Thursday, November 29, 2012

Therapeutic Gospel, Part 4

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 1Part 2, Part 3
The Therapeutic Gospel
by David Powlison
Good Goods, Bad Gods [Part 2]

Need for self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-assertion? To gain a confident sense of your identity is a great good. Ephesians is strewn with several dozen “identity statements,” because by this the Spirit motivates a life of courageous faith and love. You are God’s—among the saints, chosen ones, adopted sons, beloved children, citizens, slaves, soldiers; part of the workmanship, wife, and dwelling place—every one of these in Christ. No aspect of your identity is self-referential, feeding your “self-esteem.” Your opinion of yourself is far less important than God’s opinion of you, and accurate self-assessment is derivative of God’s assessment. True identity is God-referential. True awareness of yourself connects to high esteem for Christ. Great confidence in Christ correlates to a vote of fundamental no confidence in and about yourself. God nowhere replaces diffidence and people-pleasing by self-assertiveness. In fact, to assert your opinions and desires, as is, marks you as a fool. Only as you are freed from the tyranny of your opinions and desires are you free to assess them accurately, and then to express them appropriately.
Need for pleasure? In fact, the true gospel promises endlessly joyous experience, drinking from the river of delights (Ps. 36). This describes God’s presence. But as we have seen in each case, this is keyed to the reversal of our instinctive cravings, not to their direct satisfaction. The way of joy is the way of suffering, endurance, small obediences, willingness to identify with human misery, willingness to overthrow your most persuasive desires and instincts. I don’t need to be entertained. But I absolutely need to learn to worship with all my heart.
Need for excitement and adventure? To participate in Christ’s kingdom is to play a part within the Greatest Action-Adventure Story Ever Told. But the paradox of redemption again turns the whole world upside down. The real adventure takes the path of weakness, struggle, endurance, patience, small kindnesses done well. The road to excellence in wisdom is unglamorous. Other people might take better vacations and have a more thrilling marriage than yours. The path of Jesus calls forth more grit than thrill. He needed endurance far more than He needed excitement. His kingdom might not cater to our cravings for derring-do and thrill-seeking, but “solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.”
We say “yes” and “amen” to all good gifts. But get first things first. The contemporary therapeutic gospel in its many forms takes our gimmees at face value. It grabs for the goodies. It erases worship of the Giver, whose greatest gift to us is mercy toward those whose desires are disordered by instinct, enculturation, choice, and habit. He calls us to radical repentance. Bob Dylan described the therapeutic’s alternative in a remarkable phrase: “You think He’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires” (from “When You Gonna Wake Up?”). Second things are exalted as servants of Number One.
Get first things first. Get the gospel of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and glory. Live the gospel of repentance, faith, and transformation into the image of the Son. Proclaim the gospel of the coming day when eternal life and eternal death are revealed—the Day of Christ.[1]

[1] Powlison, D. (2007). The Therapeutic Gospel. In The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2007 (5–6). Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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