Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Therapeutic Gospel, Part 2

The following is part of an article written by David Powlison in 2007. His writing is so insightful, no commentary is needed. Over this next week, portions of that article will appear here. 
See: Part 1

The Therapeutic Gospel
by David Powlison

The Contemporary Therapeutic Gospel
The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of twenty-first century, middle-class Americans are different from the felt needs that Dostoevsky tapped into. We take food supply and political stability for granted. We find our miracle-substitute in the wonders of technology. Middle-class felt needs are less primal. They 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.
• 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 gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires.
• I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears.
• I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.
The modern, middle-class version of therapeutic gospel takes its cues from this particular family of desires. It appeals to psychological felt needs, not the physical felt needs that typically arise in difficult social conditions. (The contemporary health-and-wealth gospel and obsession with miracles express something more like the Grand Inquisitor’s older version of therapeutic gospel.)
In this new gospel, the great evils to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead. These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. 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.
The therapeutic outlook is not a bad thing in its proper place. By definition, a medical-therapeutic gaze holds in view problems of physical suffering and breakdown. In literal medical intervention, a therapy treats an illness, trauma, or deficiency. You don’t call someone to repentance for their colon cancer, broken leg, or beriberi. You seek to heal. So far, so good.
But in today’s therapeutic gospel the medical way of looking at the world is metaphorically extended to these psychological desires. These are defined just like a medical problem. You feel bad; the therapy makes you feel better. The definition of the disease bypasses the sinful human heart. You are not the agent of your deepest problems, but merely a sufferer and victim of unmet needs. The offer of a cure skips over the sin-bearing Savior. Repentance from unbelief, willfulness, and wickedness is not the issue. Sinners are not called to a U-turn and to the new life that is life indeed. Such a gospel massages self-love. There is nothing in its inner logic to make you love God and love any other person besides yourself. This therapeutic gospel may often mention the word “Jesus,” but He has morphed into the meeter-of-your-needs, not the Savior from your sins. It corrects Jesus’ work. The therapeutic gospel unhinges the gospel.[1]

[1] Powlison, D. (2007). The Therapeutic Gospel. In The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2007 (2–3). Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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