Book Review ~ The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, by Timothy Keller.
Tim Keller is a great writer, and a better speaker. I still remember reading The Reason For God, and feeling more like I was being swept into a great movie than an academic book on apologetics and philosophy. He is uncanny at deconstructing complex truths so that the average reader can understand them in the context of their own life situation. This book is no different, though much shorter than usual.
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness is based on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, where Paul upbraids the church for thinking too highly of him, other leaders, and themselves. The theme revolves around our fear of what others think about us, and argues that true joy comes from the freedom of others opinions (including our own), and is only possible by the power of the gospel.
There are three sections to the book which follows the usual Keller-esque style,
- the natural condition of the human ego (how humanity fails)
- the transformed view of self (how humanity is redeemed)
- a transformed view of self (how we respond to that redemption)
Keller spends considerable time analyzing the nuances between pride, self-esteem, and humility, dropping bombs, like, “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (32). He is masterful at leading the reader to a place where they feel most comfortable, before exposing some unseen tendency. For example, when speaking about The Natural Condition of the Ego in chapter one, the reader with a low self-esteem rests easy believing that they are free from the kind of treacherous egoism that plagues more self-inflated personalities. Then another Keller-bomb drops.
A superiority complex and an inferiority complex are basically the same. They are both results of being overinflated. The person with the superiority complex is overinflated and in danger of being inflated; the person with an inferiority complex is deflated already (21).
Keller’s strategy is simple and profound. You relate to his first point, upset over the shortcomings of “those people,” before he quickly reveals how you are in the same spiritually-broken condition as they are! After leaving you to feel the weight of your own sin, he carefully expounds the gospel, which, by this point, feels like an oasis in the desert.
Tim Keller is a beast of a writer. But because of his relatable writing style, you don’t know he’s pulling you on a theological roller-coaster until you get to the last 1/3 of the book. By that time, you’ve confronted enough of yourself to be ok with Keller’s subtle confrontations. At 44 pages, this is a sixty-minute roller-coaster ride that you shouldn’t miss. If you’ve ever struggled with what others think of you, eat this book.