Romans 8:29 has been a favorite verse of mine for years. I have always loved the idea of being molded and formed into the image and character of Christ. But the inherent challenge here is in making sure we are not frustrating this work while doing what we can to be pliable.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. —Romans 8:29 (ESV) Click To Tweet
Gary Thomas has been a mentor to me for some time in this area. His writings have instilled in me an insatiable desire to not only focus on building the character of Christ within me, but to understand how Christians have practiced spiritual formation in the past.
When I saw that Logos was carrying Thomas’ The Glorious Pursuit: Embracing the Virtues of Christ, I jumped at an opportunity to ask him some questions about this fantastic book on Christian virtues.
Logos: It has been a while since you penned The Glorious Pursuit. What do you remember about the process?
Thomas: I was approached by NavPress to write a book for a series they were doing on forgotten or neglected ancient spiritual practices. Practicing the virtues was a mainstay for many centuries of church history, and we felt it would be equally helpful and relevant for Christians to reclaim this practice today. So much of contemporary Christian teaching focuses on “not sinning.” I was eager to write a book focusing on something positive—what we can become. Instead of obsessing over becoming “unlike the devil” I believe Scripture calls us to focus on becoming like Christ.
Logos: You discuss 14 classical virtues (humility, surrender, detachment, love, chastity, generosity, vigilance, patience, discernment, thankfulness, gentleness, fortitude, obedience, and penitence), which of those did you find was the most challenging to write about?
Thomas: There’s a reason I had to use two chapters to fully cover humility. It’s been called the “queen of the virtues” and rightly so. It’s the hardest one to live out, in many ways, and yet the foundation for so much that follows (along with love, of course).
Another particularly challenging one was detachment, since that’s such a foreign concept to contemporary believers. We just don’t think in those terms, yet doing so can be revolutionary in a believer’s life.
Logos: One online reviewer said of The Glorious Pursuit, “This is one of the best and most helpful books I’ve ever read.” Do you often hear from people whose lives have been touched by your work?
Thomas: Just about every day, in all honesty. It’s humbling, knowing how little I know, and knowing how messed up I can be, and yet seeing how God can play some great music through rather dented instruments.
Logos: One of the endorsements for the Glorious Pursuit was by J. I. Packer. If I remember correctly, Packer also endorses your book Seeking the Face of God. Do you consider Packer a mentor?
Thomas: Absolutely. He was my thesis advisor, and small group advisor during one year at Regent College, so I got to spend some time with him, including in his home. I admire Dr. Packer’s courage, fidelity to Scripture, and passion for the Gospel. Even in his later years, he is passionate about seeing God’s church move forward. Time with him (I got to visit with him again about 2 years ago when I was up in Canada) is always tremendously inspiring for me.
At a theological level, I especially appreciate Packer’s ability as a “fair” critic. When he challenges another tradition with which he has disagreements, he’ll point out its strengths and what the church at large can learn from it, and then gently but brilliantly expose the flaws (or at least problematic tendencies). I’ve tried to emulate that approach, drawing on the strengths of a wide range of traditions without rejecting them in total, while still staying true to a rather conservative theological (and I think biblical) perspective.
Logos: In what ways have you heard about The Glorious Pursuit being used in group settings?
Thomas: It’s been used by weight loss groups, prison chaplains, men’s groups, and women’s Bible studies. What I hear back from these participants is that they appreciate the positive focus—looking at what we can become, rather than obsessing over what we should avoid.
Logos: What would you say to someone who has picked up a copy of The Glorious Pursuit and is starting their journey toward practicing Christian virtues?
Thomas: Take the chapter on gentleness to heart, and be gentle with yourself. This is a lifelong journey. The more I understand about the physiology of our brain, the more brilliant I believe this ancient practice is. It takes time to create new neurological grooves and therefore moral habits. We have to consciously choose our focus, put it into practice, and wait until it becomes sort of like second nature, though in this case, it’s a supernaturally empowered redeemed nature.
The Glorious Pursuit is not only a fantastic personal resource, it is valuable for discipleship and small groups as well. I can personally attest to using this book in a variety of settings and its rich content always helps foster deep, engaging, and transparent discussion.