When I was in high school my mother (who was known as Sister
Mayo in the Assembly), developed a library for Fountain Avenue Baptist Church in Los Angeles. She and I had a great time discovering Christian books that were new to us.
I read They Found the Secret by Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College. Edman wrote about many well-known Christians who “discovered the secret to abundant living”–Hudson Taylor, Andrew Murray, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, and Charles Finney, among others. Their secret, as Edman described it, was to stop trying to live the Christian life, and let Christ live through you. The main point of his book was to find freedom from performance-based Christianity.
If you read the comments on Edman’s book onAmazon.com, apparently many of his readers got this message. One reader wrote,
“If you’ve reached the place in your Christian walk where you find you’re running on a tiring performance treadmill offering no end and no rest…. They Found the Secret is the book for you, because it certainly was for me… In my own walk, I had no peace, no rest. Ministry was just work, work, work….Through very simply written mini-bio’s, Edman explains how each person literally “stumbled” into the abiding life (John 15), and how after stumbling into it, their Christian walk and life was revolutionized. Such is my own testimony. Regardless of your personality type, in one or more of these sketches, you’ll see yourself and what you need to let go of. Once you do, then you, too, will have found the secret.”
But in those days I wasn’t yet tired of trying harder. I hadn’t been active in church ministry long enough to have discovered the performance treadmill in operation. The simple message of Edman’s book went over my head. But I went on to read the books written by these spiritual giants, and as a new convert, I heard another message: “There is a deeper encounter with God to be sought that will result in the Abundant Christian life.”
Andrew Murray said it would be found in abiding in Christ. Oswald Chambers said it was entered into by giving your utmost for God’s highest. Hudson Taylor said it came by a special encounter with God that enabled one to trust God completely, etc. etc. The message I got was that I needed to figure out how to find God in this powerful way and have a more abundant spiritual life. I was subtly diverted at the outset of my Christian life from drinking in and growing in God’s love for me to thinking there was something more.
A more mature reader of Edman’s book was hit immediately by the message of “something more” and had a more biblical response to the idea:
I had a really hard time getting through this book. I had to read it for a class, so I had to finish it, but I found that it irritated me more than it uplifted me. I am a believer and I believe that God does work in many ways, but this book was very one sided. One reads of all these people who all of a sudden in their lives found God in a powerful way. The Holy Spirit came to them and changed their lives and that’s all we hear about.
While I know that the Spirit can do wonderful things, this book ignores the fact that these people were also human. It makes it seem that once these people had found the secret they never had problems again. God seemed to bless their ministry and their faith remained strong. But it never tells about their home life.
How did they treat their wife and kids after this experience? Were they kind at home, or did they all but abandon their family so as to serve God better? I dislike the image that if you are serving God, prior commitments, such as family don’t mean anything anymore. I doubt that their lives were perfect in every way or that they never struggled again. Perhaps Edman did not intend to convey that message, but he did nothing to present a more balanced picture either.
I cannot be uplifted by these stories because they feel too false – I know there is more there. One sided stories do not uplift me; my life is nothing like that. I have encountered God and have been blessed with the Holy Spirit, but I still struggle with sin and doubt, which I see as a necessary part of a healthy Christian life. I would find more hope in the story of someone who was a real person dealing with everyday life who still managed to serve God and be blessed. Books by Philip Yancey and Anne Lamott are more realistic and therefore much more uplifting. (Quoted from Amazon.com.)
Now that I am older, and hopefully wiser, I too have concluded that there is no second work of God that results in a special “abundant Christian life”. The Bible is emphatic in both the Old and New Testaments that loving God is our number one priority. This is no secret–it’s the main thing. In fact, Moses says in Deuteronomy that this is to be uppermost in our thoughts. The second thing is similar: love our neighbors.
Loving God and neighbor works itself out in a lot of different ways. At one point in the day it might be expressed in trusting God to meet a particular need. And in thanking God for specific gifts and blessings. At another point it might be expressed in acting on God’s behalf to help someone. Later, it might lead to denying an outburst of impatience so someone else might be encouraged. And so on.
The Christian luminaries described in Edman’s book each got hold of certain of these aspects and their lives were changed. But reading them is like watching the blind men feel the elephant and describe it. The experiences of each, taken alone, result in a distored concept of the Christian life.
If you look at the Bible as a whole, you see that living in an awareness of God’s presence (“abiding in Christ”), striving your utmost, resting in faith, etc., are all aspects of the life we have in God, but it is pretty clear from beginning to end that as human beings, our experience of them is an on-again-off-again sort of thing. The Bible doesn’t show us anyone, other than Jesus, who always, consistently, had an abundant life of faith. There doesn’t seem to be a “secret”, other than the one Edman is pointing out: Trying harder to do better or do more isn’t the way to live the Christian life; resting in Christ is. This concept can be summed up in these four propositions, which constitute the Gospel:
God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our failures. Jesus lived the perfect life of love for us. His life is credited to my account instead of my own messes. God the Father therefore loves me just as much as he loves his perfect son.
Wow! Do we really need some other secret?