Into the Book

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College is a tough time. I am faced with deciding what I want to do with my life, forced to spend lots of money and study a smorgasbord of difficult topics, and try to sift through what I really believe. I’m faced with so many questions: how do I find God’s will for my life? How can I be sure I have the right motivations? How can I hear God’s voice in my heart? Philosophy Professor Phillip Cary noticed many of his students wrestling with the same questions, and becoming ever anxious in search of answers. However, as he spoke with his students, Cary realized that the issue was not with the students, but with their bad theology. So Cary decided to write a book showing the good news to those anxious Christians.

As a Philosophy Professor, Cary wants the reader to think about his beliefs and how they line up with the Bible. Cary does not want people to tremble though life relying on emotions or on the hearsay of pastors or friends. He encourages the reader to think critically about what he believes. But he does not want him to just think about it: he points back to the Bible and judges all ideas in light of what the Bible teaches. Thus, Cary starts with what he considers one of the underlying issues with all of this messed up theology: listening for God’s voice in one’s heart. Cary heard his students struggling with whether their thoughts were their own or from God. This was asking the wrong question: God speaks through the Bible, not through our thoughts! Sure, as Christians become more sanctified their thoughts become more aligned with the Bible, but that does not mean that we have to sift through our thoughts to identify what God is telling us to do. Rather, we should always turn to the Bible, learn God’s will from it, and follow Him.

This ties directly in with another of Cary’s arguments: true Christians need not worry about if they are living exactly in God’s will. To clarify, it is not a question of whether God wants you to be a doctor or a dentist and if you choose the wrong one you are condemned. No! Cary once again points back to the Bible, showing that God wants us to live like Christ and use wisdom from there. It doesn’t matter whether I am a doctor or dentist, as long as I am using my talents and living a wise life following Christ. What if it doesn’t feel like I am happy enough or changed enough? Cary again points to the Bible: suffering can also be a result of faith, and transformation is a gradual process. If Christianity is truly a relationship, a dependence on Christ, then why should we always seek to be transformed? We should always seek to follow Jesus, allowing him to shape us, but we don’t have to feel a certain way or try and make ourselves perfect on our own. The Gospel is not about changing our lifestyle because of Christ, but about being changed by Christ! Christianity should always be focused on Christ, not on me.

One of Cary’s most brilliant chapters is dissecting the modern idea of separation of mind and heart. Christianity is neither one of cold logic nor one of pure emotion. Indeed, Cary argues, if a Christian is a thoughtful, that should include being thoughtful about feeling! Being a thinker does not erase feeling, but embraces feeling, and thought about feeling. Christians should think and feel, and then think about their feelings.

This really is a brilliant book by Cary, and one that is sorely needed for Christians today. I tend to be a somewhat anxious person in all parts of life, and while this book did not resolve my anxiety, it forced me to sit and think. It has encouraged an emphasis on the Bible, and introspection in light of the Bible, rather than merely trying to decipher what God says to me apart from the Bible. What I really appreciate about Cary is that though he emphasizes returning to the Bible, he never identifies this as something for the individual alone. Scripture is revealed through community, through teaching and gathering around the Bible. Going to scripture by oneself is in the same vein as looking within to hear God’s voice: it may not be theologically wrong, but throughout history God tends to speak from without (through the community of believers), not within oneself. Christianity is not about individuals, but about a community of like-minded individuals coming together to follow after Christ.

In this review, I’ve attempted to simply explain only some of the ideas that Cary puts forth in his book. The book more fully fleshes out those ideas and adds more to them, discussing and dissecting the overly individualistic (and emotional) tendencies of modern Christianity. If any of this has been interesting to you (or made you overly anxious), then maybe you should think about picking up this book.

Jesse

Published on 19 May, 2016. Last updated on

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Into the Book was born out of a crazy idea of a blog that'd provide book reviews for teens. There aren't very many book review websites out there exposing awesome, high-quality Christian literature, and there are even fewer that target teenagers. Since 2009, we've been providing high-quality book reviews to the world through our blog. Into the Book has grown around reviews since then, but it remains our oldest project.

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