In one respect, I don’t want to write yet another essay on why Christians should avoid psychology. Any regular reader of my blog knows quite well that I believe mixing psychology with a form of Christianity necessarily compromises the Gospel. Can I really add to everything I’ve been saying these past two years?
Listening to John MacArthur’s Grace To You radio broadcasts this week made me think that I actually do have more to say on this topic. MacArthur spent an entire broadcast comparing psychology’s emphasis on improving self-esteem with Christ’s demand that His followers deny themselves.
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~~Luke 9:23-25 (ESV)
Psychological therapy, for the most part, seeks to make us feel better about ourselves and more in control of our lives. Even when we do actually identify a pattern of thought or behavior as sin, Christian psychology encourages us to diffuse our guilt by trying to figure out the root causes of our struggles. Often, counselors guide us to blame our parents for our sinful habits (I saw this practice a lot during my time in ex-gay ministry). The realization that someone else is responsible for our sin makes us feel better about ourselves, thereby boosting our self-esteem.
Nifty little system, huh?
Except for the fact that high self-esteem blocks us from accepting our abject sinfulness and our consequent need for a Savior. Oh, it’s fine to give lip-service to the idea that He somehow saves us from hell, but as our self-esteem grows, we find it hard to believe that we really deserve eternal damnation. We even convince ourselves that Jesus saved us because He saw something in us worth saving.
But the Lord explicitly says that going after Him requires self-denial. One aspect of self-denial is admitting our worthless conditions apart from Him. Ephesians 2:1-10 shows us that our salvation points exclusively to God’s grace toward us despite our wretchedness.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
The Gospel emphasizes our wretchedness and the Lord’s incredible grace toward us. Psychology blunts His grace by dulling our understanding that we are actually sinners, completely unable to escape the judgment of hell. High self-esteem lowers or appreciation of His wonderful mercy in giving us the faith to receive salvation.