Do you ever get that feeling that something around you isn’t quite right? Like what you’re hearing and what you’re experiencing are two different realities that aren’t matching up to each other?
I’ve been feeling that way about American Christianity for a while now, but haven’t really been able to put my finger on it until recently.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The realization that there is indeed a common Christian teaching going around that is more insidious and more subtly false than the prosperity gospel. The best name to describe it is this: self-help Christianity.
I fell victim to this teaching for quite a while myself, because it sounded right and fed a lot of the doubts and insecurities I had about my faith. Self-help Christianity is fond of maxims like “deep down, you’re really a great person”, and “ultimately, God wants you to be happy.” Or how about “learn to love yourself.” Sounds pretty good right?
The problem is, that’s not at all what the Bible teaches. It’s kinda like western New Ageism and historical Christianity had a child and it was — this.
The problem with self-help Christianity is that it removes God from his rightful position of authority and power and places you (the self) at the center of the solution to life’s problems.
If only you could know yourself deeper and more intimately, then you would finally break through to the next level of happiness/success/whatever. If you take the time and energy to get your needs met, then you’ll finally be able to fulfill your true purpose (spoiler: you are not designed to meet your own needs).
The main issue with this teaching is that it assumes people are innately good at heart, and capable of having a positive impact on the world by undergoing a process of self-discovery. In fact, this could not be further from what the Bible teaches.
I subscribed to self-help Christianity during a period in my life when I was searching for purpose. I had just left another job (the 2nd in 9 months) out of disillusionment and despair. I was feeling repressed, like my talents weren’t fully being utilized (how millennial can you get?), and just generally bored with the whole thing. I set off on a journey to discover what I was really meant to do.
The problem was (and I realized this later), a career was never meant to give me the satisfaction I was expecting to get from it. I was trying to fill the God-sized hole in my heart with work, success, and self-realization. And it was woefully insufficient.
The good news is, because self-help Christianity falls so woefully short in solving the big issues of life, it points us towards the ultimate truth: that there is a creator God who designed humans to find complete satisfaction and fulfillment through worshipping and glorifying Him.
It’s a paradox really, the idea that the only way to truly ‘help’ ourselves is to give up all autonomy and control of our lives. This idea flies in the face of our enlightenment-tinged paradigms, but it remains true nonetheless.
If you’re struggling in some area of your life, I invite you to stop trying to ‘help’ yourself (because I can assure you it’s not going to work). As one of my favorite authors Tim Keller says,
“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Oh what a relief to realize we don’t have to be the solution to the world’s problems (or even our own!). Let’s come and find our true help at the cross of Jesus Christ.