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