Review of A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself & Live in the Security of God’s Promises by Renee Swope
For her whole life, Renee Swope has struggled with self-confidence. Now, as a radio co-host for the well-respected Proverbs 31 Ministries, she is sharing her struggle—and the lessons she’s learned along the way. So how do you overcome flagging self-confidence? According to Swope, the answer may not be easy, but it is relatively simple: believe the promises of God. In her book, A Confident Heart, Swope walks the reader through several biblical promises that have encouraged her in her battle against self-doubt:
- God’s love is perfect (even when we aren’t) (Ch. 2);
- God’s love is secure and eternal (we don’t earn it and can’t lose it) (Ch. 3);
- God has good plans for us (He will heal our hurts and use them for our good) (Ch. 4);
- God gives us peace when we fix our minds on Him (He conquers our fears) (Ch. 5);
- God gives us a new and unchanging identity in Christ (He will never forsake us) (Ch. 6);
- there is no condemnation for those in Christ (He delights in us) (Ch. 7);
- God created us to be unique individuals for His glory (we don’t have to be like everyone else) (Ch. 8);
- God is our sovereign provider (we don’t have to worry) (Ch. 9);
- God forgives our many sins and failures (the more we know Him, the more we will know His grace) (Ch. 10).
Swope even includes a helpful chart of various biblical promises, organized by the doubts they help combat (221). And if you’re working through the book with a small group, there’s also a DVD with short (~5 min.) vignettes from Swope for each chapter.
In encouraging her readers to battle their sin and doubts by essentially preaching to themselves, Swope has hit upon the only method that has ever been remotely effective in combating doubt, worry, and sin in my own life. Rather than merely exhorting us to try harder and ‘think good thoughts’, as so many self-help gurus are wont to do, Swope instructs us to fill our minds with the truth of Scripture—the very Words of God, inspired by His Holy Spirit. Where we lack the ability to work meaningful change in our hearts, this living and active Word applied by the Third Person of the Trinity can change the way with think, the way we feel, and the way we act, thereby conforming us increasingly into the image of Christ, in whom and by whom we have been saved. This is unassailably solid advice.
And yet, for all that, I didn’t love the book. In part, my tepid response is undoubtedly due to my distaste for more emotionally-oriented devotional writing. Rational, direct, and uncompromising are my watchwords. Yet I can hardly fault Swope (who has a long history of ministering to hurting women) for handling her subject matter with a lighter, more compassionate, more emotional touch than, say, John Flavel.
Similarly, I recognize that a clear, linear outline structure is not actually a prerequisite for solid biblical teaching; not everyone needs to be Thomas Watson (though I’m terribly grateful that someone was). Swope’s more meandering, narrative style will likely resonate with many of her feminine readers.
But the biggest reason for my disconnect with A Confident Heart is rooted not in Swope’s tone or style, but in the very problem she attempts to address. At the end of the day, I don’t know if I believe ‘self-confidence’ is actually something Christians need in the first place. Swope occasionally calls it ‘God-confidence’ in order to distinguish it from sinful pride, but she still essentially means ‘the way we think about ourselves.’ The promises she highlights talk a lot about who we are, what we will receive from God, etc. These are biblical promises, but the end goal still seems to be the change how we think about ourselves. And I’m not sure that’s helpful or necessary. Meditating on God’s promises does tell us about ourselves, but first and foremost, those promises tell us about God. And when we’re full up with faith in the character of God, I don’t think we’ll actually spend all that much mental energy on ourselves at all. I don’t think self-confidence will enter into it. Which makes sense—when I experience low ‘self-confidence’, it is not myself I am doubting, but God. I am questioning His sovereignty, His ability to work through a sinful vessel, His finished work on the cross, His goodness, His faithfulness. I don’t think there’s actually a Christian category for ‘self-doubt.’ We’re either experiencing appropriate humility about our fallen nature and our weakness apart from Christ, or we’re doubting God Himself.
As a result, I tend to eye with skepticism any scheme with the ultimate goal of me thinking about me. Even if I’m doing it in a more biblical way, I’m still thinking about me. And I just can’t bring myself to think that should be our goal. I sincerely doubt that Paul gave himself pep-talks about self-confidence. You see a lack of self-confidence in Bible heroes when they struggle—Gideon, say, or Moses, who doubted that God could use them. They might claim to suffer from self-doubt, but really, they doubted God—doubted that He would (or could) do what He said He would. Since their doubts are not really about themselves at all, God addresses those doubts by telling them who He is. And once those doubts are assuaged, you don’t see Gideon or Moses bursting into a rousing chorus of “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music. They’re too busy talking about God. Once these folks see God aright, once they have confidence in God, their self-confidence is a non-issue. It’s beyond irrelevant. Like a cow’s opinion, it’s moo.
Honestly, I suspect Swope would agree with me; I suspect our differences are more semantic than substantive. She certainly wants her readers to place their confidence in God and not themselves. But the fact remains that her book has too much of a self-oriented cast for me to be thoroughly on board.
However, I freely acknowledge that I am likely in the minority on this issue. Lots and lots of Christians—men and women both—extol the virtues of increased godly self-confidence and a more biblical self-concept. There may well be merit in these goals. If you believe you need more self-confidence or want to change the way you think about yourself, A Confident Heart will encourage you to do so in a biblical way.
Reviewed in connection with the Patheos Book Club.
Alexis Neal regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.