Book Review on The Gospel Coalition - "Loving Well"

Dear Readers:

This morning, a review I wrote of pastor and biblical counselor William P. Smith's "Loving Well (Even if You Haven't Been)" (New Growth Press, 2012) was published by The Gospel Coalition. Naturally, I am very pleased about this; but even more exciting to me is the actual message of Smith's book. While not related to eating disorders, I encourage all to get a copy of "Loving Well" and read it.

Have you ever doubted God's personal love for you?

Have you ever struggled to show the love of Christ to others?

Have you ever wanted to move towards a friend who is suffering, but not known just what to do?

Smith takes a warm, relational approach to Christ as we see Him in the Scriptures - relentlessly serving, comforting, pursuing. Understanding the many facets of God's personal love for you is crucial to being able to extend that same love to others -- regardless of who they are.

While this book is a great addition to any biblical counselor's library, I highly recommend it for ANY Christian who seeks to know and apply God's personal love for them in Christ.

Loving WellWilliam P. Smith | Review by: Marie Notcheva


William P. Smith. Loving Well (Even if You Haven’t Been). Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012. 288 pp. $15.99.

William Smith and I have a lot in common. We are both biblical counselors. We both write about God’s grace. And we both go bananas when our kids slam the doorknob into the drywall.

In Loving Well (Even if You Haven’t Been), Smith, director of counseling at Chelten Baptist Church in Dresher, Pennsylvania, explores the believer’s need to internalize God's love for us as individuals in order to build strong, edifying relationships with others. In this well-written and easy-to-identify-with book, Smith explores 15 aspects of divine love and how, through grasping them, we grow more intentional about extending grace.

The timing of this book coincided with a personal rediscovery of the God who, as he puts it, “moves toward me, inviting me to know him” (xxi). In a dry spiritual season, I admitted to a fellow Christian my struggle to believe God really loves me and my tendency to see the cross as an historical event with little bearing on my life. “Don’t you believe [the Word] has the power to change you?” my friend admonished. His advice was so simple as to be common sense: read the Gospels. Again. Double-read the parts about Jesus’ crucifixion, which he went through “willingly, because he loved you.”

My young friend was on to something: experiencing the love of God is foundational to transformation. Smith observes that how we perceive God will inevitably affect how we treat others; therefore, we need an accurate view of God. Seeing him as the initiating, pursuing God of all comfort (rather than a dictator or detached deity) enables us to reach out to others. Moving toward suffering friends, building others up to reach their full potential in Christ, and enjoying genuine fellowship are three categories Smith examines.

Part I deals with comforting love, confessing struggles, and forgiveness. Moving sympathetically toward those in pain is the model of how God approaches us. In his humanity, Jesus invited the presence of others in his own deepest trials (e.g., Gethsemane). The suggestion that we may actually help a hurting person by our mere presence is refreshing to those of us trained not to let a counselee “vent” or just talk about the problem. Is “just listening” beneficial? Doesn’t compassion move us to action? Yes, when appropriate. In later chapters, Smith explores the outworking of serving and giving, but when a friend suffers, often the most loving thing to do is simply be there.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

True intimacy demands letting friends see the depths of our hearts. Drawing on Christ’s transparency with his followers, Smith gives helpful ways to respond to a friend who opens up her life. However, two realities coexist: we sin, and we’re sinned against. Smith demonstrates that a truly forgiving friend must see the lengths to which God will go to forgive and restore relationships—beginning in Eden and culminating at Calvary. Smith asks the rhetorical question, “Did God set himself up to be sinned against?” (52) and explains that God allowing sin in no way undermines his sovereign plan to reveal his mercy and goodness. Relieved that Smith upholds a high view of God, I agreed that incidents of sin, unavoidable between friends, lead to opportunities to extend forgiveness and thus chances for others to behold the goodness of God through us (Rom. 6:1).

While Smith promotes reconciliation, a discussion of repentance was largely absent (though he later touches on the subject of gentle confrontation). Likewise, we read of Smith seeking forgiveness from his child after “losing it,” but how did he then deal with the child’s defiance that preceded the angry confrontation?

Love That Reaches Out

In Part II, Smith examines the importance of edification and service. Understanding we’re served by Jesus marks the difference between believing we’re “here to be served” and joyfully extending service to others. Drawing on Paul’s example with diverse individuals, Smith demonstrates true friendship is based far less on commonalities than on a mutual friendship with Christ. The “pursuing love” he unpacks depicts “lost sheep diligently pursuing each other” (101), since that’s what they’ve experienced themselves from the Good Shepherd. Accountability, then, is simply an element of transparent friendship.

Smith provides an apt metaphor for counseling: “Do you see God’s gracious attitude toward those who are in trouble? He wants shepherds who will give themselves to the work of building up and pursuing people who are damaged and lost . . . who actively pursue the hurting sheep in order to nurse them back to health” (105). Encouragement lies at the heart of “one-anothering” in healthy churches. God deals with straying children by pleading, warning, and instructing—expressions of his love, and the foundation upon which all counsel, exhortation, and edification must be based.

Love That Enjoys Heaven on Earth

Though “fellowship” is a somewhat overused term in evangelicalism, it is the true sense of Christian fellowship to which Smith devotes the final section of the book. The image of Christ emptying himself and the Father welcoming unfaithful sinners shapes how we greet and interact with one another. “Reshaping our world for the sake of someone else” grows out of reverence for Christ. Smith also discusses unbiblical submission by denouncing the error of domineering, one-sided relationships. Verbal and emotional abuse are too rarely addressed in biblical counseling literature, but Smith encourages change motivated by concern for both persons’  spiritual health.

All of God’s commands regarding love reveal his relational heart. The warmth Christ has for his “friends” (John 15:15) comes through the pages of Loving Well. Enjoying true friendship with a personal God doesn’t diminish his majesty; it enables his children to display his likeness in their own relationships. Tying Scripture to real-life situations, Smith takes a relational approach to the process of biblical change—change that cannot help but occur once we’ve tasted God’s goodness personally.

Marie Notcheva is a writer and biblical counselor who specializes in eating disorders. A graduate of Jay Adams’s Institute for Nouthetic Studies, Marie counsels at Heritage Bible Chapel in Princeton, Massachusetts. She and her husband are the parents of four children. Following a 17-year battle with anorexia and bulimia, Marie began studying biblical counseling and realized the principles she had learned during her own recovery could be used to help others. Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders (Calvary Press, 2011) was the project that came out of that mission. Marie is passionate about pointing other women to Jesus Christ, the Healer of their souls.


Review of "Redeemed from the Pit" - The Sacred Pursuit

Amelia Arnold, a conference speaker and writer, has posted a review of my book, "Redeemed from the Pit" on her blog. It is very encouraging for an author to see positive reviews of her work in print!

Redeemed From the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration From the Bondage of Eating Disorders by Marie Notcheva
Interior Publications, imprint of Calvary Press, 2011
Forward is written by Martha Peace

Marie is a certified Biblical Counselor under Jay Adams’ Biblical counseling program and is currently working on her NANC certification.

Marie’s Blog: http://redeemedfromthepit.blogspot.com/
Video testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPOHvay61Lc

Summary Review:
“Disordered eating” is something that many woman today struggle with. Insecurity in appearance, food addiction, obsession with being thin, the tendency to overeat, struggles with maintaining weight; even as far as abusing your body to stay thin… these things and more are very often symptoms of a deeper issue; a deeper issue that begins in the mind, more specifically, in one’s thoughts and worship (or lack thereof) of God.

In her book, Redeemed From the Pit, Marie gives her personal testimony of her obsession with being thin and struggle with bulimia and then how she found victory and freedom in Christ. She counsels her readers of what the real issue is: sin; and what the only real solution is: realizing what Christ has done for you, repenting of your sin, and trusting and believing that you are in Christ and that He has given us what we need to have freedom and victory over the desires of the flesh!
While this book is written most specifically for women dealing with bulimia, Marie gives some great insight and counsel for women struggling with disordered eating of any kind (anorexia, overeating, struggles with weight, etc.). It is a strong Biblical guide to what our attitude should be towards our body, towards food, and points the reader towards the only One who can satisfy, comfort and perfect us: Jesus Christ.

While she recognizes that outside causes can sometimes lead to eating disorders she clearly teaches that that is no excuse. We make our own choices and we’re responsible for them. She discusses root sins (like vanity, anger, bitterness or unforgiveness, jealousy, fear of man, pride, selfishness) that can lead to one’s disordered eating and that they need to be dealt with and repented of. She also discusses how this sin (like all sins) is rooted in idolatry – the worship of something besides God and teaches what true repentance is and how we should walk in repentance on a daily basis. There’s a chapter dedicated to seeking godly counsel (how to know who to go to, who to seek counsel from), and she discusses the role of the church in counseling and the sufficiency of Scripture to give us the answers. She talks about what the Gospel is and what it means practically for the Christian that we are “in Christ”. There’s a chapter on the importance of our thinking and what it means to put off sin (or wrong thinking), and put on righteousness (or right, Christ-centered thinking). There are two chapters on the importance of forgiveness (not holding on to bitterness), a chapter on the practical side of things (like health problems that can be the result of eating disorders), and another chapter on why it’s important to tell someone about the struggle you have.

To share a few quotes:

“I had to deliberately choose, over and over to lay my wrong thinking (preoccupation with food and weight) down on the altar and reprogram my mind with the truth of God’s Word.” (p. 52)
“ ’In Christ’ clearly refers to our justified position, and carries with it the implication of obedience and being conformed to the character of Christ – not seeking to find ‘meaning’ or personal fulfillment.” (p. 99)
“Take comfort in the fact that the same Lord Who was willing to heal the lepers of Judea is also ready, willing and more than able to cleanse you. In fact, as He works in your heart, you will conquer this sin because He has already conquered it.” (p. 153)
“Throughout His Word, God assures His Children that if they will change their thinking and attitudes toward sin, He will enable them to turn around and change their ways.” (p. 175)
“God wants us to change and to bear fruit for His glory (John 15:8). The Gospel, not ‘self-help’, is the key to change (Rom 6:11, Isa 55:1-2), and we, His redeemed children, are responsible to exert effort in our sanctification (Phil 2:12).” (p. 193)
“Effective counseling grows out of discipleship, the mentoring necessary for a new Christian to grow to maturity.” (p. 199-200)
“…the best-equipped, most doctrinally sound facility in the world will not be able to help someone who does not truly desire to forsake her sin.” (p. 204)
“Just as one sin very often leads to another, disciplined training in righteousness (learning to forgive, even though it goes against our wills) can likewise lead to changed behavior and ‘putting on’ of self-control in another (overcoming food addiction).” (p. 249-250)