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Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good? [Paperback]

Gary Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Balanced, Tradition-Free! Feb. 17 2010
By Amazon Customer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
If you squirm a little inside when you read the title Pure Pleasure, you're in good company. As the subtitle of Gary Thomas' accessible treaties on the biblical role of pleasure in a believer's life suggests, many of us have '- perhaps unknowingly '- adopted an attitude of ascetic martyrdom that is never suggested or recommended in the word of God. However, if you're willing to put your discomfort and hesitations aside for a moment, Thomas is ready to redirect misguided pleasure avoiders into a balanced and godly understanding of the delights God has in store for us in this life and how they can draw our hearts closer to His.

Pure Pleasure arrived in my life at a time when I had begun to question the lack of joy, the lack of laughter, the lack of, yes -' pleasure -' in the lives of many of my brothers and sisters (and myself in some areas.) Not only was there a desert, but there was actually fear surrounding the prospect of allowing delight into the Christian life. Where was the room for rejoicing? For the jubilant celebration that Jesus calls us to? Not only was I asking this question about others around me, but of myself as well.

I'm always naturally cautious when a book so vigorously defends a certain aspect of the Christian life, and not having read any of Thomas' work in the past I wondered if perhaps his was a new form of Christian hedonism -' I'm so glad that it's not. In fact, Pure Pleasure is hands-down the most balanced, biblical perspective on the proper role of delight that I've ever encountered, whether by book, sermon, or informal times of fellowship.

Thomas writes accessibly, peppering his ponderings with personal illustrations from his own life's journey and the thoughts of respected Christian thinkers from times past.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  70 reviews
51 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling Jan. 2 2010
By Kevin L. Nenstiel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I'm more confused by this book than enlightened. Not that I disagree with the author's thesis; far from it, I think he's probably correct. But instead of making his point in the most concise, convincing manner, he writes like a hyperactive pulpit preacher who can't put the brakes on his tongue.

Gary Thomas believes we are made by God to enjoy the blessings of God's creation. Not that we should wallow in self-indulgence and be slaves to sensuality, but that laughter, good company, good food, marital sex, and other simple joys are God's gift. When well-meaning Christians think dour self-denial makes us holy, Thomas says, we squander the beauty of creation and bring displeasure to God.

My problem is that Thomas makes this point in a brief, persuasive, succinct way... then keeps talking. His argument loops back on itself time and again, long after most audiences already accept the validity of his point. He cites scripture, quotes other authors, regales us with family anecdotes, until I'm ready to shout that I believe him already, and he can get to the next point.

Then as he keeps making already made points, he undercuts himself. When he explains why it is godly to enjoy a cup of coffee or a good book, I'm sold. But then he talks about luxury cars, country clubs, Hawaiian vacations, and flying first class. Hey, I'm an English teacher from the provinces; these "holy pleasures" aren't available to me. Am I less loved by God, then? Oops, did I let class envy into the discussion?

You see my problem?

At other times, he undersells his point. Chapter 13 in particular, about finding holy pleasure in a world where disappointment is the rule rather than the exception, reads like the outline for something not yet completed. After gorging us with details and anecdotes, this part has almost none of the author in it, only quotes, citations, and aphorisms. Just when I need detail, Thomas yanks it away so fast that I get whiplash.

He also promises matter for the future that he could put in right here. A future book, he says, will be about the relationship between physical fitness and spiritual fitness. I'm sure that will be a great book, but since he dedicates pages and pages to his love of marathon running, why couldn't he put that in this volume? I could help him trim the book in front of him to make room for it.

And right at the end, we get a study guide for an accompanying set of online videos for group study. Wait, it says I have to purchase the videos separately. After plunking down fifteen bucks per book for the study, am I unfair to think maybe I should get the videos from YouTube?

I like Thomas' point, and I'm glad somebody has finally said that "I surrender all" doesn't mean we must punish ourselves for loving life. But this rambling book, in need of a judicious edit, is probably not the book to sell this thesis to a mass audience. I wait patiently for the book that will cash the checks Gary Thomas has written.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christians should delight in the pleasures God offers them.... Jan. 13 2010
By HeatherHH - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In our early marriage, my husband was in graduate school and I was soon a stay-at-home mother, and our financial situation required a lot of scrimping to avoid debt and goverment aid and still be able to give to God's work and save something. But, years later, when our financial situation was much different, I realized that I still had a mindset of scrimping and feeling guilty for anything I bought that I didn't absolutely need. And that in essence, I was not appreciating and was even feeling guilty in enjoying the blessings that God had given. Perhaps God would be better pleased if I would occasionally use some of that money to buy something that would bring pleasure to me and my family. That is the point of Gary Thomas' book Pure Pleasure.

While the world in general elevates pleasure above all else, in much of the Christian world, many things that bring pleasure (without some other obvious benefit) are regarded with suspicion. But, God created us to need relaxing and to enjoy pleasure, and He delights in giving good gifts to His children. And the Scriptures make it clear that that even includes "non-spiritual" things. The author provides a whole range of possibilities in which Christians might derive pleasure, and cautions against looking down upon the pleasures of another Christian as wasteful, while accepting our own. He gives the example of the couple that looked down upon him for his daily Starbucks habit while driving a car that easily cost $20,000 more a year than what he drove. Different does not mean wrong.

The author makes his case well, using plenty of Scripture, but he is also very careful to caution his readers not only against "pharisaic prohibitionism" but also "hedonistic license." He does caution against a life focused on one pleasure after another, neglecting responsibilities, etc. But, his ultimate point is that the things that give us pleasure and joy in this life (provided they are not forbidden by the Word of God) should be seen as gifts from God, causing us to have thankful hearts to worship and praise Him. Jesus Christ came to give us life, and life abundant; the life of a Christian should be one of joy. He also makes the point that by denying ourselves pleasure, we set ourselves up to be tempted by things which are sinful but would meet our longings for enjoyment.

The book is very readable. The book is rife with examples, personal and otherwise. The author makes his points very clear and supports them well. He has a way of taking a passage that I've read many times before and bringing out a point that I hadn't previously considered, but he doesn't have the tendency to stretch and read into the Scriptures like some authors I've read. Oh, and there are study questions at the end of each chapter if you like that sort of thing.

Having also read and appreciated the author's book Sacred Marriage, I will likely be checking out other books by this author. I would definitely recommend this book to any Christian, but especially those who struggle with guilt over enjoying themselves. However, due to some brief references to the sexual aspects of marriage, I wouldn't recommend this book for reading aloud in a mixed gender setting.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer delight for Pure Pleasure Oct. 18 2009
By Erik Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've just spent a most delightful weekend finishing Gary Thomas' Pure Pleasure. This excellent book was not only enriching (convicting!) but I found my enthusiasm for Gary's insights growing page by page. As a therapist I am eager to recommend this well-balanced book to clients who suffer from rigid scrupulosity (guilt and fear for experiencing pleasure) and to those who suffer from the residue of unbridled pleasure. The chapter on family pleasure and "being a servant of other's joy" is worth the price of the book. Anti-pleasure ascetics will have a difficult time answering Gary's relentless, tightly reasoned, and winsome defense of pure pleasure which is anchored in both scripture and classic Christian spiritual writers. Highly recommended!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Holy Pleasures Feb. 7 2010
By Rebecca of Amazon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"I enjoy chocolate because God gave me taste buds, and any pleasure I derive from eating it is a pleasure designed and sustained by God. I can talk about enjoying running or eating chocolate as temptations toward idolatry, or I can talk about them as acts of worship..." ~ pg. 55

Before reading "Pure Pleasure" I had no idea there were so many things to feel guilty about. Sure, I've thought about various issues and also realized that God doesn't like it when we complain. In the Old Testament at least he gets angry each time the Israelites start complaining. So from my own reading it does seem he is happier when we are happy even though he does allow terrible things to happen on this earth.

One of the issues taken up in this book is the topic of paying $4 for a cup of coffee when people are starving, even in our own country. I personally only buy drinks at Starbucks once in a while but the author does so every day. He sees it in an interesting light. He provides himself moment of holy pleasure so that he doesn't get enticed by illicit pleasure.

Throughout the book Gary Thomas seeks to find a middle ground between hedonism and asceticism. He fights for the right to be positive and to feel pleasure in many forms. While he talks about each pleasure he is however quick to mention how each pleasure can turn sinful.

The only pleasure I think some Christians will have problems with is the pleasure of drinking alcoholic drinks. While Gary Thomas doesn't drink a lot himself he does find a glass of wine now and then to be an enjoyable way to celebrate an occasion. As always he does things in moderation. Personally I would rather drink Welch's grape juice because to me it is much more satisfying and reminds me of the grape juice we used to drink at communion when I was a child.

After reading this book I now see how allowing yourself certain pleasures can help you to attain a level of holiness you might not otherwise obtain. If you don't allow yourself holy pleasures you are much more likely to fall into temptation. Or at least that is the authors main view on the subject.

~The Rebecca Review
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Book to be Read and Compared with Others Feb. 11 2010
By Cameron B. Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The focus of Gary Thomas's book is on answering the question of the book's subtitle, Why do Christians feel so bad about feeling good?, and his answer seems to be that they don't know how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate pleasures from a biblical perspective and tend to feel guilty about pleasures that, from Thomas's understanding of scripture, are sinless and divinely approved. He is also concerned that "neglecting holy pleasure makes us vulnerable to illicit pleasure" (page 197) and defends the concept and experience of holy pleasure, using other adjectives such as good, true, pure, noble, healthy, lasting, etc. to express it. Many will accept his main point. Some, however, may have problems with a few of his personal applications. For example, in Chapter 11 (The Cost of Pleasure), he makes the valid point that "always assuming that 'cheaper is better' doesn't necessarily square with Scripture" (page 173) and uses it to justify occasional splurging on certain (including family) pleasures. He asks: "Remember the repentant prostitute who poured expensive perfume on Jesus, while a few disciples grumbled about the cost, muttering how the money could have helped the poor? Jesus rebuked the disciples, not the prostitute." The context clearly shows that Jesus was more concerned about the woman's salvation than her perfume (which she used to express her repentance), but Thomas uses the story to illustrate that we should "occasionally splurge for the sake of powerful and godly affection" (page 177). If nothing else, Thomas's scriptural references and applications will make one think, even if one may sometimes come to a different interpretation and application.

I recommend Thomas's book for stimulating conversation, even debate, on the topic of the legitimate place and role of pleasure in the Christian's life - and his "Discussion and Reflection" questions at the end of each chapter encourage the benefit of group discussion - but I also recommend comparing his book with others related to the topic. One book Thomas references numerous times is The Power of Pleasure (2007) by Douglas Weiss. He once references John Piper's book, Future Grace (1995), but surprisingly doesn't refer to Piper's influential book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (1996 Edition), which some consider to be the definitive biblical exposition on the topics of pleasure and desire from a Christian perspective. Although I'm not a Calvinist like Piper, I recommend reading, even wrestling, with his well-organized text which addresses pleasure and desire in the contexts of the happiness of God, conversion, worship, love, scripture, prayer, money, marriage, missions, and suffering. Piper's tome provides a depth that is lacking in Thomas's text.

In addition to Piper's chapter on money, a good Christian book I recommend reading on the role of biblical finance and giving is E. Jay O-Keefe's Biblical Economics... Beginning at Square One (2006) which is sensitive to the contemporary debate over whether monetary tithing (not giving in general) is a divine mandate for Christians and provides solid biblical principles to use regardless of what side of the debate you're on. He's aware that Christians struggle with coveting and debt regardless of whether they tithe and need to come to terms with the fact that God owns 100% and expects us to give to others as He enables and leads us. Thomas touches on tithing, discussing on pages 80 - 81 "the tithe that is never taught" (in Deuteronomy 14:22, 25 - 26) and even suggests on page 176 that one may have to "skim off a tiny bit of your tithe" to afford a family getaway, although he qualifies it by stating "well, that's between you and God, but in some cases, he might well approve." His coverage of the topic is poor and he doesn't adequately address financial intelligence, inclusive of budgeting and debt management, as it relates to the topic of seeking divinely-approved pleasures.

For the philosophically inclined, if you can get access to a copy of the late Mortimer J. Adler's The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought, read the chapters on Pleasure and Pain, Desire, Duty and then the chapter on Good and Evil. These will give you a taste of how such topics were debated throughout history, even by theologians. Good is usually defined as that which is desired for its own sake, but there are real and apparent goods, and when "good" is used as a qualifier, there is also that which is better and the best. Sometimes God wants us to sacrifice certain good things (legitimate pleasures) for what is better, and obeying the personal, dynamic leading of the Holy Spirit is essential to such decision-making. I wish Mr. Thomas gave more emphasis to this. The bottom line is that I recommend his book, but it is not the last word on the topic and one should read other books for a deeper grasp of the subject.
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