Every now and again, I come across a book that changes my life. I’ve only just finished reading this one, so it’s a little early to tell whether it will work its way into that category, but I have a feeling it will.
This book deals with a problem that’s a lot more pervasive than many of us realise: being scared of other people or the”fear of man” as author Ed Welch commonly refers to it.
It can affect people in different ways. For some people, it might be extreme shyness. For others, it might be constantly giving in to peer pressure. For other people, it might be always trying to look perfect.
But whatever your symptoms, they all have a common root: we’re absolutely terrified of other people – and, in the case of Christians – we’re far more terrified of other people than we are of God.
Why are we so scared to admitting we’re Christians around non-Christians? God wants us to, and yet we’re terrified. It’s because we’re more scared of the non-Christians thinking we’re silly or rejecting us than we are of obeying God.
Why is “self-esteem” such a big buzzword nowadays? Welch argues the case that the reason we have such low self-esteem (or feeling bad about ourselves, to phrase it another way) is because we’re constantly worried about what other people think about us. Even if we fix our self-esteem, the method that modern psychology currently pushes involves surrounding yourself with people to encourage and affirm you – but even that is just another way of bowing to the need for other people to think we’re okay.
The reason this book hit such a nerve with me is that for the first time, I realised that the large majority of my interpersonal interactions are driven by an innate desire to look good in the eyes of other people. So when I’m talking to non-Christians, I don’t like to act too Christian in case they think I’m a freak. So I try to act innocuous, but feel guilty all the while for wondering whether this is what a Christian witness is supposed to look like.
In the meantime, around other Christians, I still suffer the same problem, just with different symptoms. Around Christians that know more than me, I get nervous to talk about Christian things for fear that I’ll either look ignorant, have the wrong theology, be too radical, be too conservative, etc. Around other Christians, though, I’ll hold back on talking about Christian things, in case I make them feel uncomfortable and make myself look like a theology geek.
The end result? A feeling of uselessness around non-Christians and a sense of disconnection from any meaningful relationships with other Christians. Now, if most other Christians are suffering from some form of this, it’s no wonder we go to fragmented churches where nobody feels connected, and it’s no wonder that we’re not making any inroads into the lives of non-Christians.
The solution? Welch says the Bible comes up with a pretty straightforward solution to the fear of man.
1. Recognise that making your need for other people’s approval is just making other people an idol in your life.
2. Fear God instead of man.
3. Love other people.
I could go on more about this book, but I’ll let you read it for yourself. It’s not a very heavy book, by any stretch of the imagination, but I found that I had to read it slowly and think about it carefully. But I think if we all started thinking about the concepts in this book, there might be quite a radical change in Christian circles.
5 out of 5.