Self-Help Christianity?

Being a counselor and a minister, I have a fascination and dedication to the study of psychology and theology. I believe the two intersect to a profound degree, because we are emotional, psychological, and spiritual creatures. I believe people have a host of difficulties that come with living in a fallen world. We are in need of practical solutions for daily living, times of difficulty, and problems as they arise. I start here because I want to be very clear. People need help in living their lives in a Godly and healthy manner. In fact, much of this blog’s intent is to help people do just that, by challenging people to live wise or “walk good.”

I do feel, however, that there is a growing problem within Christianity and the church. A greater emphasis is being placed on self help than Christian doctrine or theology. The practical side of Christianity cannot be divorced from the doctrinal side of Christianity.

Walk into any Christian book store today, and you will find a plethora of books and resources to learn to be a better you. Again, don’t get me wrong. I am not attacking Christian book stores or books geared at character reformation, life improvement, or applying Christian principles in daily life. I am saying that what is sold in these stores and subsequently taught in churches has become extremely lopsided.

So often, we see a heavily psychologized version of Christianity that promotes the idea that you can help yourself. It is all about your strength. You can do it. Yea, God is important, but here are the tools to help yourself. That isn’t what the Christian life is about. The Gospel is not a self help book. It is a book that says, “You can’t do it yourself so Christ did it for you.” It promotes the idea that we are weak, but made strong through Christ. It states that we can do all things only through Christ, who is the source of our strength. It seems today, that a shift has taken place where people are encouraged to become empowered and take control of their own lives; when the Gospel has always been about surrendering one’s life to Christ. We find within the pages of the Gospel that in our weakness we are made strong only through Christ.

It seems as though within churches the teaching of systematic theology and biblical interpretation are becoming rare. People have limited knowledge of basic theological concepts and doctrines. So often, people are taught how to apply the Bible, but they are not taught the Bible or how to study it for themselves. We are seeing a dumbing down of Christianity, when people are perfectly intelligent enough to grasp difficult theological constructs.

A demand is made for teaching within churches to accommodate daily living. Many people want something that they can apply immediately in the here and now. Surely, this form of teaching is important in the church. We cannot neglect to teach people how to make God apart of their daily lives and how to walk in wisdom, but we most assuredly cannot neglect to teach the theological and doctrinal aspects of Christianity at the expense of the practical. A focus on the immediately applicable without theological and doctrinal instruction leaves the believer with no foundation. He loses the reason behind the application.

It seems that we see actual Bible study and discussion of the Bible less and less. Instead, we increasingly see DVD’s that offer small biblical sound bites. Many of these DVD’s are helpful, but it is to our detriment with this becomes the diet of a church. Christians need to be discipled, taught how to study their bibles, and offered environments where systematic Bible study is offered. Christians need to be taught Theology, doctrine, and apologetics. They need to know the foundation upon which practical Christian living is built. They need to understand the reason God says what He says. They need to become familiar with why living a certain way is counterproductive to the Christian life.

While I love the practical side of Christianity and greatly enjoy teaching it, I also feel we as churches need to focus on the basics and core of the Gospel more heavily. We also need to remember that Christianity is not “Self help”; it is instead, God helping, equipping, and empowering us as believers. The moment we make Christianity self-referential we have surely lost our way!

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

What are your thoughts? I would love to have people weigh in on this. Has Christianity as a whole promoted the idea of self help? Has Bible study been replaced by the Gospel sound bite? Are we becoming less knowledgable about theology? Has Christianity been dumbed down in recent years? Be heard!

9 Comments

  • efchristi says:

    I believe you are right. The bible is taught at our church, in our Sunday School Classes and for the most part in the message the pastor delivers. I say for the most part because he does wander off course once in a while mixing a little politics in with the message, though usually I call him on it the next day.
    The bigger problem comes in the bible study classes they come up with three of four times a year. These are mostly self help books designed to help you improve your life through opening up to a small group of people with things about you that will never leave the room. They are ‘based on the bible’ but never seem to get into the bible. We started a new one this week based on the beatitudes called celebrate recovery. We had out first lesson Sunday afternoon talking about denial and anger which referenced the first and second beatitude. The two leaders of our class tried to get people to be more open with their lives, but only two or three had anything to say. Since it was our first week and the books were not there yet we got off to a slow start. I guess we will see how many come back Sunday afternoon for the next class. There were three groups so I don’t know about the other two. They might have done a better job relating the biopsis of the study.

    Walk daily with God at your side!

    Ed

  • Serena Hedrick says:

    We have been studying the Beatitudes this summer at Praise. I love that Reg emphasized how much we do NEED Christ! Take “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Though being poor in spirit may seem like a bad thing, it is at that moment when we realize that we cannot do it alone. Admitting that we need Him to do what we cannot is the foundation!

    Prayers your way friend :-)
    Serena

  • chris says:

    Good post! The church in which I was raised had a new pastor after 30 years. He doesn’t want people to call him their pastor, he prefers Life Coach. I’ve only been to visit once since but in that sermon he never referenced a Scripture but commented on how God wants us to behave. Yes that’s true but back it up. There’s plenty to choose from.

  • Joe says:

    Absolutely!! I cant stress that enough to people that they dont know theology – they are spoon fed this mambi pambi practicality sunday in and sunday out…….. The sad part is that the majority of the “body” is happy with it. I probably sound a little bit bitter towards church and I am – I am sooooo Disappointed in what churches have become – Country Clubs for the saved – when they are supposed to be Hospitals for the spiritualy dying, lame, and the blind. Our Churches are more prone to getting into the “huddle” (to use a football term) and learn the play action but never make it to the line of scrimmage. No application…..WHY??….. because exactly what you said Josh – NO FOUNDATION…….. The old school cats in the church know their bible and their Lord but there is no discipling going on for the new believers. I could go on because this is a soapbox I am on too often,,,,, (stepping down now) Lord Jesus Help us to not be the Church described in Laodicea(Rev 3:14-22)
    Soli Deo Gloria
    In Christ
    Joe

  • Grundy says:

    You can only have so many versions of the Bible in your Christian book store before you need to branch out. :-)

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