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More > Distinct by Calvin Samuel – BOOK REVIEW – 6 Thoughts on Holiness


The More > series published by IVP are books for busy people who want to carve out more time with God. The word ‘holy’ can conjure up negative stereotypes like ‘holier than thou’ or it is something that is simply impossible to achieve. Calvin Samuel’s More > Distinct addresses this is in an easy and engaging way which will leave you having a richer understanding of what holiness can look like as we live in our culture.

Here are 6 reasons why I enjoyed reading More > Distinct and I hope you will purchase a copy to enrich your understanding of what it means to be holy:

1. From the very first chapter, Calvin addresses the fact that holiness has an image problem – and uses Disney’s The Lion King to illustrate his point. 

He describes the scene where two of the hyenas are talking about Mufasa, the king of the Pride Lands. When one of them mentions his name, it sends shivers down the spine of the other. Holiness often does the same. It ‘elicits negative connotations and legalistic impressions, too often conjuring ideas of ‘holier than thou’ and judgemental attitudes’ (pg. 1). It can also remind us of how much we fall short and it can seem impossible to attain this standard of holiness. The premise of the book is then set to address this image problem by examining again what holiness is, what it’s for and how it’s expressed.

2. Holiness is transformational, missional and radical.

These words begin to challenge that ‘Mufasa’ effect. When we start to understand holiness as something which transforms us which in turn can be a witness to God’s love to a watching world, it can be radical – ‘there are no limits on how much God’s goodness and glory may be reflected’ (pg. 6).

3. Bite-size sections and small chapters.

This book is concise and can be read in digestible chunks throughout the day. It can be dipped in and out of and is easy to read. Calvin is a theologian and his style is rich in depth, but is grounded in a conversational, warm tone. It is a great asset to have the wisdom and depth of theology combined with a manageable format.

4. Leviticus and other Old Testament verses are not ignored, but are examined head on. Nice one!

The Old Testament can be a stumbling block for many readers and none more so than Leviticus with its laws and rules. It is often side-stepped as too hard to read or dismissed as not important for today. I have even had non-Christian friends quote the Levitical laws to try and make a mockery out of it. Despite this, Leviticus is important for understanding holiness and Calvin explores it to give understanding to why this is, how it can be attained and what it looks like.

5. It can challenge parts of the Bible that you thought you knew.

Two things that the author mentioned stuck with me and gave me a wider perspective on holiness. Firstly, he talks about Job and how he had a very difficult life (his children are killed in a storm, he loses all of his possessions and is struck with a disease that results in sores all over his body), yet was holy before God even when he questioned God in his anger. Calvin says that holiness has to be worked out in the midst of life in circumstances that are often far from ideal.

What was more fascinating to me was that the story of Job was set outside of Israel implying that Job was outside of the covenant and potentially not even Jewish. Where the Israelites could recall God’s faithfulness based on how he dealt with God’s people in the past, Job did not have a relationship with God based on history and covenant, but based on his own relationship with God. There is plenty to learn about the Job in this book!

Secondly, the author talks about the different approaches of taking Holy Communion. He shares how the Methodist Church have an ‘open table’ whereby anyone who wishes to take communion may do so, even if they are not in relationship with Christ. He says that they do this because it is one way of experiencing God’s grace and therefore a way of bringing them to repentance. He even shares a story of someone who came to faith by taking communion shortly after they had been released from prison. This is then contrasted with another story of when the author was not allowed to take communion in another church unless they were a member of that fellowship or one of the other members vouched for them in writing! He summarises the former as an offensive posture of holiness and the other a defensive posture, which I found interesting and thought-provoking:

‘If our understanding of holiness is to be distinctly Christocentric, we too must model an offensive rather than a defensive posture. Rather than viewing holiness as a fragile flower needing to be protected in an inhospitable climate of godlessness and disbelief, we might see it as a light which always has the power to pierce darkness.’ (pg 84)

6. Holiness is possible. 

Calvin Samuel argues that holiness is possible. He acknowledges that we will not become all that God intends for us to be until we come face to face with Jesus, but says that there is ‘a world of difference between believing that we will not be fully holy until we see Jesus face to face and believing that it is not possible to be holy at all’ (pg 90). He mentions Hebrews 12:14 where we should ‘pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ and if God instructs us to be holy, He will enable us by His grace. He explores sin which he says is another ‘Mufasa’ word, Christ’s righteousness and the role of the Spirit in this too which gives further understanding to living a holy life today.

The Revd Dr Samuel became Principal of London School of Theology in January 2017. Previously, Calvin was Academic Dean of St John’s College & Director of Wesley Study Centre at the University of Durham. His previous roles include Research Administrator in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing within the University of Manchester and Assistant Director of Research & Faculty Administration at London Business School. He was awarded his PhD for a multidisciplinary thesis exploring the interplay between biblical studies, church history and education entitled: Holiness & Holy School. He teaching specialism is New Testament and Leadership in Christian ministry and he is passionate about holiness and Christian discipleship. Dr Samuel has been the preacher in the House of Commons, for the BBC Sunday Service, and is a presenter for Prayer for the Day and The Daily Service on BBC Radio 4.

You can purchase More > Distinct from your local Christian bookshop, Amazon, Eden or IVP.