Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Good News for Anxious Christians--Why Trying to Be Christian Makes Us Anxious

I recently decided to blog through the chapters of the book Good News For Anxious Christians (10 Practical Things You Don't Have to Do) by Phillip Cary. I find the title wittier the more I think about it because it mimics the titles of Christian self-help books. We all want those "practical" tips on everything from house-cleaning to living the Christian life. But this book is not about self-help. As the author confided in the first sentence of the preface, "this book is a stealth attempt to preach the gospel, disguised as an attack on the new evangelical theology." It's a good idea to keep that in mind as one reads along, although the author does a very good job of keeping the gospel in focus.

Last time, I recapped the Preface. This time I'll try to summarize the introduction, Why Trying to Be Christian Makes Us Anxious. Cary begins with a little history on the new evangelical theology he is critiquing in his book; the theology that has promoted certain practical ideas and techniques such as "giving God control", "letting God work", "finding God's will", and so on. "The good news is that this is a new theology--it's not in the Bible and you don't have to believe it. You might think, 'but wait a minute, isn't this how you have a relationship with God? Don't those phrases tell us something important about how to be a Christian'? And my answer is: not in the Bible, they don't."

This new theology took over American evangelicalism fairly recently, "about the time when color TV came on the scene." It fits in very well with the consumerist theology we now see everywhere--marketable products that promise to transform your life. This kind of marketing and the use of techniques in living the Christian life has had a terribly detrimental effect--Christians have been trained to feel guilty for thinking! "Since bad theology can't really defend itself against critical thinking, it has to try to get you not to think." Cary encourages his readers to "think critically about what I say--take seriously the task of discerning what is true from what is false here. Having done that, you're one step closer to discerning what is true from what is false in the theology you've been taught. And that will do you a lot of good."

Cary isn't just trying to dismantle a bad theology; he's trying to get across to us that the gospel is such good news, and is so liberating from all the newer, bad theology, that it's almost hard to believe it could be true. "For some readers, what I'm talking about in this book will seem too good to be true. To those readers, I say: the gospel of Christ is often like that--hard to believe because it is such good news. But go ahead and believe it!" The gospel of  Christ is good news, he says, because it does us a lot of good. "It frees us from anxiety, makes us cheerful and glad. And that is something we need, because life is hard and the Christian life is harder."

The Christian life is a life of love, which is very hard work, and of heartache, because we love people who hurt. And besides all that, we have our own hurt. "Trying to be Christian" is anxiety-producing. But what the gospel of Christ does is give us Christ, and that is enough. We can "...let everything else be what it is--hard work, worthwhile work, works of love, and the heartaches that come with all of that. And we can let our feelings be what they are, whatever that may be. What matters is Jesus Christ, and the gospel tells us that all is well on that score: that we are our Beloved's and he is ours."

Next time I'll take a look at Chapter 1, in which Cary discusses Why You Don't Have to Hear God's Voice in Your Heart. We'll see why Cary says that's such good news.

No comments: