There are some religious books that you read and agree with for the most part, but wish they had been written by someone else.
That’s kind of how I felt about this; Meyer is a fine writer, but I felt like I was reading a high school textbook. There were little text boxes off to the side to make sure you understood the important parts; there were nice bold headings so you knew when new ideas were introduced; I half expected a glossary at the back. There were many great ideas and kernels of ideas here, though they read a little like fortune cookies—Meyer does have some important things to say, and I absolutely agree with the idea that the way you react to things has a tremendous impact on the way you live your life. But that’s not all of it; sometimes (often, it seems), you can think all the positive thoughts you can find and things still suck. Shit happens. Yet Meyer says (p. 11), “Our actions are a direct result of our thoughts. If we have a negative mind, we will have a negative life.” Her quote doesn’t totally work, although I understand what she’s trying to get at underneath; reacting poorly will just make bad situations worse, but that feels a bit mushy to me. Meyer does point out the difference between optimism and ignorance, which is good—you should never believe in good to the point of pretending the bad isn’t there. But I think there’s also a place for embracing the bad.
You shouldn’t hold onto it, to be sure, but allowing yourself to feel anger, sadness, pain about the injustice and sheer wrongness in the world—that’s real. God made us human, and humans feel that sort of thing (we’ll skip the why for this week, as that would be a really long post). This is why people tend to like Jesus more when they find out that He flipped tables and yelled at merchants, that He cried when His friend died, that He shouted at God Himself in sorrow and, perhaps, anger.
We know these moments. We have what Meyer calls “an anxious and worried mind,” “a doubtful and unbelieving mind” (which I’ll get way more excited about as the summer goes on; Magister and Help have invited me to teach a class on doubt at our church this fall, which will be SO COOL). And it’s true—at their core, these are not the mind of Christ to which her book is attempting to steer us. Yet there’s a place for fear, sadness, and doubt in moderation. I don’t think Meyer leaves enough room for that, which is common in self-help books: if you do X enough (in this case, careful and positive thinking), you’ll rise above all of these “negative” emotions.
They’re only negative if they’re held to a point of being destructive.
I’m also not really a fan of how this handled Scripture; three cheers for the sheer amount of it, to be sure, but most of the quotations had tons of variants built in or extrapolations within the verses. Other readings are nice, because it’s important to remember that translations can totally change what a verse seems to mean, but if you’re going to use the Bible as authority, don’t add stuff to it. Even if it’s in an attempt to clarify, additions are only adding yet another layer of interpretation to something that already has a ton of human personality infused in it. Here’s an example from chapter 5, “Be Positive”: Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold the fresh and new has come! 2 Cor. 5:17
She’s using the Amplified Bible, a Zondervan publication I’m not terribly familiar with. And she never explains the difference between (or even presence of) the brackets and parentheses, so it’s easy to assume that this interpretation is “right” or even that all of this text is meant to be there. Feels a bit spoon-fed to me, and I am no fan of being spoon-fed Scripture. It’s more fun when it’s dangerously free, loose, and mysterious, as a living thing should be. A dead Word becomes just another book, and I have four bookshelves of those.
My last reaction to this is the title. I very much dislike war imagery in religious discussion, partially because I hang out with a ton of pacifist liberals these days, but also because battle automatically puts us on the defensive. This whole book sets up the premise of you (with the help of God) wrestling your mind back from Satan’s clutches.
I’ve been there. It flat out doesn’t work. You will never be strong enough, fast enough, crafty enough. You will never have enough weapons, men, or tactical advantages. Sorry. If we’re really going to put your mind (instead of or even paired with your soul, which is very ancient Greek of us) into warfare on the plane of supernatural, spiritual beings, prepare to be defeated. That’s just how it is; we, as mortals, will always be outgunned. Do I believe that we need to push back against temptations? Yes. Do I agree that we need to align our thinking with God’s? Absolutely. But I don’t think we’ll ever get there by thinking good thoughts, or by leading the fight against evils within and without. Each “battle” must instead be a return to the One Who has already won this for us, each “skirmish” an opportunity to lose ourselves in His presence and protection. The fun part about God is that He already knows all the things we feel like we have to fight, and He would much rather we let Him take care of it. It’s ours to let Him lead—and that may not be anywhere near the fray.
Rating: 2/5 stars