How Should Christians React to Worldly Productivity Books?

There’s no doubt that you’ll encounter a lot of worldliness when flipping through the pages of a book on how to be productive. Very few are explicitly geared towards Christians – and instead, most focus on helping the reader make more money or feel less stressed.

In many books, the supreme goal in life is the worldly vision of relaxing on a beach, sipping cocktails, and reminiscing about how your time management has allowed you to accomplish so much.

Other resources do have vaguely spiritual aspects – which is usually more troublesome since they often hint at a non-Christian spirituality. Some are influenced by eastern mysticism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhist philosophies. Some incredibly popular ones are tied heavily into New Age religions.

Further Trouble: Author Spirituality

To add another element into the mix, many of the authors of these methods have backgrounds in New Age movements, Mormonism, Buddhism, and a host of other religions. Sometimes the author’s religion is obvious; sometimes it’s not.

So there’s definitely some potential bad stuff out there. But the larger question remains: How should Christians react to these materials?

Receive, Reject, or Redeem?

I love the way that Mark Driscoll puts it. He points out three options: Receive, Reject, or Redeem.

Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.

Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.

Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.

As you can see, each issue requires discernment. Liberal syncretists tend to receive too much. Fundamental separatists tend to reject too much. So, while I would reject yoga because it is a Hindu worship act, it is possible for the Christian to redeem some of the exercise principles, as my friend, Rose, extols. Likewise, it’s not a sin to watch a film such as Avatar, enjoy the technological mastery, and learn about how to tell a great story. But, it is imperative for a Christian to not embrace the blatant pagan worldview that does not distinguish between Creator and creation, upon which the entire storyline of the film is constructed.

So that is the question before us when we approach any time management principle, book, video, seminar, blog, or system. Are we going to receive it, reject it, or redeem it?

When We Receive

Sometimes religious affiliation doesn’t matter.

Do I need to use productivity software invented specifically for Christians, by Christians? Or what about a pen? Or a PDA? Or a manila folder?

As Driscoll mentioned in the above quote, these things are the result of common grace – God’s goodness to all people regardless of their relationship with Him. These items have no innate spiritual component and can be received and used – unfiltered as they are – as gracious gifts of God.

Just because an author happens to be an atheist, a Buddhist, or a New Age believer doesn’t mean that Christians should automatically reject their material. We should determine our reaction based on the spiritual component of the work – not of the author.

Referring to time management materials, if a careful examination yields no spiritual component (or a wholly acceptable Christian component – but admittedly those are rare), then we’re free to receive.

So, for instance, I can read a blog article about software programs that help me organize my internet bookmarks – even if it was written by a Buddhist. Or I could read an Ebook on how to construct your own DIY bookshelf – even if it came from an atheist.

It’s admittedly strange, at first, for us to think that an Ebook written by an atheist is a gift from God. But theologically speaking, the material is a gift of God’s common grace. And as long as no spiritual component leaks into the work, we can receive that gift from God.

A word of caution: Many time management and personal development resources will not fall into this “receive” category as there’s very often some spiritual component to the writings.

Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle. We need to have a discerning eagle-eye inspection for spiritual elements before we wholeheartedly receive.

When We Reject

In rare instances, there’s a strong negative component and a lack of any value in a time management or personal development work. In these cases, we should have nothing to do at all with the material.

An example of this would be the wildly popular book and movie, The Secret. This pile of garbage is so far into the deep end of New Age thought that there’s nothing positive we can take from it at all.

When We Redeem

Most time management books and programs will end up in this category.

Make no mistake that a lot of productivity materials have problems – as I talked about earlier. As Christians, we need to be on our guard when reading these books. Otherwise, incredibly subtle philosophies may creep in without us even realizing it.

But yet within the works, there are positive aspects. There are items of common grace – good gifts from God – that have been mixed in with some ungodly aspects.

Redeeming these resources is the process of extracting the good from the bad – or rather, expelling the bad from the good. This is more than simply throwing out the bad aspects. This is throwing out the bad aspects and replacing them with good.

I strongly believe that we can redeem the overwhelming majority of time management resources. We can expose the worldly money-hunger and the drive for accomplishment – and then replace them with a gospel-centered focus. We can bring to light the spiritual nuances and New Age mumbo-jumbo – and replace them with a Christian worldview.

We can accept the concepts of organization, efficiency, goal-setting, planning, and prioritization as gifts of God’s common grace. Then we integrate these tools into a Christ-focused outlook and vision.

We can then thank God for these gifts as we grow in our ability to be good stewards of our time. God’s common grace in this area may have been perverted with worldly motivations – or even anti-Christian motivations. But with discernment, we can redeem these ideas through Christ and use them for his glory.

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