Friday, June 08, 2007

The trouble with therapeutic preaching

Perhaps I came off sounding rather harsh yesterday. Let me explain:

The therapeutic model dominates modern preaching. The idea is, people need most of all to be comforted. They're hurting. They're "broken." They suffer addictions, depressions, abusive relationships, broken homes, lousy jobs. They come to church needing to be told authoritatively that all will be well. They need to feel better.

And so the modern preacher sets about serving that need. And yet the therapeutic model of preaching is strikingly divergent from much--though certainly not all--new testament preaching. In fact, when therapy is the dominant use to which we put the Scriptures, then we will pick and choose the passages that seem the most helpful, and stay away from those that may seem disturbing. In fact, we will not be allowing the Bible to interpret itself, but will be sifting it through a therapeutic sieve. This use of Scripture is in fact a serious misuse.

Now, this is not to say that many people are not hurting and unhappy. Neither is it to suggest that the Bible is not a source of comfort. I have needed such encouragement in my life, and no doubt will need it again. But how many are there who are always getting comfort, but are never for long comforted? How many are there that seem, in fact, addicted to therapy? They come to your prayer group. They tell you their problems (more or less the same each time). You read them some encouraging promises from the Bible, you lay hands on them and pray emphatically. They cry, they feel better. They thank you with great emotion. Next week, they're back for more, just as down and disheartened as ever.

What's more, the therapeutic model is not essentially missional. It seems more often to keep people in a condition of dependence than to lead them out of darkness and into light. And in the end this spectacle holds out no promise to the unbeliever that is not merely a semblance of the world's own rather paltry promise--I can make you feel better . . . for a while.


Anonymous said...

i am glad that you went in a little deeper...thanks

SLW said...

As a preacher, I find this fascinating and thought-provoking. Sorry I came upon so late.

Bob Spencer said...

SLW, happy to have you. Thanks for stopping by!