Help, I’m Hurting: Finding Meaning, Hope, Direction, and Happiness in the Words of Jesus. By Bill Oswalt. Nashville , TN : Archstone Press, 2002. 269 pp. Paper. $17.00.
Help, I’m Hurting, a how-to book on spiritual growth, is organized around what the author refers to as the beatitude model of discipleship. The first two chapters serve as the foundation by explaining the author’s understanding of discipleship and the beatitudes. The author begins each of the following chapters with a beatitude that serves as a launching point for a homily exhorting the reader to think rightly about a loose mixture of theological and psychological topics. The final chapter concludes by exhorting the reader to think rightly about discipleship and rewards. Each chapter explains how right thinking about a particular topic contributes to the progressive sanctification of faithful believers.
As suggested by the title, this book does not limit itself to spiritual growth, but appeals to the psychotherapeutic desires of people—at times referring to the proposed beatitude model as a “discipleship-counseling” model (p. 32). It assumes that people who are developing the virtues found in the beatitudes and thinking right about the topics found in the homilies will be able to solve their relational problems and find emotional health in this life. This tact leads the author to sound, at times, like Jay Adams in his criticisms of the integration of theology and psychology, while, at other times, confounding psychological constructs with biblical concepts (e.g., he understands the old man of Rom 6:6 to be one’s self-esteem prior to coming to faith in Christ).
Several aspects of this book will be found appealing by the readers of JOTGES. It includes a significant amount of Scripture. It calls the reader to faithful obedience to Christ. It includes numerous diagrams to illustrate what the author is saying. In addition, adherents to the GES perspective will appreciate his focus on grace conjoined with a call to daily obedience to Christ, his teaching on rewards, as well as his numerous references to Earl Radmacher, Joseph Dillow, and Charlie Bing.
However, the book is flawed by two significant weaknesses. First, it reads more like an early draft than a finished work. The connection between some of the beatitudes and the homilies that follow are likely firmer in the author’s mind than they may appear to a discriminating reader. Conclusions, at times, rest upon the etymology of English words (i.e., conscious and psychology) as if the etymology of contemporary English words carry authority for a theological conclusion. In addition, the book is repeatedly marred by a lack of proofreading (e.g., misspelled words, inconsistent formatting of endnote numbers, inconsistent citations of sources, and inconsistent numbering of diagrams).
Second, the author has yielded to the temptation presented by our therapeutic culture to equate counseling and discipleship and thus offers the Bible as the solution for all psychological problems in this life (p. 56). This is potentially the source of a number of misunderstandings, not the least of which are the temptation to misread God’s word to fulfill this assertion and the temptation to blame the sufferer for his suffering. It continues to puzzle this reviewer how Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross and march toward possible martyrdom can be so facilely reframed into a feel good approach to getting one’s emotional needs met.
These weaknesses, as significant as they are, do not, however, completely overwhelm the potential benefits of the book. If the reader is neither distracted by the poor editing nor the reframing of spiritual maturity as psychological/relational health, he or she will be encouraged that both Christ is preached and believers are called to follow Him.
Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth , TX