Christians get depressed too

I have recently finished reading Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray (the Kindle version). The overall thrust of the book is to correct the common idea amongst Christians that depression is caused by sin or a broken relationship with God and that taking antidepressants is to exhibit a lack of faith. Murray outlines the various factors which appear to contribute to depression and presses the point that for many people their depression has an organic, physiological  cause.

David Murray also points out that the biblical counselling movement falls short in it’s common assumption that pharmaceutical treatments for depression are simply masking the real problem. While from a neurochemical perspective there is grounds for thinking that current drug treatments do not necessarily target the true physiological cause of depression, they certainly do have more than just a placebo effect.

Something I do appreciate is the author’s reassurance that for most Christians who are depressed being ‘unspiritual’ is not the main issue and that going overboard on reading the Bible and praying is unnecessary. In fact it may compound the problem by causing the person to get even more introspective when they would do better to get out and simply be around other people.

It is a fairly light read but an OK introduction to the topic. For all that, it is a good summary and I think pastors in particular would do well to read it.

The Shack

While on holiday I read The Shack by William Paul Young. I had heard various things about this book, both positive and negative. Personally, I found it to be a thoroughly good read and an excellent work of fiction.

As with any good novel it deals with what it means to be human in a thought-provoking way. Being unable to put the book down, I ploughed through it in two evenings. While it would be very unwise to look to a work of fiction for your theology, it does call attention to some important aspects of how we relate to God, such as coming to God in relationship with Him rather than trying to fulfil rule-based expectations.

I am also glad for the reminder that fulfilling our human potential lies in being and loving, not in doing and achieving. This message has come at me from several sources in the past year so is probably something for me to be considering more deeply and working on.

Overall, I think the strength of The Shack is in it’s perceptive look at the human condition, such things as how we justify telling a lie to ‘protect’ another person from hurt when in fact we are actually protecting ourself from emotional upheaval (see pp 189-190). This in not telling us anything much about God, rather it illustrates common human experiences.

From a Biblical and theological point of view The Shack has some significant weaknesses. It emphasizes the Trinity but in a fairly loose manner. There is also a major lack of consideration of what the cross of Christ means and an implication that there could be many roads to Christ, which I strongly disagree with. I have no problem with The Shack as a work of fiction, just be sure to read the Bible for your theology!

Other views:

By grace alone

A review of By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, by Sinclair Ferguson (published by Reformation Trust, ISBN 978-1-56769-202-0). This book review has taken me a long time to get written, largely because the book is so good that I have actually read it twice and been greatly helped by doing so.

As the title suggests, this is a book about the grace of God, based upon a hymn of the same name by an African pastor, Emmanuel T. Sibomana. It is clear that the grace of God is very precious to Sinclair Ferguson, but as he points out, “we frequently take the grace of God for granted,” we have become so accustomed to expecting God to be gracious towards us that we lose the very meaning of grace.

Chapter One begins with discussing the bondage we are in that requires grace to free us. Using Jesus’ unflinching statements to the Jews that they are in bondage, we are then also shown that Jesus offers freedom from that bondage. With clear, yet deep explanation of the theology of redemption this chapter lays out the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. I know all this stuff, but found reading this chapter refreshing and inspiring. Even as I read it my heart lifted in worship to our God of grace.

In the following chapters the unconditional grace of God is illustrated by unfolding the parable of the prodigal son, emphasizing the importance of the third son, the Son of God who is telling the story in order to draw us to Himself. The expense that His grace cost God is discussed, and the title ‘Son of Man’ that Jesus applies to Himself. We are given insight into the religious and civil trials of Jesus, the variation in charges He is accused of in each trial – blasphemy and treason – the very things we are each guilty of before God, and see that he died by grace for those very charges.

Then comes the question, “Why the God-man?” introducing the topic of reconciliation, the need for someone who could take the place of sinners as payment for sin, someone who is human but has never sinned. Real guilt, real forgiveness, real reconciliation.

My favourite chapter is about guaranteed security. I love the emphasis in this chapter on the practical outworking of faith, the use of our knowledge and faith rather than the mere possession of it. This description of the fight for faith is one of the best I have encountered, very real and because of this very encouraging, like Prozac to a perplexed soul.

“We are not accounted righteous in God’s sight either by regeneration or by sanctification. The fact that we have been born again does not justify us. It gives us a new heart, but in itself it does not provide the forgiveness of sins. No, the gospel that saves us is entirely outside us. It is Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified for our sins, raised for our justification, who saves us.”

Our security has nothing to do with us our what we do, it rests on the work of Christ:

“Your salvation rests not on what you have done but on what Christ has done. You, therefore, can be sure of it, no matter how weak the faith by which you hold on to Christ, no matter how strong the attacks and accusations of Satan may be. “

Then the theme turns to how the grace of God carries us when our faith is being battered by our adversary, looking at Job’s experiences of Satan’s arts. Job is in darkness, but not complete darkness. He needs answers to two questions: “What is God really like?” and “Where can I find help?” This is the part of book that I personally found to be most helpful.

“The question of God’s nature is foundational for the Christian life. In a sense, every failure in the Christian life can be traced back to a wrong answer to this question. How we live the Christian life is always an expression of how we think about God.”

“All of us at times find ourselves faced with these two great questions.
They are far from trivial. They are the most important questions in the world:
“What is God really like?” and “Where can I find help?” The answer to both questions is found in a single word: Jesus. If you are in the dark, whether inside the kingdom of Christ or outside the kingdom of Christ, this is where you need to go first: to Jesus the Savior, who died for us on the cross. Trust in Him. He foils Satan’s arts.”

Sinclair Ferguson shows how a slightly warped understanding of what God is really like can seriously twist our view on life, leading to despair and unbelief. Suffering amplifies such feelings and Satan exploits them in an attempt to destroy faith in Christians. How can we be helped out of such darkened understanding about God, who can lead us into truth?

“You cannot rely on your experiences to prove the love of God. They may indeed give you evidences of it. But when you are in the dark, those very things may seem to mock you.”

In summary, I would highly recommend By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me to all Christians, and even to folks who are not Christians but are curious about the meaning of grace. This book takes a good look at the core of what it means to be Christian, stuff that we never outgrow.

Sometimes we imagine that our greatest need is to move on to the “higher” or “deeper” teaching of the gospel. But in fact, our real need is to get a deeper and firmer grasp of the main truths of the gospel. Weakness here tends to lead to weakness everywhere.

Material Connection:

I received this book free from Reformation Trust Publishers as part of their book review program. This review is my own opinion, no arm-twisting was involved.

Blue Like Jazz – book review

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, reads like it’s title, meandering through a narcissistic world of faith, community, church, love and doubts, among other things. It was an easy read which allowed me to be challenged in places without being confronting.

This self-absorbed ramble plunges into an inner world of insecurities, doubt, pride and faith, inviting us to judge the very things we are ourselves guilty of. As an example, in the chapter on ‘Community’ Don writes:

Living in community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself. All I thought about was myself. The only thing I really cared about was myself. I had very little concept of love, altruism, or sacrifice. I discovered that my mind is like a radio that only picks up one station, the one that plays me: K-DON, all Don, all the time.

When I read that I thought, ‘what a selfish jerk!’ Then as he revealed more of himself I kept seeing elements of myself and was confronted with my own version of the same fault.

As I have mentioned, this is an easy book to read, the author actually seems a bit dense in many of the situations he describes – maybe this is a ploy to draw the reader in? He discusses a lot of deep and profound topics in a conversational, everyday manner. I could read this stuff even when feeling a bit brain-dead at the end of the day and still get the point of what I was reading, which indicates a good communicator to me.

Not bad for a $4.99 bargain bin purchase, though I would hesitate to pay the $24.99 full price (obviously, the book was published in 2003 and I am only reading it now, seven years later!). Blue Like Jazz is published by Thomas Nelson, ISBN 0-7852-6370-5.


Material Connection:
I bought this book with my own hard-earned cash. This review is my own opinion, no arm-twisting was involved!

How should a christian live?

How Should a Christian Live? A question even veteran disciples should ask, certainly one that young Christians need urgent answers to. With this handy study guide and the audio of 1 Corinthians through to Philemon on your MP3 player you are all set to find some answers.

On its own How Should a Christian Live? gives an introduction to following Jesus that a 10-year-old can understand and enjoy. It could also form the basis of a guided discipleship program. There are even useful activities for bored kids to do while pretending to listen to their youth leader!

Strengths

A good introduction to New Testament principles of living the Christian life. Topics include: the authority of the Bible, God’s promises, God’s unconditional love, faith, God’s gifts, right thinking, humility, wisdom, fear/trusting God, wise speaking, holy living and seeking the prize of God’s kingdom. The audio Bible is great.

Weaknesses

Some guidelines/advice on how to get the most out of the journaling sections would be useful, given that the book is targeted at early-teens and tweens. A formatting error has set the wrong page template for the first odd page of each journaling section from page 41 onward. The devotions are quite ‘warm and fuzzy’, they do seem to be targeted at a fairly middle-class audience and may not appeal outside that audience.

Summary

Good introductory devotions and great audio Bible, use this to begin your discipleship journey but don’t stop there. Devour the studies, hear the Word, pray and meditate over it using the journal. Then live it and keep digging even deeper.

Disclosure of Material Connection

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review for bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

In Christ alone

To read In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson is like reading an exceptionally well written blog. Each chapter is discrete and self-contained, while all holding to the theme of living in Christ. This is not a narrative or treatise on Christ but rather, as the author describes in his preface, a tapestry in which descriptions and insights from life and Scripture reveal the person of Christ through lives lived in Him. Coming from many different angles, the articles build up an image of the life lived in biblical faith in Jesus Christ.

There is a progression in the book from the incarnation of Jesus, on to our apprehension of Him by faith, the work and person of the Holy Spirit, our transformation wrought by the Spirit of Christ, through to persevering in faith in Christ. However, it would be a mistake to read more than one chapter in a sitting, not because it wouldn’t fit together, but because the ten or fifteen minutes it takes to read a chapter is far too short to digest the meal it is for our souls. This is a book to pick up frequently for a short read before giving yourself time to ponder what you have learned, or been reminded of.

The humanity of Sinclair Ferguson is refreshingly revealed in this collection of articles, but as he writes himself, “Yes, our understanding is creaturely and limited; yet, even finite knowledge of the true God is still true knowledge.” What we get from In Christ Alone is a handrail to guide us in our creaturely and limited steps into the knowledge of Christ.

I thoroughly recommend this book to all Christians. I also recommend reading it several times, and slowly.


Update:

Daniel Wilson posted this today (31 May 2010) referring to the book In Christ Alone on the topic of seeking transformation.