Book Review: Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism & Liberty by Brett McCracken

The gray areas of the Christian faith continue to cause frustration and controversy in every church and faith body today.  How should a Christ follower, one seeking to become like Christ in true discipleship, take in culture?  Especially in those areas which either do not receive coverage in the Bible because they did not exist at the time or in the case of alcohol and food, the message sometimes causes confusion.  Where does the line between legalism and liberty exist? Brett McCracken seeks to find that answer in his book Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism & Liberty.  He writes to help one think about how a healthy consumption of culture honors God, enriches the Christian’s life, strengthens community, and advances the Christian mission (McCracken 14).  He accomplishes this by tackling four key “gray areas” which exist for a Christian today: food, music, movies, and alcohol.

            Within those four areas he highlights five themes.  First, he argues to best consume culture  in a way which pleases God, a Christ follower should partake of all these areas within a community.  Thus consuming it with others best serves the disciple in all aspects and becomes an act of worship.  One enjoys food much more when partaking of a great meal with friends, rather than eating alone.  The intrinsic value of listening to an album or watching a movie increases when done with others.  At this point discussion of the music or movie happens.  Not only the appreciation of the art takes place but one also consumes it in a way which results in greater community.  While he does not argue against the use of alcohol, he strongly urges against the use of alcohol outside of community. 

            He encourages thoughtful consumption of these areas.  Eating food can become an act of worship when done this way.  When eating this way one tastes the food, thinks about where it came from, and this results in enjoyment of the meal.  The same can be said of alcohol. Should one drink, he or she must ask themselves, “Why am I drinking?”  If ones does so to get drunk, that obviously goes against biblical principles.  However, further still, to do so in an act of rebellion or to prove to others how anti-legalistic one is, this too does not display an attitude of becoming like Christ.

            Out of the above, a final theme of McCracken’s comes through.  He argues that critical thinking about these areas honors and worship God.  Instead of simply giving answers and providing the reader with a list of do’s and don’ts, McCracken skillfully provides the reader time to digest and think about the Christian way to consume culture.

            Ultimately, Christians must engage culture.  They should not always go to the extreme response. One generation pushes the pendulum to legalism and the next liberty.  Can there not be a middle ground?  Yes there can.  It happens when the Christian sees culture for what it is: God’s creation to enjoy and consume thoughtfully as an act of worship.  Food becomes more than fuel or something to do.  One will no longer separate music with the border between secular and Christian.  One can watch movies regardless of their rating.  Unless one lives in a community which strictly bans the use of alcohol, one may even drink a glass of wine.  By consuming culture in this thoughtful way, the pendulum stops. In this book, McCracken’s voice represents the pendulum on cultural engagement stopping. If the Church heeds his advice, it will thrive in the midst of the tension between enjoying liberty and pursuing Christlikeness


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