By Phil Webber

Books titled The Art of . . . claim they can teach the reader how to do something—cooking, public speaking, entertaining—in a manner that is personally gratifying and sure to win others’ approval. Such volumes are nothing new: handbooks on the art of love, war, poetry, and much more have existed since antiquity.

There is nothing wrong about wanting, for example, to speak more effectively in public. The problem comes if we feel unfulfilled when others do not praise us for our French pastries, applaud our speech, rave about our interior decorating, or otherwise recognize our achievements to the degree we desire. An unhealthy longing for such recognition seems to have plagued Diotrephes, who craved preeminence within his congregation (3 John 9–10). If I may paraphrase Luke 12:15, we need to remember that life does not consist in the abundance of the acclaim we receive.

What about books of more encompassing scope, such as the art of living? The website of one bookseller offers 10 screen-pages of titles related to that topic. These books appear to range from works of solid edification to self-help “feel good” advice.