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Why I’m Critical of “Christian Self-Help” teaching part 2

January 31, 2013

Continued from https://erictb.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/why-im-critical-of-christian-self-help-teaching

Being “made like Christ”

The final answer for suffering is God “making us like Him” (based on “being conformed into the image of His Son”, based on Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49, Phil. 3:21, 2 Cor. 3:18, Eph. 4:13), but then why is SUFFERING the only thing that makes us like Him? (The Bible doesn’t actually say this, but the teaching does seem to leave that impression). Is suffering (and being patient and merciful in it) the only attribute of His character? It may be the most important thing Christ did for us, but to define “being like Christ” that way really seems to reduce Him to much less than what He is. Taking this along with the eternal torment of all unrepentant sinners, and groups like Calvinists believing God actually ordains people for this, it seems like God is all about pain. Why is that? Has anyone ever thought about it?

The problem with this teaching, is it leads to an assumption of the “image of Christ” being behavioral, and since it would be behavioral perfection, and we know we do not measure up to that, then this “being made into the image of Christ” then becomes a mundane “growth process” not much different than what any non-believer can do.

Here, CRI’s Hank Hanegraaf lays down the typical formula, (in answer to the question “Does Repetitive Sin Mean We Aren’t Saved?”)

As you get into the Word of God, and get the Word of God into you, you will have a residue of power within you, to withstand the forces and the temptations that come your way from the world, the flesh and the devil. Not only that, but the intake of scripture is the missing link between meditating on scripture and effective prayer life. So meditating on the Word of God helps to develop a relationship with the lover of your soul, and the more that develops, the more sanctified you will become, which is to say you will become more and more like Christ; and you will find those bad habits eventually falling off like barnacles. […but we will always have bad habits, because we will be imperfect until the day we die…]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dRxKnNmDyE

However, Non-Christians get over bad habits as well. Non-Christians can suffer and grow to be more patient or compassionate. You might try to say that this is just the image of Christ in general (which all men originally have, and was marred in the fall, but still present in all men), but it is clearly made exclusive to believers in many of these statements.

This might seem like nitpicking, but when it comes to something that makes the exclusive claims the Gospel does, it should really be something other than a regular, natural process. Else, you’re just cheapening the whole concept.

What “Image of Christ” really meant was the positional perfection of being totally freed from the condemnation of the Law, which was passing away “shortly” back then (the destruction of the Temple 40 years after Christ’s ascension). That system rendered everyone as filthy sinners, but when covered by Christ, we are seen as “perfect” (even though our behavior is still not).
This is connected with the equally misunderstood concept of “the flesh”. What “flesh” really meant in Paul’s usage was using our physical lineage as the means of reconciliation with God (along with our own efforts at keeping the Law passed down through that heritage). It was referring primarily to the Christ-rejecting Israelites, who thought their status as Abraham’s children made them “the chosen”, rather then one’s position in Christ. That was determined by physical blood lineage, or, “the flesh”. So Paul shows that all your physical nature can do for you spiritually is produce sins (transgressions of the Law; “missing the mark”) such as lust and anger and the rest. In contrast, were the “fruits of the Spirit”.

The Church has taken this as teaching a behavioral “growth process” where the entire purpose of our “walk” is to develop the better behaviors of those “fruits”. This is connected with “running the race”, but most admit we never actually get to the end. Is that really “winning” then? (And then what is the purpose of this when we are supposedly, instantly “perfected” at death? At this point, they’ll usually revert the purpose of this “growth” to “service to others” now, in this life).
But Paul’s point is that “Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:23). The whole point of Galatians is Law vs Grace, and the walk in the Spirit is about love being the motivation (v.13, 14), and love is what produces the fruits of the Spirit, not Law. Yet “law” is precisely what is being preached in most of the church, in the name of “crucifying the flesh” in order to “walk in the Spirit”.

That this is not what is being described in these passages is proven by the fact that it must be broken down in the teaching into mechanical “principles” and “steps” and a slow “growth” that is not really exclusive to Christians. This is precisely what Paul was calling “the flesh even as the aim was to keep the Law by trying to not commit sins!
So even if it appears to “work”, and you outwardly sin “less”, you’re still preaching something wrong to others, that will likely have less positive results in them, but then this is just attributed to “how hard it is for the flesh to overcome sin”; if not the person not trying hard enough, or perhaps not even really repenting.

The teaching is right, that the problem is “the flesh”, but it’s the teaching that is actually telling people to rely on the flesh (even while speaking against this), by misunderstanding what “the spirit” really is about.

Who’s Side are you on?

It also seems to put a divine stamp on the cold world of suffering, where the teachers tend to dissociate Him from it (even as some insist He is “using” it or whatever). In other words, God is against this world of injustice. Yet, it seems this is the way He wants it. If He wants me to be prosperous, and for you to be poor, that is His “secret counsel”, and He gives you the “grace” to “endure” it, so you better be “content” and change your attitude. It’s obvious all the places one can go [and where people have gone] with that sort of philosophy.
There’s a whole history of these things being used to pacify people, to maintain the status quo. The teachers often sound very compassion-less, telling everyone their pain is for some good purpose.

The typical testimonial approach takes a person who had some horrible experience or disability, and he or she just “chose” to think positively, through “faith”. The person shines from his good choice and attitude, and of course, you feel like a stupid heel for complaining about your far lesser problems. The latest one, just today, I see these postings on Facebook, of Rick Warren on one of Oprah’s shows, and they bring out this guy who had no arms or legs, to prove the point of “choice” as a coping strategy. “This is gonna shut your mouth” she says!

But this ignores other factors. Success is a combination I call “Timing, Talent, Temperament“. This is completely ignored in both American self-help and politics alike, where the successful are praised as simply making all the right choices, which implies that the less fortunate are only suffering for their own mistakes, up to “laziness”, even. And even those three things can be further influenced by various other psychological factors. But again, the trend generally is “one size fits all”.
Timing may have been bad, and his talent limited, but his temperament seemed to be such that the problem could be seen as more of a challenge, even after earlier suicidal feelings (He sounds like a Choleric). In the case of this guy on Oprah, his parents supported him, and he was of a temperament to be able to receive their more motivational “coaching” style “encouragement” (“You can either be angry for what you don’t have, or be thankful for what you do have”, which to me seems cold and trite, and would have been discouraging!)
Not everyone has this natural disposition. Too much is being placed on human will.

(And I couldn’t help wondering how many of these teachers would have handled what was their biggest fear 30 years ago; of being attacked or conquered by the Soviet regime, in addition to the “forces of godlessness” taking over from within; the way they all screamed about those “threats” in those days. Where was this “thankful attitude” then? Even today, with the gun control debate, the hostility towards Obama for the economy and other issues, and the fear toward Muslims, we wonder are people practicing what they preach? Though to be fair, most of these teachers today don’t really say much about politics anymore. But a few decades ago was a totally different story).

They even added “Choice” as a fifth card suit in a poker analogy (which one YouTube commenter points out seems to imply that God is the poker “player”) of what they see as the factors in these situations. In addition to “Chemistry”, “Connections”, “Circumstances”, “Consciousness”.
Always a formula, a quip, a neat little organized principle. It seems so nice and simple. What’s wrong with the vast numbers of hurting/struggling people in the world who just can’t ‘get with the program’; for whom this “victory” seems to be elusive?

Why do people even need compassion, then, if their adversity is all in God’s hands, it’s all a test of their ‘will’, and the “good” outcome is all that ultimately matters?
What the people need then would be coaching through it, and that’s pretty much what we’re getting! (Hence, Horton mentions Christ being transformed into a “life coach” in much Christian teaching).
Yet compassion is one of things they will all teach as one of the “good” things our suffering is supposed to produce (2 Cor. 1:4). Yet here, it’s having an opposite effect.

Again; why should we have compassion on anyone?
Hey, look; that guy has no arms or legs, and he made it fine. You don’t have any real problem [compared to that]; and as he testifies; even if you did, it’s no excuse! All you need to do is “choose” the right “attitude”.

Finance, second Master’s suddenly required by the state for a certain license —in the middle of a recession when jobs are scarce; so we’re paying money for school instead of having a second income; controlling job, (but walking around broke most of the time), etc.; lack of respect in a world (and much of the church) that looks up to the successful as naturally “deserving”, and those who struggle as probably “lazy”; and God never actively counters this; and if God’s answer is supposed to be through the written Word and other believers, then those believers just “comforting” you with those scriptures interpreted that way seems to reinforce or practically validate the problem.

It always made a striking parallel with the horror stories of Christianity similarly proof-texting justifications of racism, which was highlighted by citing passages on “contentment”, under the premise that only Heaven matters. “Pie in the sky when you die by and by”. Of course, those preaching that still enjoyed nice things here, including the benefits of the inequalities. (It really seems like placing a heavy burden on others they would not lift themselves).
It basically started with “God chose us”, with “chosenness” assumed to mean earthly favor and rule. Sound familiar?
This caused perhaps more than anything else, the total disrepute of the faith, as a “control” tool; and I’m supposed to be “witnessing” to my family with this.

The world is geared towards advantage. Telling those with less power to be content, because hardship is good for us appears to sanction the “unfair, fallen world” they warn us about. Faith is hard enough, because the world seems like such a godless jungle (which science essentially insists to us it is), so this just makes it seem God’s “ways” happen to conform to “survival of the fittest” (i.e. DARWINism, the great arch-heresy of the faith), and thus, by appearance, just another attempt at an explanation.

A Perfect Formula

The whole thing seems to fit so well. They cite examples of one person’s problems and negative reactions, and another person’s better attitude, or perhaps even the same person learns some better attitude, then cite the passage on contentment or growth, or things working out for good, and “bingo!” we have a ready-made, relevant, scripture-based philosophy that comes together like clockwork, and will “work”. It’s “hard”, but with some help from the Spirit, we gain this “peace” that transforms our view of everything. That’s the difference.
“The world can’t do it”, many actually claim. Or “I don’t know how the world does it without the Spirit”. But not only do many on the world practice similar “steps to growth”; the results are similar. Notice how the arch-secular figure Oprah can host these “testimonials” by leading evangelical Christians, and it fits right in with everything else on those shows, as she and the fans shout in agreement! This is the ultimate proof that this is no special “supernatural” work available only to born again or “regenerate” Christians!
No one has attained any better level of “growth” than anyone else. If they did, you would hear about it, and everyone would try to copy it. (Some will try to slip in “common grace” available to all).

Even though I [admittedly; or perhaps obviously?] struggle with faith, I value and respect the Gospel concept enough to separate it from pragmatic philosophy that renders it essentially no more truthful than anything else; and if anything, falsified by the claim that it’s a special supernatural “Grace” as they call it, accessible only to converted Christians. (Another example of terms and concepts torn from their original meaning and context).
The purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a “growth through positive thinking” philosophy. It was freedom from the condemnation of the Divine Law which rendered mankind as dead sinners.

There are other self-help philosophies that are probably better than this.
What we end up with: “Many sermons are moral exhortations, which can be heard delivered with greater skill at the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Many sermons offer personal therapies, which can be better provided by well-trained psychiatrists. Why should anyone come to the Church for what can be better found somewhere else?” (John Leith, The Reformed Imperative, Westminster Press, 1988, quoted in Horton, Beyond Culture Wars p.76, who points out that this was originally aimed at mainline churches, but now just as accurately describes evangelicalism!)
On p.145 he rhetorically asks if our sermons are “essentially pep talks seasoned with personal anecdotes and helpful illustrations?” (Perfect description!)

In Christless Christianity, he criticizes the “inward focus” (which ultimately turns glory right back onto man) of the “changed life” concept, and others. He also mentions how many in practice treat God/Christ/The Spirit as an “energy source” we “tap/plug into”. This is especially pronounced in the Charismatic environment I find myself in. (And charismaticism has greatly influenced the broader new-evangelical culture).
This remarkably describes much of the preaching and teaching you hear in churches, books and broadcasts today. While it maybe good in its own right as “self-improvement”, to confuse this with the Bible’s teachings on the power of God only clouds the issue. But it does sell, however.

The entire Christian teaching industry, and much of televangelism is driven by extravagant claims of “the mighty work God is doing today”, (defined as “changed lives”, overcoming problems, supposed healings, etc.), but which do not match the actual day-to-day reality of people’s daily lives, (which are more of a “struggle” as is admitted) and the world sees this!

The Difficulty of Faith

He further points out on p284 (BCW again) that we should accommodate our language but not our message to the world, but are doing the opposite:
“We still speak Christian-eze; we still talk about being ‘blessed’ and ‘anointed’ and use other Christian language that nobody understands outside of the evangelical world”, yet “…are accommodating the message to the world”.
He also says “In our day, the church resembles Corinth, with its attraction to slick preachers, and signs and wonders; an immature church…” (p.228)

This is actually a sign of a lack of faith. We want so much to share the biblical saints’ experience of regular divine interaction, that we must feign it, by hyping up things such as “healing” and “tongues”, and the language we see in the texts (often torn from their original contexts); if nothing else, substituting psychological “growth” as today’s “miracle”, by fusing it with the concept of the “changed life”.

It seems no one wants to admit that [most times, at the very least] prayer’s likeliness in being granted seems to conform to the natural situation. Even if we can’t fully understand it (in which case we take it as the ultimate proof it was a supernatural “answer”). When we admit prayers might not be answered, then we come up with alternate purposes for it (besides “making your requests known to God”), like “it changes US”, or it’s just our “relationship” with Him.

Being that expectations are basically the source of our pain as was mentioned, interpreting these scriptures as “promises” for US today, under the banner of “faith” raises more expectations, and when they don’t come true, and we have to shrug and tell ourselves (or another person) “oh well; we just don’t understand what God is doing”, it is creating more pain and disillusionment with God (and potential judgmental-ism if the disappointed person doesn’t develop the right attitude). It’s for all purposes “playing with our [own] hearts”! It would be God playing with our hearts, if we insist He is the one causing things to happen or not happen for some unknown purpose, but most Christians wouldn’t dare say that. (Only in moments of extreme frustration, some might). But people seem to believe that this is precisely what makes it a “test” from God. (To teach us how to handle disappointments. Another form of “playing with our hearts” is the notion that we gain “relief” from “dying”; i.e “to self”, but this is not actual relief, but still feeling the pain, and having to struggle to “change our attitude” on top of it. Don’t call it “dying” or “relief”, then!)

(The way they make it sound, I often wonder if this “growth” could be quantified. Perhaps into units of “grothions” or “grothons”, or perhaps “growitons“. So each disappointment we react to the right way gives us one growiton, and a bigger disappointment might give us five growitons. Whoever dies with the most, wins, and the more you have, the bigger the prize).

Belief in an invisible God is a very powerful tool, which can potentially be very dangerous in the wrong hands, since it holds great emotional sway and fear over many, yet cannot be readily proven or disproven (sort of parallels the power wielded by early men who discovered fire). It should be used with great caution, humility and love; knowing our human tendency to control others. So we are not to use it to silence people about the “unsearchable counsel of God” when we have been making a lot of extrabiblical speculations on what He is doing all along!
“Trusting God” ultimately winds up meaning trusting men, when teachers use their own interpretations of His promises, and personal experiences (and even revelation) read into them to instruct people on the “walk of faith”.

Faith today is very difficult, and while most will superficially admit this, in practice we end up treating it as if it were as clear as gravity (the notion that there is “no excuse” for unbelief has to be justified. The main passage this is based on, Romans chapter 1, is actually addressing Israel, whom God “showed” Himself to through special revelation).

What I’ve seen is that “faith”, when presented to others, always ends up with a measure of “presuppositionalism” (a term associated as one of the backbones of Reconstructionism, which takes just about everything the world hates about traditional religion to an extreme).
All of your arguments must presuppose the whole premise at some point. Usually, personal internal experience becomes the final arbiter, but then how can we expect others to go by just that? We have to argue that they have had the internal experience as well, which we take to be “conscience”. But conscience alone doesn’t prove all the other doctrines that go along with the entire faith.
So you can’t prove it, can’t disprove it; so that, in effect (whether consciously or not) becomes our ace in the hole, as we just presume and assure ourselves “They know it’s true, so we don’t have to prove it to them, and that’s why God’s penalties are so harsh”. When the world eventually turns away in disgust, and even believers grow weary and desperate, we can just chalk it up to their own “hardness”. (Many churches still try to entertain them back in, though).

It is especially hard for me, going through a difficult midlife crisis, and grappling with the near universal appeal to internal-based healing when I’m accustomed to expecting some form of external validation (both from life experiences, and temperament/type; a Supine in the temperament areas of Inclusion and Affection, and recognition-seeking Choleric in Control, with inferior extraverted Feeling).

I see that Horton does use many of these scriptures on suffering in a similar way, in other books. He also criticizes the “inner” approach in favor of an “outer” one. Namely, a more “catholic” (“high church” or “sacramental”) ecclesiology of communion of the saints, through the Eucharist and “the Word”. Still, the internal implications of this cannot be avoided. He criticizes the notion of “the god within”, but the whole concept of the communion of saints is that the Holy Spirit is WITHIN each saint, binding them together as one Body. And it’s still by “faith” in Someone who’s “unseen” externally, and so can only be accessed internally. The fellow saints are external, but are (admittedly) very imperfect representations of God. The sacraments are external, but only have any meaning through the [internal] faith.
I’m sure he would hold along with everyone else the common application of the the familiar 2 Cor. 4:16: “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day”, and the even more familiar Psalm 23:4 “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me”, which are often used to teach that what’s going on in the outer world is not as important as God’s “work” within.

Philip Yancey is a somewhat well-known writer who has stood out from the rest, not being able to offer any magical solutions, or conclusions much different from the others; but just having this compassion in the way he writes. He just relates, not coaches on the path to “victory”.

So let those philosophies deal with self-help. Keep the scriptures focused on the salvation of man, and how we can love and show compassion to each oher.

Here’s a reprint of a very important newer addition to the “abundant” page:

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

In order to understand “sufficient grace” [perhaps the most tossed around term at suffering], we should have a better understanding of the subject of the context, which is the “thorn in the flesh”. Much speculation abounds regarding what it is, with everything from a literal thorn to his wife. In the end, they will all agree the principle is that God allows pain, and this “Grace” is generally interpreted as some sort of invisible power (through the Spirit) that makes it easier to cope with life and pain and change your attitude. When explained further, by some, it’s that just the “thankfulness” from the “grace” of being saved from the eternal Hell we really deserve should outweigh any temporal pain we have here, and thus make us content. (Truer to the meaning of “grace”, but it’s still not about any such comparison of literal pain).

Paul had just been given a vision, which by his own admission might have made him “haughty” or “exalted above measure”. As this page: http://www.gotquestions.org/Paul-thorn-flesh.html says: “Anyone who had encountered Jesus and was spoken to and commissioned by Him (Acts 9:2-8) would, in his natural state, become ‘puffed up.'”

The “messenger” came from Satan, who is “the Accuser” and accusation is based on violation of the Law. And “the Flesh” is our natural state under the Law, in which many try to justify themselves through works.

So what it looks like, is that this “thorn” is some highlight of a moral or spiritual “WEAKNESS” of his, and doesn’t that word sound very familiar, from our reading of this passage? His weakness (likely some transgression marring that perfect “Pharisee of the Pharisees” image he had once maintained) would be an embarrassment, and make him look like he is in bad standing with God. This is the whole key here.

And also keep in mind, bad situations and “infirmities” and such things as imprisonment, stripes [i.e. bloody welts from whipping], shipwrecks, and stonings, etc. he mentioned were taken by many as proving God was against a person; basically as a sort of punishment for sin, (now doesn’t this sound familiar in modern American religion!) or being the “unchosen”.

This was basically the whole argument of Job’s friends, and the disciples and others Christ warned about thinking some calamity that fell on others was due to them being “bigger sinners”. This thinking pervaded the entire nation of Israel (looking for deliverance through moral perfection, and it has crept right through the covenants into the Church in different ways).
It was all about who God loved and accepted; who the true “Israel” or “Sons of Abraham” were, presumed to be proven by prosperity and power, and earned by adherence to the Law. (Rev. 3:9 is an example of Christ speaking to this. Heb.12’s discussion of “chastisement” also ties it to “sonship”).

So what was the solution for Paul? Well, Christ had borne his sins on the Cross, and forgiven him through GRACE. THIS was “SUFFICIENT” to counter this nagging flaw in his character and realize his troubles were not some sort of punishment from God. (And thus, he could actually “rejoice” in them!)

Hence, Peter compares suffering “as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody…” in which case, you have something to worry about, with suffering “as a Christian”, in which case you should “not be ASHAMED” (NOT “not feel hurt, or desperately want the pain to stop, or have a less than ‘cheerful attitude'”) but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet. 4:15, 16, eventually leading to the frequently used 5:7).

None of these passages are telling us to have a masochistic outlook, or that our pain is insignificant or good or given by God to make us better people.

So NOW, it all fits together! Paul had a vision of Christ, but to prevent him from becoming puffed up, he was somehow reminded of his sinfulness, but Christ’s Grace is sufficient to cover this “weakness”, and His “strength” is manifest through this; and also ensure that he was on the right track, despite his persecution!

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13 Comments
  1. A couple more books:

    Chapman The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage (Tyndale, 2012) Offered free for Kindle for awhile, so both my wife and I got it (myself, again, now having the Galaxy Tab 7.7 and now reading e-books)

    Winter, the marriage is in serious trouble,
    Spring, either the beginning of love, or the rebirth from a darker period;
    Summer, the peak or prime of marriage,
    Fall, when things begin cooling off.
    (Do not necessarily have to proceed in that order).

    Also heard referenced, Andy Stanley (son of Charles Stanley) Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You (Multnomah, 2006/2011)

    Defines
    Guilt – “I owe you”;
    Anger – “You owe me”;
    Greed – “I owe me”;
    Jealousy – “God owes me.”

    I at first thought Shame (Defined as “a sense of not living up to our own ideals”, which can be either our own goals, or others’ expectations —including God, of course; the initial product of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil”, which marked the Fall) would be “I owe me”, based on that definition. I guess it could be “I owe God” in a sense of our connection to Him being assumed to be based on our living up to ideals.
    Then, when we’re angry at God for something, that would be “God owes me”, but not necessarily connected with jealousy. I would think jealousy could be more “life owes me”, (as atheists can be jealous), but then it seems “life” ends up being the de-personification of God anyway.

    Anyway, these are nice concepts these and so many other books introduce, but the overall message of all of these books is basically “attitude change” (including the comparing of people in similar situations, with the “good” attitude people “growing”, while the “bad” attitude people remain miserable. Chapman, for instance, compares two marriage couples who lost a child, which I just feel is oversimplistic and downright insensitive. It ignores many different factors, and reduces everything to what sounds like some magical sounding power placed in our own hands.
    (Including “anger” as a necessary “sin” seems to be heading the way of what teachers like Tim LaHaye insist. It seems that’s the view of the more Baptistic leaders, which I believe LaHaye and the Stanleys share in common).

    The concepts, as nice and interesting as they may seem, end up seeming formulaic, and just a new spin on the same old message. It really seems the entire Gospel (“good news”) is just this “attitude change”, through these “laws to success”.

    And I notice how “the heart” figures so prominently in these teachings. (Horton traces this to the split in fundamentalism, between those more “cognitively oriented” and “confessional” ⦅like “Machen and company”⦆, and “those who were essentially world-denying, emotionally oriented, anti-intellectual, and more attracted to itinerant revivalists who ‘spoke to the heart’ in ways that jibed with American experience and pragmatism. Eventually, this later brand of fundamentalism won, and has marked the movement ever since”. ⦅Beyond Culture Wars, p. 23⦆).

    Some of the more old-line fundamentalists, such as the ones condemning contemporary music, worship, Bible translations, psychological influence, “associations”, etc. in the Church, who would fall into the latter camp of course, I had noticed in my dealings with them, have seemed to have moved back to a more “head”-centered faith. You can see this in their later attempts to use science to prove their positions on Creation and even translation history and music. They would agree with a lot of what Horton says about their main targets of criticism, the New-evangelicals. These are the ones who have retained the “heart”-focus; especially with the infusion or in many cases, virtual merger, of charismaticism into the movement.

    Even though “the heart” does hold a significant place in scripture, it seems too much is still being made of it. It’s never placed above the mind, soul, etc. Rather than the heart being “defiled” by all these other things (emotions we “allow”, sins, and of course, the Devil), Jesus portrays the heart as the source of defilement. (Matt.15:18-9)

    Here is an interesting article from CRI, that criticizes the psychologizing of forgiveness
    http://www.equip.org/articles/forgiveness-in-the-bible-and-in-pop-psychology
    I always found it irritating how forgiveness was said to be for our own good, which led to a feeling of a double bind of “get over it or you’re just hurting your own self”. I was already hurt by a person, and they got away with it, but now blame is shifted to me, by “holding onto” negative feelings, often called “unforgiveness”. I’m “doing it all to myself”, or “my own worse enemy” (and with numerous quips and memes added, such as “you’re not hurting them”, “you’re maintaining their power over you”, etc.)
    I’ve seen this used on everyone from rape victims to murder survivors!

    Having heard and gotten this type of “coaching” in the secular world, I noted how I was hearing the same thing dressed up in scriptural verse in the Church. It’s like everything in the world is copied wholesale by popular Church teaching.

    The article argues that the true purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation (which as a Supine in two areas of temperament with inferior extraverted Feeling in the typological function order, is what I would prefer. It’s also “confrontational”, which the Choleric area of my temperament and dominant Thinking likes). Forgiveness is contingent on the offender’s repentance.

    Of course, this is tied to the “conditional” forgiveness of God’s salvation. But where we are imperfect, and need justice to be able to interact with one another, God is perfect, and the only way for anyone to be able to stand before Him is by something unconditional. Placing it upon our imperfect actions and behavior would still leave us as sinners who could not stand before Him, or you end up with Him overlooking our imperfection only if we’re making our effort to “meet Him half way”. This is just a subtle form of works-salvation.

  2. Here is the world’s counterpart to the “divine laws” regarding our “attitude” that Christians appeal to:

    You’re going to get the EXACT energy back from the universe that your put out in it.
    Have you ever noticed that the same people who constantly stay mired up in negativity, hate, anger, fear, despair, and doubt a lot of the times tend to be the same EXACT people who spend most of their lives being sick, miserable, depressed, or are always complaining about one thing or another not being right in their lives?
    I honestly think most people who make those actions a habit are addicted to those negative feelings and secretly love being the victim, and wouldn’t know what to do with true inner peace if it came up and kissed them on the cheek.
    Nowadays, I avoid that kind of energy in people when i see it coming. I used to try to take it on as some kind of ‘ people fixing project’ but not anymore. i have learned to silently pray for folks from a distance, help wherever i possibly can- but son, i gotta keep it movin’ or else that type of energy will attempt to attach itself to the next available empty vessel. if you don’t believe me, just try being in a good mood and have an uplifted spirit and go visit someone who is negative, they will drain every last bit of your energy- and you’ll leave feeling exactly the way they feel.
    For years I thought this world owed me something and was going to lay it at my feet because i was deserving of it, boy was i ever wrong.
    I’m glad i finally figured that out otherwise I might be sitting around crying victim, making a ton of excuses, and blaming the world for my shortcoming.

    Remember, start changing your energy from negative to a positive and watch your life change for the better.
    It’s a law of the universe.

    (And I was just given that “universal law” line by someone else in person, a week ago. The same people who have trashed theism’s “absolute truth” now give this other philosophy that title, and just as dogmatically as the most fiery preacher of old).

    So this is pretty much the same thing the New evangelicals have all thoroughly integrated into their teachings on “the victorious Christian [abundant] life … by the power of the Spirit“. The above reads just like a typical “sermon” of “health and wealth” televangelists!
    The old-line fundamentalists don’t directly use all of the same concepts, but it’s ultimately the same philosophy, as much as they condemn some of the other terminology. I recall the fundamentalist “counseling” class mentioning “some people simply don’t want help” (because they don’t have the right attitude, basically. Even Horton alludes to this, in criticizing “the boots of a good heart and cheerful attitude”, treated as if it were actually part of the “spiritual armor” Paul mentions. It’s what he cited someone as calling it, “Moralistic therapeutic deism”).

    I can’t help thinking “where is all of this positive energy” in the world (Christian or non-Christian), then? Where is all of this “peace”? Only inside of people, but then the only thing that comes outside is all the stuff you see in the world of people? All the backbiting, fighting, robbing and cheating, etc.

    The whole “I once was that way, now I’ve pulled myself out of it, compared to all these losers out there who still think that way”. The whole argument would be nothing without all these “others” (whether directly even mentioned or not) to compare to. Getting that kind of “counsel” always felt to me like rubbing in how far I fell short, and need to go to get to that person’s position. And they would keep gloating of how “hard” and slow it is; all the “steps”, and trial and error, etc. (And then in cases like my father, he really did not have it all together at all, but ended his life in almost the sad state he kept warning me about!)

    I like how the Bible puts it: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

    This is the way it always is with effort-based philosophies. Just like the racially corrupted religion that focused a lot on “morality”, but condoned oppression (that people like this are still resenting in the first place). It’s what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount, about what sins such as “murder” and “adultery” really entail! A lot more than even the most strictest adherents think!
    At this point, people will then appeal to being “imperfect”, but then my whole point is more grace is needed, rather than speaking as if one has it all together.

    The overall point, since this entry is really aimed at Christians, especially the fundamentalistic ones, is how their philosophy becomes nearly identical to the “secular humanism” they decry. There’s nothing exclusive to a “spirit-led life” in this, other than using the names of God and Jesus instead of “the universe” and “energy”. This becomes the secularist’s ultimate proof that it’s all “universal law”, and there is no exclusivity in Christ.
    Trusting in human self-effort, which always leads to judgment of others, either philosophy becomes cold and totally lacking in grace.

    The Gospel is that man was once condemned by divine Law, but this was removed by Christ. This should alleviate some guilt (though we still in practice do things that are “universally” not right), and make us more willing to spread the forgiveness we received.
    But there are still psychological problems we must struggle through. Christian or secular alike, we should admit that upfront, and be more patient with other struggling more than we are.

    [More on subject, moved: https://erictb.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/laws-of-the-universe-objectivism-and-tough-talk-or-why-im-critical-of-secular-self-help ]

  3. Look at this piece of purely secular philosophy:

    http://www.thoughtis.com/thought-vibration/chapter-16.php

    There is no such thing as chance. Law maintains everywhere, and all that happens because of the operation of Law. You cannot name the simplest thing that ever occurred by chance – try it, and then run the thing down to a final analysis, and you will see it as the result of law.

    It is as plain as mathematics. Plan and purpose; cause and effect. From the movements of worlds to the growth of the grain of mustard seed – all the result of Law. The fall of the stone down the mountainside is not chance – forces which had been in operation for centuries caused it.

    And back of that cause were other causes, and so on until the Causeless Cause is reached.

    And Life is not the result of chance – the Law is here, too. The Law is in full operation whether you know it or not – whether you believe in it or not.

    You may be the ignorant object upon which the Law operates, and bring yourself all sorts of trouble because of your ignorance of or opposition to the Law. Or you may fall in with the operations to the Law – get into its current, as it were – and Life will seem a far different thing to you.

    You cannot get outside of the Law, by refusing to have anything to do with it. You are at liberty to oppose it and produce all the friction you wish to – it doesn’t hurt the Law, and you may keep it up until you learn your lesson.

    Fall in with the operations of the law. Make it a part of yourself. Get into its currents. Maintain your poise. Set your mind to the keynote of Courage, Confidence and Success. Get in touch with all the thoughts of that kind that are emanating every hour from hundreds of minds.

    This sounds a lot like what you hear in preaching from movements of all stripes (sabbatarian “lawkeepers”, regular Sundaykeepers who also focus on “Law”, including fundamentalists and Reformed, and especially the health & wealth teachers). “Law, not chance” is the main point.
    It is a total generalization of some observable principles in life. A blog called “Throne of Eden” points out one of the main reasons this is becoming so popular is due to the language that is used to describe it.

    Right from the start, you get the word “law”. Thanks to our incredible advancements in the study of science and mathematics, we have been able to determine many forces in the universe which are described as acting within prescribed sets of ‘laws’. For instance, the law of gravitational force, the laws of thermodynamics, Newton’s three laws of motion, Einstein’s Laws of general and special relativity, the law of conservation of mass and so many more.

    So these [“The Secret” DVD authors] write a book about energy. What do they do? They try and exploit people’s basic understanding of physics by using the word Law to describe their own personal theories of attraction.
    The difference between the law of attraction and the laws of thermodynamics is that the laws of thermodynamics are not theories. In fact, the word “law” which is used to describe them pretty much implies they are physical facts of the universe which can be tested and applied to observable objects. The law of attraction, on the other hand, is not a fact. It’s not even a good theory, because there is no basis for testing it. If you can’t do experiments which can yield results for or against a theory, then you have no right calling it a law. Again, language being used to mislead people into believing that something is more important than it really is.

    Of course, what I’ve found from both the secular and religious variants of this, is that they say it IS testable. The problem is, it’s not instantly testable. It’s a lifelong slow “process”. And if you don’t start now, and keep at it everyday, then you’ll never see the results.
    It’s not like a car you can try out, and then return with no commitments if you don’t like it. You basically have to presuppose it’s true first, and then commit to it, in order for it to work. This is not how scientific testing works, but it is how scams work. (Recall, most people who teach stuff like this, both religious and secular, are often selling something in one way or another; or if not, they are trying to convince themselves that what they’ve trusted in and committed to is the right way).

    If you try it and find it doesn’t work, then it must be you did something wrong, and in such a long hard “process” with multiple “steps” and “laws” to adhere to, there are so many places where you could have gone wrong, so you can’t argue against that; and by that time, it’s too late to undo whatever waste or other consequences from all the time and commitment you’ve put into it.

    This lack of “testability” becomes the strength of such nebulous enterprises. Someone can tell you anything all authoritatively, and proclaim it absolute TRUTH, and you can’t refute him, just DO it, or prove yourself an ignorant skeptic.

    Here’s good article touching on this subject:

    Why Don’t My Positive Affirmations Work?
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201210/why-dont-my-positive-affirmations-work

    [see also: https://erictb.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/laws-of-the-universe-objectivism-and-tough-talk-or-why-im-critical-of-secular-self-help%5D

  4. Shia LeBeauf was recently cited as mentioning a “full blown exchange of heart; a surrender of control”.

    This sort of thing is often used as the definition of the “changed heart” and the “relationship with God” (which is often defined in terms of our efforts; likened to marriage and health).
    But where is “control” ever really made the central issue in sanctification? [At least the way they generally apply it, regarding our “attitude” toward things]. That seems to be something read into the Gospel (becoming yet more “Christianeze” language) that is more a projection of people’s own internal “struggles” with control. [The issue of “control” would really be more about people’s efforts or “will” in attaining salvation, which is precisely what is being argued by most of this teaching].

    Meanwhile, God does not come and magically take care of us, where we no longer have to do anything, and he’s literally pulling all the strings. (Just saw one FB meme that says “if God made all of this, He can take care of you”; equating physical power, whereby He creates, with the non-physical, or at best “circumstances interpreted as His special doing” that they associate with His ongoing “care”).
    Life goes on as normal, with us having to go to work and struggle to live every day, in addition to this “daily struggle” of adopting the better “attitude” towards the pains of life; which is what this is really about.

    The true “control” we are to give up is the focus on our own efforts of “giving” something to God. Yet again, common lingo has it all backward.

    Something else I saw recently that was disturbing was about a Christian rapper, Jackie Hill Perry who “came out” as “ex-gay”

    “Ms. Hill-Perry says she was sexually abused by a family friend when she 5. Around the same time, she experienced gender confusion that had coalesced into an attraction to women when she turned 17.”

    She then appeals to an “epiphany”, in addition to a “conscious” [sic] given a sense of the fear of Hell. She then converts and “over time” becomes less attracted to women, and eventually turns heterosexual and marries. [In a video, she says she became “attracted to him, for who he is”, and he “happened to be a man”. In other words, the ideal of love that goes beyond sexual/romantic attraction].

    The FB post I saw this on pitched the story as “disproving” the “homosexual gospel” (and proving “reparative therapy”, where God “not only changes your affections and your heart, but He gives you new affections that you didn’t have”), but the way this came off to me, is an individual personal experience (shared by others, of course) is used as the ultimate proof for everyone who ever lived. In other words “my homosexuality was from being molested [a common stereotype], and I was ‘changed’ by reparative therapy, so there’s ‘no excuse’ for anybody else”.

    Judging the way this “Christian victory” teaching goes [in practice] in every other subject, we do not see what goes on in the bedroom of such people, and whether it’s a “daily struggle for the rest of your life”, or hence only an “attitude change” (i.e. I still really don’t like being with a man, but it’s the “full blown surrender of control”; i.e. forcing yourself to do it, because “it’s not about our pleasure” after all, and struggle is good, etc. We see an evidence in the need to separate the husband’s gender from “him”, himself. But then this can be turned around, to say that if the gender doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter if it “happens to be” the same sex, which is one of the LGBT arguments. In fact, the Christians can be accused of reducing relationships to just sex (Which is what they basically accuse “the world” of, but they’re the one obsessed with it!)
    So the focus in the issue is the physical binary gender, which both sides believe shouldn’t be made more important than the soul. The issue then is strictly about obedience to the Law, and those arguing for this then ironically end up as the ones judging according to “the flesh”, precisely as Paul teaches!
    )

    I believe it is wrong to pitch something like that as God actually changing something. It’s our own will (which they will often admit, but it is not a part of salvation; John 1:13) with the big fear element behind it (see 1 John 4:18).
    This is what we try to ‘sell’ to the world, with extravagant claims of God [in theory] in effect making it easy (when it really isn’t), and in case that doesn’t work, behind it is the fear of Hell for rejecting something so “easy”.
    (Imagine how much agony this can create for some people, especially if it might happen to be true that their “orientation” is more than just psychological. Remember physical chemicals ⦅hormones, etc.⦆ are involved in this as well. This parallels the argument of those who deny all psychology and claim “depression” is just “sin” and all “mental illness” is just a “choice”).

    Or, perhaps she really was a true heterosexual whose identity was confused by the sexual abuse, and hence, truly “repaired” by the therapy. (Nobody denies that that’s ever the case; though some angry gay rights advocates do readily accuse the whole “conversion” as being fake.
    On the other hand, that the Church does not teach that a “recovering” homosexual must force themselves to like the opposite sex and enter a heterosexual marriage; that’s voluntary and they can just stay “celibate”; is more evidence of such people who do get married were likely truly heterosexual all along. She may also be simply bi-sexual, and perhaps came to lean toward women because of the negative experience. Then, it’s just a matter of overcoming the aversion to the opposite sex and then sticking only with them. It still says nothing about everyone else who identifies as totally gay).

    Still, I’m sure it wasn’t as simple or easy as it’s being made to seem (like during the “over time…” mentioned, when she changed).

    God could have truly “done” something, but no one else has any way of knowing that for themselves. People have tried it and it didn’t work the way it was testified to (and of course, such people would be accused of not really trying. Then, you get into the whole “God does it that way for some people, and lets it be a ‘struggle’ for others” claim, but by now, you’re getting so inconsistent and abstract and most importantly, further and further from any actual scriptural statements; how can you possibly judge others for not believing it?)

    I don’t know what’s in the girl’s heart, but to put this up as the ultimate disproof of everyone else’s experience (including even trying to appeal to “conscience”) is really just more of the “presuppositionalism” I discussed recently, and claiming from that to know what’s in everyone else’s heart (i.e. overgeneralizing, and based on a misunderstanding of passages, like especially Romans 1).

    On the flipside, you have a girl who came out (but has not indulged in the lifestyle, which again is generally said to be the right thing to do), and this after trying some of the basic regiments often taught, to “overcome” things like this, but is nevertheless criticized by this magazine just for wearing the label: http://www.eewmagazine.com/gospel-singer-DeJuaii-Pace-comes-out-as-lesbian.html

    Since when did God’s word tell us we would conquer sin with two 40-day fasts and never have to worry about it again. We have to battle sin daily. That’s just the way it is. Mature Christians who understand God’s position on the sin of homosexuality do not suddenly grow unclear about God’s standard for holy living simply because we struggle with temptation. We all struggle. We just aren’t tempted by the same things.

    Blaming God for failing to take away temptation and assuming He must want us to succumb because we feel the urge to do it, is ludicrous! If we acted on every wrong impulse, the world would be in a far greater mess than it already is.

    Consider this hypothetical. A woman or man is struggling with coveting someone else’s spouse on a daily basis. Each time they see this married person, they are attempted to lure them into adultery.

    This author does not understand the problem at all; in order to compare this to coveting or adultery, and lumping all these “struggles” in the same pot; (only this particular one is not their temptation).
    Our sexual desire comes from hormones, which are chemicals that can go awry. Coveting and adultery are basic survival and reproductive drives gone awry, but these are not through chemicals, but rather through the influence of the effects of the Fall (sin). One is behavioral, and usually more affected by choices; the other is purely physical (though there are instances of it being a perversion of an otherwise heterosexual drive overindulged. But such people are not truly “gay”. They do not share anything like this woman’s struggle). Everyone has the propensity for coveting and adultery; not everyone has the propensity for homosexuality.

    Since God didn’t take away the desire to indulge in this taboo relationship, they begin calling themselves an adulterer and saying it’s God’s fault. After all, their failure to rid themselves of the temptation through consistent fasting, prayer, and intimate relationship with the Lord, must mean God wants them to embrace an adulterous lifestyle.

    Hey, God is the all powerful one, so if He doesn’t want this individual hopping in and out of married people’s beds, God needs to take the feeling away.

    Ridiculous, right?

    Temptation is not a manifestation of failure on God’s part, rather it is a revelation of our fallen, sinful nature. Let’s be real. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise us that we will not be tempted. We are instructed, however, not to yield to the numerous temptations we will inevitably face.

    Sadly, it appears that DeJuaii Pace has been deceived into thinking her personal struggle with sin warrants indulgence in it. Prayerfully, God will give her clarity and show her that each of us must die to sin daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). And we must be willing to do whatever we must to fight it.

    But I don’t see where she said she was even “indulging” in anything. In fact, she clearly said she had not had any kind of sex; but was simply frustrated that the feelings (“the thing”) weren’t going away. (Reminds me of Christians I argued with over politics, and they assumed I must be a welfare-abusing leftist ghetto person because I’m arguing counter to their uncritical praise of capitalism).
    All she did was acknowledge that, and acknowledging is not “succumbing”. (In fact, it’s to try to suppress this, as this magazine is perhaps suggesting, that allows things like this to catch you off guard, and then you’re more likely to get caught up in “succumbing” and “indulging” it!)

    Plus, they are using the “I die daily” passage, which from the context is not even talking about getting over sins, through some daily “struggle” that apparently, we never completely overcome. (Yes, it’s understandable to question why God doesn’t “take it away”, when the preaching makes it looks like He is doing some supernatural “work”, but then they pull out these other passages when it doesn’t actually work that way).

    And other scriptures talking about “dying” to sin, are talking about counting on keeping the Law and hitting yourself with the resultant guilt (which is what this site is arguing, of course) for your justification.
    So she is apparently “dying to sin” in that respect!
    [For more on homosexuality, see: https://erictb.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/homosexuality-in-light-of-the-chick-fil-a-controversy-and-all-the-other-debate-about-it ]

    We think we are really coming up with irrefutable answers, but all it is proving to the world that it’s all a “subjective” experience.

  5. This article goes after numerous Christian cliché’s that don’t help:

    http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/

    A thought that came into mind (and this will figure in light of the above comment), is that Christians may nod to “hate the sin, love the sinner”, but with some, it becomes “but they won’t give up their sin (and this is destroying our civilization)”, so then it basically becomes right to hate them after all (just like God will withdraw His love and pour out eternal hate if they don’t repent before they die).

  6. Just ran across this:
    http://www.salon.com/2016/01/03/the_wests_big_lie_about_mother_teresa_her_glorification_of_suffering_instead_of_relieving_it_has_had_little_impact_on_her_glowing_reputation
    The West’s big lie about Mother Teresa: Her “glorification of suffering instead of relieving it” has had little impact on her glowing reputation
    Mother Teresa was a very successful evangelist — but a champion of medicine or humanitarianism? Not so much

    Speaking in 1997, she remarked that “the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people,” describing how it was “very beautiful for the poor to share [their suffering] with the passion of Christ.” For Mother Teresa, poverty and sickness were gifts that provided the opportunity to develop one’s connection with God. Her mission was not so much to alleviate suffering but to ensure it happened within a framework of religious belief. Indeed, by her own admission she was motivated by a desire to fulfill her own religious convictions rather than altruistic concern for the world’s poor. “There is always the danger that we may become only social workers … our works are only an expression of our love for Christ,” she told a BBC journalist in 1969.

    If that’s true, then it fits right in with much of Western church teaching on suffering. Many are more into “comforting” people with how suffering is good for the soul. It’s the backbone of the massive teaching industry focusing on “Victory” or “the aundant life”, where the only thing to be changed is our “attitudes”, basically (via the numerous “steps”); then God has “healed” us.

  7. How People Use ‘Forgiveness’ To ‘Shame’ Abuse Survivors
    https://healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/how-people-use-forgiveness-to-shame-abuse-survivors/

    “Religious people, can be the worst for this. I’ve heard many toxic and abusive statements, like ‘God won’t forgive you of your sins, if you don’t forgive your abusers’, ‘all sins are equal’. ‘I’ve forgiven, so should you’. Which is highly abusive to state.
    This is all ‘shame-shifting’.
    The only person that does need to feel shame, is the abuser.”

    (It should be noted, that Jesus’ “forgive and you shall be forgiven”, in addition to the parable of the unforgiving servant, were aimed at people under the Law, who often thought they were earning their justification through their works, but the whole point was that all have sinned, and would need to be forgiven unconditionally by God. Because the Church didn’t realize an overlap of covenants, they took passages like this as continuing to shape the state of salvation, even as they pledged belief in “faith alone” [“not works”]. “faith” then became the effort of various actions and attitudes, including forgiveness of others, so that salvation could still hinge on it. Hence, this shaming of people suffering).

  8. Good article from last year on a common cliché in both the world and the Church.

    Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason
    http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

    In the FB post discussion, my comment:

    I had gotten caught up in the religious version of this. Myself looking for “reason” as compensation. But I found, since it’s based on “faith” in the “unseen”, it ultimately doesn’t do much for you. But what’s far worse is that other Christians, believing this, then become cold and start judging your spirituality if you don’t have the right “attitude” (often using “Christianeze” terms like “bitterness” and “offense”). They have plenty of scriptures that appear to support this, but I found most of those were addressing the special situation of the early Church under persecution; not mundane pains and difficulties. So they are reflecting the standard conservative “rugged individualist“ mindset (that’s also colored many Christians’ views in politics). Not once did I ever hear “I’m here for you”; only “God/Jesus is here for you” (and to not be “content” with that, is to effectively ‘reject’ Him! And part of His presence was supposed to be THROUGH other believers. That was the purpose of FELLOWSHIP; not paying a “pastor” to ‘lead’ you in reading the Bible and worshipping and preach a message to you).

    And this is the basis of the entire Christian teaching industry. So when you see that smiling televangelist talking about “joy” and “abundant life”, this is the “shadow” of the teaching.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Why I’m Critical of “Christian Self-Help” teaching « "ERIPEDIA"
  2. “Laws of the Universe”, “Objectivism”, and tough talk (or “Why I’m Critical of Secular Self-help”) | "ERIPEDIA"
  3. Homosexuality in light of the Chick Fil-A controversy and all the other debate about it | "ERIPEDIA"

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