***DISCLAIMER: I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FOR FREE FROM MOODY PUBLISHERS TO REVIEW***
Cary Schmidt’s Stop Trying: How To Receive — Not Achieve — Your Real Identity represents the third book I have reviewed for Moody Publishers for 2021. I chose this book because it appeared to address the concept of identity. I usually cringe when I hear the term “identity” used in Christian circles (specifically from behind the pulpit). However, I had not read a Christian book pertaining to the topic of identity in a while (if ever). Moreover, I had never reviewed a book by Cary Schmidt until I reviewed this one.
The book has fifteen chapters spread amongst three parts (5 in the 1st, 4 in the 2nd, 6 in the 3rd). The three parts pertain to losing, finding and flourishing (respectively) regarding one’s identity. This book’s back cover states that in Schmidt’s book, “You’ll understand why defining your identity outside of Jesus Christ is ultimately fragile, hollow, and unsatisfying.” Unfortunately for Schmidt, those three adjectives (fragile, hollow and unsatisfying) are the same adjectives I would use to (spoiler alert) describe this book.
I shall explain.
Several things made this book fragile. First, I did not appreciate his johnny-come-lately manmade doctrines of “balsa wood” and “Splinterville” early in the book (pp. 19-20, 23, 27-33, 88, 150, 174). Moreover, I did not appreciate that he eisegeted the concept of Splinterville (identity loss) into Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. Schmidt states that Splinterville (identity loss) came to Peter during this time (p. 29). Schmidt also states, when discussing Luke 22:19-20, that Peter and his friends “were fighting for deck-space on their balsa wood vessels” (p. 29). Seeing this kind of irreverent blasphemous nonsense really made me numb and impatient with the rest of this book. Schmidt seems to also read the concepts of traditional identity, gospel identity and modern identity (or just plain identity) into some biblical texts (pp. 22-23, 35, 51, 118, 127, 162-163, 184-185). Schmidt’s eisegesis makes this book a fragile mess.
Schmidt’s book is also hollow. Throughout the book, I kept seeing the word “dream” in relation to either the Christian or a Bible character. While I (my opinion) don’t think at this time he’s quite in the “Dream Destiny Burden” crowd (which includes such heretics as Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren and Chris Hodges), he is well on his way, and that is not a good thing. What I do now is show relevant quotes that include this “dream” concept:
This identity isn’t only fragile; it’s volatile. Desires often change and conflict, or they can mature or grow over time. God designed us to pursue and realize big dreams and powerful purposes, but desires were never designed to own or define us.p. 37
Where in Scripture does it say Christians are designed to pursue and realize big dreams and powerful purposes? Scripture is actually silent on such a matter. The Bible says Christians are created for good works (some refer to this as the “doctrine of vocation”). Here are some relevant texts:
Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (NASB):
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
When a Christian wife submits to her husband in the area of leadership in the home, that is a good work. When a Christian husband reads God’s Word with his wife, that is a good work. When a Christian child obeys his/her parents in the LORD, that is a good work. When Christian employees work hard for their employers, that is a good work. Finally, think of the immediate context of this passage. Slaves had to obey their masters. How on earth can they pursue and realize big dreams while in slavery? Schmidt is spewing nonsense.
Here is Colossians 3:18-4:6 (NASB):
18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
4 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
When a Christian behaves wisely toward non-Christians (outsiders), that is a good work. When a Christian watches his/her speech, that is a good work. Notice again another “slave” passage. This “doctrine of vocation” absolutely refutes this “dream” nonsense.
The last text I consider as it pertains to good works and the doctrine of vocation is 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (NASB):
9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
When a Christian leads a quiet life, tends to one’s own business and works in his/her job as an employee, that is a good work. Simply put, Christians are created for good works. These good works are done in the mundane. The assertion that Christians are called to pursue and realize big dreams is absolute nonsense. Schmidt does the work of a snake-oil salesman by spewing this whole “dream” thing.
Here’s another quote worth refuting:
On the other hand, individuality is God’s idea. He created uniqueness and gives place to good desires and dreams. Joseph dreamed of saving his family. David dreamed of building God’s temple. Abram dreamed for a son. Peter dreamed for Messiah. Paul dreamed to preach the Gospel in Rome. God created the heart to dream, and He realizes our unique design: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4) and “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!” (Ps. 20:4).p. 75
Notice also that Schmidt promotes this nonsensical and narcissistic “doctrine of uniqueness” that I have refuted in prior articles of mine (see also pp. 117, 157). The “good works” passages I cited earlier help refute this. Notice also Schmidt’s ripping verses out of context. Finally, he absolutely blasphemes regarding Joseph, David, Abram, Peter and Paul. Notice how he does not cite a single biblical text to support his blasphemy (perhaps even bearing false witness, a breaking of the 9th commandment) regarding those five characters.
Before I go on, I’d like to show two other passages that help refute this “doctrine of uniqueness” thing.
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,Psalm 39:5 (NKJV)
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah
When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity,Psalm 39:11 (NKJV)
You make his beauty melt away like a moth;
Surely every man is vapor. Selah
If we are so unique, why is every person a vapor at his/her best state? If we are so unique, why is Jesus Christ the only one to have risen from the dead three days after dying? This is something to think about.
The final quote I show also includes the three identities I mentioned earlier in this book:
Traditional identity says, “Obey out of duty.” Modern identity says, “Disobey in liberty.” Gospel identity says, “You are loved, so respond in loving obedience.” (See John 14:15; 15:10). Traditional identity says, “Stifle your dreams and desires for the sake of others.” Modern identity says, “Express your dreams despite others.” Gospel identity says, “Follow Jesus, the fulfillment of better dreams that will move you to love others.” (See John 13:34).p. 118
Follow Jesus, the fulfillment of better dreams? What is it with Schmidt’s fascination with dreams? While this “dream” quote isn’t as bad as the other two, perhaps you now see why I cringe at how the concept of “identity” is used in evangelical circles. After all, which of the early church fathers taught “gospel identity”? Also, isn’t it better as a Christian that I follow Jesus because He saved me from my sins?
Finally, Schmidt’s book is unsatisfying. There are no less than three reasons for this particular label. First, he positively cites Tim Keller (pp. 52, 72, 108-109). Keller is a false teacher who claims that the Scriptures say that if you have white skin, you’re involved in injustice, “even if you didn’t do it.” Since Schmidt is a pastor, this positive citation is a violation of Titus 1:9, a verse that calls on the pastor to both exhort in sound doctrine and refute that which contradicts it. It’s unacceptable and unsatisfying that Schmidt positively cites a false teacher who contradicts sound Christian doctrine.
Second, Schmidt’s Scripture quotations left much to be desired. Oftentimes, he cites verses either out of context or without utilizing ellipses that show he has not cited verses in full (pp. 11, 41, 75, 80, 88, 116, 123, 125, 137, 152-153). While one could cite single verses in a way that works, I particularly don’t care for the type of Scripture-citing that does not in reality show what it claims to show. There is no less than one instance in which he does cite a large chunk of Scripture (p. 149). However, those instances are the exception, not the rule.
Finally, Schmidt’s book is unsatisfying because of its noticeable emphasis on the concept of experiencing either the Gospel or something related (pp. 90, 116-118, 129, 133, 136, 139, 202-204, 209, 212-215, 220, 228). Here are some relevant quotes:
The essence of a gospel identity grows as we immerse our hearts into what Jesus has done for us. We can know about it without actually experiencing it, but it’s the experience that transforms us.p. 116
Experiencing the gospel humbles you organically because you know, apart from Jesus, you are hopeless. But that humility is not false or self-deprecating because you know Jesus considered you worth dying for.p. 136
MY STRUGGLE has persistently resided between knowing the gospel on one hand and experiencing it on the other. Moving it from my head to my heart is a daily necessity, and it is God’s carefully orchestrated loss in my life that has most activated gospel growth.p. 209
I do believe Cary Schmidt does know the Gospel, for he makes it a main point on at least two occasions in this book (pp. 106, 190-192, with 190-192 explaining the tragic and gripping story regarding Amber Guyger, Botham Jean and Brandt Jean). Nevertheless, what’s with the emphasis on experiencing the Gospel? No biblical text makes verbatim mention of experiencing the Gospel. The apostle Paul made clear that the Gospel was outside himself (1 Corinthians 15). Schmidt’s “experience” emphasis reminded me of quotes I often cite from an important work called Christianity & Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. Consider this excerpt (pp. 80-81):
It is not true at all, then, that modern liberalism is based upon the authority of Jesus. It is obliged to reject a vast deal that is absolutely essential in Jesus’ example and teaching —notably His consciousness of being the heavenly Messiah. The real authority, for liberalism, can only be “the Christian consciousness” or “Christian experience.” But how shall the findings of the Christian consciousness be established? Surely not by a majority vote of the organized Church. Such a method would obviously do away with all liberty of conscience. The only authority, then, can be individual experience; truth can only be that which “helps” the individual man. Such an authority is obviously no authority at all; for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and when once truth is regarded only as that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth. The result is an abysmal skepticism.
The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very Word of God. Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s Word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Charta of Christian liberty.
It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.
This “experience” concept Schmidt promotes is not helpful. While he does cite God’s Word throughout his book, he often mangles it and treats it irreverently (especially when it comes to the Apostle Peter). Speaking of Peter, Peter had something to say about the authority of God’s Word in 2 Peter 1:16-21 (ESV):
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s majesty. The specific event referred to in this passage is Jesus Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). The apostles saw it with their own eyes. And yet, Peter is elevating the written Word of God as more authoritative than that (I’m sure) epic and awesome first-hand experience of Jesus Christ Himself. That is some profound statement. And yet, Cary Schmidt is placing an emphasis on experience. That is simply unsatisfying.
As I mentioned, I’m sure Cary Schmidt understands the Gospel. He likely understands that by default, we are all born dead in trespasses and sins.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains:
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9). Revelation 21:1-8 states the following (NASB):
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be anymourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost. 7 The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
The Bible is clear that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. No adulterer, no murderer, no idolater, no unbeliever (among others) will inherit the kingdom of God (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sin has a very serious consequence.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to solve the sin problem 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
While I believe Schmidt understands the Gospel, he completely botched this book. It’s a fragile, hollow and unsatisfying mess with more bones than meat. I now have more evidence for why I cringe at the concept of “identity” in evangelical circles. I’ve seen bad sermons about this concept. I’ve read a bad book on this concept. If you are having trouble with your identity, check your ID card and/or birth certificate. If you want to know your standing with God, refer back to the Gospel presentation I showed in this post. If you want to spare yourself a headache, stay away from Cary Schmidt’s Stop Trying: How To Receive — Not Achieve — Your Real Identity.