Ten Ways To Be A Joyful Believer In A Gloomy World
By David Murray
David Murray is a Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary and Pastor of Free Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has authored six books, three of which focus on the attainment of happiness in the Christian life.
A book from the library of an evangelical seminary, which has the same title by “An Unknown Author (Albert Ernest Richardson)”, is published by Moody Press. It has no date of publication, but its fragile yellowed pages and replaced cover attested to its considerable age. In the author’s preface we read;
So, we have ventured to call this book, “The Happy Christian” – for with most people happiness and joy are interchangeable terms: although the joy of the Christian life should be quite untouched by the “haps” of life.
This claimed “interchangeability” of Christian “joy” and “happiness” lies at the heart of Murray’s book.
In this, Murray follows in the footsteps of John Piper. For three decades, Piper has espoused an understanding of the Christian life which he calls Christian Hedonism. Piper claims that Christians are commanded by God to pursue their own happiness with this pursuit supposedly restoring the diminishing happiness of God. Murray and Piper refuse to see “the most subtle beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1) as the source of this supposed command.
Piper’s Desiring God website has published two articles by David Murray. In the article, entitled, ‘Grace-Paced Living in a Burnout Culture’, Murray writes; ‘Although no two burnouts are the same, as I’ve counseled increasing numbers of Christians through burnout, I’ve noticed that most of them have one thing in common: there’s a deficit of grace. It’s not that they don’t believe in grace. Many of them are well-grounded in “the doctrines of grace.” Many of them are pastors and preach grace powerfully every week… Yet grace is missing in five vital areas.’
Piper claims C. S. Lewis as support for his hedonism. However, even a child reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader sees that Lewis knew the difference between Christian joy and happiness as “Eustace laughed a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before.” All real Christians know that difference and have experienced it.
Both Piper and Murray advise the pursuit of personal happiness as the ultimate goal in life. Piper’s ministry seeks to justify it as evangelism while Murray attempts to describe its outworking in the daily life of the Christian. Exactly, how does a Christian get happy?
Essential to the messages of both men is their conflation of the concepts of joy and happiness, of agape and eros. Were the audience not Christian, this sleight-of-hand might go unchallenged. However, a Christian will recognize that Scripture stands in direct opposition to this teaching. “The sheep hear His voice, and…a stranger they will not follow” (John 10:3-5).
As presented in Scripture, joy is “a delight that runs deeper than pain or pleasure…not limited by nor tied solely to external circumstances. Joy is a gift of God, and like all of his other inner gifts it can be experienced even in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances.” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 588) In both the Old Testament and the New, joy is an evidential mark of faith. It is a quality of the true Christian life, grounded in and flowing from God himself. (Psalm 16:11; Philippians 4:4; Romans 15:13). Peter speaks of the joy of salvation (1 Peter 1:6-8). John associates joy with love and obedience (John 15:9-14). Paul identifies joy as a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Self-help techniques in order to obtain it are ruled out by Scripture.
Happiness is defined as “a state of ineffable well-being and contentment that results from achieving what you consider “good.” (Mindbodygreen.com). The word and concept derive from “happen or happenings”. Happiness comes with events that bring about the sensual experience of pleasure and thus cannot be associated with adverse experiences or with sadness. It is by definition contingent upon favorable happenings in one’s life. In spite of this, a vast secular literature claims to offer methods to achieve and maintain personal happiness.
The teaching that the Christian concept of joy is interchangeable with happiness is false. As noted by Richardson, the joy of the Christian life should be quite untouched by the “haps” of life.
Murray’s lectures on happiness can be found on You-Tube by Googling his book title. He begins the first of his five hour-long lectures by lamenting that “reformed men” are not happy men and says that observation prevented his becoming a Christian. He thus blames his environment (surrounded by miserable reformed men) rather than his own “wicked, deceitful heart” (Jeremiah 17:9). In keeping with the counseling industry, he says that the “corrosive effects of the negative spirit [of Scottish Calvinism] still plague [him].” (122) He calls for “positive faith, positive health, and positive relationships” as antidotes to such negative influences. (139) He supposedly made a decision for Christ only when he finally realized that true Christian manliness is happy manliness. Thus, Murray joins Piper in presenting Christ as the sensual satisfaction of the natural desire to be happy. Both men fail to acknowledge that because nature is cursed, it cannot be used as a standard for what is right. They will not see this desire as characteristic of the Fall and of the line of Adam. Both men accept what Piper calls a strong hedonistic desire for happiness as a rightful characteristic of the Christian life. Because of this, there is no distinction made between a pre-Christian view of happiness and the post-Christian view for either of these men.
By his references, foot notes, and acknowledgements, it is obvious that Murray is immersed in the swamp of so-called positive psychology. He does not question the validity of so-called psychological research and seems utterly unaware of those who would have any doubts about it. Murray’s teaching is thus devoted to New Age Thought, Mind Science, psychokinesis, self-suggestion, and the ancient religious practices of Buddhism. Typical of his so-called scientific discoveries are “Belief in Angry God Associated with Poor Mental Health” and “researchers at Marymount found that belief in a punitive God increased social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion.” (18) He assumes that his audience will realize they are not nearly as content as they may have thought. What he calls “spiritual math” says, “You may not be depressed, but couldn’t you be happier”? He seems utterly oblivious to the similarity of his call “I long to heal…” (xii) to the call of the serpent (Genesis 3:1-5).
Happiness as the Goal of the Christian Life
According to this so-called math, “Christianity promises to change the equation of our lives into a positive result. That’s what God is all about. That’s what the Christian faith is all about. And that’s what this book is all about. I’ve written The Happy Christian to help you live a powerful, meaningful, and optimistic life in an increasingly pessimistic culture…there is a way to overcome the deadly plague of negativity. I long to heal adults who have gotten so used to their own negativity that they have no idea now what healthy joy looks like.” (xiii) Murray will heal with “ten simple formulas [which] will tilt the balance” (xxiv).
His claims are the same as those of Robert Schuller’s Be Happy Attitudes. Both books claim that the beatitudes were given as the way to happiness. Both claim that Jesus used happiness as what could be called a sales pitch in order to attract people to His message. Murray’s Jesus supposedly saw the people listening to him on that mountainside as “crushed”; therefore, His message is seen as: “Seek God and you’ll get happiness.”
Use of Scripture
Murray sprinkles his speaking and writing with references from Scripture. His verse selection and interpretation is guided not by the exegetical method, but instead it clearly evidences eisegesis (the interpretation of a text by reading into it one’s own ideas). For example, he claims that when Paul wrote, “…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10) that his purpose was to provide “practical strategies for transforming negatives into positives” (xxi) In a similar manner, Murray paraphrases Proverbs 23:7 “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he”; from this, he concludes that Christians are commanded to follow the precepts of Positive Psychology to remove “negativity, intellectual sluggishness, emotional fragility, physical frailty, economic decline, social decay, and spiritual backsliding.” (xxiv) “There is a better way of living…we can transform our nation.”(xxi)
He references here and there sentences or phrases about happiness taken out of context from such faithful men as J.C. Ryle, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Matthew Henry in the apparent hope this will bolster his flimsy claims. The superficial nature of his use of such quotes is revealed by his misunderstanding of John Milton in Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” (27)
Murray footnotes this as coming from Bartlett’s Famous Quotations as he obviously sought quotes in support of his ill-grounded thesis. This Professor of Practical Theology is so unfamiliar with this monumental piece of English poetry while being so taken up with positive psychology that he is obviously ignorant of the fact that Milton has these words coming from the mouth of Satan. The context is described in what is called The Argument preceding Book I: “when Satan revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of angels, was by the command of God driven out of heaven with all his crew into the great deep”.
These Lines 254,255 of Book I are described by Alastair Fowler, Regius Professor Emeritus of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, as “Satan’s specious denial of ill effects from sin. Heaven and hell were held states of mind by Amaury de Bene, a medieval heretic in Milton’s time.” (Longman’s Annotated English Poets, London, 1998).
Are the numerous Christian leaders who have endorsed this book as ignorant of the best in English literature as Murray appears to be? And are they as unable to recognize Satan disguised as an angel of light? Do they also see mankind as victims rather than as rebels?
Murray describes the church today as living in “an increasingly negative culture…beaten down, cynical, listening to false preachers and leading a difficult life.” This is why he seeks to convince people that “happiness is attainable.” He claims that successful witnessing depends on our being “upbeat and cheerful” while telling others to live “a religious life” because it’s a happier life. Supposedly, upbeat pastors have “more successful” churches. His example of the happy Christian is a widow dancing on the grave of her husband the day after he was buried. This kind of happiness, Murray says, is “counter-cultural” and will get the attention of the world! “No one should be ashamed to pursue his own greatest happiness.”
Like all writers who leave Scripture to embrace “counseling,” he sees man as the victim of his environment. Murray warns people that they will be “anxious and depressed” if they “let ugly things in.” In conjunction with Buddhist passivity, he instructs people to “avoid media that is hypercritical of the other side, even if it’s true” and urges Christians to meditate on anyone “doing good things” even if they are “non-Christian.” Since there is no Scripture to support his advice, he quotes what he calls “scientific research” from the left-wing media ( Guardian, UK): “News is toxic to your body and kills creativity.” (36) We will supposedly feel better and be more successful if we admire Bill and Melinda Gates and Steve Jobs because this “will improve our physical, mental, emotional, and therefore, spiritual well-being.” (116) Dr. Murray claims he is providing “a prescription, a cure…that will knock guilt down, bloody anxiety’s nose, put fear under our feet, and chase sadness out of the ring.”(4)
He quotes Rick Warren as one who agrees with him that “the negativity of the culture” is causing “defeatism” to dominate our prayers and sermons. This professor at a Reformed Seminary is thoroughly Arminian in his attempt to convince us that “what we feed our minds with, determines what we think.” His proof of this is that “if you eat at McDonald’s for a month, it will affect your mood.” He assumes no one has Googled the science teacher in Colo, Iowa who, participating in a student-led experiment, actually became healthier in every measurable way while eating nothing but food from McDonald’s.
Happiness via Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Murray continually views Scripture as therapy and urges anyone feeling discomfort to ask, “How did I get into this mood”? Christianity is presented as a state of continual good feelings except for times when we think “wrongly about trouble and about God.” Steeped in positive psychology, Murray analyzes the Psalms as examples of “changing the thinking pattern to produce different feelings.” Trust in God is simply “getting a grip on his mind and changing the direction of his mind.” According to Murray, when we are “in a pit”, it’s because we are thinking wrong. n response to this so-called wrong thinking, the unhappy Christian is to speak “positive” things out loud in order to force the mind in the right direction. This Reformed pastor-professor is convinced that “different thinking patterns produce different feelings. A person can change who he is by how he thinks; correcting the thinking will correct the person.” Murray shows himself to be living in the same darkness as does the Dalai Lama and with no goal higher than Nirvana. He is sure that cognitive behavioral therapy will produce confidence, optimism, security, and comfort; what more could any Christian ask!
According to Murray, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has always been there in God’s Word; it simply took science two thousand years to find out what God has put there. We’re not good at emotional theology; we need to create a better story to create good emotions.” After all, CBT calms the feelings and induces a peace that is “good for my body and heart.” Christians should pursue “good emotions” as eagerly as does the world.
Maintaining this “basic psychology and emotional health” would supposedly save our children so much trouble if we, as parents, would only choose to maintain it. He appears no more able to apply Scripture rightly than to apply the narrative of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is God who said, “What do you mean by repeating this proverb, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by Israel.” (Ezekiel 18:1-3)
He joins the positive psychologists in advising people to accept life with “shades of gray” rather than to maintain “black-or-white categories.” The psychologists do not hesitate to connect the black-or-white categories with the Bible, but Murray ignores this fact as he advises movement to gray because black-or-white “begins to drag down my mood.” (5) He sees it as “funny how what we feel often determines what actually happens.” (7) Rather than acknowledging this as Christian Science (Mary Baker Eddy), Murray jokes “I not only read minds; I also tell fortunes.”
Happiness via Correcting Thinking Errors
Cognitive Behavior Therapy rests upon the detection and correction of so-called “thinking errors”. Murray says, “The first step in making this [negative thinking] right is identifying some of the ways our thoughts and feelings have gone wrong”. He then offers “a simple six-step method that will help you address bad thinking habits and change them for the better.”
He urges all Christians to “balance [their] ministry.” Although funerals have become celebrations and worship services have become entertainment, Murray claims there is still too much “heaviness, darkness and pain” evident in our churches. He urges more Good News over Bad News, more Victory over Struggle, and more Celebration over Lamentation. He fails to see the goodness of God in revealing the Bad News to unregenerate man and/or that God sanctifies regenerate man through struggle and lamentation.
He is determined to silence the God-given gift of conscience calling it a “depressing, demoralizing, and discouraging inner cacophony.” He fails to warn that positive psychologists are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) and is determined to follow them in convincing the reader that the conscience is a “lead weight”(48). He insists that the “noisy and cantankerous old critic, Mr. Conscience, is nowhere to be found in this scene of unmixed peace and joy [produced by positive thinking].”(53) The conscience should be pushed “deeper and deeper until silence and peace reign again” in the Christian life.(60) Murray makes no mention of Satan as the accuser of the brethren or of God’s gift, the conscience, being made ever more sensitive as the believer is sanctified. Nothing reigns higher for “the happy Christian” than this false peace.
He seeks to be admired for giving up on a “DVD series on the Second World War” and for skipping to “the happy ending of [the book] Unbroken” (depicting the experiences of Louis Zamperini as a Japanese POW) because it was causing him (Murray) to sink “deeper into sadness with every page and episode.” (85) After all, “a low level of pessimism [has] a robust association with reduced incidence of stroke.” (98) He then describes the premillennial view of eschatology as “a more pessimistic view…which in turn inclines them to pay more attention to pessimistic news items.” (102) Knowledge of soldiers suffering and/or of the outworking of God’s sovereign plan might make us sick! So-called “researchers” have shown that those who “visualize their best possible future…reported better physical health months later.” (102)
He grieves that Christians “mark mistakes with red ink” and “honor theologians” who have identified heretical doctrine.(25) Like Robert Schuller, Murray is very concerned about the negative mindset that accompanies “exposing error.” He claims that Jesus “warned a lot, but He wooed and won even more.” (38) He is sure that exposure of error will produce “stress, demotivation, and relational breakdown.” Instead, we are to “marshall our thoughts into a powerful peacemaking and peacekeeping force” remembering that we are “creators” in this area. (28) He babbles on and on about “energy is then created to advance the changes” (31) seeming every bit as gullible as was Eve when told she could be like the Creator.
Murray is infatuated with “fresh and healthy produce” and “exquisite bird songs” advising that we adopt “the positive ethic of National Geographic” asking “What can I celebrate”? (33) He ignores the fact that National Geographic promotes the theory of evolution and that they argue that Christian missionaries should be kept away from the so-called primitive tribes because missionary work disturbs the happiness and beauty of their natural state. Has Dr. Murray ever talked with New Tribes missionaries or with the tribal people about this so-called beauty and happiness?
He laments that “most Christian books for young people major on sacrifice and suffering of the missionaries and the martyrs” claiming this “tends to deter unbelievers and terrify Christians.” (40) If Christians would only follow the “scientific research” we would know that “for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience, you should try to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you. This is the ratio that I’ve found to be the tipping point, predicting whether people languish or flourish.” (41) And surely all would flourish if only we would leave the New Guinea tribal people languishing in their state of nature! Is there any knowledge of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs at Puritan Reformed Seminary?
Happiness via “Science”
Like the positive psychologists, Murray appeals to “science” to validate his claims. He shows no recognition of the fact that counseling psychology cannot be authentic science. Its data (reported thoughts, feelings and behaviors) are subjective, not objective. As such, counseling psychology is speculation which is subject to bias and agenda. An obvious example of this is his claim that “it takes at least five positive actions to off-set and balance out one destructive act.”
In this pseudo-intellectual fog, he joins the 5% of the culture who (according to another of his ‘scientific’ studies) believe that society is getting better. Ignoring both Scripture and reality, he seeks to teach the 95% how to overcome their natural “negativity bias.” In this attempt, he claims as “scientific fact” that 50% of what we feel is genetic, 10% is uncontrollable circumstance, and that the remaining 40% is for us to control. Thus he accepts as scientific the occult techniques of Eastern Religion and claims that studies show that doctors who are “positive” make more accurate diagnoses.” These same studies supposedly prove that happy students make better math scores eventually earning higher incomes. In addition to that, nuns who keep happy diaries live longer! He ignores the Brookings Institute report showing the self-confident U. S. students scoring far lower on the math test than the South Korean students who lacked that confidence.
Failing to question anything labeled as “neuroscience” and appearing to be without knowledge or concern regarding the occult, he claims our brains to be “an inner universe” with “so much misfiring going on”. He describes the Fall as having “tangled our brains” with the answer being “to think along biblical lines to make neuronal paths.” According to Murray, “we have thought ourselves into this maze; we need to think ourselves out of it.” He repeatedly urges us to “rediscover the ancient art of meditation” since this “increases mindfulness, immune function and decreases inflammation” plus “it stops sin and it makes you happier.” (43)
He also speaks of the “discoveries of neuroscience” referencing “neural pathways…brain plasticity” in support of his claims about the beneficial effects of CBT. He accepts secular claims “that we can actually change our brain structures and connections, improving our overall mood in the process” and excitedly terms this “neuroplasticity.”(8) He is convinced that the Apostle Paul was actually calling the church to this “plastic remolding.” (10) After all, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” (9) He fails to see that such psychological research is anything but authentic science and that most of the claims of so-called neuroscience are unverified speculation. He attempts to lend biblical support by quoting Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds”.
Following the world, Murray takes the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ out of the hard sciences (chemistry, physics, math) where they have real meaning into the so-called social sciences (psychology, sociology) where they are without definition, Murray describes Jesus’ coming to take away sin as “negative” and His coming to give peace as “positive.” When he remembers that he should use some Scripture in all of this, he quotes John 10:10 where Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life more abundantly.” Murray then asks, “Do we wait passively for this kiss of life? No, we have physical ability to start learning human psychology in order to learn what we really are so we can experience peace and tranquility rather than gloom and doom.”
Murray is so excited that “psychologists discover what God and His people already knew thousands of years ago!”(17) He chooses to call it “Psalm 77 therapy” and ignores the fact that the church for two thousand years has recognized the demonic in this kind of teaching .(17)
Happiness as Gospel Promise
He urges Christians to admire the United Nations for naming March 20 as an “International Day of Happiness.” He scolds Christians for “instinctively” pulling away from the UN as he disdainfully claims that “the reformed instinctively react against happiness” due to their wrong view of God. He feels called to correct this tragedy and says Christians should be eager “to spread happiness to the nations” because happiness is “a God-given sense of well-being and wholeness.” He has no problem using meaningless terms so common in today’s pagan rhetoric such as ‘wholeness’ and ‘get centered on God’. “What else is there to live for other than happiness? Why not walk in the sunshine and have a happy departure from this world”?
Murray fits the worst of ‘health and wealth’ prosperity preaching. “Even secular research indicates that people who give money to charity end up happier and wealthier.” (145) He then touts gratitude as a happiness exercise, and in a bizarre twisting of Romans 2:14, 15, claims that Paul knew unbelieving psychologists would “work out the practical details of how to increase gratitude in our lives for everyone’s benefit.” (151) He even quotes Carrie Fisher as an expert on forgiveness realizing that “people who forgive are happier, healthier, more agreeable and more serene” (160) and quotes Arianna Huffington as knowing that “gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul.” (170)
Murray closes his book with advice to “embrace diversity” and lists the supposed advantages. We are to realize that “discrimination increases the risk of depression, the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular, disease, breast cancer, and mortality.” (202) After encouraging people to read books by positive psychologists (235), he says “the key to profiting from pain…is the story we tell ourselves” reminding us that psychologists have shown this. “And that’s where I want to end this spiritual math course.” (231)
One reading of The Pilgrim’s Progress would cancel the spiritual math course. The tinker from Bedford (John Bunyan) would surely comment as follows:
“He therefore, that went before (Vain-Confidence by name) not seeing the way before him, fell into a deep pit, which was on purpose there made by the Prince of those grounds to catch vain-glorious fools withal, and was dashed in pieces with his fall.”
Does anyone remember the following hymn by Isaac Watts in 1724:
“Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize and sailed thru bloody seas.”
Those who call themselves ‘Christian’ must eventually face the reality that Bunyan, Milton, and Watts had a different religion from that of David Murray. The two concepts of the Christian life and of Christian joy cannot be integrated. The difference cannot be excused by time because “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) It is therefore, of more than a little importance to discover which of the two doctrinal positions coincides with the Word as revealed by the Creator.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…More than that, we rejoice in our suffering…” (Romans 5:1-5)
When we open Murray’s book and see the names (Dr. Richard Phillips, Derek Thomas, Joe Thorn, Maurice Roberts, to name but a few) that are listed in praise of it, we remember Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica:
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only He who now restrains it will do so until He is out of the way.” (II Thessalonians 2:7) May this review be used by He who restrains it.
Murray, David, The Happy Christian: Ten Ways To Be A Joyful Believer In A Gloomy World, Nelson Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 2015
Williams, E. S., The Marriage Scam, Belmont House Publishing, London, 2016
Williams, E. S., Christian Hedonism? A Biblical Examination of John Piper’s Teaching, Belmont House Publishing, London, 2017
Desiring God website, David Murray, September 2017