Friday, November 30, 2012

Therapeutic Gospel, Part 5

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 2Part 3, Part 4
The Therapeutic Gospel
by David Powlison

Which gospel?
Which gospel will you live? Which gospel will you preach? Which needs will you awaken and address in others? Which Christ will be your people’s Christ? Will it be the christette who massages felt needs? Or the Christ who turns the world upside down and makes all things new?
The Grand Inquisitor was very tenderhearted towards human felt need—very sympathetic to the things that all people everywhere seek with all their heart, very sensitive to the difficulty of changing anyone. But he proved to be a monster in the end. There is a saying in mercy ministries that runs like this, “If you don’t seek to meet people’s physical needs, it’s heartless. But if you don’t give people the crucified, risen and returning Christ, it’s hopeless.” Jesus fed hungry people bread, and Jesus offered His broken body as the bread of eternal life. It is ultimately cruel to leave people in their sins, captive to their instinctive desires, in despair, under curse. The current therapeutic gospel sounds tender-hearted at first. It is so sensitive to pressure points of ache and disappointment. But in the end it is cruel and Christ-less. It does not foster true self-knowledge. It does not rewrite the script of the world. It creates no prayers or songs.
We must be no less sensitive but far more discerning. Jesus Christ turns human need upside down, creating prayer. He is the inexpressible Gift of gifts, creating song. And He gives all good gifts, both now and forever. Let every knee bow, and let everything that has breath praise the Lord.[1]

The Once-for-All Gospel
The real gospel is the good news of the Word made flesh, the sin-bearing Savior, the resurrected Lord: “I am the living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:18). This Christ turns the world upside down. One prime effect of the Holy Spirit’s inworking presence and power is the rewiring of our sense of felt needs. Because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we keenly feel a different set of needs when God comes into view and when we understand that we stand or fall in His gaze. My instinctual cravings are replaced (sometimes quickly, always gradually) by the growing awareness of true, life-and-death needs:
• I need mercy above all else:
“Lord, have mercy upon me.”
“For Your name’s sake, pardon my iniquity for it is very great.”
• I want to learn wisdom, and unlearn willful self-preoccupation:
“Nothing you desire compares with her.”
• I need to learn to love both God and neighbor:
“The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
• I long for God’s name to be honored, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth.
• I want Christ’s glory, lovingkindness, and goodness to be seen on earth, to fill the earth as obviously as water fills the ocean.
• I need God to change me from who I am by instinct, choice, and practice.
• I want Him to deliver me from my obsessive self-righteousness, to slay my lust for self-vindication, so that I feel my need for the mercies of Christ, so that I learn to treat others gently.
• I need God’s mighty and intimate help in order to will and to do those things that last unto eternal life, rather than squandering my life on vanities.
• I want to learn how to endure hardship and suffering in hope, having my faith simplified, deepened, and purified.
• I need to learn, to listen, to worship, to delight, to trust, to give thanks, to cry out, to take refuge, to obey, to serve, to hope.
• I want the resurrection to eternal life:
“We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
• I need God Himself:
“Show me Your glory.”
“Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Make it so, Father of mercies. Make it so, Redeemer of all that is dark and broken.
Prayer expresses desire. Prayer expresses your felt sense of need. Lord, have mercy upon us. Song expresses gladness and gratitude at desire fulfilled. Song expresses your felt sense of who God is and all that He gives. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. But there are no prayers and songs in the Bible that take their cues from the current therapeutic felt needs. Imagine, “Our Father in heaven, help me feel that I’m okay just the way I am. Protect me this day from having to do anything I find boring. Hallelujah, I’m indispensable, and what I’m doing is really having an impact on others, so I can feel good about my life.” Have mercy upon us! Instead, in our Bible we hear a thousand cries of need and shouts of delight that orient us to our real needs and to our true Savior.[2]

[1] Powlison, D. (2007). The Therapeutic Gospel. In The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2007 (6). Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.
[2] Powlison, D. (2007). The Therapeutic Gospel. In The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2007 (3–4). Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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