Modern Christianity is crowded with pastors, preachers and conference speakers promising "Your best life now!" And while many Christians may seem to have it all—piles of money, fast cars, a great job, a smoking hot wife, and honors student kids—we know deep down that there's always something lacking, even in the most externally attractive life. More often than not, the better the street view, the worse the pain inside, but because so much of the Church has bought the lie that no debt, a fulfilling sex life, and visible happiness are signs of God's favor, we still wear ourselves out trying to meet these expectations.
Dr. Larry Crabb's Inside Out, now revised and expanded for its 25th anniversary edition (with a long study guide in the back), puts these lies to rest once and for all. Christianity isn't about avoiding pain in this life and being successful; if anything, it's about embracing the pain of this life in order to grow in Christ and fully understand and appreciate the love of God. But to do so means taking a long, unflinching look inside ourselves to see the sin in our hearts and to be driven to complete reliance on Jesus to mend our relationships, our desires, and ourselves. This isn't just self-indulgent introspection—it's a necessary part of our sanctification as we learn who we are, who God is, and who we are in light of who God is.
Given the current stress on outward success and happiness in this life, our tendency is often to try to submerge pain and our own failings beneath the veneer of material well-being. We serve in all our church's programs, work really hard at our job, and put on a face that we hope will convince everyone that we're doing great. But the wisdom of Inside Out is to tear away that facade and force us to confront the fact that change only becomes real when it comes from our heart, not from the outside. We can reorganize our external reality as much as we want, but that will never change our heart. Real change only happens in the context of suffering, self-awareness, and surrender to Christ.
At one point, Dr. Crabb tells of having delivered a long lecture series covering the gamut of issues in Christian psychology. When a friend who was there said that the two takeaways for him were that it's okay for Christians to hurt, and that sin is a bigger problem than we think, Dr. Crabb felt irritated. But those two truths are the central theses of Inside Out, as Dr. Crabb shows us that our sin is the root of all our problems, and that the only way out is to be so broken by our pain that we run for healing to Jesus. Some may be frustrated by how often and in how many ways he expresses these twin themes, but understanding them is the key to understanding and benefiting from this book.
In one sense, Inside Out is a guided self-counseling session. Dr. Crabb simply leads us through the steps of self-reflection with a series of questions and poignant illustrations, but with a distinct difference from the bulk of pop psychology and self-help manuals: this book is thoroughly grounded in biblical truth, and it is completely free of psychological jargon or cute little phrases to help categorize our emotions and attitudes. Instead, we are taught to accept the messiness of life as sinful humans in a fallen world who nonetheless desire to love and serve Christ as he has called us to do, and we are taught to do so straight from his infallible Word.
In another sense, Inside Out is simply a call for Christians to stop striving for human standards of success, and to start striving for godly standards of sanctification through self-understanding and honesty. There is no pretense here, and if you read with an open mind and heart, you'll find your own pretenses falling apart, too. Dr. Crabb is gracious but truthful, and often his insights hurt. But that hurt shouldn't deaden us with fear or attempts at sinful self-medication; rather, it should send us into the loving, forgiving arms of Jesus who alone can change us from the inside out. There aren't many books every Christian should read, but in our era this is one of them.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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