Have you ever noticed that in most bookstores, the religion section is right next to the self-help section? I understand why bookstores situate these genres next to each other. What bothers me about this placement is that I see it as an indictment on the faith we practice in America. At a deeper lever, it is a painful reminder that much of the Christian faith practiced in America can too easily be equated with self-help.
Self-help tells us that if we change our thinking, we will change our situation. It reinforces the power of positive thinking. Don’t get me wrong – I completely agree with the science behind positive thinking. It is proven that thinking optimistically and positively affects the body and mind. For example, athletes are coached to visualize all the small actions they must take to produce a successful outcome. However, these self-help techniques lead to a Christian faith not rooted in the Biblical narrative.
Christian faith should not resemble the self-help section of a bookstore. Because at the core of the Christian faith is a daily dying to myself and be raised to new life is Christ. Meaning, my sinful nature and the sinful condition of the world need to be redeemed. Faith in Christ reminds us that no amount right thinking, positive attitude or visualization is going to be enough to help heal a broken world. Left to my own accord, I will only add the brokenness and the sin which entangles. On my own, I cannot even come to faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a technique or skill honed over time.
The Biblical story is rooted in God calling us to a faith founded upon trust, reliance, humility and dependence on the promises and goodness of God. For even my best efforts pale in comparison to God’s: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25 – NRSV). Let us never mistake faith in God with our own self-reliance!