Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Therapeutic Gospel, Part 3

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, Part 2
The Therapeutic Gospel
by David Powlison

Good Goods, Bad Gods [Part 1]

The things offered by the contemporary therapeutic gospel are a bit trickier to interpret. The odor of self-interest and self-obsession clings closely to that wish list of “I want—.” But even these, carefully reframed and reinterpreted, do gesture in the direction of a good gift. The overall package of felt needs is systematically misaligned, but the pieces can be properly understood. Any “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6) makes itself plausible by offering Lego-pieces of reality assembled into a structure that contradicts revealed truth. Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve was plausible only because it incorporated many elements of reality, continually gesturing in the direction of truth, even while steadily guiding away from the truth: “Look, a beautiful and desirable tree. And God has said that the test will reveal both good and evil, with the possibility of life—not death—rising from your choice. Just as God is wise, so you, the chooser, can become like God in wisdom. Come now and eat.” So close, yet so far away. Almost so, but the exact opposite.
Consider the five elements we have identified with the therapeutic gospel.
Need for love? It is surely a good thing to know that you are both known and loved. God, who searches the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, also sets His steadfast love upon us. However all this is radically different from the instinctual craving to be accepted for who I am. Christ’s love comes pointedly and personally despite who I am. You are accepted for who Christ is, because of what He did, does, and will do. God truly accepts you, and if God is for you, who can be against you? But in doing this, He does not affirm and endorse what you are like. Rather, He sets about changing you into a fundamentally different kind of person. In the real gospel you feel deeply known and loved, but your relentless “need for love” has been overthrown.
Need for significance? It is surely a good thing for the works of your hands to be established forever: gold, silver, and precious stones; not wood, hay, and straw. It is good when what you do with your life truly counts, and when your works follow you into eternity. Vanity, futility, and ultimate insignificance register the curse upon our work life—even midcourse, not just when we retire, or when we die, or on the Day of Judgment. But the real gospel inverts the order of things presupposed by the therapeutic gospel. The craving for impact and significance—one of the typical “youthful lusts” that boil up within us—is merely idolatrous when it acts as Director of Operations in the human heart. God does not meet your need for significance; He meets your need for mercy and deliverance from your obsession with personal significance. When you turn from your enslavement and turn to God, then your works do start to count for good. The gospel of Jesus and the fruit of faith are not tailored to “meet your needs.” He frees from the tyranny of felt needs, remakes you to fear God and keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13). In the divine irony of grace, that alone makes what you do with your life of lasting value.[1]

[1] Powlison, D. (2007). The Therapeutic Gospel. In The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2007 (4–5). Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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