A conscience that works well is a blessing from God. Even though it is painful, to feel a prick deep inside when we do something wrong is a good thing. The Bible does have a bit to say about the conscience. Andrew Naselli and J.D. Crowley recently got together to write a short book called Conscience which gives readers a biblical understanding of it. The book is not an exhaustive, lengthy, and scholarly survey of the conscience. Instead, as the subtitle notes, this book talks about what the conscience is, how we can train it, and loving people whose consciences aren’t exactly like ours.
The book is pretty straightforward and well written. First, the authors define conscience and discuss what the Bible says about it. They go on to ask and answer the following questions: What should you do when your conscience condemns you? How should you calibrate your conscience? How should you relate to other Christians when your consciences differ? How should you relate to people in other culture if your conscience is different from theirs? I’ll come back to this book later and give some specific quotes, but for now I do want to note that parts of this book are very helpful when it comes to shaping our conscience according to Scripture. This book helps steer away from legalism and judgmentalism for sure.
I wish the authors would have related justification to the conscience and Christian liberty. Sadly, the doctrine of justification was not discussed in this book. In reality, Christian liberty is an “appendage of justification,” as Calvin said; certainly justification has everything to do with our conscience and Christian liberty (see Gal. 5:1 & Westminster Confession of Faith ch. 20). The Reformation had a lot to say about justification, liberty, and conscience! This book would have been even better if it had a little more theological and historical depth. (As a side, I’m thankful that in my Reformed background I was taught quite a bit about the conscience!)
Despite my one critique, this book is a great resource for learning more about the Christian conscience. I do recommend it very much! Perhaps if you read it you can check out the above mentioned WCF chapter (20) and Calvin’s Institutes (III.XIX.1ff) to see what justification has to do with liberty and conscience. In fact, I’m hoping to do just that for a future adult Sunday School series – go through Naselli & Crowley’s book along with the doctrine of justification, and teach Christians what Scripture says about the conscience. This book will be a good help in that area. I’m thankful Naselli and Crowley took the time and energy to write it.
(As a side, another excellent resource on the conscience is Christopher Ash’s Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience).
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015