Monday, December 4, 2017

Think Again

Think Again: Relief from the Burden of Introspection, Jared Mellinger

This great new release from New Growth Press is designed for those of us who tend towards introspection, including overthinking and analysing, and self-absorption as a result.

Jared Mellinger clearly enunciated his goal from the very first page:
The goal of this book is to show how the gospel rescues us from fruitless self-examination, false guilt, discouragement, and inaccurate thoughts of ourselves. I want to offer practical counsel on battling unhealthy introspection and give hope to all of us whose minds are stuck on ourselves. Ultimately, I’m eager to draw our attention away from self and toward the glory of Jesus Christ. (p1) 
Many of us are familiar with the problem of too much introspection. Our minds wander to our responsibilities, our spiritual growth, our appearance, or some other aspect of our lives. We spend excessive amounts of time evaluating ourselves. We overanalyze the things we say and do. We constantly second-guess ourselves and fear we might be making the wrong decisions in life. (p2)
He also outlines a clear road map of where he is headed. If only more authors would do this, it’s so appreciated by reader and reviewer.

Mellinger starts with some personal reflections and the encouragement that we only truly know ourselves by looking to Christ, for in Christ we see our dignity, sin, identity, value and destiny; and that knowing Jesus is the way out of both self-hatred and self-love.
The gospel sets us free from thinking about ourselves too much. There is an outward-focused God who delights to rescue an inward-focused people. He is leading us into a better way to live. (p13)
The next chapters look at introspection in more detail – including the reasons we do look at ourselves, dealing with the despair that comes from too much introspection and how to deal with false guilt. There were very helpful things in these chapters. There were practical suggestions – sometimes we look for a spiritual solution for introspection when what we actually need is a practical solution such as more sleep, a holiday, or time with friends.

I personally found chapter 6 on fighting false guilt very instructive. Mellinger lists six distinctions for fighting false guilt. These question whether we feel guilty or are actually guilty; and whether our guilt is a false guilt. They include thinking about whether your guilt is from man’s assessment or God’s:
We spend so much of our time and energy making negative judgments, condemning ourselves, and condemning each other. But when Christ comes, human condemnation gives way to divine commendation, and all those who are in Christ will receive personal affirmation from the King. Therefore, not only is God’s assessment of us more important than all other assessments, it is often far more gracious. (p72)
He challenges us to assess whether we have accurate self-assessments; whether something is a weakness or a sin (eg. it's not a sin that you need more rest than another person, just an acknowledgement that your body is different); whether it is a temptation or a sin; whether something is an area of responsibility for you or a wider area of concern (that you are not responsible for); and finally whether you carry guilt over the principle or the practice:
For example, a principle is to treasure God’s Word; a practice is to have a plan to read through the Bible in a year. A principle is to disciple your children; a practice is to schedule weekly one-on-one time with each of your kids. A principle is to love your wife; a practice is to write her a poem. Practices that flow from biblical principles are commendable. In fact, practices are essential if we are to faithfully apply God’s Word. But specific practices are not to be confused with biblically mandated principles. (p76)
Imagine the relief of false guilt over parenting practices and comparisons this truth could bring!

Later chapters move on to addressing self-examination well – how to evaluate yourself (ch 8) was incredibly helpful including tips such as: start with Christ, choose the right time, ask for God’s help, base your evaluations on the bible, look for grace, involve others and confess sin. He goes on to encourage us both to find the grace of God in our lives, to see that there is good; and also to confess sin willingly which will lead to greater joy in Christ.

Mellinger’s final chapters challenge us to look outside of ourselves. We can’t be too self-absorbed when looking at the wonder of the created world around us. When we are involved in community we realise that people aren’t looking at us nearly as much as we think; and we find the joy of serving makes us more outward focussed. And finally, when we look to Christ we are truly set free:
The Christian life is a life of radical extra-spection. For every look to ourselves, we should be taking ten looks to Christ. And every time we look at ourselves, what we see should lead us back to Christ. Any sin we find should drive us to the work of Christ for us. And any good we find in ourselves should reveal the work of Christ in us and through us. Any weakness we find should lead us to the power of Christ toward us. (p155) 
Sing songs that will help you consider him. Listen to sermons and read books that are full of him. Join a church that is committed more than anything to helping people look to Jesus and treasure him. Looking to Christ is not only a sight that brings joy; it is also a sight that transforms. Beholding his glory not only makes our souls happy, but it is the best and surest way to make our souls holy. (p165)
As I reflect on this book, I really only had one hesitation. I was surprised that in the ways he encouraged people to look outside themselves, in things such as worship, love, art, sport, preaching and work; there was no encouragement to prayer, particularly prayer that praises God for who he is and how he has acted. Dwelling prayerfully in praise of God will always turn our minds from ourselves to his glory.

This is a book well worth reading. It’s relevant for everyone; but especially anyone who tends to look at themselves a little more than they possibly should – either with pride or despair.  You will find it a challenge and an encouragement, but most of all, it will be a pointer to Christ.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey Wendy, good review. I liked how it called people to recognise the good and the bad in themselves as well as make sure they are focussing on Christ more than themselves. I struggled with Calvin here.

Normally I assume those of the reformed persuasion are quite keen on introspection. Did the book mention Stendahl and his essay on the Introspective Conscience of the West? My review here.

How did it describe the gospel? The popular gospel IMO normally relies on feelings of guilt over sin, rather than focussing primarily on Jesus.