Those who have read and enjoyed Bridges’ works will most likely agree with my assessment of him as both a tremendous author and communicator of Biblical truth. What makes Transforming Grace even more powerful is when one has a church background similar to mine and Matthew’s, i.e., one saturated with performance-based Christianity, unmitigated externalism, and what I think to be legalistic tendencies.
**DISCLAIMER: I would like to point out that I have used the word "legalistic" denoting the similarity to true legalism. I am fairly certain that even in Hammond, Indiana, they would deny that the externals earn them merit toward salvation.
The common thread, however, always seemed to be that the preacherboy-appearance, including a “right” haircut, and the IFBx-deemed appropriate neckwear all combine wonderfully to provide a faithful thermometer of one’s "spiritual temperature". I understand that is an exaggeration of sorts, albeit only slightly. It seemed to be forgotten that one of the most vocal enemies of our LORD Jesus during His earthly ministry was the sect of the Pharisees. These same “religious” Pharisees were noted for doing all the "right" things externally speaking but failed miserably in the spiritual disciplines that truly mattered to our LORD. We know from the gospel accounts that they held fast to the regulations laid out in the Mosaic law, yet their hearts were rotten with pride and self-reliance.
I would add that as a student at Hammond Baptist and Hyles-Anderson, only a few major issues were of importance and indicators of one’s love for God or lack thereof. Topping this list would be a close tie between whether a student had ever smoked or drank alcohol and what kind or haircut or hairstyle one wore. We were often told by our leadership how that a young person’s hairstyle was an overt indicator of that individual’s rebellion or their submission to authority...?! This was reinforced via the pulpit ministry in downtown Hammond where we often heard the stories from Pastor Hyles how he had NEVER tasted a even a drop of alcohol nor had he EVER smoked tobacco. He would often tell a story about how on a double date one evening his date and the other couple bodily forced him to the ground and attempted to pour whiskey down his gullet. The story ends with Pastor Hyles demanding them to take him home where he found his mother praying out loud for him to resist temptation. For him to have done so would have been to desecrate the Holy Spirit’s temple. Please do not misunderstand the preceding sentences as they are meant to demonstrate the overemphasis on what are thought by many to be gray areas in the Christian life and exalting them to an unnecessary status while ignoring what Bridges terms the “refined sins” in the Christian life, e.g., anger, pride, resentment, covetousness, etc. I do not at all intend to engage in debate about the use of alcohol or tobacco but would like to point out that the concept seemed to suggest that there was great spiritual merit in having never partaken of these indulgences. Never mind the selfishness and pride which so often go unchecked in the Christian life...! This has only begun to demonstrate the point that externals were so preeminent there.
I understand that the Galatian form of legalism dictated that specific works of the law were necessary for salvation in addition to faith in Christ, His substitutionary death, and resurrection. Nevertheless, as Bridges so aptly points out in his book, there are other forms of modern-day legalism and teachings that perpetuate legalistic thinking and tendencies. Bridges tackles these issues head-on in what I consider to be the most thought-provoking chapter in the book, chapter nine. He points out that legalism is anything we do or do not do to earn favor with God. There is so much that could be said here but I will only take the time and space to include this specific and powerful quotation from chapter nine, "Called To Be Free":
"Despite God's call to be free and His earnest admonition to resist all efforts to curtail it, there is very little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom. Just the opposite seems to be true. Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity. Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance. Instead of encouraging new believers to be conformed to Christ, we subtly insist that they be conformed to our particular style of Christian culture. We don't intend to do this and would earnestly deny we are. Yet that's the "bottom line" effect of most of our emphases in Christian circles today.Another relevant case in point is something that was brought to my attention on the FFF recently. It is reported that a special meeting was held for men at a certain IFBx college for the express purpose of banning the practice of spiking their hair to any degree. This seems to picture so well the IFBx obsession with avoiding “worldly” external practices and making the avoidance of such paramount to true spirituality. Make no mistake, the LORD that we serve is holy and has called His children to holiness as well. What needs clarification, however, is how we would define holiness or sanctification if you will. The IFBx model is that of forced "external sanctification". That is, Christ likeness = maintaining the “right” appearance, avoidance of all “worldly” music (however that is defined), being present at all the regularly scheduled services of the “red-hot” church of which you are a member, going cold-turkey soul-winning at a scheduled time each week, etc. Interestingly enough, this IFBx model is simply that–- it is their model and not to be found in the canon of Scripture. I am reminded of the LORD’s words to the prophet Samuel upon the choosing of a new king for Israel, “...the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
For example, many people would react negatively to my quoting only part of Galatians 5:12, "You , my brothers, were called to be free." Despite the fact that this statement is a complete sentence, they would say, "But that's not all of the verse. Go on to quote the remainder: 'But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.' " (We seem to forget that verse divisions were not inspired.)
The person who reacts that way has made my point. We are much more concerned about someone abusing his freedom than we are about his guarding it. We are more afraid of indulging the sinful nature than we are of falling into legalism. Yet legalism does indulge the sinful nature because it fosters self-righteousness and religious pride. It also diverts us from the real issues of the Christian life by focusing on external and sometimes trivial rules."
In closing, I would like to encourage you to get a copy of Transforming Grace--- read it and reread it. I also was informed of a new title from IFBx Publishing put out in response to Bridges' works but only have the cover artwork for it...;)