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Book Review: “Good News for Anxious Christians”

by randy on October 19th, 2010

I’ve recently come across a book by Phillip Cary called, “Good News for Anxious Christians.” In it, Phillip Cary fleshes out and criticizes what he calls “the new evangelical theology.” I found the book particularly interesting because Cary addresses many of the dangerous doctrines that modern evangelicals consider to be sound, orthodox, Christianity. The table of contents is what first intrigued me to purchase the book:

  1. Why You Don’t Have to Hear God’s Voice in Your Heart
  2. Why You Don’t Have to Believe Your Intuitions Are the Holy Spirit
  3. Why You Don’t have to “Let God Take Control”
  4. Why You Don’t Have to “Find God’s Will for Your Life”
  5. Why You Don’t Have to Be Sure You Have the Right Motivations
  6. Why You Don’t Have to Worry about Splitting head from Heart
  7. Why You Don’t Have to Keep Getting Transformed All the Time
  8. Why You Don’t Always Have to Experience Joy
  9. Why “Applying It to Your Life” Is Boring
  10. Why Basing Faith on Experience Leads to a Post-Christian Future

Phillip Cary is a professor of philosophy and director of the philosophy program at Eastern University. He began to see the affect this “new evangelical theology” had on his students who were often anxious and perplexed about the Christian life. He criticizes these ideas as, “a set of interconnected techniques or ritual practices for making God real in your life” and states, “I think they do real harm to people’s lives. So I want to do my best to free Christians from the burden of believing these ideas and trying to put them into practice. I want to convince you, first of all, that these ideas are not really biblical, despite the fact that they are often dressed up in biblical language.” In each chapter of the book he addresses some of the many errors of American evangelicalism and offers Christians the gospel in its stead.

The book is easy to understand, engaging and addresses the real distortions of God’s word in today’s era of Christian history. One topic that Phillip Cary addresses, in chapter one, is the modern notion that “having a personal relationship with Jesus” means hearing God speak in your heart. He states, “This would have astonished most evangelicals a couple of generations ago, who thought of a personal relationship with God as based on God’s word, which they found in Scripture alone.” Cary identifies the source of this falsified notion in the 19th century Holiness and Keswick traditions and explains how it is communicated and taught to Christians today through well intended pastors and the power of group dynamics.

I recently listened to a sermon from a local modern evangelical church where this very idea was espoused. The speaker even quoted a late 19th century Keswick theologian, “F.B Meyers.” Listen to the excerpt

Phillip Cary explains how this kind of teaching, coupled with peer pressure, works to create anxiety, “They wonder what’s wrong with them if they can’t hear God’s voice. ‘Am I not really a Christian,’ they ask, or ‘have I somehow missed out on a real relationship with God?’ So instead of being taught the word of God in holy scripture (which does not require them to do any such thing) they are left anxiously trying to figure out which of the voices in their hearts is God–because that’s what everyone else is doing.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone reforming out of modern evangelicalism and as a challenge to those still immersed in it. Each chapter is packed with insight into the errors of “the new evangelical theology” and what it looks like to replace those errors with the refreshing Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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