Author: Clark Gerhart
A semi-recent decision to have always one book in my “currently reading” stack that enhanced and continued my relationship with God, I’ve sussed out everything from C.S. Lewis to St. Augustine to ancient, dusty history books depicting the origins of the early church. Inspired by all, yet feeling in the mood for something a little more contemporary at times, I ran across this book in my library, purchased back in 2005 and gathering dust on my shelf since then.
I didn’t come to Say Goodbye to Stubborn Sin trying to rid myself of any particular flaw so much as to understand why, as a human, I can be so fallible and weak at times, susceptible to sin. I was looking for a more overarching “how to be a better Christian” narrative, and the medical angle added a sense of fascination for me. Backed with medicine and science, Dr. Gerhart acknowledges the structure of our fallen nature and the needs of our body, plus our own learned behaviors and physical responses to give a well-rounded representation looking not just at the definitions of “large” sin, but in the way that we fail to act Christ-like on an everyday bases. Say Goodbye to Stubborn Sin, while dedicated to helping the reader attack and discard certain character flaws and propensities, is more interested in giving an overarching prospective on how we have trained ourselves to respond to one another and the world around us. Examining the self-driven motivations layered in the physical needs of our bodies, the book stays both comprehensive and easily accessible.
The book is effectively split into two sections, following the patient and doctor theme. The beginning introduces “the flesh” by examining the physicality of our bodily systems which, morphed by sin, often encourage us to seek greater physical reactions to stimuli, making ourselves the focal point. While I shudder a little at the continual villianization of “the flesh,” Dr. Gerhart makes it evident that the flesh is not always wrong or always motivated by corrupt impulses. However, he does stress that motivation is the most important factor for us to examine as we go forward in the book. Each chapter begins with several example people and scenarios, which he then breaks down to the basic “fleshly” elements.
After identifying the issue (our self focus vs. God focus – and this is a very wide summary of his more refined point), Dr. Gerhart proposes the LASTS treatment plan: Listening, Admitting, Submitting, Trusting, and Standing Firm. This plan has a two pronged focus point: most sins have a basis in a “God issue” on our part, and we cannot do anything to change this programmed responses in and of ourselves, but most rely on God to do that which we cannot.
By this point, you are probably having my initial reaction: head shaking going on with exclamations such as “sounds too fundamentalist,” “why does everyone think that flesh, which God created and which sustains us daily, is so evil,” and “kind of simplistic response, right?” Well . . . overall, yes to all the above. When I originally purchased this book years ago I was actually a fundamentalist (long story.) I’ve since switched churches and become more moderate and still find myself drawing up when the “hell fire” talk begins, specifically the judgmentalism evidenced here through the understanding that a woman dressing in revealing clothes is apparently a sin. The definition of sin does seem pretty wide here and while sex is hit on as the easy target, thoughts and motivations of lesser significance, more akin to bad habits, are also pulled into the sin category. I’m on the fence and was from the beginning, yet Gerhart seems to acknowledge this potential reticence in his readers and does show significant transitions from the strict fundamentalist approach. For instance, he does acknowledge, albeit a little grudgingly, that since God created flesh it cannot be evil in and of itself. He also notes, most satisfyingly, that anyone suffering from mental problems should certainly seek help and medicine, showing that utilizing doctors and modern science is not a deviation from faith. Finally, someone gets it!
Gerhart’s focus on the intentions more than the actions, while a little broad minded with the term sin, does also get to the main point: you manifest who you are in your motivations and unthinking reactions. Say Goodbye to Stubborn Sin is ultimately all about just making you a better person and learning how to train yourself away from route responses and self-interest to consider the needs of others and what is truly the good, right thing to do.
Ultimately, this is a broad book with good topic coverage for new Christians. The theology isn’t deep (at least, not following after C.S. Lewis anyway), but the tone is conversational, contemporary, acknowledging of the importance of medicine and science, and focused on helping each reader to identify the core of who we really are and what motivates us. Recommended.
- Frances Carden