Why forgetfulness brings joyful freedom: a new booklet from Tim Keller
The chaps at 10 of Those have taken the initiative to produce a number of shorter and cheaper, but decent quality, booklets, and the first of these are now out. There’s a brief introduction to the doctrine of The Cross by Andrew Sach and Steve Jeffery (well-qualified to write on this having worked on the mammoth but important He was pierced for our transgressions). But the other is a lovely new outing from Tim Keller (who’s come up here on Q a number of times): The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness – The Path To True Christian Joy. Largely based on a sermon Keller preached at Redeemer in New York 10 years ago, it is only £2.99 including postage and a quick read at less than 50 pages. [Seeing as you have to pay to download that particular talk anyway, you might as well choose to pay for whichever medium suits you best!]
But I’m very pleased this is out in print now, simply because it gets to the heart of such a crucial contemporary issue: the power of the Ego. Not that the Ego is a brand new problem, of course – it’s just that, as so often, we’ve derided and therefore rejected the ways of the ancients in dealing with it. This booklet contains all the hallmarks of a Keller treatment: close attention to the details of the text (in this case, a handling of 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7), explicit debts to the thought of C S Lewis, an appreciation of how contemporary thinking is developing and shifting, as well as a vital understanding of real people’s pastoral needs.
I was particularly struck by Keller’s analysis of the apostle’s image of the heart being ‘puffed up’, a metaphor related to a bellows. From this, he draws four characteristics of the ego’s desperation to assert itself: it becomes empty, painful, busy and fragile. (pp14ff) The more one considers each of these features, the more we’re forced to confront the reality.
But how on earth do we fill up the ego’s gaping void and heal the pain? The western world is desperate for answers. Yet it has been barking up the wrong tree. Some have at least begun to realise this – and Keller introduces the hope for a path through on the back of a very interesting psychological survey:
A few years ago, there was an article in the New York Times magazine (Feb 3, 2002) by psychologist Lauren Slater called ‘The trouble with Self-esteem.’ It wasn’t a ground-breaking article or a bolt out of the blue. She was simply beginning to report what experts have known for years. The significant thing she says is that there is no evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society. She quotes three current studies into the subject of self-esteem, all of which reach this conclusion and she states that ‘people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself is not the source of our country’s biggest, most expensive social problems.’ (p10)
At last! Some sense. But according to this exposition of the apostle Paul, freedom from either high or low self-esteem will never be found within our around us. True freedom to be, to love, to give (without manipulation, competition, or one-upmanship), just as Martin Luther discovered nearly 500 years ago, can only be found in the gospel, and in particular, the gospel of justification. For as Keller so frequently teaches
Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? (p39)
And what joy such knowledge can bring. And forgetfulness.
This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply think of myself less. (p36)
When we meet people like this, people whose hearts and minds are truly filled with Christ and not themselves, we can’t help but be drawn to them – for they never make us feel insecure, ignored or unloved. Just like people felt when they met Christ, as it happens. This is true attractiveness. But it is also what we long for ourselves. Here’s hoping that this great little book will have precisely this effect.