The world of publishing has witnessed an interesting phenomena over the last few years. Sales of print books have slumped in almost every category as ebooks sales have surged. The only arm of book printing that has experienced growth over the last several years has been in the area of self-help. Self improvement book sales have defied the trend in the industry by experiencing a boom. Between books on weight loss, ways to improve your marriage, methods for overcoming depression, improve your career standing, and all manner of other do-it-yourself-to-yourself books; Americans are still buying. In our self-obsessed culture, feeling bad or inadequate is simply unacceptable. This has prompted a veritable gold rush of publishing in this area. The world of Christian books has not missed out on this trend. “Christian self-help” books are extraordinarily popular. I include quotation marks because far too often these books are simply christian flavored versions of their secular counterparts. Rather than being a distinct worldview, self-help Christianity has a tendency toward nearly identical in approach with bible verses attached to the ideas at strategic locations. At issue isn’t the notion of working to improve our health, emotional wellbeing, income prospects, or anything else we feel discontentedness toward. The issue is related to a basic philosophical incompatibility that exists between Biblical Christianity and most self-help approaches to the world.
One of the basic theological tenants of Christianity is the concept of total depravity. Basically, this teaches the because man is sinful from birth, he is incapable of following God of his own accord. Man’s natural bent is rebellion against his creator. The only way we are able to have a relationship with God is through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. When a person becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit enables us to follow God and to overcome sin in our lives. One of the foundational concepts behind most self-help systems is that you can overcome any challenges you may face in life. The solution to life’s ills is found by unlocking potential within you. The conflict between this philosophy and depravity make the two positions incompatible. One points to our inborn ability to do right, while the other points to our dependency on God’s provision to overcome. The incompatibility of the two makes the self-help approach problematic from the Christian worldview.
Romans 7 offers the best comment on the matter, when Paul writes about his ongoing frustration that the good he desires to do is seldom reflected in his actions, because sin rules his body. Ultimately, his comfort for this condition is found in Christ’s saving work on the cross. Believers finding themselves in unfortunate life circumstances or trapped in destructive patterns, recognize that relief is only obtained in Christ’s redeeming work and sanctification through the Spirit’s working in their lives.
Self-help can be a band-aid solution for some problems, but can never fix the core problem that all men face. Only God’s redeeming and recreating work can fix the problems that lay at in the hearts of all men.