Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down

As far as I can tell, the majority of devotional Christian literature is designed primarily for emotional impact.  On the whole this makes sense, because it seems to me that the people who turn to devotional literature are most often looking for an emotional charge, a boost to their faith life that will get them excited for God.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  And yet for me, the majority of devotional literature I read leaves me nonplussed; this is because I find much of it to be sappy, emotional drivel.  I can feel the tentacles of manipulation wrapping about me as I read them.

But my problem, if I have a problem, with devotional literature is not emotions.  I love emotions.  Instead, I think that much of Christian devotional literature, in seeking to provide an emotional ‘charge’, unwittingly perpetuates the division between head and heart—as if intellectually challenging books could not also serve as devotional literature. (Alternatively, I’ve read my share of dry and dusty intellectual books—I have no love for pure intellect save in unique circumstances).  This, perhaps, is the reason why I’ve enjoyed Helmut Thielicke’s Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down so much.  Here we have a devotional book that brings both careful scholarship and emotional content into harmony.

I’m not sure who first told me about Thielicke, but I’ve heard his name bandied about for quite a few years now.  I still don’t know much about him; all I know is that people I respect quote him, and to me that’s pretty significant.  In the process of searching for some of his books I came across a $4 copy of this curiously titled book, Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down, and purchased it.  $4 isn’t that much, and I didn’t feel like I had much to lose.  Instead, I gained something great.

The book itself is a series of essays and reflections on topics related to Christianity—things like anxiety, forgiveness, prayer, and the relationship between Christ and a post-Christian culture (to name a few).  Each reflection, at only a few pages, contains some personal reflections and stories from Thielicke’s life.  All in all, it is a treasure trove of insightful and compelling essays.

Allow me to give you a taste of one of Thielicke’s insights.  In an essay on prayer he says the following (p.51):

“Praying is exactly like believing: I need not be other than I am; I need only be fully who I am right now.  As I am—sorrowing and needy, laughing and inclined to self-assurance—that is, in fact, the way I am to come into God’s presence and put myself into his hands.”

In a simple way, then, Thielicke has linked the prayer-life and faith-life of the struggling Christian, pointing out that the action of prayer is exactly the same as the action of faith; a presenting of the self in all its confusion and clarity before the God who calls and hears us.

Thielicke’s insights have a bread-and-butter quality about them—and this makes them wonderful daily devotional literature.  One is being fed as one reads him, and fed by something nutritious and wholesome, and the result is a highly pleasing experience that is both intellectually challenging as well as emotionally satisfying.

Who should read this book:

Anyone interested in some low-commitment devotional literature (i.e., you can pick it up, put it down, and feel no guilt about not reading it for a month).

Memorable Quotes:

“…freedom is only a special form of obligation.” (Page 31)

Reflecting on Christianity in Western culture: “Here too, though, we ought to take seriously the objection that the so-called Christian West, together with its humane ideals, is merely a residue—I would go so far as to call it simply a ‘by-product’—of a proven fact: that our culture once encountered a Person who gave it its character and who provided it with a certain, even though questionable, right to call itself ‘Christian.'” (Page 41)

“God does not love us because we are by nature lovable.  But we become lovable because he loves us.” (Page 49)

“True joy arises only if I am in harmony from the inside out with myself and with the meaning of life.”  (Page 94)

On the resurrection: “Therefore the fact of Easter will never convince us if the Man does not.” (Page 117)

Similar books in this genre:

My Utmost for His Highest (A famous devotional book by Oswald Chambers.  A little difficult to read at times, but also rewarding.)

Diary of an Old Soul (A series of 366 short, daily devotional poems (in sequence) by George MacDonald.  Some archaic language, but also some intesely rewarding thoughts on sonship, God’s providence, beauty, and death.)

Imitation of Christ (The single most famous devotional book of all time.  Read it, and you’ll soon learn why.  Largely it is reflections on denying oneself so that we can fill ourselves with Christ.  If you read it, prepare to be challenged.)

One comment on “Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down

  1. Andrew says:

    Sounds like a book I should borrow from you, when we get together for coffee or a meal soon :)

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