I am in the happy position of having a 19 year old son recommending a Tim Keller book to me.
I'm blessed and I know it (ah yes, that reminds me of a song - but we won't go there).
On Joseph’s recommendation, I ordered and read Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It is a sermon written down – from 1 Corinthians 3.21-4.7. While that may not sound exhilarating, it does mean that the entire book can be read in little more than 30 minutes. And it is Tim Keller afterall. He is always worth reading, as I have tried to demonstrate here and here and here.
Once upon a time it was considered that having too high a view of yourself was the problem with the world – but now it is having too low a view of yourself that is the issue. Keller wades into this transition and as he does so, he lifts the lid on the problem of ‘self-esteem’.
I have always had difficulty with the phrase ‘self-esteem’. It is not a biblical construct. It is not really in the non-Western vocabulary. That combo makes me so suspicious. Furthermore I have never been convinced that a high self-esteem, or even a healthy self-esteem, is a guarantee of anything. Nor have I ever been sure whether that desirable ‘healthy self-esteem’ is the issue. Shouldn't the focus be on humility and pride - and ego, as Keller calls it? And the clincher for me? I smell our culture’s deep problems with narcissism in there somewhere.
I am not denying that the issues are real. How could I? It is certainly part of my story which has frustrated those with whom I live and work from time to time. But there are things far worse than low self-esteem (like high self-esteem, for starters). Plus because I am uncomfortable with the standard analysis of the problem out there, I tend not to like the standard solution either. I go looking elsewhere...
I don’t want to steal Keller’s thunder. But as was the case when the McGraths waded into this subject and then when John Stott had a chapter on 'self-understanding' in The Cross of Christ, there is nothing quite like having a theologian get their hands on the topic. They have helped me so much over the years. So it is with Keller. The key statement in the book for me? “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (32). Just read that sentence again to make sure you got it :). The little refrain in the book which keeps popping up is ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think’. It is about self-forgetfulness and this makes sense because of the Cross.
I have just ordered 20 copies of the book. Because the issues are so real and because Keller's book is so helpful, I’d love to give it as a gift to any reader of this post - if you can meet three criteria:
(a) You will read it prayerfully and openly, in one sitting, at a time of the day when you are at your best;
(b) Your own story, or someone you love, has involved a real battle in this area;
(c) You are resident in New Zealand (unless you make a special plea!).
Please send me your address by email (email@example.com) and I will post the book out to you. First come first served.