Let me begin this review with a point of tragic irony. The version of Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness that I have is the 25th Anniversary Edition that was published by NavPress in 2003 (the book was published first in 1978). For this edition, new endorsements were apparently collected from a number of respected authors and leaders: J.I. Packer, Charles Colson, and John Piper to name a few. Then there is this endorsement at the bottom of the back cover: “The Pursuit of Holiness has helped so many believers navigate the tricky but vitally important road to personal holiness. This book should be on every Christian leader’s shelf.” The author of this endorsement? “Ted Haggard, president, National Association of Evangelicals.”
My point in mentioning this is not to heap scorn on Haggard, but rather to illustrate a point: holiness is a tricky business, and public avowals of holiness must be tempered with a recognition of how easily any of us might fall into the sin that besets us.
It was a friend of mine who recommended that I read this book. I was pastoring a small church in Woodstock, Georgia, at the time, and my friend was a former pastor there. I had seen Bridges’ book and knew of its status as a modern classic, but had never gotten around to reading it. I’ve just finished doing so, and I must say I regret not reading this book earlier on.
Bridges is a meat and potatoes writer who does not delve much into literary flourish. That’s a compliment, for too many frills would obscure the central contention of his book: that a holy God has called a people to holiness through the sacrifice of His Son.
One of the Bridges themes is that we have made the matter too complicated. We speak of needing “victory” over this or that, when, in reality, what we need to do is use the minds God has given us, work hard to develop sustained habits of obedience, and put some personal exertion into it. Bridges rejects the notion that Christians are incapable of doing anything towards holiness. Of course we rely on the Holy Spirit and the power of God, but we also study the Word, pray, avoid sin, and think carefully about what we’re doing. In this, he sounds like some of Dallas Willard’s writings…or, rather, Dallas Willard sounds like him.
This is no semi-Palagian reliance on the self. Bridges arguments are biblical, practical, and helpful. They avoid the “quick fix” mentality that there’s a shortcut to holiness. He calls for a sober recognition of the fact that the more we sin the more we’ll want to sin, but the more we walk in obedience, the more we’ll want to walk in obedience. And the point is, we can walk in obedience. “Surely,” writes Bridges, “He has not commanded us to be holy without providing the means to be holy. The privilege of being holy is yours, and the decision and responsibility to be holy is yours. If you make that decision, you will experience the fullness of joy which Christ has promised to those who walk in obedience to Him” (212).
The only possible criticism I might have is that Bridges’ illustrations are, at times, a bit quaint: the girl whose love for tennis got a little out of hand, Bridges’ realization that he was coming to love ice cream a little too much, etc. They do make the point, but I wonder how the heroin addict would take all of this?
Regardless, this is a work of great importance that ought to be read widely…and it has been for thirty years now. So I’m a latecomer to this classic, but that’s better than not coming to it at all. I was challenged, encouraged, and convicted by this work.