Sunday, May 24, 2015


I wanted to share with you some reflection on a marvelous book I have been reading (listening to).  It is The Road to Character by David Brooks.  I find it a wonderful and thought provoking work, and very challenging as I am forced to inspect my own character, or character flaws, if you will.

    In this book there is some great critique on the popular culture we all live and breathe in.  I found myself saying "amen" quite a bit as he speaks of the "big me" and the inability of this present generation to make moral choices except according to how things make them feel.  In one fell swoop he explains, without actually saying it, why so many Evangelical young people can grow up in Christian homes yet make moral choices, and socio-political choices, as if there were no moral absolutes.

    As far as I know David Brooks does not profess to be a Christian, though many wonder what God is doing in his life.  If he is not a Christian (at least yet) that makes the book even more interesting to me.  Many Christians don’t seem to think unbelievers or non-Christians really have moral or character struggles. 

    Our Evangelical theology tells us that they are all sinners, and our Reformed Theology tells us they are all totally depraved.  So, we have difficulty believing sinners can have moral struggles, or be moral, or have better morality and better character than we do.  Yes, you read me correctly, I do think the character and integrity of some so-called believers is terrible and shameful, while many non-Christians are seeking to the best of their own "lights" to be "'good."  

   Still other Christians think that once they are “saved” they no longer have any moral struggles, for to fall into sin would convince them they were not truly Christian.  If you have that view then you might be really put off by David Brooks.  However, I think you would be missing a feast of both moral philosophy and intellectual challenge, as well as conviction about how far we all have to go.

    In some ways Brooks cannot help being an elitist.  He is too educated and well read not to be.  I confess that he makes me feel as if I haven’t read anything, nor had a very good or well-rounded education.  I am still thankful for someone like him to be writing about some very interesting people and personalities in history, and the very personal character struggles they went through.

    There is good stuff in this book for young adults, there is good stuff in this book for parents, and good stuff for all the rest of us. 
    As a Christian who believes in both redemption, transformation and deliverance, and the grace of God to help us in a growing sanctification I feel I come to the inner struggle with some spiritual weapons to help me. What I find embarrassing is that a book like this shows me how lightly I take my sins and failings, and how lazy many of us Christians are about our own growth in being more like Jesus Christ.

   I am not sure what David Brooks thinks about sex.  He certainly speaks about it, but doesn’t focus on sexual activity as sinful in and of itself, as many religious people would.  So, while some of the personalities are promiscuous, homosexual, and adulterous that never seems to be their main problem.  I sense just a little bit of denial in how he deals with it. Because of that I don’t think he is actually in touch with how guilty sexual sins make many people feel, except maybe in the case of Augustine, who David Brooks doesn’t think actually had as big a sex problem as Augustine says he did.  This to me is slightly puzzling in what I think is just a terrific book.

    This is not a theological work.  I don't think Brooks understands real grace and faith yet, nor true conversion.   Brooks is not picking a fight with religion nor trying to substitute for one, but he is spot on about the inner struggle of character and brings us into the admiration for people who did see progress in their struggle.

    I hope that the Lord has used this book to drive me to a greater humility, a greater readiness to deal with my own envy, ambition, and pride.  As a believer I agree with David Brooks that the point of life is holiness not happiness and that everyone needs grace and that there is such a thing as redemption.  What wonderful insights.  I am also thankful that I am not left alone to struggle for those things without the very powerful and personal presence of the Holy Spirit,  nor have to bear the shame of my failure without the blood of Jesus. 


  1. Randy,’s author page for David Brooks has the following summary about him:

    David Brooks is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and appears regularly on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He teaches at Yale University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the bestselling author of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement; Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There; and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. He has three children and lives in Maryland.

    My take is that Mr. Brooks would like to have many of the ethical benefits of the Judeo-Christian legacy of the past, but probably feels compelled to do so under the guise of Neo-Orthodoxy, which feels it has no alternative but to deny the authenticity and authority of Scripture, and can generally be summed up as “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5 ESV). This would certainly make sense for an author and speaker who is lionized by NPR as a Yale professor and former Wall Street Journal op-ed editor, whose religion is listed in his Wikipedia biography as Jewish. I could be wrong in some of these assumptions or assertions, and if so I stand corrected, but I thought this might help you to get a better sense of what you’ve been digesting.

    Want to know something funny, Randy? When I was in grad school at the University of Baltimore in the late 1980s (I was studying publication design then), I often found I had a more profound admiration for those who were unafraid to stake a moral claim, even if it was one with which I vehemently disagreed, than I did for those who were cynical, noncommittal and ready to compromise, and couldn’t wait to take a smoke break outside after class. I always felt an affinity with the activist-crusaders that I simply couldn’t with students who were smugly satisfied with getting by and the status quo. I suppose I would respect and admire you in that same way, whether you were friend or foe—for your constant non-lukewarmness and energy for the cause of Christ.

    Randy, one other thing I wanted to say to you today, which is a two-pronged “Thank you for your service.” When I think of all the people who have influenced my life and still come up in conversations to this day, you are at the very top of my list, and I want to recognize your courageous actions in invading Satan’s segregated fiefdom in the early days of New City Fellowship. You will always remain in my mind as one of the modern heroes of the faith, from whom I have taken constant inspiration, and to whom I now point with my children.

    I also want to say thanks for your service in the U.S. Army chaplaincy, as I have come to know more military service members here in Colorado Springs recently who are striving to live out their Christian faith authentically. One young man I know decided to go to officers’ school and become a chaplain after serving as a youth minister in my church, and I have heard from him on several occasions not only the harrowing tales of his deployment but also his struggle to maintain the faith once delivered in the midst of many overtures that appear to be aimed at making the gospel of the chaplaincy a gospel of diversity, moral relativism, social engineering and social services delivery.

    Thanks, Randy, for all the risks you’ve taken on so willingly for the sake of the kingdom of our majestic Lord and Savior, Jesus, and for us, his flock and yours. No doubt on this “Decoration Day” you may be remembering some of those with whom you served who made the ultimate sacrifice, but I want you to know that you have also on innumerable occasions demonstrated your willingness to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters, stepping into the bootprints of our Savior.

    With all brotherly affection in Christ,

    Tim Collins
    Colorado Springs
    Memorial Day 2015

  2. I am overwhelmed, so I just simply say, "thank-you."