The Gospel vs. Christianized Therapeutic Deism
The other night I was reading David Wells’ plenary address to the 2007 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The address was titled “Christian Discipleship in a Postmodern World.”
Part of Wells argument pointed out that we live in a culture obsessed with ‘display’ where we can “create our own lifestyle and image.” He showed examples from our culture of our obsession with “projecting our own individuality and style” and how it dominates our way of thinking.
The point, we are captivated with ourselves. So much so that ‘we’ have become the center of our own reality, and we insist on asserting our own autonomy.
Some of you are thinking…”thank you captain obvious.” (I admit, this post is a little ironic considering that I am writing on “my blog”)
Here is where all this social analysis becomes important. Our faith is not formed in a vacuum. Many people in our culture think that the chief end of Christianity is to “make us feel better, help us make better choices, and resolve troubles.” For many Americans the gospel of Jesus Christ is about ‘themselves.’
And this becomes the message that many preachers ‘sell’ their people every week. It’s what many of the books on the shelves at the Christian book store push. It’s why we offer so many classes at our churches that have very little to do with developing true gospel maturity- seriously, think about it.
We need to realize that the point of the Gospel is not to make us “feel good” about ourselves- in and of ourselves we have no reason to feel good about who we are. The point is that we all are radically depraved sinners and Christ is our only hope! The point of the Gospel is for us to joy in who Jesus Christ is, and what He alone can offer us!
The purpose of the Gospel is not the “help us make better choices”– but to show us that we cannot be saved by our own moral goodness (making all the ‘right choices’). The goal of the church is not to develop self willed morality in our people, but a gospel centered heart that understands and exposes sinful nature- and turns to Christ as our only hope! This kind of heart results in obedient lives.
The Gospel does not simply “resolve our troubles” but shows us that we have so many troubles that we need to be saved, we must trust in something else other than ourselves, namely Jesus Christ.
But, here is where Wells nails it-
In a culture obsessed with display, where I can project any image of “myself” I desire, or ‘be who I want you to think I am’, it becomes very easy to ignore who we really are. Or, to put it another way, it becomes very easy to project to our Christian friends ‘that which we are not.’
This is where thinking deeply about God’s word comes into play.
The Word of God is what “summons us to come outside of ourselves to know the God who transcends all cultures and times.” It is by this Word- that God “intrudes upon us, and invades our private space.”
Wells’ makes the argument that “we are captivated with ourselves” even stronger by pointing out that “it is entirely possible to affirm the inspiration of Scripture and yet miss its whole point…Scripture is not a manual for success, nor yet a textbook for therapeutic help, but the Word of God.”
This means that we- as Christians- need to be honest about who we are in and of ourselves, who God is, and who we are in Christ.
God and only God can break this captivity to ourselves and to our own autonomous subjectivity. What I fear is that the gospel message (for many people) promotes nothing more than “Christianized Therapeutic Deism” rather than a God exalting- humble realization of our own sin and a deep confidence in Jesus Christ.
May God’s Spirit do a deep work in the American church.