Book Review: Our Favorite Sins by Todd Hunter

You probably think you know what this book is about. You're probably wrong. In Our Favorite Sins: The Sins We Commit & How You Can Quit, Todd Hunter examines what new research by the Barna Group says are Americans' favorite sins and he offers a way out. The first surprise in the book is that the things most of us would think would show up front and center in a book like this (sins generally of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll variety) don't even make the list. Rather, the sins addressed hit much closer to home, so that practically every reader will read and think, "Yikes, that's me." In fact, the sins that show up at the top of Barna's research are each pretty socially acceptable- even in the strictest Christian circles. (In other words, your pastor could have an obvious struggle with any or all of them, and you might not think anything about it.) So what are they?: anxiety, procrastination, over-eating, media addiction, and laziness.

Thankfully, Hunter's goal in writing the book wasn't to incur guilt on a widespread audience by addressing things that apply to all of us, but he very much wants to help us leave these sins behind. This is where the second big surprise of the book comes in: his remedy has nothing to do with exerting all of the willpower we can muster up, then urging us to do it all over again when we fall off the wagon. Rather, the remedy hangs on the premise of the entire book: that something is tempting to us when an opportunity comes along that matches a disordered desire already in place within us, and that reordering our desires by cooperating with God's grace is the key to being freed from these sins.

The reason this is surprising is because we normally seek to beat a bad habit by tackling it head on, but if we'll admit it, we know ourselves well enough to know how ineffective this is. No one beats anxiety by demanding themselves to become an un-anxious person. Rather than this direct approach, Hunter's key is indirection. This is why he doesn't spend all that much time delving in to each of these top five sins in all of their nasty but common detail, but instead goes to quite an effort to point out what's common between them and every other temptation: our disordered desires. So, it doesn't matter if your besetting sin isn't even on the list, because Hunter's goal is to expose the common root of all kinds of sin and point us toward the well-tested and tried way out.

Rather than depending on willpower to free us from our sins, Hunter suggests that we make changes in the other parts of who we are (thoughts, feelings, body, and social context) and then our will/desires follow along. He gets very practical in suggesting ways to do so, primarily by intentionally putting habits into our lives that open us to God's grace and help to free us from "the tyranny of what we want" [in our disordered desires]. If you're unfamiliar with Hunter's story, these habits will likely be a third surprise of the book, as he suggests the practices of praying liturgical prayers, receiving the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, and reading the Scriptures following a lectionary.

Much in this book could be delved into more deeply, but Hunter does a terrific job of making a historic Christian approach to sin accessible to any reader today.

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