The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: the path of true Christian joy,
by Timothy Keller, 2012, 10Publishing
In this modest little ebook, Tim Keller gets to the heart of one of the most pressing issues in our culture. It's the idea that many of the problems we face can be explained in terms of self-esteem, or the lack of it. Criminals are said to behave as they do because they suffer from a lack of self-esteem. The prescription for criminality is therefore higher self-esteem. Those who are accustomed to think too little of themselves need to learn to think more of themselves.
Keller reflects on this matter in the light of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. The Corinthians were busy bigging up their favoured church leader. They proudly boasted that they followed Paul, or Peter, or Apollos, or whoever. Their boasting made church life into a competitive battle for superiority. Proud egos were being puffed up and touchy egos were getting tetchy.
Paul, however refused to play the self-esteem game. He didn't care what others thought of him. He didn't even care what he thought about himself. For the apostle, all that mattered was God's verdict. This is the implication, if we could only grasp it, of justification by faith alone. Self-justifying pride and self-condemning tetchiness are crucified by the fact that God graciously accepts believers as they are on the basis of the finished work of Christ.
The gospel had so transformed Paul that he was liberated to think of himself less and of the needs of others more. As Keller says, drawing on the teaching of C. S. Lewis. "the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less." That is the freedom of self-forgetfulness that leads to a life of joyful service.
This title can easily be read in one sitting, but brevity must not be mistaken for superficiality. Keller unearths some of the hidden problems of the human heart and applies the gospel as the only remedy for sin-sick souls like you and me.