Monday, 27 July 2015

Book Review: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller

Well, I say book review, but really this is more like a booklet with only three chapters.  It's a book I've read before and loved and wanted to read it again because I've been thinking about selflessness recently.

Keller begins by taking issue with the modern obsession with self-esteem.

"Traditional cultures...always believed that too high a view of yourself was the cause of all the evil in the world. What is the reason for most of the crime and violence in the world? Why are people abused? Why are people cruel? Why do people do the bad things they do? Traditionally, the answer was hubris - the Greek word meaning pride or too high a view of yourself."

The modern view, on the other hand, is that people sin/misbehave due to a lack of self-esteem.

Keller then cites an article by Lauren Slater in the NY Times Magazine, which mentions three studies showing that, despite modern thought, low self-esteem is not the problem.

The main scriptural source for the book is 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.   In 1 Cor 4:6 Paul uses the Greek word 'physioo' translated 'puffed-up' in many Bible versions.  This word brings to mind something "overinflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size."

Keller then says that this brings to mind four images of the human ego: empty (trying to fill itself with everything other than God), painful (easily hurt with its sense of loss and lack), busy (trying to fill the emptiness and draw attention to itself) , and fragile (easily deflated or popped like a balloon).

You see, the problem here is that when one is focused upon increasing self-esteem you are focused upon yourself.  Focus on ourselves causes all kinds of problems.  We can never fill the emptiness that only God can fill.  We will forever have a sense of lack and a sense of failure.  Whatever we do whether it is competing in a career, or trying to raise perfect children - comparing them with other people's children, or trying to live a perfect life and comparing it with other's, we will always feel that we don't quite make it - I remember hearing someone say, "You can climb the ladder of success with great passion, but once you get to the top, there's actually nothing there".  Children will never be perfect - because they are human.  We will never live a perfect life because we are human and we live in a fallen world.  Thus, if we live like this, judging ourselves by other people's standards, we will never meet that standard.

In reaction to this, many people will say that we are not to worry what other people think of us, it is only what we want to be or do that matters.  In answer to this assertion Keller points to Paul's words,

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. 1 Cor 4:3-5
Paul does not even judge himself.

Keller writes:

"Perhaps the solution is to set my own standards?  But I cannot keep them either - and that makes me feel terrible, unless I set incredibly low standards. Are low standards a solution? Not at all.  That makes me feel terrible because I realise I am the type of person who has low standards.  Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else's is a trap.  It is not an answer".
Yes!  This is where the book really got me.  In my journey out of perfectionism I have tried to set my own standards.  But even there I fall down.  I have walked away from lifelong striving to live up to the standards of a man only to find that I cannot even live up to my own standards.  Both are a trap.

Of course, Keller is not saying that we shouldn't have standards - setting lower standards is not the answer as he says.

The answer is the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Jesus brings, what Tim Keller calls 'Gospel-humility', which is, "Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less...[it] means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself...the freedom of self-forgetfulness".

The answer is where we seek our identity.

The answer is - as always - Jesus.

It is only God's opinion that counts - not someone else's, not even my own opinion, but God's.  Unlike other religions or even humanism, in Christianity it is not our performance, our behaviour, that leads to a good verdict.  It is Christ.  It is Christ and what He has done for us.  His perfect performance imputed to us.  God looks at us and sees His Son, and God says of His Son "You are My Son, whom I love, with You I am well pleased".  God is pleased with us.  We are adopted into His family.  Jesus lived a life we could never live, died a death we deserved to die and gave us perfect life eternal.

Which reminds me of this:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20
"I is no longer I who live".  Do I truly believe this?  I believe it in my head, but it needs to drop right into my soul, where I work out my life.

Now is freedom.  Because we are not looking at ourselves and our success or failure, we are free to love in a self-less way.

How do we remember this in our everyday life?  By re-living the Gospel constantly.  By reminding ourselves that it doesn't matter what people think, it doesn't matter what I think, it only matters what God thinks.  And God has said that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  He loves us.

I totally recommend buying this little book.  It's very, very cheap (and very, very small).  You can read it in a day.  But it's one that I want to get it to sink deep down into my soul.  To live it.

For me, this is a very important book.

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So, what am I reading now?  Well, I have two books on the go.  They're both books recommended on many of the uber-conservative Christian ladies' blogs, and they're both books often condemned on the more progressive Christian blogs.  So I wanted to read them because I like to make up my mind for myself.

One is Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin and the other is Passionate Housewives Desperate for God by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald (produced by the now defunct Vision Forum).

So far...I think they both bring up some good stuff, and have made me think about one or two things.  However, they are both so idealised, so picture perfect, so happy-happy-ending, akin to one of those period romance books that you can devour in a day but make you feel slightly icky like you've eaten too much chocolate in one sitting! LOL  So, I might do a review on them at some point if they interest me enough.

Have a super-dooper day! :)

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