Lighten your burdens here
Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do
Author: Phillip Cary
Publisher: Brazos Press
Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary reminds me of Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson. The latter challenged what the authors called the traditional view that God has an “individual will,” a specific plan for each life that a person must discover through prayer, reading the Bible, getting counsel, considering circumstances, etc. I read it early in my Christian life, and though it was Scripturally-based, I found it troubling because I believed the more common view. Back then I thought the will of God was like a steep precipice, difficult to reach and with little room to stand, but these two books picture it more broadly like a plain bounded by the truths of Scripture.
Good News references Decision Making and builds on it. The subject matter is more diverse, but like its predecessor it challenges widely-held views. Both books help Christians to become responsible for their decisions by acting wisely.
Cary believes that a “new evangelical theology” has infiltrated the church. It’s his name “for a set of supposedly practical ideas about transforming your life that get in the way of believing the gospel. They are the result of a long history of trying to be ‘practical’ in evangelical theology, which has now thoroughly adapted itself to consumer society.” This critique is his opportunity to preach the gospel to Christians. He writes that the “understanding of the gospel that has shaped my reading of the Scripture was articulated most famously in Martin Luther’s little treatise The Freedom of a Christian ...” Cary is Anglican, but someone who believes that Luther was right most of the time. This influence, with its emphasis on faith in Christ rather than what we do, is refreshing.
A prime example is when he writes about how God changes us, “The inward transformation of our hearts … happens not through anything we try to do but through faith in the gospel, because that’s how we receive Christ. He is the one who really change us.” This emphasis “frees us from anxiety” and “makes us cheerful and glad.” He continually exalts Christ, “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.”
To his credit, Cary encourages readers to judge what he has written, “To everyone who reads this book, I say: don’t believe any of this just because I’m saying it. Please do think critically—and that includes thinking critically about what I say in this book. Above all, search the Scriptures to see if these things are so, like the Jews and Gentiles who first heard the gospel in Berea (Acts 17:11).” He makes it easier by providing careful analysis based on the Scriptures and his own experience.
Where he may miss the mark is in the motives that he ascribes to those teaching or practicing the new theology. On the part of leaders, he sees it as a means of control and a way to build bigger churches. From my experience, I think people genuinely believe in the validity of the practices. Sometimes it takes someone like Cary who stands on the outside to get people to examine if something is true. It’s unwise to assume wrong motives when ignorance and/or deception can be involved.
Another reviewer of the book found himself agreeing and disagreeing with Cary’s critique, which may be a common reaction. The book makes you evaluate what you believe, and can lead to a helpful desire to know the truth.
Cary starts by challenging the whole notion of hearing God in your heart, advocated by Dallas Willard in the book, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. How can you be sure that the voice you are hearing in your heart is God’s? According to Cary, you can’t be sure because the voices that you hear are your own. “The revelation of God comes in another way,” Cary writes, “through the word of God in the Bible, and this is something you can find outside your heart.” He shows here and in other practices, that Christians are left looking within, whereas in the Bible revelation comes from without: the Scriptures, counsel, corporate gatherings, etc. He’s not saying to disregard the voices from within. When shaped by wisdom and experience these voices, which are our own, can be helpful.
One might ask about the impressions experienced by Christians that seem inexplicable apart from God. Cary writes about this in Chapter 2, “Why You Don’t Have to Believe Your Intuitions are the Holy Spirit.” But what are we to make of a verse like Acts 16:6? “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (ESV). Through some means the Holy Spirit gave these believers specific direction. Cary might argue that it was something outside of themselves, a prophecy or some other sign, but isn’t it possible that they were redirected through an inward monitor?
In the book In Pastures Green, F. W. Boreham recognizes the danger of impressions, especially when they harmonize with our desires. Nevertheless, he shares a personal experience that is hard to explain apart from God’s guidance, “I set off one afternoon on a round of visits. I knew exactly in which direction I was going, and had made a list of the homes at which I intended to call. On my way to the tram I suddenly thought of a home in an entirely different direction. No visit to that home was due, and there was, so far as I knew, no reason why my mind should turn that way. But as I drew nearer to the tramline the impression deepened, and, absurd as it seemed, I decided to abandon my program and make my way to that home. To my astonishment, the door was answered by Dr. Player, a medical practitioner whom I knew well. ‘Oh, thank God you’ve come!’ he exclaimed; ‘Mr. B------ has just died very unexpectedly on my hands; Mrs. B------, whom I came to see, is ill in bed; there’s nobody else in the house, and there’s no telephone!’”
How do you reconcile an example like this with what Cary has written? Regardless, more often than naught I found myself agreeing with Cary, and I appreciate his wisdom and experience. This is a worthwhile read even if you have to wrestle with the ideas that you find here.
The book title is a winner as is the cover drawing showing an umbrella shielding from the rain. Wise teachers can protect Christians from teachings that can be like an oppressive rain. The right focus (Christ) provides its own uplift, and this book has it.
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