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Why Holiness? A Conversation with Tyler Braun

August 6th, 2012 | 5 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Tyler Braun is one of the rising class of younger writers and has taken on one of the more difficult areas one could write about:  holiness.  It's a crucial topic and one that does not get nearly enough attention in the midst of all our chatter about Christianity and culture.  

Here is my endorsement for the book:  At the center of the universe is a God about whom the angels repeatedly cry, "Holy, holy, holy." Rather than being entranced by holiness, however, many younger Christians have ignored it altogether. Why Holiness Matters is an honest, refreshing, and wise book that avoids stunted visions of holiness while graciously and firmly calling younger Christians to pursue a more Christ-like life. It's a very helpful and challenging read.

I invited Tyler to Mere-O for a conversation abou the subject. Go get Tyler's book today as he is giving away a lot of good stuff along with it.  

So Tyler, you've just written a book on holiness.  Which means I've gotta ask:  feeling any more pressure to be on the up-and-up these days?

Why-Holiness-MattersYes, absolutely. In fact, before deciding to write a book, much less a book on holiness, I knew God was going to give me a voice that could either lead toward a positive or a negative end. So last summer before I started writing the manuscript I made changes to my daily schedule to make sure I had rhythms that would influence my living. I spend each morning in Scripture, prayer, silence, and meditation. And most evenings I spend time in prayer reflecting in the past day to consider where I missed out on how God was trying to get my attention.

I didn't go about trying to change any one or two specific bad habits, but I did want to root my life in practices that would flow into a healthier way of entering into life through Christ, rather than on my own.

I certainly haven't cornered the market on holy living for Millennials but I did want to have a sense that God was working in my life and I could sense His presence daily. If I wasn't even interested in pursuing after holy living, then the book should have been written by someone else.

So of all the books to write, then, why on holiness?

I had a conversation with a writer friend of mine almost 18 months ago and she mentioned a concern about my generation's lack of desire for holiness. To her, the idea of holy living had been completely abandoned. I couldn't disagree with her because much of my life was more about doing what would satisfy in the moment rather than seeking Christ's power in my life.

As I thought back to times in my life when I became comfortable with sin, I saw how sin had the power to change my affections away from God toward my latest vice. This allowed me to see that much of my life story could be summarized in a misunderstanding and ignoring of holiness.

I've read countless books that dive into a theological and Biblical focus on holiness. But I've never read a book where the author shares their own struggles with holiness. As I began to see my life through the lens of holiness (or lack thereof) I knew it went from being a conversation with a friend to a topic I needed to pour myself into. God wants us to be holy. We can't just ignore it.

You mention your struggles. This is a pretty transparent book, but it opens with a chapter on innocence. What do you think we lose and gain, if anything, by facing the reality of our sin?

A couple things come to mind. First, engaging the reality of our sin has the possibility to bring us to brokenness, confession, and then ultimately to healing. So even though I speak negatively about engaging our sin in the book, there are positive components. I just see it happen this way so rarely.

The problem with this engagement of our sin-filled reality is that sin isn't neutral. We don't sin once and in the next moment move past it. Sin wants to take over every part of our lives, slowly. We're more apt to sin in the next moment rather than being able to overcome it. Sin is so deceptive that it can mask itself as us "engaging the reality" when really we're just getting sucked in more deeply. I don't think we just ignore the reality of sin, but we have to recognize that it is a ferocious beast not meant to be dealt with loosely.

You end up writing about art and culture and all sorts of things. How does the thread of holiness lead there?

The discussion on art felt like the logical conclusion for me. Eugene Peterson's take on Paul's words in Galatians 6 are etched in my brain: "Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." The Creator God has given us this creative ability to live out the holiness He is working within us. Not all of us are writers, painters, or musicians, but we each have lives we can create beautiful art through.

I liken this idea to the Eastern Orthodox practice of iconography—the use of paintings as windows to the Kingdom of God during corporate worship. Our lives are meant to be windows to the Kingdom, just as the paintings are representative for Orthodox believers. To me, holiness is not complete unless it extends beyond a private relationship with Christ, into the way we live. We have an opportunity to engage the world around us through the new creation God is bringing to life within us.

Why do you think holiness has been neglected among our peers, and how in calling for more of it can we avoid the hellish trap of moralism?

I imagine many will disagree with me about this, but I believe many younger Christians have neglected holiness because they have not understood it. Whether it be poor teaching or the poor example of those who had influence over us, we've come to see holiness as something it is not. Holiness is not a behavior. Rather than trying to pursue this perfect living, we, right or wrong, found it easier to pursue following Christ without having Him be anything more than someone we believe in.

Avoiding the trap of moralism is not easy when it comes to holy living. Once we have found the what holiness means for us we want to fit everyone else in that box. Two things immediately come to find:

1) Fix our eyes on Jesus. If holiness starts in this place of relationship with Christ, this doesn't mean holiness ends somewhere else. With our eyes on Him we are less likely to start trying to do the right things and more apt to continue giving our affections to the right person.

2) Focus on relationships, not deeds. I find in my own life I want to boil life down to what I have or have not done. And this is a form of moralism, where my life is defined by my deeds. But time and time again I'm reminded that God initiated a relationship with us and made us communal beings. Holy living must reflect this.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.