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The Gospel and Faith as Salvation/Regeneration, or psychological health

January 17, 2014

Scriptures talk about “peace” and while all will associate that with salvation, it has been extended to overall mental health. (Based on their reading of 2 Tim. 1:7 along with some other scriptures). However, when New-Evangelicals push this to a focus on psychological principles, “old-line” types (from the Reformed to the Revivalists) criticize them as “compromising”, and insist it’s only about “regeneration” and “sanctification”.
Yet their “Biblical alternatives” to therapy are the same behavioral improvements and even mental “choices” for good results the others teach, which they associate with “sanctification” and thus hold to be “fruits” of regeneration.

The fundamentalist claiming “all mental illness is a choice” (i.e. in contrast to common psychological knowledge) thus ends up with the same premise (and “steps to victory”) as the popular “psychologizing” teacher he criticizes of speaking of “self esteem” or “the power of positive thinking”.

The problem is, both camps believe “salvation” is, to begin with, escape from Hell through a conditional “grace”. If this is the case, then the fundamentalists could be right, that that’s our only real “need”, and diverting the focus to anything else (such as temporal health) is a waste of time.
YET, even amongst them, it is often cast in the terms of temporal health! If you pray, read the Bible every day, think about serving God and others more than self, realize difficulties are “good” to make us “grow”, and have a “joyful attitude” toward them, then you will be “of sound mind”, and not have any “soul” (i.e. “psyche”) problems.
This is their whole premise against psychological concepts.

This is derived from various scriptures, and yet if they’re being interpreted right, then the new-evangelicals are basically right (and the old-liners arguing over nothing), for this is pretty much the basis of what they’re saying, only with newer terminology added.

The problem is when it doesn’t work this way.
First of all, what that whole method they often teach really is, is a process of forcing sin into unconsciousness. Then, when it still doesn’t go away, and you have to struggle to keep suppressing it, this is then blamed on the Devil.
You can see it that way because he is the “accuser”, yet the way we actually fall into his trap is by trusting in our effort at repressing the sin instead of really trusting in Christ’s work (even if we redefine “trust” in terms of an attitude toward the difficulty of the effort, or whatever else the teachings define it as).

But in order to hold on to the teaching, two different approaches will be used: the new evangelicals will turn to increasingly to “therapy” and other secular principles, and the old-liners will just start judging the Christian “struggling” with problems they feel should have been gotten over with this divine “power” granted us through these “biblical principles”.

Yet if the main aspect of salvation was freedom from the fear of the penalty of the Law, then we see how the “peace” promised IS the regeneration of salvation!

Basically, the whole concept of a “race” as taught by Christians of both stripes, is effort/works. That the Christian life in the New Testament was described as a “race” clearly shows the overlapping nature of the two covenants, with the end of the race as entering fully into Grace.

Part of fundamentalists’ war on “humanism” is the need to PROVE intellectually that everyone deserves to go to Hell. If we say “That person did that horrible crime because they were psychologically damaged”, right away, a [subconsciously controlled] conscientious sense of compassion kicks in, and we feel bad for them, and find it hard to condemn them.
So the moral conservative fears that this would lead to such people being ‘let off the hook’, both now in the world (leading to “the decay of society”, which they are always trying to “save”), as well as them being granted pardon by God and escaping Hell, which will undermine fear as a deterrent to sin. (Further eroding society and their control!)
So if we instead say “that wicked sinner willfully CHOSE to murder”, the feeling is more like “YEAH! He deserves to ROAST!”

So the fundamentalist or anyone else condemning psychological explanations for things plays “God’s Prosecuting Attorney”, and has to guard against anybody “getting by” with an “excuse”. Everybody MUST be proven to be knowingly, deliberately “shaking their fist at God” (A common illustration in evangelistic literature and teaching material. The Bible never uses that exact analogy, and any truth in it must be understood in a more unconscious and collective rather than individual way, but the illustrations make it look like it is conscious and individual, and the goal is once again to prove why every man’s fate should default to Hell, and God cannot pardon him unless he has a change of mind, and in practice, behavior).

Overall, the problem starts because the assumption in basically all the branches of “mainstream” Christianity, is that because man “fell” through “sin” (disobedience), then the entirety of Gospel history afterward becomes the process of undoing disobedience; i.e. undoing “sin” behaviorally. If we’re sinning, then the solution is that we must stop sinning. (Hence, rebuilding the human society we’ve “decayed” with our sin, and thus the traditional focus in the Church on bad behaviors and punishment).
Having one’s sins “cleansed“, “washed” or “taken away” then means “taken away” from our actual behavior.

Squaring this away with “grace, not works” is the source of a lot of confusion or so-called “paradox”, and conflict with other groups who more openly insist on works.

But since most will acknowldge we do still sin afterward, they had to come up with a notion of intention. The “cleansing” is taking away our wanting to commit the sins. So again, that we still end up committing them is then blamed on “the flesh” we struggle [“daily”] with, or the Devil.
But this actually waters down the concept of “washing/cleansing”, far more than what they think a positional view (which is the only thing that can explain ongoing commission of sin in our lives) does.

But the Fall wasn’t just an act of disobedience. It was acquiring knowledge of good and evil, whose immediate effect on them was shame, even of their physical existence. The “death” that occurred “that day” was obviously spiritual rather than physical. However it colored our perception of even physical nature. Adam and Eve’s first self-initiated response was covering themselves physically.

God then began progressively giving man the Law, which appeared to aim to directly correct the problem of disobedience through more statutes to command obedience. The religion that arose from this assumed the purpose of life was “pleasing God” through obedience. Then, you would “get” something. (i.e. national and personal prosperity). Much like parents demand of and reward their children, and bosses demand of and reward their workers.
The nation of people for the most part failed this, and then the Gospel was introduced, that “by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 2:16).

Christianity afterward ended up continuing the old assumption. (With “Heaven” and salvation from “Hell” added to personal and national prosperity). Scriptures on the ministry of the Spirit, and “growing into the image of Christ” were taken as going along with a practical reversal of sin that conversion was supposed to initiate.

So both the “psychologizing” approach, and the “Bible only” approach are operating off of this same premise.

However, a “change of life” is not exclusive to Christianity (even though they often have made a big point of non-Christians “doing whatever they please”, and thus contributing to the “downfall of morality” in society).
Jungian psychology and eastern philosophy, for instance, teach something called “relativization of the ego” [i.e. “removing it as the center of existence”] in favor of some bigger “spiritual” reality, which would match what Christians teach regarding ‘attitude change’, through which ego should be diminished, and others focused on more. This will center around an internal source of guidance that is not naturally conscious to the ego.
This is what I’ve been discussing in some other articles recently. (My need to write this article is to clarify how I believe that relates to the gospel in the face of those who will say it is an incompatible “addition”).
So, notice, when you really look at it, it sounds a lot like what many Christians talk about, doesn’t it?

Critics of psychology and other modern trends in the Church often recognize this, and then often make a big deal of it, insisting that the God who “changes us” is external and not “internal”, and criticize the larger body of evangelicalism for the internal focus. (Michael Horton, who I cite a lot is a Reformed teacher who is a good example of this. I like him for pointing out the internal focus of modern worship, among other things). Yet, this divine “process” is still said to be done through the INdwelling Spirit. It’s still internal. As they will all acknowledge, it is by [an internally held] “faith” rather than [external] “sight”.
(Some will try to appeal to the “general revelation” of “nature” and its “intelligent design” as an “external” proof of God, but ultimately, it still has to be interpreted internally this way, through a presupposed “faith”, so even that is still internal. I guess people like Horton would try to get around that through the absolute monergism of “unconditional election”, where it is God who chooses the person to believe in Him, instead of them choosing Him; but yet again, this is still an internal process!)

The difference is, these other belief systems do not try to make fear as the motivator. Like if your behavior is not changing, you’re probably not really “converted” and may still end up going to a literal burning Hell. (The other religions and philosophies are the ones most likely to say “Hell is what you make it here on earth”).
Hence, those belief systems are less likely to focus on behavior, and be more permissive of the things such as the sexual behaviors the Church has long focused on (adultery, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, lust) and so it seems Christianity is the only one that demands “behavior change” and thus in their argument is the “glue” to society’s morality.

This is important, because when regeneration and sanctification are turned into “inner”-focused “change” or “growth” processes , then the rest of the world will naturally draw a parallel with other religions and philosophies which teach inner change. What we end up with is the familiar cliché Christians have long complained and preached against: that “all religions are the same, there are many different paths; Christ is just one of them, and it’s all about inner growth and [inner and outer] love”.

A Gospel that says the problem is guilt (and thus “sin” as “falling short”), and the solution is Christ alone bearing that guilt, and NOT man’s efforts or striving (“growth”), clearly stands apart from all the others.
To insist that every nonreligious psychology or therapy is wrong because “The Bible” is supposed to be used to accomplish those things reduces the Bible and its Gospel to to the level of those “self-help” therapies
, and then the much decried “secularists” and eclectics are right, then! The only difference is that you’ve added this ongoing debt and fear of Hell to it. And that just looks to everybody like an unnecessary addition, and with an ulterior motive behind it to boot.

So new evangelicals adopt psychological concepts in order to be “relevant”, and old-liners condemn them for trying to be relevant, yet arguing essentially that Scripture itself is “relevant” without the terms. They’re still forcing “relevance” on scripture.

Some at this point may grant that the Biblical “process” is the same as the nonChristian ones, but the difference is it being done “in the name of Jesus”, making it power from the true God instead of a part of “false religion” or “demonic power”. But if it’s still not really the process being described in the Bible, then making them the same is blurring the Gospel. You’d be better off just referencing those external psychologies, so long as they don’t contradict the Gospel or reference the demonic powers (which is what I’m being careful of with the Jungian concepts I’m reading about. Like I see how some of them can lead to eastern religious concepts like reincarnation, or “the Self” being the same thing as God.
So, for instance, I can recognize myself going through a natural “midlife” process where (according to Jung) a transcendent, unconscious reality is drawing emotional energy away from ego pursuits and identity. This I believe is how God created our souls. I can then look into ways to adapt to this change, being aware of what is happening, but without adopting all the religious practices (such as meditation to other gods or whatsoever).
Salvation is secure, because it is from Christ, not my own efforts (including to stay spiritually “pure”). So I have “peace” in that regard, and don’t have to fear making a mistake and being “in trouble” with God.

*Since [the Gospel] wasn’t [about an internal focus], then it is not in competition with psychology and other theories’ internal focus. Individuation for instance, is not “spirituality stripped of God” (as I could imagine some charging) because faith in God was not meant to accomplish the same things.
It is better to differentiate the two, then to try to make the Bible/Gospel all-inclusive to cover the “needs” of the other view.

Prayer is taught in scripture as “making your requests known to God” (Phil.4:6), not any psychic change. (One may recoil at and deny the term “psychic”, but all that means is “pertaining to the psyche”. Whenever a Christian utters the familiar phrase “prayer changes you”, he is giving it psychic power! This is from when some, acknowledging that prayer “might not change the circumstances” then make “changing you” its primary purpose!)

The passage in Philippians (which is one of the main sources of this “spiritual growth” concept) is saying that one should pray instead of being anxious about anything (and then lists other virtues to “add” to this) which would grant them God’s “peace”. This may seem like a “supernatural growth process” (through “the power of positive thinking”), but it’s common sense that anxiety is the opposite of peace (with or without God).

The issue is what exactly causes the anxiety being referred to in the first place. This is where people will turn to therapy to get to the root of their problems, and “Bible-answers-only” critics will scold them for it.
Much of the anxiety referred to in the New Testament was NOT the “daily mundane circumstances” referenced in modern teaching, but rather about redemption, and persecution by those insisting one must be under the Law in order to be loved by God. Hardships were often held as the sign that one was “cursed” by God.
So naturally, Paul’s answer is to make your requests known to God and not be anxious about these things. This is very important to understand in reading these passages. This would be the purpose of “faith”, not a growth process that presumably makes us more fit for Heaven.

The point here is, to repeat, if we portray the Gospel as being focused on behavior, then we actually reduce it to just another self-help/growth philosophy, as much as we may decry it being relegated to such by larger society. The point of the Gospel is freedom from the sin taken on by knowledge of good and evil. This will hopefully affect our behavior, but it is not focused on the behavior.

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26 Comments
  1. A good example of what I’m talking about is this statement from outspoken Christian psychology critic David Cloud:
    http://www.wayoflife.org/index_files/self_esteem_and_unconditional_love.html

    While acknowledging that the conscience (an “inner voice”) produces guilt and negative thoughts, the proposed solution is not the biblical path of regeneration through repentance and faith followed by a Christian walk of obedience and confession. The proposed solution, instead, is to lower the standards of morality.

    Christian counsellors who have borrowed the self-esteem doctrine also tend to downplay the absoluteness of God’s Law, the necessity of strict obedience, and they replace the biblical means of soothing the conscience with psychological mumbo-jumbo.

    As much as he is rejecting psychology, he is simply setting the biblical teachings of “regeneration”, “repentance”, “faith”, “obedience” and “confession” in its place, giving them the same effects. If you just do all those things, then you will be healed of everything [psychologically, that is], and this is the whole purpose of the Gospel anyway: Soothing the conscience”!
    In other words follow these steps and you will achieve victory”, which is the very “formula” used by all of those popular Christian leaders he criticizes in the article!

    And a Catholic would agree almost perfectly with such a “works”-oriented approach (though probably having a different take on the “regeneration” part. Speaking of which; a point I made on my old psychology essay http://www.erictb.info/psychology.html, since this is likely referring to Christians anyway, then wouldn’t “regeneration” and “faith” already be taken care of? Or is it something progressively needed if one hasn’t gotten over his negative thoughts and [any] guilt? Or worse yet, maybe he’s not really saved if he still has a problem! While such teachers are not necessarily saying this directly, it’s still implied. This is why this teaching leads to wrongful judging).

    Noteworthy is that the very term “soothing the conscience” is something used when someone tries to make up for their offense with some deed of their own choosing to placate the other person. That’s the very antithesis of the Gospel, and the definition of “works-righteousness”!
    This is totally man-centered, every bit as much as the much decried “self-esteem” teaching! They criticize others for “lowering the standards of morality”, but they are the ones thinking like the miscreant trying to get away with something!

    He’s even criticizing “unconditional love” here, but that is the agape taught in the Gospel, including what God showed us (this IS the Gospel, in fact!) Do they really think it’s about meeting God’s “conditions”? That is clearly works-salvation! (Christ is the one who “met” the conditions!)

    He then criticizes a pair of writers for saying “God always accepts our best”, but again, does he think he is actually living up to “the absoluteness of God’s Law”, or does he have any realization that he too falls short, and thus is saved only by Grace? If the latter, then what really sets him apart from everyone else (“unsaved” sinner and all these errant Christians alike)? Why, he’s striving to follow God’s absolutes (and of course, preaching others to as well).
    Basically, giving his “best”. It’s either “his best” or he believes he has attained God’s standard. There is no other other alternative (other than rejecting God altogether where it’s all moot, or accepting God and realizing it is not about your “choices”, effort, or performance at all!)

    This is why writers like Michael Horton criticize “fundamentalists” of this sort right along with the New Evangelicals for “lowering God’s standards” (not comprehending His absolute holiness), and thinking “their best” will give them some merit with God. (They think they are actually “pulling it off” as he puts it!) However they phrase it, with that term or not, or with self-esteem and psychology or “you’re a filthy sinner who needs to repent”, it’s the same thing!

    (It’s true that the New evangelical leaders will often emphasize the impossibility of the standards and their negative affect on our psyches —and then some therapeutic solution of course, but without clearly pointing to the Gospel solution. This is what then leaves it open for legalists to put works back into the equation, even under such Biblical terms as “repentance” and “obedience”
    It’s also true that basing “self-esteem” on “you were valuable enough for Christ to die for”, and “you must love yourself before you can love others” as many do, is not scriptural).

    The Gospel removes our shame before God, but this is not merely “soothing the conscience” (for it will still bother us when we fail to love our fellow man), and neither is it healing us of all our other problems.

    See also
    https://erictb.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/an-example-of-the-legalism-of-the-running-the-race-teaching

  2. An example of how scriptures are torn out of their contexts and used to counter therapy is ES Williams, whom Cloud cites. In this article “Depression and the Bible” http://www.depressionandthebible.com/?page_id=127 he states:

    A theme that runs through the Bible is that sin causes a troubled spirit, a guilty conscience, spiritual darkness and deep distress. The Lord warns Israel of the consequences of not obeying his laws. ‘The Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life’ (Deuteronomy 28:65-66).

    The passage is God warning Israel about the captivity they would go into if they broke His Law. Where do we get the authority to expand this to us today, especially, once again, since we are not even under that Covenant, let alone the situation of being a physical nation whom God directly promised national blessing if they obeyed, and captivity if they disobeyed?

    Of course, this undergirds the entire premise of old-line fundamentalism, because America has long been branded the new “chosen” nation blessed for its supposed “obedience” in the past, but now “cursed” for disobedience (including “humanistic psychology”, and I’ve seen where it always comes back to the “destruction of America”).
    But get the catch, it’s everyone else’s disobedience! Those preaching this never think that they (with this combatative spirit, perhaps, or other sins they think don’t matter) might be part of the sin of the nation (as we see the prophets of Israel included themselves in their preaching). They’re following God; it’s everyone else that is ruining everything for all of us.

    But taking the Old Testament out of context (and not understanding the overlap of covenants with the New Testament, and then taking that out of context too), we always end up thinking God is still dealing with a physical “chosen nation”. We ‘officially’ say it’s now a “spiritual” nation of believers, but we still have to keep the whole physical nation in there, and try to apply all of the “blessings” and “curses” to us/them, and this is branded as “God’s promises“.

    So in the same vein, Psalms 42 and 43 are used to claim: “Scripture teaches that the soul, the inner essence of each living being, is the seat of emotional suffering; it is not a chemical disturbance in the brain that causes a man to be downcast.”

    This is a short passage covering the despair of David’s “soul” from being in an enemy nation. Because the passage concludes “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”, this all by itself, proves that “the soul” [with its sin, of course] is the sole problem —for every man who ever lived, and NEVER chemicals in the brain. (Even though the brain is affected by substances as drugs and alcohol prove as plain as day!)

    “The message of Scripture is that the cure for emotional suffering does not lie in ourselves or in psychological counselling but in trusting the promises of God. God has created the soul of man, and God alone can heal a broken downcast soul.”

    God also created the body, but people like this (being “cessationists” who reject the claims of “faith healers”) generally do not believe He heals the body without any human intervention.
    Most people believe physical pain is apart of the “fallen” world; so why is psychological (i.e. “soul”) pain set apart, as being supernaturally healed only? (It probably has to do with the dualism of “historic Christianity”, where only the “spirit/soul” is important to God).

    You wonder how people who handle scripture (and logic) like this could get on such a righteous platform against the modern church’s doctrinal deviations!

    Even though though he acknowledged “sorrow of the soul” and “adverse circumstances” as other causes of emotional suffering for believers, regarding nonbelievers, here again we see the assumption that all depression is something caused only by sin:

    The medicalising of emotional suffering, by attaching a label of depression, means that an unregenerate sinner is not responsible for his miserable condition, for he is sick and in need of therapy. When a sinner is convinced that a chemical imbalance is the cause of his misery it is difficult for him to see his need for salvation.

    If some new evangelical types try to sell the faith to the world on the premise that “Jesus will make you happy” or otherwise “feel good”, I’m sure most of these critics will say that is wrong. But we see now where the new evangelicals got it from! All they did was dress it up a little more.

    And then let’s not forget when non-Christians (and disillusioned Christians slipping away from the faith) throw it back at us when we’re still miserable, or at least mean-spirited! (Those guilty of the latter will often excuse this as “righteous anger against sin” or something; one site calls it “instant preaching”; but that’s not fooling anyone!) Then we say that’s “the devil” attacking us, but we’re giving him occasion; making ourselves big targets when we posture with these unrealistic ideals we judge others with.

    So Williams then continues on with “the answer is to trust in the promises of God” with the “trials” mentioned by Peter and others as the “suffering, both physical and emotional, [that in a fallen, sinful world] are a part of the Christian life”, that God “allows his people to suffer for a while in order to prefect[sic], establish, strengthen and settle them” and “that joy may be the outcome of suffering and sorrow for Christ’s sake”.

    This is exactly what the new evangelicals (who add therapy) claim.
    So the criticism is strictly about “adding some other technique” then, which supposedly renders it “insufficient”. But the sufferings of most people today are not the “trials” discussed in Scripture. So most of those “promises” were made to them in their particular situations.

    The immediate example being this Psalm.
    Where do we get from “When you, soul [of DAVID], are distressed [from being in an enemy nation], I will praise God…” (and all of this under the actual promise of eventual victory over the physical enemies), the conclusion “All of our emotional problems today are from our sins, (or [for believers] God ‘testing’ us), and never any chemical or other problem”?

    Since David had distinct specific “promises” regarding his military battles, how does this translate to us? If we were damaged by abuse (the “sin” of someone else), just believe that God is going to roast that person in Hell, and that’s supposed to give us “joy” and heal us? Or, just the old standby of “you’ll forget all your pain now in Heaven”.
    But we still have to for now live in this world with our problems, and they don’t just go away with some simple formula, even if it’s one that appeals to “God”.

    This again turns Scriptures into a form of psychological therapy. Even if you insist it is God doing the “healing”. (It still ends up all about us and our “choices”). Thus it also gets included in Horton’s criticism of both fundamentalism and new evangelicalism as making it seem God’s Law “is only there for our own good, our own happiness and fulfillment anyway”, and that it’s the same “god within” concept (i.e. all about “me and my ‘personal relationship with Jesus'”) as modern eclectic religion, which the old-liners are criticizing the newer churches for “compromising” with. No less than with modern charismatics (yet another group they condemn), God is like an “energy source” we “tap into” —in this case, to heal all our psychological problems!

    So it looks like their approach to “a broken downcast soul” that comes to them will be a very cold one, simply telling them of their need to repent and get right with God (By following His Laws, including the “laws” of spiritual health and growth).
    So of course, they will be forced to explain why the “promises” alone didn’t heal any person it happens to not work for by further judging the person suffering. Just like the “health and wealth” teachers do!
    And, Just like Job’s friends!. And we see God was far angrier with them than He was with Job! This is why one new evangelical leader, Dwight L. Carlson, calls this whole approach the “emotional health gospel”; the psychological parallel to the “health and wealth gospel”, which these leaders are equally against. Christians are “shooting their wounded”.
    “God does not help a person who just does not want help” I heard one person teach. Apparently, he didn’t really “trust” the ‘promises’. It works! Try it; it’s so easy and simple there is no excuse! (But the fine print is that it’s really a hard, long “daily struggle”).

    We’re just trying to pacify people with this, and this contextualization is the basis of this whole crusade these leaders are waging against other Christians!

    Now here, we see the real threat of psychology; —to the power base:

    In conclusion we should understand that the secular view of depression, by medicalising emotional suffering, has removed it from the spiritual arena and the influence of the church. This means that many people with emotional suffering are being referred to psychotherapists and psychiatrists and not pastors and church elders.

    But to repeat to try to put psychological problems “in the arena” of “the influence of the church” turns the church and the Gospel then into a competing “spiritual” enterprise along with all the other forms of “spirituality”!

    The Gospel is the account of how man fell into shame and separation from God, through the “knowledge of good and evil” (such leaders vehemently insist on MORE of such knowledge as the cure, and less of it as the sole cause of all problems), and God’s remedy of salvation through Christ’s work (not our own “choices” to believe the right doctrine, follow the right practices and develop the right attitudes to life —already this sounds like the Buddhist “Eightfold Path”!)
    While this should give us a “peace” and lack of “anxiety” over salvation, it never even claims to solve all or really any of our other problems! It should remove the primal shame before God, but a lot of other things cause depression, emotional pain, etc.

    The teaching of both [most] new evangelicals and especially old-line fundamentalists turns this on its ear by having “Bible principles” heal our pain from daily circumstances (with therapy simply as an aid, in the former camp), and if we aren’t achieving this, then we should be anxious about whether we’re really saved [hence, the “depressed” person assumed to “need” salvation, regeneration, etc. as they keep putting it] or at least “pleasing God”, “filled with the Spirit”, etc. or not!

  3. Here’s a good example, from a Facebook Meme:
    'Like' if you believe Jesus can heal depression

    Now here’s the passage being cited:

    1 Peter 5:6-7
    Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

    Nowhere does this say anything about healing depression. The previous chapter is where he mentions suffering “as a Christian” rather than “as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody”.
    Even this must be kept in the context of the fact that people, looking for a “kingdom” where they were free from oppression, looked at suffering as a sign of people punished by God for sins. Well, if you’re committing those other things, then it could possibly be true (Rom.13), and you have a problem. But if you’re being “punished” for being a Christian, obviously you’re on God’s side, and the persecutors are in the wrong. No need to worry about being in trouble with God.
    And it’s addressed to those first century readers waiting for a “soon” end to the age of Law (which is where the judgmentalism was coming from in its corrupted leaders). They would be “exalted” when that system would be brought down in a few years afterward.

    Nowhere does this suggest that people today suffering “depression”, and all the other effects of the mundane problems we face, are to be happy for the suffering. (Which is the basis of the claim Jesus “heals” it).

    Many teachers actually hold losing a job, house, relationship or health to be the “suffering” described in this passage, and elsewhere, and if you don’t “get with the program” (by “changing your attitude”), then it’s seen as rejecting God’s “promises” and not “submitting”.
    So of course, when you’re left with “depression”, its because of your sin, and you simply didn’t “tap into the power” offered you. Jesus would “heal” it if you simply made the “choice” and “followed the right ‘steps'”.
    (So easy to say to someone else, yet so hard to grapple with when you’re the one being fed this during your darkest period. And why stop there? Since this is so simple, let’s go after other Christians who try to use “the humanistic world’s” method of therapy, some figure).

    They end up like Job’s friends, who went on the very assumption this passage is speaking against. His ongoing problem is because of his sin. And this is what’s implied and placed on sufferers today by misusing these passages for such simplistic answers they were not even teaching.

    Again, it turns the Gospel into a competing psychiatric technique, as much as many are against such a “humanistic” field.

  4. CRI’s Hank Hanegraaf has been going against a lot of different trends in the Church (where his predecessor, Walter Martin focused mainly on altogether outside “cults”), and with this new book, he’s really turning up the volume on popular Christian leader Joel Osteen:

    The Osteenification of American Christianity:
    https://www.kintera.org/site/c.muI1LaMNJrE/b.8995853/k.60DB/OSTEENification__CRI1403/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp?c=muI1LaMNJrE&b=8995853&en=fgIRIROsGeKJJRMAJ8KGJVOFKqIYK7OEK9JHJRMAIhIMK3PQE

    I’m no fan of Osteen, and while he was never one of those I was really put off by, I can see why apologists like Hanegraaf, as well as the old-liner fundamentalists, Reformed, etc. would go after him. What they’re all saying about him is for the most part true. But the problem is, they themselves are not as far removed from his errors as they may think.

    What struck me on that site was this statement:

    “Joel Osteen’s Christianity is the triumph of technique over theology, style over substance, and the preeminence of psychobabble over precept and principle.

    As I have been saying regarding those old-liners who criticize new-evangelicalism (including even Hanegraaf himself!) for “pyschobabble” and just about everything else they do, what they all agree on is stuff like “steps to growth” based on the above method of exegeting various scriptures (such as the ones in the previous post) on suffering and “the changed life”. That’s what comes to my mind when I read “precept and principle”. (In addition to, as I’ve pointed out, it being the language of Law). But I’m sure Osteen teaches the same things; just breezing through some of his articles, I can see some of the same “principles and precepts”.

    The main difference with him is that he focuses on the “victory” and other “blessings” a bit more than the others, to the point of falling into the “prosperity gospel” category. Wikipedia references a CBS story, “Joel Osteen Answers His Critics”: “When asked if he’s a prosperity teacher, Osteen responded that if prosperity means God wants people to be blessed and healthy and have good relationships, then yes, he considers himself a prosperity teacher, but if it’s about money, he does not. He has specifically stated he never preaches about money, because of the reputation of televangelists”. (It also cites Horton’s criticism of him as making “religion about us instead of about God”).
    In another interview: “I think prosperity, and I’ve said it 1,000 times, it’s being healthy, it’s having great children, it’s having peace of mind. Money is part of it; and yes, I believe God wants us to excel…to be blessed so we can be a bigger blessing to others.”

    This is pretty much what most new-evangelicals teach, in practice; including, as far as I have seen, Haanegraf.

    What they’re against him for is more likely for being soft on homosexuality, “sin”, “Satan” and “hell”. And for gaining so much popularity with such a “feel good” brand of faith.
    This is what makes him seem more like “prosperity gospel”, because the first thing you think of when you hear his name is these “positive” messages, rather than some deep theology, or calling out “sin”.

    So it’s not that he denies “principles and precepts”, he’s just stronger on the “love” of God than on judgment and doctrine (which is what often leads to people judging others over, and precisely why leaders like this go the route they do).

    Still, as I’ve been pointing out, the message of the rest of mainstream evangelicalism just as much turns scripture into a psychological healing program, and also uses “techniques” and “style” (that often affects doctrine and the substance of the Church); whether church/organization growth, doctrinal argumentation, fear tactics, and other “selling” methods. (It seems more than half of the CRI e-mails I get are ads for expensive “Christian cruises”, and just about every other one is selling something, even if it is some doctrinal book! Hanegraaf adds “consumerism” to the criticism of Osteen in the audio broadcast on the book).

    So Osteen, I have always seen as just the consistent direction (taken to the extreme) of the rest of evangelicalism’s understanding of scripture and the attempt to keep it relevant today.

    • Another round of fire against Osteen for his wife saying that “when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God… we’re doing it for ourselves…because God wants you to be happy…because that’s what makes God happy”.
      http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/09/04/joel-osteen-wife-heretics-thats-america-loves
      http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/09/03/the-osteen-predicament-mere-happiness-cannot-bear-the-weight-of-the-gospel
      http://thefederalist.com/2014/09/02/the-osteens-donald-sterling-moment/
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/victoria-osteen-reactions_n_5759860.html

      The rebuttals are standard; with the mix of truth that he’s changed the Gospel to some unbiblical concept of “happiness”, but also the typical “what about sin and repentance”, and “all the suffering Christians”; and that God “promises us suffering”.

      What’s ignored is that this “turn or burn” duty faith that says you must give God something to escape Hell is precisely what implies that “it’s for your own good” (not God’s; He’s “sovereign”, and doesn’t “need” you, but He wants you to turn to Him to [depending on the school of thought] escape the eternal suffering sin causes; or that He will have to punish you with because He can’t look on your sin [if you haven’t met the requirements for it to be “covered”].
      (Calvinism is the only one that is more consistent; that God doesn’t want certain people saved, and that who receives eternal bliss in Heaven or torment in Hell is all about His “Glory” and “secret counsel”, and not us. The first three authors might be Calvinist (Reformed). But then it’s not really good news, because you can’t know who will persevere until the end to prove themselves “elect”).
      Inasmuch as the ball is placed in our corner; that we have to “do” something; it becomes about us and our benefit, and Christ’s work was really not in itself sufficient in covering people. It has to be manually applied, just like the physical blood in the Old Testament.

      Also, the “counsel” given to all the Christians “promised” suffering (which in the cozy US is interpreted as daily mundane “problems”) boils down to the same “steps” of “faith” and developing “joy” through the right “attitude”, as what Osteen teaches.

      So yes, “The consumer culture, the cult of the therapeutic, the marketing impulse, and the sheer superficiality of American cultural Christianity probably made the Osteens inevitable. The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire. And, to cap it all off, they give Americans what Americans crave — reassurance delivered with a smile.”
      This is really little different from what many of these critics teach themselves, in different ways (and with perhaps smaller church organizations and lesser fame), and with the fear basis of duty-faith tacked on. It’s just a— not extreme, but rather lesser fulfillment of those same trends.

  5. This might be as good a place (rather than making a new article) to discuss something I’ve thought about for three decades: the true meaning of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

    When I first heard it, before becoming Christian, and thus still greatly irked by conservative religion’s contrariness, I thought it was a man pouring out his heart for a better world. Even after becoming Christian, I realized it was more a new-age dream, but still thought that, from a person who didn’t know the Gospel (which was largely clouded by a church gone astray over the centuries), it was still a noble idea.

    So today, someone from the Facebook “fulfilled view” circle of friends posts this site:

    http://themindunleashed.org/2014/07/john-lennons-imagine-made-comic-strip.html

    Christians hear the “No religion too” (and the “no heaven” and “no hell”) and flip at those things and miss the whole CONTEXT. (Notice, he doesn’t say anything about “No God“; but this is what everyone interprets this as).

    Think; what are the purposes of “heaven”, “hell” and “religion”? Do these even exist in their idea of the perfect existence (what they call “the eternal Kingdom”)? Is this the way it was in Eden before the Fall? Is people dying and going to a separate “heaven”, and especially a Hell (and having to strive through a system called “religion”, to avoid it*) the ideal way things should be?
    *Even when the religion insists in “salvation by grace”, in practice, it’s still about “striving”.

    Even the “religion” part; Rev. 21:22 says “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Religion, heaven and hell are all about DEATH (separation), and the whole purpose of the Gospel is the end of separation.

    But they just react, and cannot see this. He’s a former Beatle, and a new age hippie, so anything he says must be wishing there were no God; “so that we can do anything we want with no accountability“. And that’s what the thing called “religion” is all about, and what they feel threatened by. The loss of “accountability”, which they have historically derived their power in society from. And they’ve long complained of losing this! They truly cannot see past this. (Think Matt.20:1-16).
    But this is precisely the LAW the Gospel said was against man, and thus had to end. (The most likely etymology is “religion” is from “rely”, which is “re-” ⦅”back”⦆ + “ligare” ⦅”bind“⦆; to “bind again”. This right away should bring to mind Gal. 4:9, 5:1ff).

    Religion, heaven and hell are all about DEATH (separation), and the whole purpose of the Gospel is the end of death.

    NOW, where the religionists are right, is the issue of how this ideal world he’s “imagining” was to come about. He and other new-agers seemed to believe it would just evolve on it’s own, and/or with help from us, as we “join” them, to create this utopia of unity. But this is where the Gospel points out that man is in a fallen condition and cannot do it. Man’s works overall only lead to evil and suffering.

    The Fulfilled view involves the question of whether God will still “count man’s sins against him”. (Which then ties into the whole “hell” issue). Still, even if not, God has not stopped the actual “sinful” behaviors that cause evil and pain (which is what would be necessary for the world Lennon imagines). And thus, it is highly arrogant for man to think he can do it, or denying of God to think it will just happen on its own.
    I would say in the Fulfilled age, there is a greater level of conscience, driving our attempts to make life better. Still, given the underlying instinctual nature behind this, we will never as a whole rise above the tendencies to rob and kill, and let’s not forget stuff like mental illness we don’t even blame on the culprits. Nature itself would have to be radically changed, and likely universally (Sagan and others even began surmising that if there were advanced civilazations out there, it would probably just be the same old thing, and we may find ourselves taken over someday), and that’s where the theological necessity comes in.

    But religion fails to realize how it loses the true points by focusing on the wrong things; barking up the wrong tree. (And then often spend a lot of energy positing utopian schemes of their own, where they try to influence politics, and have even insisted things like more war is the way to peace).

  6. So this teaching even reaches the issue of suicide, now going strong with the death of Robin Williams. Discussion has even arisen from Christians about him being in Hell. While I never knew him to be particularly Christian (at least not a “born again”), you would think it didn’t matter how he died, if he died “unrepentant”. But some think suicide is a kind of technical “unpardonable sin”, since you won’t be alive to “repent” of it. (I used to think this years ago, when I didn’t believe in salvation by Grace).

    Some, even some fairly conservative ones, aren’t that “hard”. I had debated along side of them, against this one old married couple in particular on a forum years ago, where the guy was blind, and in a wheelchair, so figures that he lived in suffering so much, and could thus testify that no amount of suffering is ever an excuse for suicide, so anyone who ever kills himself, including if they appeared to be a “believer”, would definitely end up in Hell, as a de-facto “rejection” of Christ (lack of true “faith”) and lack of “regeneration”. We all agreed they were pretty legalistic in total mindset (basically all of their beliefs). They gave the rationale I mention below.
    This kind of thinking is what the teaching this entry about ultimately leads to.

    Here is a good Fulfilled View perspective article on the issue:

    http://www.stevemcswain.com/suicide-unpardonable-sin/

    On the FB feed, I commented:

    From what I’ve seen, this ties in with the rationale that God gives suffering for good (in part, due to man’s “sinfulness”, and deserving so much more suffering in Hell), so whatever problems you are facing on earth, there is no excuse to escape like that, because all you have to do is receive the “power” from Christ to cope, and no one ever gets “more than you can bear”. You still suffer, but then develop a better attitude towards it. (This based on scriptures on suffering or temptation to the early Church, but most of these are taken out of that context).
    So when people do kill themselves, or even if they don’t, but nevertheless are very miserable in life, all they will get from Christians who think like this is cold judgment.

    Obviously, from a fulfilled perspective, it’s just one error piled on top of another (futurism, duty faith, power of God as energy source like electricity, etc), and yes Augustine [whom someone mentioned] is the source of much “historical church” error on several fronts.

    Here’s another good article, going after the common charge that suicides are just being “selfish”:

    There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide
    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5672519

    That’s part of the justification for saying they’re going to Hell. They are SO “selfish”. There’s an element of truth to that (I especially think this way sometimes with all the rash of people jumping in front of subway trains in the past few years). But it’s a lot more complex than that. We’re all selfish, basically, only this is a more extreme situation.
    The article even points out that the person does often consider his loved ones, and refrains for a while for their sake, but all it takes is a moment of intense pain, and a rash decision. Things aren’t always as rational (think “judging”) as people make them out to be.

    • Joni Eareckson Tada is now getting some mention, as she wrote a blog article http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/10/15/why-brittany-maynards-choice-to-die-is-not-personal-or-private/34591 about someone who is planning assisted suicide due to a brain tumor. “The saddest part of the story for me, however, is not her prognosis, but her decision to end her life prematurely”. This, basically, due to her waking up on “the other side” of death, in Hell (i.e. “grim, joyless existence…without God”). This then gets tied up in the “removal of God” from society, and “the moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel”.

      She then appeals to her own tesimony of “feeling” the “the love of Jesus strengthen and comfort me through my own cancer, chronic pain, and quadriplegia”.
      Of course, this gets back to the main subject, of this “inner” effect (that really is a matter of “faith in the unseen”, and not something actually felt, and thus not actually any real [physical] relief), being made into the whole point of the Gospel. And the resulting judgment, of “Look at me; I went through this; I got over it and achieved ‘victory’ [or point to someone else sharing a ‘testimony’], so there’s NO EXCUSE for anyone else! They’re failing to ‘trust God’ and His ‘promises'”.

      I just can’t help notice that she also was in the right times and places to manage to profit from her story. I first remembered her appearing on the [secular] sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, and I’m sure, also the 700 Club around the same time, as the sort of “poster child” for the condition, and spreading the “inspirational” message. Then, years afterward, she emerges as this big success story; married, rich and famous, (and becoming a staple in the ever growing popular “Christian victory” teaching industry); and thus able to point directly to how it all “worked out” for her in the end.

      Not everyone has it like that, so it’s easy to judge someone still back “where I once was”, but making different decisions.
      (The author of the site in the first link, above, posted this on FB, and the debate became whether Joni was being “judgmental”, or whether those criticizing her for being judgmental were being judgmental themselves. They’re not the ones condemning someone to Hell, so people need to think what “judgment” really means, in this particular context, and not just throw it back at someone else as an empty counter-assault).

      I’m not saying anyone should ever kill themselves, but the Church can make pain so much worse with this teaching of theirs. (But it sure “works” for them, though!)

  7. I think the crux of the problem in popular teaching (from mainstream evangelicals, to old-line fundamentalists, to sectarian groups such as the sabbatarian “lawkeepers”) is a misunderstanding of the “new nature”. We think this “new nature” somehow makes it possible to keep the Law, at least in a way the carnal Israelites weren’t able, or something like that. But I do not see anyone keeping the Law THAT good.

    When I used to read sabbatarian literature (Armstrongism, Adventism, CG7’s, sacred namers, etc). their teaching on daily living was identical to that of the Sunday Keepers, and (with the exception of the religious themes), even secular “self-help” as well.
    It’s all about striving, struggling, taking two steps forward and one back, etc, and always topped off with how “difficult” and a “lifelong struggle” it is.
    Yet then, the Christians (including lawkeepers) claim only believers with this “new nature” are capable of changing their behavior (since it’s “supernatural”, and only exclusive to “true” converts). But that’s not what I saw!

    As a young believer, when I sorted through all of this, coming out of an agnostic “naturalistic” background that attributed “difficulty” and “pain” to evolution and the laws of the universe basically (which these groups all condemn), rather than a “personal” Creator, it was totally confusing, because we’re claiming some supernatural “new life”, but it’s really no different than what anyone else is doing. And then I was supposed to be going and telling everyone else, what “supernatural power” I had.
    And scriptures cited on “difficulty” were addressing a first century Church being persecuted for the faith, yet we in 20th/21st century America had to take all these and apply them to our daily “mundane” circumstances (the biggest “difficulties” many of us face), and it just didn’t seem to fit. But away I plugged on, trying to “keep” the Law.

    But thanks to the Fulfilled View, I realized that the “new nature” is a POSITIONAL one, where God sees Christ’s righteousness (including those “fruits of the spirit”) in us, rather than our own imperfect efforts. Our efforts, as good as they may look, stem from the same “flesh” that produces those bad fruits, and “lawlessness” in general. Everyone is still judging these things in terms of actual, literal BEHAVIORS, but it’s really about the positional “nature”.

    The lawkeepers quibble over Paul, citing Peter’s warning that many would misunderstand him. But it’s precisley the tactic of taking a verse here or a chapter there (used by many), that is most prone to misunderstanding. (Armstrong even advocated this, likening the Bible to a “puzzle”, whose “pieces” must be put back together “here a little, there a little”, citing Isaiah; —totally out of context!)
    It’s like we are given a whole picture, we then fracture it into little pieces (the “verses”), and then everyone claims to put it back together the “right” way. It shouldn’t be “fractured” in the first place!

    Lawkeepers I was debating with even claimed the Law was God’s “gift” to us. But Paul in Ephesians is clear that salvation by grace through faith (and that’s the “faith OF Christ”), is the gift; “not of works, lest any man should boast” (which is exactly what people are doing, whether the sabbatarians, or the old line fundamentalists, or anyone accusing others of “lawlessness”).

    One person cites Eph.2:10 about being “created unto good works”. The “works” they were created for were not THEIR works (their efforts at keeping commandments), but rather God/Christ’s works (“HIS workmanship”). It’s all about Him, not us.
    Though some translations interpret it in terms of what we “do”. It actually says that “we may walk in them”, which many will also associate with what we do, from the OT passages that use “walk” in this manner.

    But the work was SAVING us (v.5-6, 11ff, including “abolishing the enmity even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making PEACE”).

    If people’s emphasis on keeping laws was correct, then Christ was unnecessary, for they already had the Law before Him and were admonished to keep it better. What really changed? What was the cause of this “enmity” in the first place?
    Again, look at the CONTEXT of the whole passage. It’s all about reconciliation. The Law condemns us (creating the opposite of reconciliation) because we don’t keep it.

    The James passage on “faith without works” they cite also says “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Yet they all admit that we don’t keep them perfectly, but [from what they imply] as long as we’re trying, we’ll receive grace (scripture doesn’t say this).
    The context in James is people showing “respect to persons”, meaning discriminating against the poor in favor of the rich (which many seem to think nothing of). This technically doesn’t violate any of the commandments, but James, like Jesus showed in the Sermon on the Mount, shows that spiritually, it does.

    James was speaking to Jewish Christians, who gravitated more to the Law. I believe there was an overlap of covenants, so they were partly still under the Law, and they had to run the race to the end of the Old Covenant in order to receive the full promise of grace. So James is warning them (again, like Jesus did) that their compromises were not passing. They probably believed, like the lawkeepers today “well, just as long as I’m trying; I’ll be saved by faith”; i.e. “faith” will “fill in” the holes of their imperfect works). But as James is showing if you’re going to go by works (even under the banner of “faith”); you either keep the whole Law perfectly, or you’re judged “lawless”.

    People don’t even realize how much of their actions really violate the Law, and that’s the whole problem today as well.

    v12 says “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” They interpret “liberty” as “freedom from the power of sin”.
    So no matter how much you have to “strive”, and how “difficult” it is, and how many more rules we have to tack on, to make sure you don’t even come close to “crossing the line” into sinning, this is actually the true “liberty”. (Because again, it’s all about the behavior). They’ll often quote Jesus and Paul on being “slaves to sin”, but Jesus is pointing out the true state of those who thought as Abraham’s children they were keeping the Law pretty good, and then Paul expounds upon this showing the true positional nature of the concept. “Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?” When we read this, we think of being caught up in some addiction or bad habit, as opposed to “obedience” meaning getting over the habit, and thus keeping whichever commandment it was leading us to violate. But “obedience” (hypakoēn) simply means “compliance” or “submission”. It’s not necessarily something we DO (“active”). To stop relying on our effort and trust in Christ IS to “obey”; meaning “obey the Gospel”.

    To trust in that “striving” being held up as the true “liberty”, is actually the true “slavery” to sin!The result, as some have pointed out, is the Church’s obsession with “sin”. (Under the banner of trying to stamp it out). Meanwhile, to repeat, the people don’t even realize how much of their actions still really violate the Law.
    This is the true “slavery to sin”! And this is why Paul attributes it to the Law.

    v13, which they always seem to skip over, says “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” So even James is ultimately pointing to mercy or Grace!

    I had long focused on Michael Horton’s Beyond Culture Wars for its political discussion, but now I’m paying more attention to one passage, where he pretty much sums up the whole essence of the Gospel (and the current deviations from it) in a nutshell:

    The rich young ruler came to Jesus looking for the “one thing” he could do to be saved (Luke 19:18). Our Lord replied by first informing him that no one is good but God alone (v. 19). Next, Jesus tells the man, well-versed in the Law, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” And the ruler confidently replies, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'” (vv. 20-22).

    The rich young ruler…sought to justify himself, like the Pharisee in the parable Jesus told before this incident. He had misunderstood what the Law really required. He thought that because he had never thrust a sword through another man, he had never murdered; because he had never broken into a house or bank and stolen valuable possessions, he was not a thief. But Jesus tells the people in the Sermon on the Mount what the true righteousness of the Law requires: “You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment.” etc.

    It is not enough to resist the temptation to steal; when we fail to do everything in our power to protect our neighbor’s person and possessions, even if that means giving him or her the shirt off our back (v. 40), even if he or she is an enemy (v. 38), we are convicted thieves.

    This is why Jesus tells the ruler to go sell everything he has and to give it to the poor—to show the man that he hadn’t actually kept the Law, that he was a law-breaker like the common criminal. He had not loved his neighbor as himself. Suddenly, he was stripped of the righteousness he thought he possessed. It is indeed amazing that so many evangelical Christians [and even moreso, so-called “lawkeepers”] are so sure they, like the Pharisees, are pulling it off… .

    Paul says the Israelites are not saved, in spite of their zeal, precisely because…they do not know either the righteousness God requires (perfect conformity to the Law in the strictest sense we have just been discussing: loving God and our neighbor perfectly without a single thought of ourselves, for our entire lives) or the righteousness which God gives (in the Gospel, the robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness which is placed over our nakedness). In other words, because they did not really understand the Law,* they could not comprehend the Gospel. *[i.e. 1 Tim. 1:7]

    Similarly today, few seem to understand the Law of God: the righteousness God really demands, the wrath and judgment which are associated with our failure to keep that Law perfectly. To the question, “Does God expect human beings to be absolutely perfect?” nearly every believer, in our own informal surveys, has responded, “Of course not!” And yet, in that same Sermon on the Mount, our Lord declared, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Many people think that they are saved by trying their best to follow Jesus’ example, live for the Lord, and so on, not realizing that God doesn’t grade on a curve. He requires the original righteousness with which we were created. His character has not changed, and He will not accommodate His holiness to ours, His character to our own.

    This, indeed, is the pinch: God demands absolute perfection; I don’t have it. Therefore, must I be condemned? Not at all. If by trusting exclusively in the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, I am clothed in the very righteousness of Christ Himself, even God cannot find a spot or blemish in me. Thus, we are justified not by the Spirit working within us, in our heart [as the almost universal teaching today insists], but by Christ working for us nearly 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, a gift given through faith alone on account of Christ alone. It is a perfect righteousness imputed or credited to our account as though we ourselves had earned it, not an imperfect righteousness that results from our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

    This is the Gospel, with no additions and no subtractions. It was this message that Paul said was so essential that if anyone preaches contrary to it, or merely adds to it, he stands under the divine anathema.

    But we have confused the Law and the Gospel in our day, as the Galatians had done and as the medieval church had done. We have watered down the Law, so that it’s not quite so severe. God no longer requires such strict holiness and purity of heart, mind, and body. Just give Him our best, He’ll do the rest: that’s the message we often get these days. [i.e. argument of Judaism, Catholicism and “lawkeeping” sects and others that it’s not really about keeping it perfectly; just as long as we “repent” afterward]. The Law is only there for our own good, our own happiness and fulfillment anyway, right? [i.e. arguments ‘proving’ various commandments were for “health” or “moral glue of the nation” and other such beneficial uses]. And, as the Law has been reduced in its terror, so the Gospel has been reduced in its liberating word of pardon and justification. The Gospel becomes a new law that is easier and user-friendly.

    (Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars, p.111ff Moody, 1994. Emphasis and bracketed annotations added)

    This then leads to what I’ve quoted elsewhere; that “we would know better than to say ‘we are saved by our adherence to the Law’, but find it difficult to realize that saying ‘we shall achieve victory by following these steps’ is a new way of saying just that”.
    [Of course, he is not of the Fulfilled view, but rather believes God gives a limited number of “elect” the personal “faith” needed to “trust” Him. The Fulfilled view holds that saving “faith” is “OF Christ”; Christ’s own perfect faith, not the 〚imperfect〛faith of the people being saved (just like it’s not our imperfect works); and thus could be extended unconditionally once God’s plan advanced to the right time, which was when the Old Covenant was totally concluded in the first century. But otherwise, both views agree on a totally “monergistic” means of salvation, rather than a “synergistic” one based on manual “cooperation” on the part of converts].

    So it’s like just enough Law to hit other people over the head with, and just enough discomfort (“the daily struggle”, etc.) to wear like a badge, but not too much to really see that you’re really falling short, which was the law’s whole ultimate purpose in the first place!

    Like I find it funny, sabbatarians say how much “joy” it is to “rest” on the sabbath (“Why is rest so hard”? or however one meme goes), but of course it IS hard when you have to deal with being in a job that works on the day; if that’s all you can find. You have to leave it (and as hard as the job economy might be; and I personally have been there!), and THEN all of these leaders admit it’s “hard”, and tell you “trust God” in the “difficulty” of finding a new job or way to support yourself. (And most of them, themselves being supported by the church or ministry organization, which if big enough, shelters them from this problem).

    So this naturally connects to the whole standard “difficulties are good for you to make you grow”, and “you’ll get more rewards in the Kingdom” paradigm; identical to the top Sundaykeeping Christian teachings, minus the sabbath (Purpose Driven Life, etc.; and minus the religious theme altogether, identical to secular self-help).

    But things have been torn totally from their contexts. For one, the problem arises from not being in a NATION that is shaped around the sabbath (and in fact, their whole identity!) Yet, we apply this to people today, saying how “good” the Law is for them; it’s for US (And isn’t this exactly what Osteen’s wife just said?)

    So no, the Osteens are wrong; the Law was NOT for our pleasure, but then many “lawkeeper” arguments are wrong right along with him. The Law was to point us to Christ by showing us our need, from falling short.

  8. In all of the discussion about the Law, regeneration and salvation, (including the Pantelism pages on the main webspace), I forgot to mention 1 Peter 4:18 “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” This sabbatarian site http://www.pacinst.com/nslaw/chapter2/ntlaw.html for instance, says “First Peter 4:18 says that even the righteous, those who are keeping all the commandments, will very nearly not be saved.”
    The verse is always quoted by itself, in isolation from everythign else.
    There is no thought that this removes all hope, and puts everything in our hands. “By ourselves, without God’s grace, God’s power to keep us from sinning, it is totally impossible for us to obey the law.”

    God gives us some “help”, but according to Peter, it’s not even enough to keep most “righteous” from destruction! You have to struggle daily to “grow”, and most won’t win the “race”, so what does this “help” really accomplish? What is the point of the Gospel then?

    Peter is actually quoting Prov. 11:31. From The Pulpit Commentary

    Verse 31. – The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth. Them are two ways of understanding this verse. The word rendered “recompensed,” שַׁלַַ(shalam), is a vox media, and can be taken either in a good or bad sense. So the meaning will be, “The righteous meets with his reward upon earth, much more the sinner,” the “reward” of the latter being, of course, punishment. But the versions lead to another interpretation, by which “recompensed” is rendered “chastised;” and the meaning is – if even the righteous shall be punished for their trespasses, as Moses, David, etc., how much more the wicked! The Septuagint, quoted exactly by St. Peter (1 Peter 4:18) has, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

    This highlights the assumption that “saved” means “saved from Hell” (or eternal “annihilation” as most of the sabbatarians argue). It means some sort of punishment or “judgment” for their behavior. And that it would be worse for the “ungodly”, which in Peter’s context was those persecuting them for the Gospel, rather than obeying it.
    The Proverbs chapter is obviously laying out the pattern of the behavior the righteous and the wicked. And it clearly reflects a period of Law, and Peter’s time was the overlap of the Law with grace.

    Another argument, we can see on this Armstrongism page http://www.cogwriter.com/lawsdoneaway.htm is to divde the law between “the spiritual law”, which defines sin (such as the Ten Commandments), and the ceremonial laws, such as the sacrifices as “reminders” of sin, which were “temporary”. This is based on Deuteronomy 6:24-25 (“Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.”) Psalm 119:172 (“For all Your commandments are righteousness.”)

    So, it is reasoned, “The laws which define sin-which explain what sin is-these laws we are to keep today.” (And we see the same man-centered pragmatic focus as the mainstream church: “Hence, the Bible is clear that the laws and statutes were given to help preserve the lives of the people of Israel, that they were good for them…” ⦅that is not what these passages say. But this is what’s used to sell the Law or the Christian life to the outsiders. “Try it; it’s better than the others!”⦆).
    The “temporary ceremonial” laws are then read into every New Testament passage saying the “Law of Moses” is no longer in effect.

    That’s how sabbatarians can excuse themselves from sacrifices and circumcision, while still insisting the sabbaths and dietery laws are still in effect. (To show just how ridiculous this gets, Armstrong himself claimed the dietary laws were not spiritual, and breaking them in itself was not really sin; but it’s the unhealthiness of the meats; “destroying our temples[bodies]” that makes the act sin. Of course the healthiest people in the world are generally not on a kosher diet).
    But they at this point aren’t addressing that those commandments did not go as far as Jesus went in the Sermon on the Mount. Using their arguments, one could forget and fall into the trap of the rich young ruler.

    The biggest answer is that not only do those Old Testament passages not expound these differences between the laws like that, but the New Testament does not recognize this division at all, for Mark 7:10, Romans 7:7 and 13:9 show that the Ten Commandments are apart of the Law of Moses. Heb.9:4 shows that “the tables of the covenant”, even inside the ark as they were (as Adventists argue), were apart of the tabernacle system being discussed as passing away.

  9. Where’ve I been? Billy Graham’s grandson now runs D. James Kennedy’s [of all people] Church, and is turning away from the performance-based “gospel”:

    Billy Graham’s grandson takes Christians to task: An interview with Tullian Tchividjian
    http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/10/02/tullian-tchividjian/

    A lot of great stuff said!
    (I had never heard about him, and naturally easy to miss with the vastly different surname. You hear of Graham’s son, Franklin, who gets mentioned in politics, as very conservative; perhaps needing to hear more of this message at times).

  10. Here is a typical stereotype of many Christians regarding the nonChristian lifestyle, and how Jesus makes us “happy” in comparison:
    'non Christian' days of the 'weak'

    Again, this does not tell you the whole story, of how you still “sin”, “mourn”, shed “tears”, “waste” time and other things, “thirst”, “fight” and feel “shattered” and ‘weak”, just like everyone else; the only difference is that you “pray”, try to change your attitude a about it, and then maybe get a feeling of “peace”. (But then, it’s really not about “feelings” to begin with; that’s the catch).
    They also don’t tell you that when non Christians go through the same things, most undertake a similar process at finding “peace” through whatever philosophy, meditation or other religion they use, and usually with similar results.
    You may say those things are “false”, and it’s “all about the name and power of Jesus”, but you’re defining this “power” in terms of improved behavior and even feelings, but then you’re no longer correct in your comparison of believers with nonbelievers (i.e. if the true “fruits” are really about behavior, attitude and mindset).
    This then is just a selling method that is a bit haughty, and only serves to further make the nonChristian world look at us with ridicule or even contempt.

    [Edit: found this response, here: http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com/2010/11/a-week-without-god One commenter points out: Could the pervavise religious sentiment illustrated above be summarized this way: The grass is always browner on the other side of our beliefs?]

    Also, might as well throw this in here:

    http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/michele-bachmanns-latest-doozy-america-rich-because-moses-and-god-wanted-it-be
    Michele Bachmann’s Latest Doozy: America Is Rich Because Moses and God Wanted It to Be
    In her wacky farewell speech, Bachmann compares House members to Moses, who is looking right at them.

    Just like much of conservative Christianity; totally misunderstands the whole point of Israel (that they failed under the Law, and their real purpose was to teach us this lesson, and prepare for the Gospel and bring forth Christ, who gave us the Good News) and instead imagines them as a nation “chosen” because of their possession of the Law, and that America was grafted into this through her [earlier] profession of the Law (which we of course have turned away from now).

  11. Church in Trouble Because of Confusion Between Law and Grace
    http://liberate.org/2015/03/02/church-in-trouble-because-of-confusion-between-law-and-grace

    “God’s Word comes in two forms: demands (Law) and deliverance (Gospel). Both are important and necessary, but they have vastly different roles. He said a focus on Law over Grace leads Christians to believe that somehow, if they try really hard, they can attain the level of sanctification and holiness that pleases God by following his laws and commands.”

    And so what happens is that “deliverance” (a term often and heavily used) is redefined in a strictly behavioral sense; as “deliverance” from the “sins” (transgressions of the Law) we get often hooked into (addictions, bad habits, etc).

    And how does this usually transpire? “the Law gets softened into helpful tips for practical living [such as “steps” for getting over habits and addictions] , while the Gospel gets hardened into a set of demands that we have to live out.” [i.e. the “power” God gives us to be able to follow those steps; but “He doesn’t make it easy”, because “hardship” makes us “grow”, so that’s where the “trying really hard” comes in]
    Some people insist on the “instructions” for “practical living” (which makes it all “relevant”) as the Gospel. But in that case, the “Gospel” is something other than salvation! (Namely, just the Law all over again!)

    Also says: “The focus and the foundation of the Christian faith is not living for God. The focus of the Christian faith is that God in Christ gloriously lived for us. That foundation produces fruit, but the root of the Christian faith is not living for God. It’s the fact that God in Christ is living for us.

    Excellent observations! This so needs to be thundered throughout the Church!

  12. Franklin Graham (who is perhaps the de-facto leader of conservative “evangelicalism” today) comments on an article about a new miniseries, “Belief”, Oprah is running now, “exploring faith and spirituality around the world”. In contrast to her typical belief that “there are many paths to God”:

    “A personal relationship with Almighty God through His Son Jesus Christ is the only thing that can fill the void in the human heart. This is not a matter of opinion–Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to Father except through Me.” One way, one Savior, no exceptions.”

    This almost universally common statement is precisely why people believe Christ is only one of “many paths” to begin with. Because even the serious evangelicals have mixed up what the goal or objective of the “path[s]” [and thus, “salvation“] is. If it’s just “filling a void” (generally understood as overcoming problems in life, and epecially ones that lead to things like addictions or depression), then many people will testify that they have done this with other religions or philsophies.
    But if it’s salvation from the guilt and condemnation associated with the knowledge of good and evil, then that is what Christ alone claims to solve. But the premise is that man can stop trying to effort his way to a goal, which is where mainstream Christianity and the other religions alike, are in lockstep agreement. Hence, there being “many paths”! This is what happens from trying to compete with these other belief systems on their own terms, to prove our own “relevance”.

    What we end up with is, the different beliefs [claim to] do the same things, but “ours is the RIGHT one”. Why? “Because it just is”.
    Even if you claim the practical life improvements (of the “filled void”) are a benefit of the salvation from the condemnation (and the claim is often that they are only really possible through “the power of Christ”), still, the focus has clearly become those pragmatic goals, (and by implication, the efforts involved), and again, this is what leads the other beliefs to say they can do the same things other ways.

  13. Here’s a comic strip that goes after some Christians beliefs about depession and meds:
    http://www.tosavealife.com/what-its-like-explaining-depression-meds-to-many-christians/

  14. Someone on facebook asks:
    “I have been noticing that any time I go to some website looking for Christian advice, or encouragement, or information about God, or most anything pertaining to living life as a Christian, etc……..all I ever seem to find is a bunch of Bible verses being thrown at me.
    Why aren’t there more personal experiences or things that people have learned or discovered in their own relationships with God or in living their own lives as Christian believers?”

    Traditionally, the church frowned on “experiences”, for they often contradicted the formulaic “Bible answers” the church used (which were often oversimplified, if not taken out of context, like “if you’re suffering, be happy, because you’ll get big rewards in Heaven for it”).

    So now, in the more modern church (heavily influenced by the secular “self-help” field), you often do get a lot of personal examples and anecdotes. (I right away think of Horton’s criticism, of our sermons being “essentially pep talks seasoned with personal anecdotes and helpful illustrations” Beyond Culture Wars, p.145). But these are often molded by the same “Bible principles”, and thus often won’t really help. (And then they become judgmental if you don’t “follow the steps/principles” and “overcome” like they did. Since they did it, there’s “no excuse” for you. This basically will cause even more distress).

  15. http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/im-done-trying-to-follow-jesus

    Great article. I had just been thinking about the difference between Jesus as a “guide” who “shows” us the way, and a Savior who IS the way (which was mentioned by Horton in his criticism of new-evangelicalism in Beyond Culture Wars. The former is similar to how other religions see their leaders, and some Christians, and some more eclectic people on the fringes of Christianity fall into that error. This ends up about our EFFORTS (“choices”, etc) in GOing “the way”. But if Jesus “IS” the way, then that right there shows it’s not about our efforts in “going” anywhere.

    Other commenters objected about Him telling Peter and others they would “follow” Him, and to bear “crosses” (and the author then promised abother article dealing with those), but those people (beginning with the disciples) were the firstfruits, who were coming out from under the old age of the Law, which WAS about human efforts. That overlap of Law and Grace would end when that age ended, “shortly”.

    I also recently thoought about the difference betwween:

    Fulfilled view “Gospel”
    Tell tribesmen that Christ paid the price for sin, and so their [often grievous] rituals are no longer needed

    Traditional Christianity “gospel”
    Christ paid the price for sin, and this is another burden placed on man if he doesn’t give God back what He’s due. Rituals (to the wrong god) also violate His Law, so that also needs to be “repented” of or else. The freedom from the grievousness of them is appealed to, but then they are simply replaced by other rituals or rules (albeit, usually “easier”), including how “the walk of faith” is “hard”, and again, premised on fear and ongoing debt.

    Many Christians walk around miserable at their sins (failings of the Law), and what they call the “gospel” encourages to beat themselves up for how much they fall short, in trying to live up to the “changed life”, rather than forgiveness for their sin bringing them any lasting joy. This is the true work of the Devil.
    Everyone is trying to have a “contrite heart” (Ps.34:18, 51:17, Is. 57:15, 66:2), but again, forget that these passages are under the Old Covenant. “Contriteness” now is to realize that we fall short of the Law. Instead, many, in aiming to show themselves as “growing” out of sin, become judgmental on “the world”, while still beating up on themselves in their private lives, where they then and only then become honest about their shortcomings (and this only makes them defensive when others accuse them of not being aware of their own sin).

    Here, remotely related (from a Facebook “Memory” where they repost something you shared exactly a year ago, giving you a chance to reshare it) is an article on “fear”, which is one of those things Christian teaching is supposed to “conquer”, but many of them nevertheless still have it (though not knowing or admittingly), particularly in politics:

    http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/01/15/the-greatest-false-idol-of-modern-christianity/

    Dig just beneath the sunny “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Bible covers and the shouted “God’s judgment is coming” bullhorn warnings, and you can see that the Emperor is buck naked.
    For far too many Evangelicals all that flowery, blustery spiritual talk is a loud paper tiger dressed-up as religion.

    The symptoms of Fear Idolatry are pretty easy to spot.

    When you’re not sure that God is there or that He’ll really come through, you start to spend most of your time defending Him in absentia. You become a self-appointed Crusader of Truth, whose mission is to do the holy work of policing the world (just in case God can’t or won’t).

    You spend a lot of time calling out evil, forecasting disaster, and predicting damnation.

    When Fear is your God, you start majoring in Exterior Sin Management. You slowly yet ultimately turn all of your attention to the things in other people that you’re certain really tick God off, and you make it your sacred business to modify their behavior in the name of Jesus.

    (I admit falling into this to some extent, but then I also admit the difficulty and uncertainty of faith, in addition to my own struggles, where others speak with absolute certainty).

    Basically, God is trying to undo the Fall by changing man’s behavior and maintaining societal order.
    Christians are the “guardians” of this order, and thus must preach “repentance and behavior reform” (at least eventually), through fear of punishment, to everyone, or they are partly responsible for letting society slide toward more sinfulness. (Which becomes the motivation for them to preach, as well as condemning others, or other belief systems that don’t preach at the world).

  16. In the original psychology essay, I had suggested that “backward-looking fundamentalists are so against psychology because it EXPOSES the neurosis and emotional control of the old societal and religious order they defend. Old church leaders and other authority figures (parents, etc.) were often neurotic and they controlled by fear and emotional manipulation…”.
    I had always thought that this was a bit too simplistic, and that there was more to it, but at the moment, the “neuroses” part was what came to mind.

    Thinking more about it, another big reason why conservatives [political and particularly religious, and especially “old-line” types] are generally against psychology (calling it “psychobabble”, etc.) is because it runs counter to the “rugged individual” stance they take. Psychology shows us how we are affected by things, including what’s unconscious, and this is a blow to our centres of consciousness, known commonly as our “ego”s (Lat. “I”).
    You would think religious conservatives should have no problem with this, since it fits right along with the Bible teaching on human sinfulness and [spiritual] helplessness (and thus, need for God). They were the ones always calling out the arrogance of man’s belief in his self-sufficiency; whether spiritual or political.

    But the problem is that they too have bought into rugged individualism, which is what they actually filter their concepts of sin, justification and sanctification through, unwittingly. This was basically the whole point of Horton’s Beyond Culture Wars, where he speaks of the “personal” focus of the “relationship” [with God] in interpreting reality (p.67), the “revivalism” of the “frontier” (p.26), and cites (p.71) Noll, Hatch and Marsden as saying “Recent politically oriented critics of ‘humanism’ have seldom attacked modern faith in humanity in any consistent or general way, since their own views have contained humanistic elements, such as faith in American ‘rugged individualism'”.
    If that’s what’s so good, and such a sign of “character” even among Christians, then you would think perhaps the “father of the faith” should be Nimrod (or Nebuchadnezzar), instead of Abraham!

    They take the same drive to worthiness by merit as others, and only add “God’s help” as making the difference (what makes them able to do what others cannot do); but once that’s claimed, then it’s once again individual efforts, via “daily choices”. (And the Christian walk becomes all about “me and my personal relationship with Jesus”. But outside of that, they’re a tough frontiersman who is almost invincible, and always right in his beliefs). So this is what shapes both their political and spiritual view, and how they judge others in comparison.

    They naturally don’t want to think or even consider the possibility that their (often) heavy handed control from behind the pulpit was “neuroses”, as I had put it. No, they’re a rugged individual, who through the power of his personal relationship with Jesus is going out and standing for “truth”, amidst all these “attacks” from “the world”, and as opposed to everyone else who has cowered out or compromised or softened down the message. A pretty glorious posture, but one that always negates one’s own part in limited frail humanity (which they of course can point out in everyone else). They’ve simply risen above that (whether by their own choice, or by God hand selecting them to understand the truth).
    But Jesus says “If [you admitted] you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:41). That’s what the “Gospel” is all about, not the semantics of a supposedly “Bible-only language” of a “counseling” technique.

    So psychology makes us look weak in comparison, and people resent this.
    Since the conclusion of secular psychologists ran counter to the Christian concept of [ongoing] guilt, they labeled it as “humanism”, and could dismiss the whole enterprise based on that “association” (hence the ministries that condemn other Christians for using so much as a term borrowed from psychology).

    Likewise, typology shows how we all divide reality differently. But conservative Christianity follows the typical STJ mindset of Western society, and sees concrete, logical and objectively decisive viewpoint as, not a typological perspective, but rather simply the “right” view, while an abstract, emotional [paying attention to the human factor] and/or open ended viewpoint is problematic. So then saying it’s “personality type” comes off as an “excuse” to “justify” these wrong viewpoints (as they claim the other psychological explanations of behavior “excuses” sin). Even the mainstream psychological field, being a typical “science” favoring the “empirical” STJ position, views typology with derision.

  17. Is Jesus “all we need”?

    Today, someone on Facebook asks “Is Jesus ‘all we really need’ or does that just make a good refrigerator magnet or bumper sticker? What exactly does that mean? When people say that, do they really think that Jesus will pay your bills? Do they think Jesus will bring back your loved one who died of cancer or who is struggling with cancer on their death bed? What exactly do they mean when they say, ‘Jesus is all you need.’ ??

    The church is so confused on all of this. It reminds me of older Christians who were so against all psychology, because (aside from thinking it necessarily “denied sin”), “you don’t need therapy, you only need Jesus” (or “regeneration” or “sanctification”, or “the Book, the Blood, the Blessed Hope”. It got to the point that they even declared “mental illness” as a “choice”!) Then they distinguish the “medical” concept, where it’s obvious Jesus doesn’t heal physically (though some say He does), to the “soul” area, where all our problems are from “sin”, and thus only healed by our own “repentance”.

    The problem is that regeneration and sanctification had become so tied with behavior improvement, and since “problems” are often used to explain bad behavior, they had to claim that our behavior, and ultimately, our mental health, is “fixed” by receiving Christ and being “born again” and “made holy”. Some will reduce this to nothing more than gratitude from being “saved” from Hell. So then anything that happens you you in this life, should no longer “matter”. (And there are of course numerous “proof-text” verses used to support this, though the contexts of most of them are actual persecution of the original readers and anxieties about redemption, not modern mundane “problems”).

    Since this is not automatic and instant, then they had to develop a whole “philosophy” of “daily choices” to “grow” into the ideal “whole” state.
    “Evangelical Protestantism” is a mixture of Calvinist and Methodist doctrine. On the Methodist (Wesleyan) side, the whole “method” is a regiment of “Christian living”, with the most influential source being what was known as the Keswick “Higher Life” movement (with its teachings on “sanctification”, with “grace” and “Spirit-filling” interpreted in terms of behavior and attitude). The earlier Calvinist position on regeneration had assumed all of this would automatically follow election. (It was all “monergistic”, where God does all the “work”, which then only plays out in behavior. Of course, this was often corrupted through what was called “providence”, where many different actions could be justified as being predestined, or even right, simply because it is able to be done, and with some “scriptural” justification provided).
    The Methodists (Arminians) realized that this was NOT automatic, and so developed a synergistic theology of a “growth process”, where the Christian must “work” WITH God in his own behavioral improvement.

    Much of it ends up being about developing a proper “attitude” toward “difficulties in life” that makes pain no longer matter as much. (So the “choice” that mental illness represents, is simply the choice not to do these things! This is what has happened to every single person who ever had any form of ‘mental illness’, or even things like “depression”!)
    So even the contemporary church, which may not go that far, and allow concepts such as “therapy”, has bought into this whole idea (and especially the influential charismatics, who emphasize “the work of the Spirit”).

    But in practice, their “daily choices” by now differ little from what you can find in any other religion or secular self help teaching.

    For the old-liners, if therapy is wrong because a “dose” of the Book, Blood and Blessed Hope are what will solve all our temporal problems, then they are the ones who have turned the Bible, the work of Christ on the Cross and the entire Gospel itself into a competing form of “therapy” (And it’s certainly “moralistic”, and in the long run “deistic”, because God doesn’t actually do any of this for you; it’s all about your daily “choices”; i.e. efforts).
    They were on to the truth when first mentioning salvation as the biggest “need”, but the purpose was not to make pain in this life not matter; it was, as mentioned “anxiety” of the condemnation of the Law, which also was used by the opposers of the church, who were apart of the Law system.

    Obviously, Christ was “all they needed” to ensure they were “covered” and thus not condemned, and that any persecution they suffered proved they were God’s people, rather than proving they were being “punished” by Him for sin, as many assumed.
    Christ never promised to fix all our problems, or make pain not matter, so people today are adding something not promised, to sell their belief system to the masses. When it doesn’t work out (and the people have to consult other forms of help, such as “therapy”), then they can easily claim the people didn’t really have “faith”, and are “trusting” in “something other than Jesus”.

  18. Today someone posts this interview of Billy Graham by Woody Allen

    This exemplifies the problem of “the Law being there for our own good”. Just as sports games have “rules” to maintain order, the law against sexual immorality was only to get “the best of life”, “complete happiness and fulfillment” etc.
    Graham appeals to psychology and psychiatry as “agreeing with the Bible”, and that God did not give the command to keep us from having fun, but to protect us psychologically, protect our bodies, and God says “I want to make you happy, I want to help you, and I’ve given you some rules to live by, and this is the rule”.

    Entering Christendom via Armstrongism, with books such as The Missing Dimension of Sex, the teaching on this point was identical. The Law (which to him included sabbaths and dietary restrictions) was most “proven” by how much it “works” in solving human problems.

    You can see here why old line fundamentalists and some others are so critical of Graham, and new evangelicalism in general. I guess I’m even sounding like them in pointing this out, but while I don’t believe psychology is universally wrong like they do, I believe it should be kept in its proper sphere, rather than becoming the main proof of the Bible’s message. This is what people have criticized as the focus on “relevancy”. That sounds like a noble idea, but what happens, is that the message of the Bible often gets distorted in the process, with things removed from their original context (and the old-liners are no less guilty, but rather the ones who got the ball rolling, in saying that all [non-“medical”] problems in life are from “sin”. It would easily follow, then, that God’s “rules” are the remedy, and perhaps given for the sole purpose of preventing these “problems”).

    But what all of this ignores is the whole focal point of evangelicalism (the newer Graham and old-liners alike), which is the penalty of sin, being Hell. If these “rules” are just for our own happiness, then why is God angry enough to send people to Hell over them? You may compare it to a parent punishing a child (for breaking rules that were often “lovingly” meant for the child’s own good), but that is not the same as disposing someone permanently, and in a state of torment. The closest we would come to that, is a parent having to have a child taken away for his insubordination, but this is only when their misbehavior poses a serious threat to the household.

    Christians in essence believe the same thing; that sinners must be disposed of eternally, in order to have the perfect sinless kingdom, and they must be threatened with this now, to hopefully scare them into obedience, and also to maintain order in earthly society at the same time (which is all a fear premise). Ironically, they believe no one will ever really “grow” perfect enough to be fit for the kingdom, but if the “heart” is “right”, at the resurrection/rapture, they will be instantly perfected. But then, the same could be done for others, and rules and fear would not be necessary.
    But again, this is supposed to be the notion of a “loving parent”, but it’s not about love when it becomes so vindictive. True love casts out fear!

    Graham and others have actually tried to address this by softening divine retribution into a more passive “they do it to themselves by their own choice” premise, with the “fire” of Hell often in the process becoming a metaphor for their own self-imposed misery. Again, why is this eternal then? Why can’t it be fixed so that they become tired of it and then turn and receive life? (Which is essentially the purgatory position, and is held by some other modern views). This of course departs from the “historic” position of “sinners in the hands of an angry God”, who deliberately inflicts this torment, because it [somehow] “satisfies” His “holiness”/”justice”, and is thus another point old-liners criticize him on.
    But then, this “satisfy His Holiness” concept is not really defined well either. It’s something the earlier Church came up with to fill in the void in the explanation of why there is ongoing harsh punishment. It all ignores grace, by pitting “holiness” and “justice” against “love”, as if love is the lower attribute. Love was what led to grace, for the sake of saving us from this “justice”. But the Church must still maintain some sort of debt on mankind, based largely on the utilitarian premise of maintaining order through fear. This addition to the Gospel totally corrupts Bible teaching into a vehicle of human control. (Which is why so many think it’s all about stealing our “fun”). And Graham is still in lockstep agreement with the old-time Christianity on this point.

    Woody Allen of course reflects the secular view that sex should be like trying out a car before making a commitment. (It sounds like he starts out to say this, but then changes it to be about getting a learner’s permit before a license, rather than buying the car or not).
    When asked what the worst sin he ever committed was, Graham gets out of it by correctly pointing out that every sin is the same in God’s eyes (rather than sexual sins being the worst, which was the in practice apparent position), and then mentions idolatry as perhaps the “greatest”, if he had to choose one. (But it’s not because it “bothers” him, it “bothers the scriptures; it bothers God”. I imagine the first four are the ones He gave for His “happiness”, while the last five are the ones for our happiness. But then that contradicts his claim that “every sin is the same” to God. He probably should have just left it at that, then.
    On the other hand, other Christians find in scriptures what look like are lists of “bad” and “worse” sins, and taking these passages out of their original context, think it justifies placing special focus on certain sins as “bringing the nation under judgment”, to the exclusion of others).

    The notion that these “rules” are for our own good also leads to the secularized meme that “Hell” is only what you make it here on earth. In other words, our “happiness” is about the here and now, and if you make the divine Law about that, then what does the afterlife have to do with it? If you say it’s about our “happiness” in the afterlife as well (hence, avoiding the “eternal misery” Graham and others now believe in), then it [still] becomes clear that the “rules” are the ticket to us gaining something then, and we have a clear “give and take” transaction, that is basically what we commonly know as “earning”. By now, it should be clear that we have moved solidly into works-salvation!

    He concludes “He expects you to live to a standard He has made, and if you don’t live up to it, then the Bible says you are falling short, and that’s where you need God’s help, for redemption”.
    So sure enough, here, even the concept of “redemption” becomes fuzzied, if connected to what he has been saying already. (Here is where the Reformed will now go after this teaching, in addition to the other points).
    The Gospel message is that we have all hopelessly, already fallen short, and God is the one who redeems, rather than “helping” US do something. It’s hard to even tell whether this is what he’s trying to say, or if he’s referring to a case-by-case process of “overcoming sin” (which, of course, many out there believe in).
    But THIS was the purpose of giving the Law.

  19. This meme totally illustrates the utter confusion of Law and Grace in the “commonly accepted message”:

    The Gospel is meant to change the sinner, not for the sinner to change the Gospel to suit their sin
    The LAW is what aimed to change the sinner. That was the BAD news (not the “Good” news), for we could not do it. The Gospel says that we need GRACE, and that any good behavior is to be from love.

  20. In a discussion on the commandments, and how Jesus said He loved his Father, by keeping His commandments, and someone says “I guess the real question is can you Love God like Jesus did and said, but not let him do in or through you what his Father commanded.”

    “Do in or through you” is something that really needs to be clarified, because in practice, it’s just you pray and “ask God for His help”, but then afterward, it’s all about your “choices”. No perceptible “force” comes over you and suddenly moves you to do what’s right. Everyone teaches it is something that must be “cultivated” through daily “choices”, of basically changing old habits and attitudes.
    And once human “choice” is put back into it, then it becomes all about judgment (and motivation by fear) all over again. We then look down on those not “obeying” as much as we are, because look it’s “so easy”, “just ask God to do the work through you”, but then, it’s still your own efforts, and then they admit is “hard”. By this time, no one realizes we’re solidly back in pure works-righteousness (Gal.4:9). It reminds me of this meme I’ve seen: You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That's how prayer works
    This basically renders prayer (“making our requests known to God”) meaningless. You can just feed them without praying.
    And of course, so can people who do not even believe in God.
    This is similar to an African proverb I’ve seen: “You ask for the ancestors’ help and then help yourself”.

    Whatever Christ does in or through us should not be the same thing nonChristian religions (or even non-religion) can claim. What Christ does in us is impute His righteousness. It’s not about our behavior.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Gospel and Faith as Salvation/Regeneration, or psychological health | ChristianBookBarn.com
  2. An Example of the Legalism of the “Running the Race” Teaching | "ERIPEDIA"

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