I visited a friend's church two weeks ago. The pastor spoke on the Gospel. Truthfully, it had been quite some time since I had heard the case for salvation--unprettied, uncensored and unblemished. Just this: God loves us. Adam and Eve sinned. Sin entered the world. We need a Savior to save us from our sin. We can live in victory and refrain from lifestyles of sin.
Although the pastor of a mega church himself, this pastor referred to "a certain mega church pastor whose name shall not be called" who strips the Gospel of everything except for the "We can live in victory part." Some call it "fluffy Christianity" others call it "ChristianISH" and still some even render it heresy. I've always been aware that somehow, someway, deep down the "we are champions and we can pick ourselves up" doctrine just make our walks with Jesus look...well..too easy. I remember being at a young adult gathering a few years back. One of the young men exclaimed "If [that same so-and-so preacher] were a doctor, he'd be sued for malpractice." Certainly, when it comes to this sort of preaching, opinions run strong on either side.
Yet, I've never heard it explained the way Dr. David Powlison explained it in a series of articles entitled "The Therapeutic Gospel" over on one of my favorite online spots, Focus on the Family's Boundless Webzine. Admittedly, the writings start off slowly. Once momentum builds, nevertheless, Powlison presents the dangers of this therapeutic brand of the Good News. He argues that Jesus was never meant to stroke your ego but to spare you from hell fire.
The Therapeutic Gospels characteristics? Well, they're here:
- 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.
Meanwhile, the Once-for-all Gospel dictates that:
- I need mercy above all else:
"Lord, have mercy on me."
"For Your name's sake, pardon my iniquity for it is very great."
- I want to learn wisdom, and unlearn willful self-preoccupation:
"Nothing you desire compares with her."
- I need to learn to love both God and neighbor:
"The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith."
- I long for God's name to be honored, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth, for His whole church to be glorified together.
- I want Christ's glory and loving kindness and goodness to be seen on earth, to fill the earth as obviously as water fills the ocean.
- I need God to be my refuge and deliverer, setting me free from enemies, sufferings, sorrows, death, temptations.
- I long for the Lord to wipe away all tears.
- I need God to change me from who I am by instinct, choice and practice.
- I want Him to deliver me from my obsessive self-righteousness, to slay my lust for self-vindication, so that I feel my need for the mercies of Christ, so that I learn to treat others gently.
- I need God's mighty and intimate help in order to will and to do those things that last unto eternal life, rather than squandering my life on vanities.
- I want to learn how to endure hardship and suffering in hope, having my faith simplified, deepened and purified.
- I need to learn, to listen, to worship, to delight, to trust, to give thanks, to cry out, to take refuge, to obey, to serve, to hope.
- I want to attain the resurrection to eternal life:
"We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."
- I need God himself:
"Show me Your glory."
"Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus."
In short, Powlison writes that the therapeutic gospel is "enlisted to serve [psychological 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."
What are your thoughts? Is this movement dangerous for believers, or is this the beginning of a mighty revival?
Ana Valeska is a not-so-naughty librarian, college instructor, book editor and--yeah,baby--NEWD columnist. Her forthcoming work, Tu Eres (You Are), is a devotional based on modern-day worship psalms. Ana Valeska longs to help redeem urban, young adult culture for the Lord Jesus. Her daughter, Selena, and cat, Puffles, have her wrapped around their little fingers.