“Holy Moments” and the allure of quasi-Christian self-help books

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“Holy Moments” and the allure of quasi-Christian self-help books

July 3, 2023 -

A man reads an open book in the palm of his hand. © By Lydia Goolia/stock.adobe.com

A man reads an open book in the palm of his hand. © By Lydia Goolia/stock.adobe.com

A man reads an open book in the palm of his hand. © By Lydia Goolia/stock.adobe.com

On a recent Sunday after worship, one of the “pillars” of my little church put a book in my hands. He didn’t offer any explanation, and I was in a bit of a hurry, so I didn’t ask any questions. It was certainly implied that he was giving it to me to read.

To his surprise, I did read it. It surprised me a little bit, too.

It is not unusual for me to neglect reading books I have purchased, much more than those presented to me unsolicited. But I did so partly because of the spiritual stature of the man giving it to me and partly because of the title, Holy Moments: A Handbook for the Rest of Your Life.

The old axiom you can’t judge a book by its cover appears to be evident in this case.

Who is Matthew Kelly?

The author, Matthew Kelly, is described on Wikipedia as “an Australian motivational speaker and business consultant. He is a founding partner at Floyd Consulting, a management consulting firm.” While that does not disqualify him from writing this book, it doesn’t necessarily make him credible, either. Sounds as if he might be a great marketer.

His Wikipedia bio purports that many of his books have appeared on notable best-sellers lists and have been published in various languages. It also states that he has spoken to “millions of people” in more than fifty countries. On every level, an impressive track record.

Holy Moments is a 116-page book that offers readers six free copies if you’ll request them from the listed website. Kelly describes a holy moment as “a single moment in which you open yourself to God. You make yourself available to Him. You set aside personal preferences and self-interest, and for one moment you do what you prayerfully believe God is calling you to do.”

How can anyone, especially a Christ-follower, possibly object?

Appealing yet almost Christian

At several points in the book, he refers to “collaborating” with God. Nowhere did I find any reference to repentance as the basis for a right relationship, much less a “collaboration,” with God. The Bible says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Kelly says, “But, you know everything you need to know right now to begin activating Holy Moments in your life.”3

So much of what he says appears appealing and almost Christian. Kelly has a Roman Catholic background but became disaffected during his teenage years. During this time, a spiritual mentor came into his life and encouraged him to read the Gospels and taught Kelly how to pray and have compassion for the poor and lonely. This mentor encouraged him to read “great spiritual books” (though he lists none of them).

Kelly has founded several businesses, profit and nonprofit alike. Wikipedia says, “Estimates suggest that about 80% of every dollar donated to the (Kelly-founded) Dynamic Catholic Institute is ultimately channeled to a for-profit company owned by Kelly.” While some of these practices appear suspect, nothing I found makes me think Kelly is inauthentic or insincere.

But you can be sincere and wrong. You can be authentic but misguided.

My biggest concerns about Kelly’s short book are more based on what it doesn’t say.

And, while he never states that this is a book written for Christians, he certainly alludes to and parallels Christian doctrine and biblical teaching.

The problem with Holy Moments

Holy Moments doesn’t point people to Jesus as the solution.

There are occasional mentions of Jesus and his teaching, but it never identifies a right relationship with him as the basis of “holiness.” Kelly often mentions “spirituality,” but I didn’t find any reference to Christianity as the source of hope for the world. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Holy Moments doesn’t identify sin as humankind’s ultimate issue and problem. Not only can God not “collaborate” with sinful mankind, but he can’t even look upon us in our sinful, unrepentant state. It’s not so much that we need to “change” and try harder to do better, but we must exchange our sinful selves for a filling of the Holy Spirit to even get a glimpse of holiness, much less create holy moments. Scripture says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

I do not recall a single reference to the cross or to the redemption it offers.

Again, Kelly is not presenting Holy Moments as a handbook for Christians only. Yet, he says we can make the world better by creating “holy moments” and then getting others to do the same. No acknowledgment of sin, no reference to repentance, no case for the exchanged life. Toward the conclusion, he shares a lot about the power of compounding returns if people will employ his pyramid approach of holy moments.

Scripture teaches that any holiness is not inherent in me but resident only after I present my mind and body as a sacrifice in worship (Romans 12:1–2). Galatians 5 identifies the fruit of the “spirit” (not of me) as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:20). Kelly encourages many of these attributes without identifying their source. However, the Spirit cannot work in me unless I have confessed my sinfulness, repented of it, and invited Jesus to be my savior and lord.

That is a holy moment.

The temptation of quasi-Christian self-help books

Kelly’s book sales and speaker platform appear impressive. But, as Anatole France wrote: “If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

I grew up on the desert in southeastern New Mexico. I was eighteen before I first saw an ocean. I fell in love with the beauty, rhythm, and vastness of the many oceans I’ve seen since. But, on several oceanside occasions, I was warned to be wary of an unapparent but powerful undertow that can drag you into danger.

While there are many lofty ideas and alluring ideals in Holy Moments, be wary of its humanistic undertow.

Ultimately, we are not God. When Eve was tempted by something alluring, yet forbidden, the serpent claimed that embracing the temptation and ignoring God’s word would make her “like God” (Genesis 3:5).

I fear a similar temptation in Holy Moments.

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