Monday, September 15, 2008

David Powlison on the Therapeutic Gospel

from the Boundless Webzine (a Focus on the Family website)

Here are excerpts from part 1:
When Jesus takes us as His disciple, when our Father takes us as his children, we no longer need to be consumed by the craving to be loved, to make money, to be comfortable, to be beautiful, to find sexual ecstasy, to be successful, to control our world. We no longer need to prove that we are superior beings, righteous eagles who for too long have had to hang out with all the turkeys and other assorted idiots.

Of course, our renegade desires don't just give up on the spot and quit causing mischief. An inner battle ensues (Galatians 5:16-17). But by God's mercy, we deeply long for the kinds of things that wise men and women long for in the psalms and prayers of the Bible. The dictatorship of previous longings for love, achievement, self preoccupation and other garden-variety human wants is overthrown by grace.

God doesn't gratify our instinctive longings. He forgives them, and then changes what we most want. This is one facet of the gospel taught in the Bible....
...The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of 21st century, middle-class Americans ... express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self interest:
  • I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I've gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally no matter what I do.
  • I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact.
  • I want to affirm that I am OK, to feel good about myself, to have a sense of self-confidence, to assert my opinions and desires no matter how I may be living my life.
  • I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears and warm my belly.
  • I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

In this new gospel, the great evils to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, my deepest problems are merely limited to what has happened to me. It's not something about me that has also gone woefully astray.

It's only about my sense of rejection because others have not loved me thoughtfully and well. It's my corrosive experience of life's vanity, because I haven't been able to have the impact I want, to be recognized as Somebody Who Matters. It's my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence, because my self-esteem is wobbly. It's the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off. It's how so much of life is routine; I love the adrenaline rush, and I don't like it when a long, slow road lies ahead.

The gospel is enlisted to serve these particular cravings; Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.

HT: Justin Taylor

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