Book review of 'Live No Lies' by John Mark Comer

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Book review of 'Live No Lies' by John Mark Comer
A review by Fran Hill of the book Live No Lies  

John Mark Comer’s Live No Lies is an urgent, persuasive appeal to individual Christians and to the church across Western culture.

His thesis? We are engaged in a war on lies.

Are you sure, he asks, that your thinking and behaviour haven’t been influenced by these lies – and by the ‘tectonic shifts’ happening in society – without you realising?

Comer aims to ‘reinterpret the ancient paradigm of the three enemies of the soul’: the devil, the flesh and the world. His fundamental three-part theory, echoed usefully throughout the book, is that deceptive ideas from the devil lead to disordered desires in the flesh which are then normalised by society. This process happens gradually but, once established, only concerted action can shift it back and re-wire us. Willpower won’t do it; only the power of the Spirit can.

Comer’s style is typically ultra-clear, relatable and humorous but his message can’t be dubbed light-hearted. This is a book about ‘how not to lose your soul in digital Babylon’ and the language of the exile and the alien permeates the chapters. Christians are being edged to the fringes of culture; Comer’s anxiety for us is that we don’t edge ourselves back in, afraid to stand out.

In Part One on ‘the Devil’, Comer hauls readers back to Biblical teachings on the devil as the father of lies. He links this with examples from the internet, fake news and propaganda, showing how the war against lies is not a straightforward battle, steeped as it is in confusion about who and what to trust. The battle is in our minds: the temptation of Eve started with an idea, after all, not a weapon.

Comer raises three big questions that define humanity. Who is God, who are we, and how do we live? He then explains the deceptive ways in which the devil answers these questions for us. Satan hopes to lead us towards secularism and relativity so that we have no guidelines at all and much resulting unhappiness.

Part Two focuses on the concept of ‘the flesh’. Comer believes society is allowing the ‘self’ to become a god. This is not helped by Freud’s assurances that it is unhealthy to repress desire. Freedom and happiness, though, actually come as a result of ‘disciplined desire’.

Comer differentiates between deepest desires and strongest desires, demonstrating how our strongest desires hold sway, morphing into habits and addictions. He takes apart the popular notion that we can do what we want if it harms no one. Who defines ‘harm’? Still on definitions, he examines the changing connotations of ‘oppression’ and how we now use the term to describe limitations on our behaviour by external authorities such as the law or government, even those meant for good. He quotes from a 1791 letter by Edmund Burke: ‘Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.’ Comer also discusses neglected concepts including the benefits of guilt (which he distinguishes from shame) and the spiritual disciplines of fasting and confession. We should feed our souls, not our habits.

In Part Three, Comer cites Christian philosopher Dallas Willard’s definition of ‘the world’ as cultural and social practices under Satan’s control and opposed to God. We must learn to live within this world but not adopt its drive towards self-gratification. Social issues such as marriage, sexuality, human rights and reproductive justice are used to argue that what we used to call sin has been ‘recast’ as acceptable behaviour. How ironic, Comer suggests, is our anxiety to save the planet meanwhile ignoring such destructive forces within society. Quoting political scientist Joseph Nye, he illustrates how the devil deceives us with ‘soft power’ rather than coercion, shifting our thinking until we are indistinguishable from the world.

But what’s the answer? Comer argues that the church is the key, so long as it is deeply relational, holy and orderly, kicking against the influences of individualism, hedonism and chaos in the world.

Following each chapter, Comer’s ‘step sheets’ helpfully offer definitions of terms, summaries of main points and further Biblical reading and meditation. Also, the number of footnotes and references is testament to how he draws on a wide range of fascinating thinkers, including scientists and philosophers, to support and analyse his own ideas.

Comer’s message is challenging – prepare to be shaken up a little – but it’s not hopeless. He thinks the post-Christian West is failing to deliver on its promises and that positive change is possible. However, this can only happen as we crucify the desires of the flesh, tapping into those deeper, stronger desires for God Himself.

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Live No Lies (Hard Cover)
John Mark Comer
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