Yes, really, at least according to Ronnie Martin. In an article that commends The beauty of low self-esteem, Ronnie says that all of us have the opposite problem, high self-esteem, which God is out to “destroy” and “eradicate.”
I know where he’s coming from, and I know the problem he’s trying to address. But this is a major over-reaction and requires much more care, especially in counseling people with depression, many of whom have come to hate and loathe themselves, often as the result of abuse or other trauma.
Without minimizing the wickedness of the human heart and without denying our inability to do anything pleasing to God apart from faith in Christ, we should regularly encourage depressed people to have a more realistic view of themselves by highlighting their God-given gifts, their contributions to the lives of others, their usefulness in society, and, if they are Christians, their value to the church.
The power of positive thinking?
For example, a depressed young mother may feel like a total failure in every area of her life because she doesn’t have a perfect home or perfect children. We can help such a person see that she achieves a lot in a day, even though she might not manage to do everything she would like. We might remind her of all the meals she makes, clothes she washes and irons, and the shopping she manages, helping her see herself and her life in a more accurate and realistic light.
This is not “the power of positive thinking” but “the power of truthful thinking.” In a wonderful little book, Spiritual Depression, Arie Elshout comments:
It is wrong to pat ourselves on the back when something has been accomplished as a result of our initiative. It is equally wrong, however, to focus on what we have not accomplished. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 we have a clear example of humility accompanied with a healthy opinion of one’s accomplishments: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Paul knew very well that he daily offended in many things (James 3:2; cf. Rom. 7; Phil. 3:12), and yet he did not go so far as to cast out all his accomplishments. I do not believe that this is God’s will. In contrast to sinful forms of self-confidence and self-respect, there are also those that are good, necessary, and useful. Without a healthy sense of these, human beings cannot function well. We may pray for an appropriate sense of self-confidence and self-respect, clothed in true humility, and we must oppose everything that impedes a healthy development of these things (be it in ourselves or others) with the Word of God.
A chasm of difference
Ronnie Martin concluded his article by saying, “The beauty of low self-esteem is that we finally have the hearts to highly esteem God.”
But we are not highly esteeming God if we fail to identify, acknowledge, and esteem His image and His work in us and through us. What Ronnie fails to make clear is that there’s a chasm of difference between evil pride and healthy God-given self-esteem, without which we actually cannot function in this life.
In fact without it, Moses couldn’t have led Israel, Joseph couldn’t have governed Egypt, and Ronnie couldn’t have written an article for the Gospel Coalition!
How to run an elder’s meeting
“The purpose of this article is to discuss practical elements of elders’ meetings so that God may be maximally glorified by them. I will discuss the consecration of elders’ meetings, their content, and their conduct.”
When the good do bad “It’s always interesting to read the quotations of people who knew a mass murderer before he killed. They usually express complete bafflement that a person who seemed so kind and normal could do something so horrific.”
For those of us brought up in the church, the Gospel of Christ is so, well, so believable. We’re used to it (too used to it). Yes, we have to believe it for ourselves, but it doesn’t shock us or stun us so much (though it should).
But try to put yourself in the shoes of an unbeliever; I’m thinking especially of those who have never heard the Gospel. Have you ever tried to imagine how hard it is for such unbelievers to believe the Gospel message? I mean consider what we’re asking them to believe:
God spoke to lots of people in lots of places about lots of subjects using lots of methods over lots of years, resulting in an infallible document called the Bible that we can totally trust.
That’s actually relatively easy compared to the next bit. Hold on tight because in the person of Jesus Christ:
God became an embryo in the womb of an unmarried virgin.
God was born
God grew up – baby to toddler to infant to teenager to young unmarried man
God learned and slept and tired and thirsted and hungered and sweated and cried and laughed
God lived as a man for 33 years in this world and never committed one sinful act, spoke one sinful word, thought one sinful thought, desired one sinful desire.
God lived as a man for 33 years in this world and never omitted one duty to his parents, his siblings, his friends, his community, his boss, his church, or his civil rulers
But that’s still elementary school compared to what comes next: In Jesus Christ:
God suffered the wrath and curse of God
God was crucified
God came alive again
God went back to heaven with his human body and soul
God runs the universe today in a human body
And if you’re still breathing, brace yourself to graduate to these truths:
God offers the perfect earthly life and justice-satisfying death of Jesus to murderers, rapists, adulterers, gamblers, liars, Jihadists, homosexuals, Pharisees, and even to religious and moral people.
God will save anyone, yes anyone, and everyone, yes everyone that puts their faith in Jesus alone
It does not matter what you have done or not done, if you repent and believe in Jesus you will avoid hell and go to heaven forever when you die
Let me put that a fourth way – you do not contribute one atom of effort to your salvation.
And a fifth – because it is so “unbelievable” – Salvation is a gift to trusters not a reward to workers.
And if anyone’s managed to believe all that, try this for a finalé:
The one life and death of Christ, lived and died 2000 years ago, has saved and is saving millions and millions of people from every country and generation
God will come and live in your heart when you believe in Jesus – and He will never leave you – EVER.
I mean, come on, are you not beginning to sympathize with unbelievers a bit?
Well, if you’re starting to soften, let me now turn it around a bit so that we don’t let unbelievers off the hook. First, this Gospel Good News fits the human condition perfectly. Although it’s stunning, it’s not like whiplash jarring. It fits what everyone knows in their conscience about their spiritual need. That’s why Paul says that unbelievers are without excuse. And that’s why when the Gospel is preached to unevangelized people, they often believe it quicker than churchgoers who have been hardened by Gospel unbelief over many years. It answers and meets humanity’s deepest needs so nut-and-bolt perfectly.
And, second, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to rely upon as we preach and witness to the “greatest” unbelievers. What else could have made us believe all that? And what else can make unbelievers believe any of that? Thankfully we need not rely on our own powers of persuasion, but on His.
And that’s what makes the unbelievable so incredibly believable.
This week’s episode of the Connected Kingdom Podcast has Tim responding to my challenge to talk about about reading fiction. You’ve got two options: You can read the transcript below or you can listen in by clicking on the audio player. If you listen in, you’ll be able to hear the two of us interact. Download here.
There is power in story. Christians have long realized this and today, perhaps more than any other time in the history of the church, believers speak of the whole sweep of Christian theology as a story—a story that has its beginning in the Creation of the world and a story that will close with the consummation, with God renewing this world and raising us to join him in it. This is the story that will go on and on forever, the story of all stories. Jesus himself used story in powerful ways, sharing amazing and important truths through parables, short stories designed to both hide and reveal truth—to hide it from those who would not hear and to reveal it to those who longed for it. It is worth noting, of course, that much of the Bible comes in the form of story and that the bestselling Christian book apart from the Bible—The Pilgrim’s Progress—is a story.
I confess that I usually enjoy fiction only in short batches. Every year or two I will pick up a few novels—a few that have been nominated for a Pulitzer prize, perhaps, and I will read them through. They transport me to strange places and, more often than not, make me uncomfortable. But I almost always benefit from them. They give me a glimpse into someone else’s mind, someone else’s world or worldview. And as often as not they also tell me what other people, the people around me, are thinking or feeling, or what they will be thinking or feeling soon enough.
In some ways fiction tends to be just very slightly upstream from culture, which is to say that the kind of fiction that deals with ideas and not just stories or passion or action, puts into words the times, the thoughts and feelings that pervade the culture or will soon pervade the culture. These works of fiction ask the questions so many are asking.
I have heard it said that the purpose of fiction is to ask questions while the purpose of nonfiction is to answer them. That may be an over-simplification, but maybe it is not too far off the mark. At least that has been my experience of fiction. Fiction introduces ideas and evokes feelings and arouses emotion. These feelings demand answers or make us long for them. There are many questions I have been asked in fiction that I’ve had to go to the world of nonfiction to answer.
Cormac McCarthy’s novels ask if there is hope even in a world like this one, a world of darkness and depravity. John Piper has rightly said that Cormac McCarthy is to the American literary canon what the book of Judges is to the biblical canon. McCarthy portrays the darkness of humanity and asks us if there is hope even here. It doesn’t offer answers—just questions, questions brought about by deep feelings of pain or revulsion or sadness. Answers must be found elsewhere.
The recent novel The Snow Child asks, Is it worth loving if we can love for only a short time? Where do we find our hope and our joy? It makes us hope and long and wish and maybe even believe. But it asks questions that it cannot answer.
Olive Kitteredge, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner, asks what value there is in life and what joy can be found in growing old. What do we do about the sins we committed so many years ago? Do they still matter? And how can two souls remain knit together even after so many years and through so much hurt and sin?
Tom Clancy…okay, never mind. His books just tell some action-packed stories.
But how about The Lord of the Rings, a true and lasting classic? Here is a novel that transports us to a world of such clear good and evil. It asks us what we will give to defeat evil and what value there is in the deepest kind of friendship. Born out of Tolkien’s experiences on the front lines of the First World War, this is a novel that seeks to give a very different take on this kind of a world—a world in which good and evil do battle to the death.
We could speak of C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series, which begins with the story of the Bible and then wonders, how would a story like this be told if there was a very different land in which it was always winter but never Christmas and where the Lion of Judah was actually a lion? But like most other fiction, it asks questions more than it answers them. It hints at something more, points to something beyond itself.
I am convinced that to truly enjoy fiction we need to have a knowledge of what is true and fixed and unchanging, which is to say, we need to know the Bible. So many questions are asked in the pages of books that can only be answered in the pages of The Book. The Bible interprets and refines and answers. It gives hope where fiction is hopeless, it gives light where fiction is dark, it gives joy where fiction is depressing. Fiction gives us stories of the world as it is or the world as someone images it; an author takes his experiences and hopes and desires and dreams and wraps them in a story. The Bible takes that story and makes sense of it. It tells us why the world is this way, why this author’s experience of the world has been so painful, why there is still hope even in a world like this.
That is what I love in fiction; that is why I love fiction that probes the deep questions and asks the tough questions. If I did not have access to the answers through God’s Word I would despair. But the Bible skillfully parries each blow and patiently, carefully answers each question. The fixed and unchangeable Word of God is the interpreter.
So I encourage Christians to read fiction—to read it carefully and discerningly and while listening to conscience and to allow it to asks its questions—but to always read it with the Bible as the source of answers.
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