Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: self-help

Books I didn’t like

Among the thousands of books that I’ve read in my lifetime there have been books that were useful and informative, books that conveyed truths that have inspired me, books that were merely interesting, books that were so uninteresting that I never finished reading them and books that were well written but quite deceptive. Here are four books from that last category that stand out in my mind.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: I was young and impressionalbe when I read this book. Still, the idea of a better world that would be built by pure unbridled selfishness didn’t impress me as being a world where I would want to live. I didn’t find John Galt a very sympathetic hero, either.

In His Steps by Charles Sheldon: I have read this book four times, trying to figure out how anybody could consider this a Christian book. What I found was people who read the Bible but never got any direction from it; people who prayed but never got any direction through answers to prayer; people who sang hymns but never got any direction from the words of the hymns. The only way they got any direction was to ask themselves  “What would Jesus do?” Then they found the answers within themselves.

Well, actually the answers came from Charles Sheldon. The whole sin problem in the world is the fault of privately owned business and the solution is for ordinary people to band together to counteract the nefarious influence of big business. The newspaper owner is the epitome of Sheldon’s solution when he plans to turn the newspaper into an employee owned cooperative.

Sheldon called himself a Christian socialist. Notice that socialist is the noun and Christian is an adjective, mere camouflage for the real message Sheldon wants to convey. He uses Christian words all the way through, but they are eviscerated of all meaning. It is very skilfully done, but this book is actually a primer on socialism.

A Theology for the Social Gospel by Walter Rauschenbusch: Rauschenbusch follwed in Sheldon’s steps and coined the term “social gospel” in the early 1900’s. This book reveals the full scope of his thinking. There is no such thing as a sin against God. God appears to be a philosphical construction to provide a framework for ethical teaching, not a divine person who actually exists. Sin and redemption are not matters of personal concern, but involve all of society. The sins for which Jesus died are: religious bigotry; the combination of graft and political power; the corruption of justice; the mob spirit and mob action; militarism; and class contempt.

Rauschenbusch taught that there were two kinds of business organizations: the saved and the unsaved. Unsaved business are those that are privately owned, saved businesses are socially owned, such as cooperatives and goverment owned businesses.

One hundred years have passed since this book was published. I see the results all around me: churches, political parties, cooperatives and government owned businesses built on social gospel principles. I don’t see any evidence that they have succeeded in ushering in Rauschenbusch’s vision of the kingdom of God.

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whittal Smith: This is another pseudo-Christian book which I have read several times. All I could find was pop psychology couched in Christian language. If people are unhappy and unfulfilled, they might want to ask if there is some sin hindering them, or are they not hearing and following the voice of the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of any of that in this book. It is do-it-yourself Christianity. I would recommend the Bible and genuine Christianity.

The self-important self

Nelson Gage Canadian Dictionary

The dictionary pictured above lists 80 hyphenated words beginning with self; the Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists 200. What a bunch of self-centred, self-satisfied, self-important bores we have become!

We think that good self-esteem is essential for happiness. We study self-help books to help us attain self-fulfillment, self-actualization and self-realization. There is a little problem though — everyone else is  engaged in the same quest for self-empowerment and has little time or interest for admiring our enhanced self-image.

Jesus invites us to step off this merry-go-round and follow Him to find true happiness. He says the first step in following Him is self-denial. This should not be confused with self-abasement. Jesus is simply inviting us to turn our attention from self to Him and to allow Him to lead us.

Some Christians talk about self-discipline, self-control and self-restraint. These may produce results that somewhat resemble self-denial, but they hold a snare for the unwary. What those words really imply is control of self by self — and self gets the credit! That is self-deception. We cannot turn to God without turning away from self.

Jeremiah was moved to write: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23). God also revealed to Jeremiah: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plans are always going to be better than ours. Why not abandon all those efforts for self-improvement and allow Him to lead us?

%d bloggers like this: