Book recommendation — Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do (Phillip Cary, Brazos 2010).
I don’t plan a full review of Cary’s book, but do recommend it for reading.
Cary’s aim is to explode some of the more prominent myths about being a Christian — the truisms or conventional wisdom that only tend to make us anxious, because they inherently fail. One caveat or word of caution I would offer is that Cary tends toward focusing solely on justification, almost to the exclusion of sanctification. For example, Cary says that the way to make a change in people’s lives is “not by telling them how to change their lives, but by telling them about Christ and how he has changed everything.” It is true that Christ has changed everything, but Cary treats the subject as if Scripture never says anything about obedience, fruits of conversion, holiness, and examining ourselves for the evidences of conversion. There are things that believers are called to do, and the reader should keep this in mind.
Here are some of the provocative subjects Cary takes up (I say “provocative” because of Cary’s own description of what he’s doing. He says that his book is a “stealth attempt to preach the gospel” against what he deems the “new evangelical theology.” Provocative, maybe, but not quite so stealthy):
Why you Don’t Have to “Let God Take Control” (Or, How Obedience is for Responsible Adults)
The vernacular version of the idea Cary addresses here is the popular church marquee slogan that says “Let Go and Let God.” Cary points out that this imperative is not truly workable, and actually is quite incomprehensible. Cary illustrates how this concept removes the whole category of Christian obedience from discipleship, as if God were doing the obeying for us.
[I also wonder how the “let go and let God” concept fits in to various soteriologies: can an Arminian, who is against God’s control in salvation, think we should let God control our sanctification?]
Why You Don’t Have to “Find God’s Will for Your Life” (Or, How Faith Seeks Wisdom)
Everyone wants to know God’s will…when seeking a wife or husband, when choosing a job, when picking lottery numbers (checking to see if you’re paying attention). Cary points out the uncomfortable fact that many times when people who profess belief in Christ wonder about God’s will in a particular matter or when facing a particular decision they know very little of God’s actual revealed will in the Scripture.
In addition to his argument that there is no single, individual, personal will of God for every decision we face, Cary argues that seeking the will of God by being adept students of Scripture would probably eliminate the angst we frequently face in decision-making.
Why “Applying It to Your Life” Is Boring (Or, How the Gospel is Beautiful)
Cary acknowledges that proper preaching includes help to see ourselves as those who “receive [Christ’s] commands and promises” but claims that “applying it to our lives” is the most boring part of the sermon. I disagree with Cary to the extent that application is at least an explained command. Without such explanation, it is difficult to imagine what Cary would preach other than to simply read the words of Scripture itself.
However, I do agree with Cary that application is twisted beyond recognition when it overtakes the entire sermon, and creates the idea that preaching consists of Seven Steps to This and Four Keys of That.
Cary addresses other matters (seven others, actually) and offers a corrective to some of the unbiblical notions of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Keeping in mind the caveat mentioned above, the reader should find much thought-provoking material here.