The Unsafe Space Of “Christian” Psychology

UnliberatedIn this past Saturday’s edition of Saturday Sampler, I linked to Michelle Lesley’s insightful blog post examining the hypersensitivity that permeates our culture and has seeped into evangelical churches. I agree with her that the root of the problem is plain old self-centerdness. The more we turn away from glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, worshiping Him as the centerpiece of His creation, the more we fixate on ourselves. And that fixation naturally encourages us to elevate the importance of our feelings.

The apostle Paul accurately predicted that, as history draws near to Christ’s return, people would manifest a variety of characteristics in opposition to the fruit of the Spirit.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. ~~2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

Notice, if you please, that Paul listed “lovers of self” at the top of this description. In one sense, all the other characteristics flow out of self-love, but I believe Paul intended to name it as merely one of these characteristics. Consequently, I maintain that the sin of self-love has shown itself in the current hypersensitivity that we see in 21st Century Western society.

Obviously, the sin of self-love has always plagued humanity. Think of Haman in the book of Esther and Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel as glaring examples. But I believe the advent of modern psychology has greatly exacerbated the problem — both in secular society and in the visible church.

Psychology tells us that we can’t love others properly unless we first love ourselves.  In Christian circles, we superimpose that premise onto Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mark 12:28-31). Even as an unregenerate child in Sunday School, I understood that Jesus meant we should love others the way we already love ourselves, but “Christian” psychology confuses this straightforward command, transforming it into evidence that God calls us to self-love.

“Christian” psychology invites us to demand that people validate our feelings. Never mind the many Scriptures that command us to lay aside our own wants and needs to esteem others above ourselves, and ignore Scriptures that rightly portray us as vile wretches dependent wholly on God’s grace and mercy. Forget that, without Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, we deserve only eternity in hell. “Christian” psychology would have us nurture the same sense of entitlement that dominates today’s world.

Think about all the personality tests that circulate among churches. Utilizing psychological models, they encourage us to focus on ourselves. I’ve participated in a six-week “discipleship” program that employed psychological principles to help me analyze myself. And don’t get me started on all those women’s retreats urging me to expose my dysfunctional childhood so that Jesus could heal my brokenness.

Yes, Western society enjoys a preoccupation with self, enhanced by a nearly universal embrace of modern psychology. Regrettably, professing Christians (some of whom may be legitimate converts) have fallen for this drivel and, as a result, compromised sound theology in order to inflate their self-love. In so doing, they exhibit the same hypersensitivity that characterizes their non-Christian counterparts.

Ladies, the Lord wants His people to be markedly different from the world. Where they insist that we not offend them, we must forgive those who offend us. We must stop promoting ourselves in order to promote the Lord and seek the best for those around us, even when doing so requires self-sacrifice.

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Saturday Sampler: February 11 — February 17

Umbrella Sampler

Psychology has no place in the church, as Leslie A of Growing 4 Life shows us in What Should I Look for in a Biblical Counselor? It encourages me to see more Christians speaking up about the dangers of “Christian” psychology.

In addition to my own trials lately, I’ve watched a friend suffer through her husband’s terminal cancer. So Sarah Walton’s article, Why the Church Needs Suffering in Unlocking the Bible, refreshes my perspective by bringing me back to Scriptures and principles that I’d all but forgotten. See whether or not her words benefit you.

Reprising her March 3, 2017 blog post, Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women lists 40 Things to Give Up for Lent. Number 1 is my personal favorite. What’s yours? Use my Comments Section to tell me.

I’m not the only blogger to reprise her article about the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy.  Erin Benziger of Do Not Be Surprised also resurrects  the article she wrote three years ago. Erasing the Grey definitely deserves your attention!

Those of you who are moms will appreciate Scott Slayton’s When You Lose Your Temper With Your Children on One Degree to Another. Even aunts and people in ministries to children can benefit from Slayton’s godly counsel. As a matter of fact, anyone with anger issues should apply the principles to all their interactions with children and adults.

In a second post written for Unlocking the Bible, Judy Allen suggests Five Questions to Ask About Entertainment. Each question has a corresponding Scripture to help us evaluate the media we consume in ways that honor the Lord.  I love the way she challenges us to think of what we read, watch and do in terms of spiritual merit.

Assisted suicide is not a pretty topic, but it’s something Christians will need to address. Jen Oshman discusses Five Reasons for Assisted Suicide (And Crucial Responses to Each One) to help us navigate conversations with those who honestly think this practice is a humane way to deal with human suffering.

The aggressive movement of the LBGTQ community has serious ramifications for Christians, as Is it okay for the state to take your child away because you won’t affirm his transgender feelings? by Denny Burk demonstrates.  I struggled over whether or not to include such a dark article in Saturday Sampler, but decided that I created The Outspoken TULIP to prepare women for the persecution that knocks at the door of the Western church. Therefore I believe it necessary to draw your attention to this matter. Scenarios like the one Burk narrates will only increase. We must prepare for them.

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Dividing From Sound Doctrine

Watch Out

Last night I listened to a sermon given at a Charismatic church. The curious mixture of references to “anointing”and allusions to low self-esteem had me looking for a wall to bang my head against. And the pastor inverted the Scriptural narrative (which he admitted to paraphrasing rather than reading), totally misapplying it to his congregation. He concluded by having everyone leave their seats to come forward to receive prayer and to have members of the prayer team anoint them with oil.

Thirty years ago, I would have scolded myself for feeling uncomfortable with the situation and then I would have submitted to the prayer team.  I would have assumed that my misgivings resulted from rebellion against the Holy Spirit and His work. In short, I  would have caved into peer pressure.

Churches like that depend on peer pressure. They may allow a certain amount of questioning behind closed doors, but they view open dissent as divisiveness.

Interestingly, Scripture’s warnings against divisiveness target those who deviate from sound doctrine, not those who speak out against aberrant teaching and practices.

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~~Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

Today, I would leave the room while everyone else went up for prayer. If anyone asked my reasons, I’d explain each of my objections to the sermon, showing why it deviated from God’s Word. Next, I’d meet with church leadership and show them the problems with the sermon. Then I’d start praying for a new church home.

Sadly, Charismatic churches will only grow worse as time progresses, and they will utilize peer pressure to prevent anyone from challenging them on the basis of Scripture. Yet their influence, fueled largely by promising to help people understand how special God thinks they are, now creeps into non-Charismatic churches, opening people up to mysticism and experience based spirituality.

Right now, I’m disgusted with this shoddy approach to Christianity. Some people in Charismatic churches may be genuinely saved. I’d go so far as to say that some Charismatic pastors may be genuinely saved. But the system, with its promises of self-esteem and anointing, locks people in to the deception and keeps them trapped through peer pressure.

Christians, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to get good teaching to Charismatics so that His Word will free them from the real divisiveness. No Christian should be divided from the correct teaching of God’s Word and made to participate in silly shows like filling before prayer teams to be anointed with oil. We need to know the Bible well enough to identify such foolishness and to openly reject it.

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Saturday Sampler: November 12 — November 18

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In a short post (as in five paragraphs), Tim Challies uncovers The Problem with the “Want Ads” in Denominational Magazines. Sadly, the person he quotes was not exaggerating.

Leslie A. once again uses her Growing 4 Life blog to get us thinking about how we order our lives to honor the Lord. Balanced is Beautiful cautions us against narrowing our spiritual focus so tightly that we neglect other areas that also require our attention.

If you want to change things up in your personal Bible Study time, consider doing some topical studies.  Sharon Lareau of Chapter 3 Ministries walks us through some ideas on How to Study the Bible by Topic that could definitely help you approach God’s Word in a way you haven’t tried before.

Check out Unlocking the Bible to read Why Christians Should Not Get Angry with the Lost  by Pastor Colin Smith. This analogy is vivid enough to stick with you, and may be useful as you spend Thanksgiving with unsaved relatives.

Like Lara d’Entremont, I’m not a fan of having people point out my flaws.  So her article,  The Gracious Response to Criticism in Renewed In Truth Discipleship, challenges me to again confess my perfectionist tendencies and remember that having someone call me out on sin might help me better obey the Lord.

Don’t overlook Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Anger in Erin Benziger’s blog, Do Not Be Surprised. Maybe you’ll wince a little (okay, maybe more than a little) as you read it, but keep reading. Her conclusion alleviates all the discomfort.

Have I called someone you follow a false teacher? If so, you probably didn’t appreciate it. But Michelle Lesley’s post, Throwback Thursday ~ Bad Fruit, Diseased Trees, And the Authority of God’s Word, could help you think through your reactions. Sometimes “discernment bloggers” do wrongfully accuse people of false teaching. Michelle’s article can help you determine whether or not that’s happening.

Whether you watch the short video or read the transcript,  be sure to give Tim Challies’ The Problem with Love Languages – Three Minute Thursdays #3 your attention. John and I heartily agree with all of the points Challies makes, and I particularly liked his conclusion.

Continuing her Bible Study on James, Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth writes Genuine Faith Understands the Importance of Taming the Tongue. Ladies,  all of us need this one.

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Validating Murder

Anger Makes Us Brutes

Listening to the Grace to You radio broadcast entitled “Forgiveness In An Age Of Rage” yesterday caught my interest as John MacArthur asserted that psychology bears a great deal of responsibility for the widespread anger in society today. In many respects, I agree with him. Psychology encourages people to “get in touch with their feelings,” insisting that even negative feelings must be validated.

MacArthur focuses his teaching on forgiveness as the antidote for anger, and I definitely think he’s on track. What I write today shouldn’t diminish or negate any of his points. But I would like to expand on his comments regarding the effects psychology has on anger because I really think he identified a serious problem.

My personal experience with “Christian” psychology bears out his allegations. Admittedly, counselors always tacked on obligatory exhortations to forgive those who wounded us (usually our parents), but the overwhelming bulk of the counseling centered on our victimization and thus our right to be angry. I remember actually demanding that my mom validate my feelings.

Funny — I felt no interest in validating her feelings.

I eventually admitted that I have a problem with anger. And that my anger, far from being the righteous indignation that Christians should have, is sin. Sin that breaks God’s law. A sin that Jesus said is equal to nothing less than murder.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ~~Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

When psychologists (Christian or otherwise)  invite us to experience or anger, assuring us that it’s a valid response to being offended, they actually encourage us to engage in sin. That sort of encouragement can never lead us into God’s holiness. As a matter of fact, it will almost certainly lead us into unholiness.

Anger can be overcome, not through psychology, but as we die to self and obey God’s Word. It’s a simple principle made difficult by our selfishness and determination to gratify our sinful nature. Biblical counseling can show us how to put anger to death by applying Scriptural principles; psychology will only feed anger by validating it.

We dare not validate a sin that the Lord Himself strongly condemned!

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Saturday Sampler: October 29 — November 5

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An essay by Ryan Higginbottom in Knowable Word reveals One Temptation of Digital Searching that had never occurred to me. His admonition might spare you from misinterpreting God’s Word.

I enjoy pretty much everything Candi Finch writes on Biblical Woman, but Meet Katie Luther, One of the Protestant Reformation’s Leading Ladies has to be my all-time favorite piece I’ve read of hers. Once again,  we see that history can not only inspiring, but downright fun! I dare you to get through this piece without cracking a smile.

Writing for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge gives us The Cry of the Reformation: Jesus is our Sufficient Savior!  His article goes to the heart of the Reformation, directing us  back to the Lord Jesus Christ as all a sinner ever needs.

What should 21st Century evangelicals learn from the Reformers’ cry of Sola Scriptura?Michael J. Krueger of Canon Fodder answers that question with What is Sola Scriptura Protecting Us Against? More Than You Think. This article taught me a few things that deepen my appreciation for this doctrine of grace.

On her blog,  The End Time, Elizabeth Prata analyzes the state of present-day evangelicalism against the backdrop of the Reformation. Reformation Day 500 and counting! affirms the sad reality that the Reformation is far from over. Her essay will enhance your conviction that we absolutely must stand on God’s Word, using it as an instrument of discernment.

Reprising an article from Tabletalk Magazine (which I read all the time), the blog from Ligonier features The Holy Spirit’s Ministry by Sinclair  Ferguson. If you struggle with the idea that some of the Spirit’s gifts ceased with the close of the apostolic era, this piece may help you.

I’ve definitely sinned in my attempts to perform discernment ministry. So Lara d’Entremont’s blog post in Renewed in Truth Discipleship, Where Discernment Goes Wrong, rightly convicted me. Please take a look at the post yourselves and see whether or not the Lord would have you reconsider your approach to discernment.

Erin Benziger once again correctly uses Scripture to expose a sin that all of us fall into — usually without realizing it. In Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Envy on Do Not Be Surprised, she illustrates the dangerous potential in this seemingly innocuous sin.

I’m including a second article from The Cripplegate because Jesse Johnson’s Semper Reformanda? addresses seven serious problems in 21st Century evangelical churches. My regular readers will notice that some of his concerns echo issues that I’ve been writing about for years. Please take a look at this thought-provoking blog post.

Commenting on events in the news, Jennifer of One Hired Late In The Day concludes that Sin makes people stupid, and explains the world we live in. Her essay matches the power of its title!

I struggle with sinful, self-centered anger.  But Michelle Lesley reminds of 6 Reasons to Recapture Righteous Anger. She makes very interesting and unexpected observations that most Christians overlook.

As someone who has been severely disabled since birth, I read Tim Challies’ essay,  No Better (Or Worse) Time To Be Disabled with tremendous interest. Although he specifies people with intellectual disabilities, don’t think for a moment that these ideas couldn’t eventually carry over to anyone with severe birth defects.

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How Not To Subdue Pink Elephants

Pink Elephant

Funny how growing in the Lord and getting Biblical teaching changes the way one views things. A little over twenty years ago I left my position as correspondence counselor for an ex-gay ministry, largely because of my personal circumstances. Sure, a few things about the ministry bothered me a bit, but for the most part I believed in what they did. I accepted no criticism of them from any quarter.

To be clear, I still believe homosexuality violates God’s intent for sexuality. Those who engage in it, even if their engagement never extends beyond fantasy, stand guilty of sin. Furthermore I still believe homosexuality can, like every other sin, be forgiven and forsaken through the blood of Jesus Christ.

 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~~1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)

Over the passage of twenty years, however, I’ve come to question the wisdom of building an entire ministry around one specific sin rather than around the Lord. When people meet together, and especially when they live together in a residential program, should we really be surprised when they fall back into the very sin that they’re seeking to escape?

A friend once counseled me, when I was single and struggling with desires for marriage, that simply telling myself not to think about marriage would invariably backfire. “It’s like trying not to think about pink elephants,” she said. “The harder you try not to think about pink elephants, the more you think about them.” She was right. Try not to think about pink elephants, and see what happens.

The answer to controlling my fantasies wasn’t in thinking about how sinful my fantasies were. Nor was it in gathering with other single women and talking about the struggles to control our desires for marriage. We thought praying together and asking the Lord for psychological insight into the root causes for our desires would eventually free us from our bondage to romantic fantasies.

We ignored a simple principle from Scripture.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.~~Galatians 5:16-17 (ESV)

Walking by the Spirit means nothing other than filling our minds with God’s Word and ordering our lives in conformity with His teaching. It does require discipline, yes, and admittedly self-denial causes emotional pain. But the more we delight in the Lord, the less we want things that offend Him. Walking by the Spirit isn’t easy,  but it is certainly simple.

The Bible never advises us to surround ourselves with people who struggle with the same sin we do. Instead, it encourages us to look to Christ with a commitment to glorify Him.  In so doing, we really do experience victory over whatever pink elephants we battle.

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