Monday, July 20, 2009

Why I am not interested in Christian Nonfiction like The Shack or Self Help Books

Why I am not interested in Christian NonFiction or Self Help Books

I am an intellectual person, in that research and study and reading and pondering and seeking out knowledge and wisdom has always been a deep part of who I am. Because of this, people have long thought that I would be interested in all kinds of books relating to intellectual discussion. These have ranged far and wide, from research papers to theological theses to philosophical allegories to self help books. However, time and time again, I have gotten books from people, have read only a small part, and never read them again.

Now, before I continue, if you are one of these people, please do not take this as some kind of angry rant. It’s not. I am thankful to have people in my life who take enough interest my own interests to wish to provide something entertaining and thought provoking or even spiritually uplifting for me. I also understand that often when someone is truly touched, moved, or encouraged by a book, they will be passionate about sharing that experience with others. So, please, understand that this does not come from bitterness towards people or hatred for self help books. This is merely me explaining my personal position, in order to A) answer a question for myself, B) provide meaningful and thought provoking discussion, and C) hear what your opinions are on this topic.

Of all these various kinds of books, the ones I get recommended and handed to me the most are Christian Self Help Books. Even as I write that, the laundry list that comes to mind is staggering. So many books that people have wanted me to read, many of which I have never even cracked the spine of. Why? What do I have against them?

Nothing. These books are fine. Most are reasonably well written, and cover topics which are most definitely relevant to me. So why do I not read them? Because there are two things that any Christian Self Help Book is trying to do. They are either out to convince you to think about life and issues the way they do, or they are there to help you better your own life, either your internal issues or your external relationships.

The first general type is then more theoretical, theological, and philosophical. The problem I have with this is simple: History teaches us that theology and theories have harmed the church more than anything else, marring the bride of Christ, and staining the reputation of the church and of Jesus even to our own day. What am I referring to?

Throughout history, from the very inception of the church, there have been people who have gained spiritual insight and revelation for their lives. But while they were passionate, they were also fools. They insisted that the revelation God gave them specifically, was meant for all, that any who did not agree with them must be false messengers from Satan. They approached life with such a dualistic viewpoint, and they and their followers acted from it. War after war, witch burning after witch burning, crusade after crusade, they desecrated the name of God by taking “Holy Wars” in his name. They were no better then the Muslims who bombed the Twin Towers on 9-11.

So excuse me if I am cautious about following people who claim to have special revelation. I understand that not all are like. In fact, I believe that a large majority of people who write books like these only have the readers’ best interest at heart. I am not saying that all Christian Self Help Books are out to get you to go on a Crusade. What I am saying is that many view their way of approaching or dealing with life as the ONLY way. And that is a dangerous mindset to have.

(Here I should probably add a sidenote that I am not saying that there are many ways to God…. but…. then again, there are many ways to God. In fact, each person has a very unique and special way to God that no other person will ever take. All these ways pass through the cross at some point or another, but they are not all the same way. If you really want to take what I say out of context, I will be giving you SO much opportunity that this will really be my one and only sidenote in my defense. If you have any issues or problems with what I say, please, feel free to voice them in the comments area. I love to hear other opinions because it either helps me come to a better conclusion or strengths the one I already have. Either way, it make me better, so please, let me know where I go wrong. :D )

Anyway, moving right along. The other reason I don’t read theologically or philosophically inclined books is quite elementary. If it’s basic theology, then its something I have probably heard a million times before in Christian school, sermons, chapels, and Max Lucado books. Why on earth would I want to subject myself to mind numbing repetitious phrasing of the same basic phrases and thoughts, ESPECIALLY IF I ALREADY AGREE WITH IT!!!! And, if its not basic theology, and its some kind of strange, out there, new way of looking at and approaching the world, I will begin to argue with the author as I read through it, mainly because the only reason books like it (aka The Shack) are written is to ignite people into arguing about issues. Personally, I find that when I argue about things, when I am aggressive in my pursuit of knowledge, I become closed minded to what other have to say, defensive about what I have to say (irregardless if it is right or not), and in general, my spirit becomes grieved. Why on earth would I want to subject myself to that type of situation? Life is complicated enough already and has enough trials that I do not need to go creating any more for myself. I will not seek out aggression, aggravation, or give myself over to be manipulated by any author. The moment I detect it, I put the book down and take a step back. If it keeps happening, I stop reading the book altogether. Usually, but not always.

That covers the fist type of book. The ones with special knowledge, revelation, or outlook on life that they want to force everyone else to except. Obviously, the Holy Spirit can use the book to speak to a person’s life and bring correction. But the Holy Spirit can also use a sunrise, a billboard on the side of the highway, a commercial for Comcast, or even (God forbid!) a Michael Jackson song. It’s not about the source material, its ALL about our ability to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we have that, then we can be in the middle of the desert, a million miles away from any written word, and we will read God’s revelation for our lives upon creation itself.

Moving right along, there are the other types of self help books in the Christian community, and I have slightly just touched on them with that last paragraph. The other type is the ones who say that they have knowledge or wisdom to help you either internally work through your own issues inside your own life, or externally work on your issues with other people you encounter. These are actual self help books.

(Okay, I promise this is the last side note, but basically, just have to say, that when you look at the basic premise of these self help books (fix internal/external) you realize that you don’t need any book other than the Bible. In fact, you don’t even need the whole Bible. All you need is two short phrases. Love God with everything you have. Love people like you love yourself. If you can do that, you won’t have any problems internally or externally. And I doubt I have ever met anyone who had even mastered those two simple things.)

As I just pointed out previously, when you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, then God will reveal the areas in your life that you need to adjust. The amazing thing about the presence of God is that as you drawn near to Him, He draws closer to you, even if you can’t feel it, and when He draws near, the mountains melt, the islands are moved, the heavens roar, and we are rightly put in our place. Or, as one Biblical writer put it, all our righteousness becomes like filthy rags.

When we are actively pursuing God, we will become aware of His presence. The more we are in His presence, the more we realize just how wrong and messed up we are. The more we realize what we are doing wrong, the more we can stop doing it, and begin to do what is right. But once again, this only comes if we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will warn us when we are about to enter into temptation. The Holy Spirit will plead with us as we are making the decision to sin or not to sin. The Holy Spirit will convict us afterwards when we have sinned and point out exactly where we went off the path. And the Holy Spirit will guide us back to the straight and narrow. All this, and SO MUCH MORE, He is willing and able and waiting to do, and is doing even right now, all we have to do is be able to hear him. All we have to do is listen. Really listen. And if it all happens so organically when we are drawing close to God why would we need a self help book?

But the opposite is true too. If I was not actively seeking God, why on earth would I ever read a Christian self help book? As a Christian, I knew very well when my life is not on track. If I’m not working to fix it, it means I am running away from it, like Jonah. I am aware of what I am doing. I am aware that I am making mistakes and that I am not right with God. And in that place, I know that a Christian self help book would only convict me back on the right track. So why would I read it if I am purposely trying not to think about God?

So if my relationship with God is good, there is no need for a Christian Self Help Book. If my relationship with God is bad, there is no way I would read it. Therefore, a Christian self help book serves no purpose in my life. Maybe it’s different for other people. I can understand and respect that. But for me, personally, I prefer not to drink rock filtered, fluoride added, flavored water. I would much rather drink deep from the sweet, fresh, pure source, untouched by the taint of human thought or emotion. I would rather get insight directly from the Holy Spirit, in a way that is specifically applicable for what I am personally going through at this exact moment in time. I would rather have the Holy Spirit’s constant prodding and direction in orchestrating my life every second of every day, than have a manual telling me what I already know, that I forget as soon as I close its back cover.

But as I said before, these are all simply my opinions and how I understand the world, both the physical and the spiritual, to work in regards to my own life and my own journey. Maybe you see things differently. Maybe you have experienced different results and different feelings. Please, share them. I won’t make fun of you. I won’t ridicule or insult you. I probably won’t even respond to your comment. But if you don’t voice how you feel, then there may be errors that go uncorrected in my life and the lives of those who read this. And if no one disagrees with me on anything then it means I must be perfect and have a perfect understanding of this, which I most definitely am and do not. So, how do you personally feel about Christian Self Help Books?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! I myself have never read a Christian self-help book...I never saw the need to. I did read the Shack(someone gave it to us) and thought it was a great book...but I'm more into the fiction side of reading :)