Be Holy: Find Identity, Find Belonging, Find Purpose

Be_Holy_100CLR_400by Brian Christopher Coulter
Chalice Press, St. Louis. 150 pages


The word “holy” is not always received well by modern ears. For instance, to be “holier than thou” speaks of a moral superiority with which many have grown increasingly uncomfortable. To “be holy” conjures images of sanctimonious and self-righteous individuals that, in their need to have all the perfect answers and live a perfect life, become nearly impossible to associate with.

The result is often to compartmentalize our lives so that our spirituality is on display only when participating in spiritual activities. The act of living out faith becomes something relegated to the comfort and privacy of our own homes and hearts, rather than a calling to which we dedicate our lives. But living a compartmentalized life leaves us with an incomplete picture of who we truly are and we find ourselves struggling with significant questions: What is my identity? Where and to whom do I belong? What is my purpose in life?

In this fresh and inviting volume, Brian Christopher Coulter sets out to reclaim the power and beauty of the word “holy.” He invites readers to find answers to those questions — or at least to begin exploring the questions in fuller ways. Coulter divides the text into sections that examine the word from a variety of angles, and throughout the volume he sprinkles brief vignettes from his personal life and from pop culture to assist in conveying his ideas. “Be Holy” has something to offer for everyone, but from the onset Coulter notes that the text is directed primarily toward young adults, for whom issues of identity, belonging and purpose are often of particular importance.

Coulter begins by examining our calling to “be holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16), emphasizing the abovementioned prominence of individualistic spirituality. Here is where we find a call to action. In a guarded world ascribing to a “DIY mentality,” we are called to live our lives in community. In a frenzied world of overindulgence and overwork, we are called to refocus our lives “on what really matters.” In a hypercritical world striving only “to be normal,” we are called to “stop accepting the status quo.” In short, we are called to “be holy.” But what does that mean for us in our day to day lives?

Ultimately, Coulter finds the answer in seeking to define the word. Society has many different meanings for the word “holy” — many painting the word in a rather negative light — but its most basic definition is to be “set apart,” and this definition provides the structure for the rest of the book. While some might understand being set apart as isolationist and individualistic, Coulter does not. Far from it. Instead, he reframes the conversation completely, guiding readers through an exploration of being “set apart from” (identity), “set apart with” (belonging) and “set apart for” (purpose). Each of these sections continues to aptly develop the text’s overarching theme.

Coulter, in seeking to reclaim for a new generation the calling to “be holy,” helps us all — young adults especially — in discovering anew what it truly means to live a life “set apart.”

TJ REMALEY is a teaching elder currently serving alongside the congregation of St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, as associate pastor for family ministry and discipleship.