The term “Christian self-help book” is a contradiction in terms. Psalm 121 teaches us, “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Scripture is clear that believers should turn to God for aid rather than their own inner resources. Sadly, this has not stopped Christian publishers from following the secular world into the realm of manuals to improve your personal life and well-being. The best of these teach foundational biblical principles without doing much harm. The worst of them, though, can convince believers that the promises of God are dependent on doing good works and following the author’s special advice.
Learning To Be You, a recent book by Presbyterian pastor David D. Swanson, appears at first glance to be yet another entry in the genre. Its back cover blurb promises, “If you want to lead a meaningful and fulfilled life, it’s time to learn how to be you.” I was worried that I might find another Oprah-list self-love fest. Thankfully, Swanson’s volume turns out to be anything but the norm. It is not a self-help book. Instead, Learning To Be You turns out to be thoroughly God-centered and leads readers to rely on Him rather than giving them a false expectation that they can cure themselves.
Learning To Be You divides into three major sections. Section one, appropriately titled “First Things First,” establishes the spiritual struggles we have: we aren’t the people we want to be, God seems far distant, and we desperately fear that people would hate us if they knew our true, tarnished selves. Swanson reassures us that, despite the protestations of militant atheists, there is a God. In fact, He can be known, and He wants to be known. However, just because we believe – in God, or even in Jesus Christ for salvation – doesn’t mean we’ve accepted the freedom He has purchased for us. Swanson welcomes us to come out of hiding and slavery and find out how to live in our new identity as children of the Most High God. As Swanson does so, he invites us to not turn inward but to ask God for the ability to see ourselves as He sees us and to live as He desires.
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