I try to be a positive Christian with a positive outlook on life. Generally speaking, I look on the bright side and press on in the Christian life with hopefulness because Christ is on the throne. But sometimes I fall into a rut of gloom, cynicism, and I think the cup is “half empty,” so to speak. From time to time I can identify with Christians who are always gloomy, pessimistic, and critical. The question is, how can we get out of the rut of gloom? We should want to, since the Christian faith is not one of gloom, doom, and extreme cynicism!
David Murray answers this question in his new book, The Happy Christian. In ten chapters, Murray tackles gloom armed first with Scripture and secondly with some helpful scientific studies and insights about pessimism and optimism. If I can make a generalization, Murray is basically calling God’s people to a Christian optimism, or a biblical optimism based on the truths of Scripture. The book is just over 260 pages.
The chapters go like this: To gain a more positive outlook on life 1) focus on facts more than feelings, 2) avoid so much bad news and focus on good news, 3) focus on the fact that Christ’s work of salvation is finished, 4) focus on the strengths of other Christians instead of their weaknesses, 5) focus on the blessed future we have in Christ rather than the past, 6) Find God’s common grace in the world instead of sin and evil, 7) Find things to praise people for instead of critique them, 8) give money and things away instead of hoarding, 9) View your work as a calling instead of a job, 10) be around people of different ethnicities instead of one ethnicity.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and much of it made perfect sense. I appreciated Murray’s call to focus on the facts rather than be led by feelings (I’ve learned that over the years!), and I appreciated his emphasis on the gospel (chapter 3), which leads us to joyful freedom and service instead of a constant negative guilt for sin. I also appreciated Murray’s call to stay away from so much news/media, since the news tends to focus on the negative and then makes us negative (I agree; I quit following the news years ago and it has helped me be more optimistic). Murray was also dead-on when he encouraged churches to aim for joy, grace, and a spotlight on the Good News. His chapter on praising others was also a good reminder for me to work harder to encourage and bless people with my words.
There were a few things in the book about which I was less enthusiastic. First, Scripture citations are endnotes rather than written in the text or as footnotes (minor, I know, but endnotes kill my reading optimism!). Second, there was a ton of information covered in this book. I was almost overwhelmed at times, since Murray did quite a few bullet point type lists/paragraphs. For one example, in his discussion on the benefits of Christian hope (p. 95ff), Murray lists twelve benefits followed by eight ways to grow in hope. The notes were good, but it was almost an information overload for me since there were many lists/paragraphs like this (e.g. ten parts of constructive criticism, ten ways of learning to praise others, nine ways to give biblically, eight ways to pursue diversity personally, ten ways for a church to pursue diversity, five truths about giving in leadership positions, etc.). I realize all readers are different, so perhaps this is subjective, but those lists sort of bogged me down in the reading.
One other question I had about the book is the chapter on diversity. I fully agree with Murray’s emphasis on breaking racial barriers down, since Scripture calls us to love others and since Jesus died for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. However, I didn’t quite see exactly how diversity increases joy; does this mean that the less ethnic diversity there is in a person’s life, the less joy he or she has? Many house churches in China can’t really be diverse; the same can be said about a church in a tribal jungle location or in some rural parts of other countries. Also, if I have a handful of good Christian friends, can’t they increase my joy no matter what ethnicity they are? Maybe I’m missing something; and I am honestly open to correction here! And again, I agree that Scripture does call us away from racism and it calls us to love others based on the gospel and God’s love for all sorts of people.
In summary, I’m glad I read this book, The Happy Christian. The church for sure does need more emphasis on the true, the beautiful, and the good since she usually talks too much about what is wrong with the world. I’m going to incorporate some parts of this book into my own actions, conversation, and Christian teaching. It’s always a good thing for me to be pointed in the right way of Christian optimism, since Jesus does reign! God treats us, his people, like sons and daughters, therefore “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:7, 12)!”
[As a side, it was neat to learn that David Murray is a Reformed pastor and seminary professor. I’m thankful he put so much time and energy into this helpful resource!]
David Murray, The Happy Christian (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015).
((I received this book from the Booklook blogging program; per FCC rules, I need to note that I was not compelled to write a positive review.))