis on faith creating an avenue towards perfection and good behavior).

    I hesitate to use the term post-modern, but I think I’ll instead use the term “pre-schism”, as the work seems to push past straw-man caricatures of Christianity on all sides and seeks to dig at the true intentions of Jesus in forming a new movement aimed at moral perfection and perfect love. Rather than the cumbersome rituals of Catholicism (and the fruitless “works of the law”) and the facile “Faith Alone” mantra of Protestantism, JMS seems to be able to get past some of the biases in history, and that of many of the patriarchs, and try to address what Jesus was sincerely all about, not just in terms of scripture or systematic theology, but what the true and honest message of Jesus.

    Sometimes this can be confusing, and the author points out that many have fallen into error on this account, precisely because people are often grasping at an oversimplified message, or emphasizing the scriptures that support their point of view. JMS points out that many theologians have swung the pendulum too far and wide of the truth landing in locations that prove to be ridiculous. If on one hand we assert that moral perfection is easy to have an attain, we run into the error of egotism “Yeah, we Christians are better than you, we’re perfect”, and at the same time if we simply throw up our hands at sin, we run the risk of fatalism “Well, we’re never going to stop sinning, so why bother trying?”

    After mapping how many of these extreme conclusions really fail in comparison with Jesus’ direct words and commands to his followers, JMS succeeds in limiting the territory for our consideration, and rather than a definitive answer, we are simply on a narrower path and a good deal closer to the truth.

    One of the things which makes the work very engaging are two sections: one in which he emails a friend of his, and another showing a controversy between John Wesely and a sect he considered heretical. These two sections seemed to parallel and engage the reader very nicely. We are at the same time addressing a very old question, and carving a new territory on which both Catholic and Protestant, Conservative and Liberal can stand. The new material made the old material relevant, and the old material showed the new to be rooted in tradition. The contrast was nicely done.

    One last thought was that, as I am a Christian Universalist FAR to the left of JMS (who describes himself as a Conservative Evangelical), I found the work to be somewhat supportive of many of my views, and even to have a scientific basis. If we sin more, of course we are more a slave to sin, and if we love our neighbor of course we are going to be better people. If we work on believing fervently that we are commanded by God to follow a moral compass, of course that is going to help us in actually being worthy of the Kingdom. What implications that has on Soteriology, I’m not sure, but it is clear that this work is indicative of a very important and crucial moral bedrock, upon which all Christians should build their house. After all, we don’t want to get washed away in inaccurate views (or our own sin!).

    Can you avoid sinning before breakfast? I think you can. While JMS doesn’t answer all the questions relating to perfection (after all, who can?) I think that the work opens up an avenue towards trying to attain that perfection, and that neither should we be boastful in our works (as Paul warns of), or sin all the more just because we think grace will abide. Hopefully by the end of this work you will see that we can be both cleansed and abiding.

    [Reply]

    jm Reply:

    Chris, thanks so much for the kind review. I really do attempt to be as ecumenical as possible, knowing of course that some traditions will not agree with me by any means. I appreciate your feedback from a non-evangelical point of view and was especially touched by this line from it:

    JMS succeeds in limiting the territory for our consideration, and rather than a definitive answer, we are simply on a narrower path and a good deal closer to the truth.

    That’s so beautifully put and very much captures the heart of what I’m attempting to do in this little book. I would love it if you left this review on Amazon once I’ve had a chance to upload the format-corrected version (which should go live by tomorrow).

    Thanks again, my friend!

    [Reply]

    Chris Bowers Reply:

    No problem!

    You know, it was really interesting to see an approach to moral perfection by a protestant. I wouldn’t think that a protestant would even attempt such a thing given Calvin and Luther’s “moral depravity” stance.

    I’m interested to see how this interplay of moral perfection has an influence on your soteriology. If, after all, Jesus commands us to be morally perfect, doesn’t that in some way have salvific implications if we decline to follow his commands and continually give in to sin and count on Grace or Faith (as Paul warns us against)?

    After all, if Faith is the defining factor in how we are saved and how we continue to do good, then wouldn’t an attempt at moral perfection be unnecessary?

    Not that I disagree with anything you said in the book, I agree with it completely, but i see it somewhat at odds with the traditional Protestant model. To me it seems that faith isn’t the essential component in that salvation, rather the quest and love to be morally perfect is what PROVIDES both the faith and action.

    __________________________________________________________

    Another thing that touched me about the book is that you mentioned (or the other person did, I’m not sure), that you “don’t feel like saints”. That is, though you could go days or even weeks without intentionally committing a sin, you didn’t feel different, or morally superior to anyone. Actually you felt more vulnerable to sin, more aware of it and so forth.

    I think that’s a natural reaction and at the times in my life where I have felt profoundly holy and pure, that is, without sin for a decent amount of time, (on retreats, or at certain points in my life when my focus was primarily on social justice), sin starts to drop away, and we start getting filled with the holy spirit, and also with divine love.

    I think at that time you feel humbled and fragile, and I think that’s perfect and beautiful. That is how God wants us to be. The Saints don’t feel like Saints at all. They are Saints TO US, because they are so much more accomplished at divine love, and avoiding sin.

    A proper analogy would be a master of martial arts, while a good Christian is a master of holiness. A master of martial arts can perform techniques perfectly nearly every single time. They really approach perfection and to the outside viewer, can’t tell the difference between perfection and the Master’s technique. But the master knows that even if their technique is perfect or near it, failure lurks close.

    “A beginner is blissfully ignorant and thinks every elbow strike they throw is great. A Master knows that when they throw an elbow about a hundred things can go wrong with it.” <–Quote I read in Black Belt magazine that stuck with me.

    So in sum, I think that when Holy people approach moral perfection, they become more humble and fragile. They seem perfect to outsiders, but their attempt at perfection makes them more wise to pitfalls and traps, more aware of their own frailty.

    If you believe the Greek Orthodox model, attempting moral perfection is right and good, since you literally are going to become God when you reach heaven. Similarly in the Catholic model, the less sin, the less time in purgatory and the more time in God's presence. If your sin is too great (Mortal) you are literally cut out of the kingdom. In the liberal Christian model, it's also paramount, since liberal Christians believe that love and the avoidance of sin are an absolute requirement and take Jesus' commands VERY seriously. Usually Protestants veer away from trying to be morally perfect, they rely on their faith and their grace. It' is intriguing and heartening that you would attempt such a path.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Chris Bowers on February 23, 2012 at 1:59 am

  2. Chris Bowers

    One last thing. I might have told you this before, but you MUST MUST read the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It’s a very Martial Arts oriented book about self introspection and analyzing the actions of the day, if they were loving and sinful or not and how to try to eliminate as many sins as possible and maximize as much divine love as possible. It’s almost like a workout program for holiness.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    >Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this >means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are >created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for >which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much >as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as >they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves >indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our >free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not >health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than >dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and >choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are >created.

    Talk about a jump start into holiness!

    [Reply]

    jm Reply:

    Ignatius is one of my favorite Catholic theologians. I always admired him in Church History even if I disagreed with him on some things.

    [Reply]

    jm Reply:

    Also, the correctly formatted version is up now. I would be grateful if you shared your above review on the new product page and rated my book for other potential buyers to read! The links in the blog above have been corrected and they now direct you to the updated version on Amazon.

    Thanks man!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Chris Bowers on February 23, 2012 at 4:28 am

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