Review of “The Selfish Gospel”

Pimm, Freddie. The Selfish Gospel. Inter-Varsity Press, June 2017.

Like a fast-spreading illness, selfishness is rampant within the Church.  So argues Freddie Pimm, the author of The Selfish Gospel. Pimm isn’t the first writer to comment on the corrosive influence of individualism on the Church.  But he does provide a fresh perspective on how the 21st Century Church has been tainted by selfishness and “lost its transformative edge.”

Using his clinical experience as a junior doctor, Pimm divides the book into three sections: an analysis of the ‘symptoms’ of the Church’s ailment, a ‘diagnosis’ of the underlying problem and finally a ‘cure.’  This medical approach is helpful and reminiscent of one of the 20th Century’s greatest preachers, Martin Lloyd Jones, also a doctor.

His illustrations, particularly in chapter two, were insightful and added depth to his theme of the Church’s “illness”. One highlight was his analysis of some Christian churches as often having “locked-in syndrome”: everything ‘inside’ the body (Sunday services, home groups, youth activities) functions well whilst the ‘outside’ (evangelism) is paralysed.  He draws upon personal experience with relative skill and also does well in his handling of Scripture.  His exegesis of passages such as Ezekiel 31 and Matthew 13 might not be detailed or comprehensive but the application is pitched to engage the reader and his attractive writing style carries you along.

The value of this book lies in its honesty and accessibility.  As the author writes, he is a “relatively normal” guy, not a trained theologian, yet his insights into the problems (and joys) of the contemporary church are far above average.  The message is a challenging one for followers of Jesus who are longing to see transformation in their churches and societies.  Indeed, if we don’t heed the warnings of Scripture and The Selfish Gospel, we risk distorting the body of Christ to becoming a club that exists solely to fulfil our needs and desires.

Yet there is, of course, hope.  Pimm emphasises going deeper in our relationship with Christ by building a discipleship culture in our churches (Chapter 7), stirs us to sacrifice and evangelism (Chapter 8) and encourages us to remain culturally distinct from the world around us (Chapter 9).  He is right when he says that our only hope in battling selfishness is found in Christ, when we “lose our lives to gain all that he has to offer us” (Chapter 5).

Any young Christian who is keen to grow in their faith and avoid slipping into an individualistic gospel would benefit from reading this book.  But for older Christians too it will be a helpful reminder of the dangers of the default position of the human heart: selfishness.

Michael Shaw is the Editor of Cornerstone Network.  He was formerly a Broadcast Journalist and Associate Producer at the BBC where he directed short films for ‘The One Show’ (BBC 1).  He is currently studying Theology at Oxford University.

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