Saturday, December 01, 2007

On the Connection between the Therapeutic Gospel and Christless Christianity

David Powlinson wrote a brilliant article called The Therapeutic Gospel, in which he says this:
It’s structured to give people what they want, not to change what they want. It centers exclusively around the welfare of man and temporal happiness. It discards the glory of God in Christ. It forfeits the narrow, difficult road that brings deep human flourishing and eternal joy. This therapeutic gospel accepts and covers for human weaknesses, seeking to ameliorate the most obvious symptoms of distress. It makes people feel better. It takes human nature as a given, because human nature is too hard to change. It does not want the King of Heaven to come down. It does not attempt to change people into lovers of God, given the truth of who Jesus is, what he is like, what he does.
As I mentioned in yesterday's cranky post, this sort of preaching has a temporary impact. It does have an impact, and many people will be moved, relieved, even delighted by such preaching, but by next week the same people seem to bear the same burdens as before. This sort of preaching is at once attractive and ineffectual.

Therapeutic preaching forgoes all talk of sin, and addresses issues like worry, stress, depression, etc. But the real problem is not addressed, and so the real problem is not truly dealt with. The problem, that is, that is at the root of all worry, stress, depression, etc. It may seem to be suppressed momentarily, but it always comes back with a vengeance.

Sin. A nearly forgotten word in many churches, my own included. But in ignoring the problem of sin we ignore the very thing that God focused his unrelenting attention on from the time Adam and Eve fell. The sin-problem. And by ignoring sin, we ignore God's ultimate provision for sin, the real reason there is a church, a body of Christ, a people destined, despite their sin, to enter into the presence of God forever. In other words, we ignore Jesus.

Do you see how these things are related? Christless Christianity, to borrow a phrase used by Michael Horton, is the result. Perhaps it is not a problem in your church. Praise God! And yet I notice that it is a problem in many prominent Christian ministries, and it is a problem, to tell you the truth, in my own church (I say this in sorrow, not crankiness).

In fact, some of us think it is the great problem facing the church today. There is much at stake here, and a kind of movement is gathering steam among believers to identify this problem. There is a call for a return to the preaching of Christ--who he was, what he accomplished, and why it should matter to us today.

Yes, I'm repeating myself. I think I'll go on repeating myself. This is the crisis of our times, not simply a crisis for churches, but a crisis for the world. If Christ is not preached, sin is not addressed, and the calling to which is one of us as believers has been called ("go into all the world and make disciples...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you") will have been trampled into the dust.

I'm going to finish this post with a quote from a blog I've just recently discovered, called In a post called Salt, Not Sugar, blogger Ryan offers these words:
Call it what you want, but “sugary Christianity” is destroying the atonement right before our eyes. It certainly seems harmless; after all, we want to include people and make them feel good about themselves. But all we’re really doing is giving them a nice, comforting pat on the back before we watch them plummet into eternal damnation, doing nothing to prevent their fall. We neglect to tell people about God’s wrath and their utter hopelessness without Christ, yet we call this “seeker-sensitive” Christianity.
Now that's something to think about!

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