Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Twisted Theology

Ugh!  There are times when my stomach and head get so upset by books I read.  What I am most sensitive to when I read nonfiction Christian books is twisted theology.  I just finished reading Hope, Help & Healing for Eating Disorders by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD with Ann McMurray.  I requested this book for review because I've had several friends over the years who have lived with eating disorders.  I have had my own struggles with my body image and weight over the years as well.  

First of all, I don't recommend this book.  At all.  Let me explain why.  This book is very good at explaining the motivations and behaviors of people with eating disorders.  The problem lies in the answers the book gives and the theology that is incorporated into those answers.  

When it comes down to it, all eating disorders are about control.  Dr. Jantz explains that before control, though, the roots are found in negative feelings that won't go away.  Those feelings grow into a desire to control and eliminate the source of those feelings or the feeling of such things.  Then that control feeds a sense of self-loathing that is self-feeding and perpetuates itself.  It's a cycle that once entered is not easily broken.  I know from friends that once you've had an eating disorder, it will be with you for life even after you recover.  

My main issue with this book is that the first 3/4 of it point the reader with an eating disorder to hope as their answer.  That hope is hope in themselves and for their own future.  It is not the hope of Christ.  The author says over and over that you should go to God for what you can get out of him and for what He can give you.  Not once did I read that you should go to God because of who He is.  The relationship that is advocated is entirely self serving.  No thank yous.  The reader's eyes are solely on themselves.  The problem with that is that in order to take one's mind off of food your mind must refocus.  And keeping your mind on yourself is not refocusing.  One must take one's eyes off of themselves and put them on God.  

I was talking to a friend and she said that the picture the book was presenting of God was incomplete.  I told her, no, it was actually wrong.  Here's why I believe it's wrong.  Whenever God is mentioned in this book, except for near the very end, Jesus never is.  It is not explained what Jesus did.  It is not explained that in fact we are ALL sinners and fall short of the glory of God.  Jerry Bridges explains this well in The Discipline of Grace that in order to put off our sin we need to acknowledge our sin and imperfectness while at the very same time fall into God's grace and his love or else we will become overwhelmed.  

Grace is not explained in this book.  When Christ's death is mentioned, it is mentioned as a comparison of how the reader needs to put to death their eating disorder and then they will be resurrected--like Christ.  The issue I had with this was not the statements they made but what they didn't say.  In the first half, all of the statements about God were about God without mentioning Christ and his redemption of us.  It felt like taking the parts out of the Bible that you wanted and not what you didn't.  The big picture of the Bible wasn't mentioned.  

"Relationship is the goal, salvation is the means, and eternity is the scope." p. 30 from the Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton

Another issue I had with this book was that it isn't addressed that God is in control and we aren't.  In essence, the answers the author gives are all about the reader taking control, but in a new way.  Controlling one's mind by choosing to feel.  Controlling one's body by choosing to eat healthy foods.  Controlling one's environment by choosing wisely who you turn to.  In our culture, the message constantly bombards us that we are in control of our lives.  In reality, we just aren't.  We have to come to peace with this and trust in God--not in ourselves.  Yes, we are responsible for making responsible choices, but ultimately "control" lies with God.  This was my whole issue with why I wouldn't surrender for years to God.  I thought I was in control.  But, what I learned was that I couldn't change my heart on my own.  This leads to my final concern about the book.

The chapter on forgiveness.  In this chapter, forgiveness is written about as something we solely have the power to do on our own.  In actuality, it is the Holy Spirit (which is never mentioned in this book) which enables us to forgive.  It isn't actually even explained what forgiveness is and what it looks like in practicality.  I have found this deficiency in many books.  

This is the first definition that I have found that really explains what forgiveness is:
"When someone has wronged you, it means they owe you; they have a debt with you.  Forgiveness is to absorb the cost of the debt yourself.  You pay the price yourself, and you refuse to exact the price out of the person in any way.  Forgiveness means you free the person from penalty for a sin by paying the price yourself."  from Paul's Letter to the Galatians Participants Guide, by Tim Keller, p. 68, 2003.  

We can't really do this of ourselves, of our own strength.  We need God in order to forgive others.  But, the other issue I have with this chapter is that it uses the word "forgiveness over and over" without really explaining what that actually means and what it looks like in the short term and over time.

I realized as I was writing this that some may disagree with me that we need God in order to forgive.  Here is the grounding of what I believe:

Galatians 5:22-24 NIV

 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Philippians 4:13 NIV

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Before I surrendered to Christ, I was a very angry person. I held grudges against other people whenever I felt wronged.  It was the what I was raised to do.  I tried to get rid of those feelings on my own--I tried to forgive on my own.  But, I wasn't able to.  Ever.  I am also very aware of my sinful nature and that in my sinful nature I do not want to forgive.  There have been many times that I have not wanted to forgive someone and yet God has worked that in my heart--against my will! This is why I believe that true forgiveness isn't possible without God.  So, this is a very personal issue for me and it grieves me when it is taught that we can forgive others on our own.  

Towards the very end of the book, there are some wise words.  I thought this statement was very good. "At the start of each day, deliberately turn to God and not to your behavior with food." p. 205  There is a lot of good information in this book, but I hope there are other books out there which would be better.  

There are two other books that friends have recommended to me on this subject.  One is Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick.  The second is a new one by Lysa Terkhurst titled Made To Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food.  Have you read either of these?  What are your thoughts?

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Hope, Help, and Healing for Eating Disorders from Waterbrook/Multnomah for review.

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