The title of this book, Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good by John Koessler, caught my attention when I was looking at Moody Publishers books offered to reviewers. I looked at the description and realized that this was a book that might be a pretty interesting read. I wasn't disappointed.
Koessler makes the case that the 'seven deadly sins' have become the seven dangerous virtues of our day. Rather than moral ambiguity being the main problem of our day; our age actually has a standard of "morals" that they hold to quite firmly (though their justification of them is probably ambiguous). The problem is that those 'morals' don't meet God's standard of morality and in some, or most cases, our age's morals are actually evils in disguise or, as the author puts it: "dangerous virtues". Things that used to be obvious sins are now praised and held up as high moral standards of our day.
Koessler talks about those things, but I appreciate that he really focuses on what the Bible says "good" really is, who can truly do good (Christians) and why good is done (not to be made righteous, but because God has made them righteous):
"Righteousness or virtue has the same expansive quality that sin does. When Jesus describes the true nature of sin in the Sermon on the Mount, He also exposes the true nature of righteousness. Righteousness is not an accumulation of actions that can be classified as good but the other way around. What Jesus says is true of our speech also applies to our actions ' good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil out of the evil stored up in him" (Matt 12:35, Righteousness in the Christian life is not a collection of good acts that balance out our bad deeds. Righteous actions spring from righteousness. Individual acts reflect the nature of those who do them. We have been made righteous to be righteous."
Here are some insights in other chapters that I found insightful:
In his chapter dealing with gluttony, I find interesting his point about how a sense of personal shame has been/is being removed from the commission of sin in our society (even in our churches) by moving sin from the realm of the 'spiritual' into the realm of the medical/physical. "According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately thirty million people suffer from eating disorders in the United States. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately fifteen million adults over the age of eighteen and estimated 401,000 adolescents suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder. Calling these behaviors disorders rather than sins and consigning them to the realm of mental health seems to reduce the potential for shame for those who suffer from such problems. It also moves their treatment out of the spiritual dimension, which seems vague and imprecise (if not positively medieval) to moderns, into the more enlightened realm of medicine."
The church of course, is not making thing better by emphasizing certain sins and then making it seem as though other sins aren't so bad and do not need to be addressed at all. "A one-sided view of lust causes the church to send mixed messages regarding lust. Many biblical conservatives are deeply concerned about the normalization of homosexuality. They rightly consider this particular form of immorality to be a threat, not only to the individual's soul but to the future of society as a whole. They do not, however, seem nearly as troubled by heterosexual immorality, which many in their circles have practiced for some time. They emphasize the Bible's explicit condemnation of homosexuality while ignoring its equally explicit condemnation of divorce."
It seems that much of social media, blogs, books and the news, even (perhaps 'especially' is a more fitting word) the 'Christian ones', are promoting 'dangerous virtues' rather than Christ-like ones. On Facebook I keep seeing memes (posted by professing Christians) about how you need to stop doing things for others who wouldn't lift a finger to help you. Even recently, a post that said something along the lines of: Love people who make you think love is easy (not sacrificial and forgiving…like God's love of us). And of course, posts that cater to pride: You are the best person ever, don't hang around people who don't build up your pride! - especially if you're a woman. Women need to be as arrogant as we can possibly be…after all, we are "the storm" (and ironically, many women with that mindset really bring chaos and destruction with that mindset).
It is such a relief to read a book like this. One that takes God's Word seriously, not as though it is merely a book full of suggestions with a 'get out of jail free' card of God's love and forgiveness included. I'll end with one more of the quotes that I liked from the book:
"When Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, He knew that He was sending them out like sheep among wolves and warned them of the need to live shrewdly (Matt. 10:16). Shrewd living requires vigilance. It demands that we become holy skeptics who do not automatically believe that everything that the world around us calls good is good. More than anything else, such a life requires that we take God at His word and allow Him to show us the true shape of virtue."
Many thanks for the folks at Moody Publishers Newsroom for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).