Featured Reviews, VOLUME 5

Todd Hunter – Our Favorite Sins [Feature Review]

Todd Hunter - Our Favorite SinsLoving Desire, Desiring Love

A Feature Review of

Our Favorite Sins: The Sins We Commit And How You Can Quit

Todd Hunter

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Seth Forwood

Our Favorite Sins is the newest book from former Vineyard pastor now Anglican bishop, Todd Hunter.  Hunter’s past in evangelicalism and high church conversion provide a good picture of what one should expect from his book on temptation – an evangelical heart with the blood of liturgy, sacrament and ancient prayers flowing through it.  He relies heavily on both Barna Group research and ancient wisdom and practices to address the issue of temptation.  This results in a tension that pulls the book in odd directions.

Hunter’s approach on desire and sin is probably the single most important aspect of the book.  Borrowing from James K.A. Smith’s important and engaging work Desiring the Kingdom, Hunter argues that desire, longing, and loving will never go away and should not be suppressed to gain victory in temptation.  Rather, when we order our desires to fit the ends we were made for we find our sins irrelevant, distasteful and idiotic because they bar our path toward true fulfillment in the love of God.  This teleological approach situates sin in its proper place, a mere distraction from our good work as creatures.

This contrasts with the egocentric approach of many North American Christians who obsess over their faults, lost inside the narrowness of their personal struggle.  Hunter is not only more true to traditional Christianity with this approach, but also, in his pastoral way, kinder to the struggling sinner.  I am reminded of a passage in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead where pastor-narrator, Rev. John Ames writes, “I think sometimes there might be an advantage in making people aware how worn and stale these old transgressions are.  It might take some of the shine off them, for those who are tempted.”

Hunter begins his chapters with a quote from a theologian or writer and peppers his writing with more thinkers.  Assuming this book is for beginners in spiritual matters, this provides a resource for going deeper into the concepts Hunter mentions.  His citations for spiritual writing are worth following up on: N.T. Wright, James K.A. Smith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, and C.S. Lewis.  Those looking for more depth and theological nuance will find Hunter’s sources good ground for richer food.

The Anglican tradition and other ancient texts also give the reader an avenue to begin this transition to our good work from the “tyranny of what we want”, one of Hunter’s favorite phrases.  His goal is to give the completely uninitiated an introduction to the rhythms of prayer and the lectionary, spiritual disciplines, and the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.  Every chapter ends with a bit of spiritual writing, a prayer or collect and instructions for making it a part of your practice.

Also admirable is his emphasis on incarnate practice.  He writes,

“…this is the interesting part of spiritual transformation into Christlikeness: most of the spiritual disciplines that transform our inner beings are bodily.  Our bodies work with us as allies to transform our hearts, minds, wills, emotions and social selves…Think about it: fasting is bodily, so is praying, reading, kneeling, seeking solitude, and even keeping silent.”  (111)

With these very bodily and temporal practices he casts an alternative vision, more compelling than the sin we hold onto, that inscribes our lives with beauty.

As an Anglican myself, I enjoyed reading various prayers, collects and rites from the Book of Common Prayer that I pray every Sunday (he also includes profound and beautiful prayers from Celtic Daily Prayer).  In my case, Hunter is preaching to the choir.  I have seen how these practices and prayers become glorious and transformative when participating with a vibrant community every week and throughout the year.  Hunter’s approach, a kind of testimony to what he feels when he prays and reads scripture, may not be enough to convince evangelicals without the experience in a community like his own.

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