Terry Barber’s Unlock the Prison Doors claims to contain “Keys to breaking the chains of habitual sin.” Unfortunately, Barber’s “keys” seem to be a bit rusty and over-used.

Barber is obviously a very pious and devout man who has faithfully served the cause of Christ. Yet piety doesn’t necessarily entail insight or depth of wisdom. Barber’s book is full of cliched examples of sin and its effects (Uncle Ebee and the ever dangerous ‘scantily clad woman’), unhelpful metaphors for the spiritual life (“Have you ever been in a spiritual dumpster?”), and over-worn, trivial, and ambiguous phrases (“spiritual pride”).

Furthermore, there is an undergirding dichotomy between soul and body that is somewhat disconcerting. “We hear the Spirit and recognize our way of escape,” Barber writes, “however the flesh or body has a very loud voice and the call of the flesh can be extremely difficult to ignore to say the least.” Barber seems to identify the “life of the flesh” with “the body,” which is an identification that is extremely problematic. I also think it unBiblical, as it has the effect of denigrating the physical in favor of the “spiritual.” Barber’s intrepretation of Romans 7 reinforces this notion. However, as has been argued here before, Barber’s views are representative of broad currents of evangelicalism, so perhaps Barber can be excused on this count (especially since this is an undercurrent, and not the main theme).

Regardless, Barber’s book is neither theological enough nor psychological enough to adequately handle the problem of sin. One would be much better served by reading the equally pious and significantly more insightful works of Andrew Murray, whose mid-19th century distillations of Calvin’s teachings on the Christian life are heart-warming, convicting, and illuminating.

This is not to criticize Barber’s life or ministry. I am sure his principles have changed many lives over the course of his ministry. However, for readers with even a rudimentary understanding of Scripture and Christianity, Barbers’ book (direct quotations from Scripture–1/2 of the book–excepting) is unhelpful. It is milk for a sickness that demands meat.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

2 Comments

  1. Two posts within a day of each other mentioning “scantily clad women.” Is Mere-O trying to bump up its hit count?

    Reply

  2. lol

    two negative reviews too … wondering if the next one will be more positive?

    I don’t mean that it SHOULD be, just I hope you can sit down with a book you enjoy reading.

    Reply

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