Category Archives: Psychology

Gnosticism: The Draw Of Psychology (Even Christian Psychology)

Little blonde angelI just did a Google search on “gnosticism and psychology,” naively thinking I’d find a simple article drawing a connection between the two. Instead, I found multiple pages of scholarly articles, many of which apparently celebrate psychology as the modern form of gnosticism. So okay, there definitely is a connection.

Gotquestions.org provides a brief overview of gnosticism, starting with its original teachings. If you read this article, you’ll notice that gnosticism promises secret knowledge, obtainable only to those who are initiated into the mystical circle. In our day in age, psychologists become those elite mystics, promising that their techniques will help us unravel the mysteries of our inner being. So-called Christian psychologists claim an even greater ability to do so, since they presume that the Holy Spirit will give additional revelation. Certainly, friends, psychology is nothing more than an updated form of gnosticism.

But Christians, rather than seeing the connection between gnosticism and psychology as cause for celebration, ought to recognize that many New Testament epistles were written in response to the seeds of gnosticism being planted in the First Century Church. The letter to the Colossians particularly addresses the gnostic heresy by drawing its readers away from human philosophies and back to Christ. I look forward to writing detailed blog posts on various portions of Colossians in the near future.

Today, however, I think I will spend a few moments demonstrating that psychology attracts both Christians and non-Christians by promising special insight into the human psyche. I’ll speak from personal experience, but I more than suspect that my attitudes were not unique, particularly among women.

When the church I attended in California began integrating psychological principles into its sermons and counseling, I delighted in the prospect of understanding myself more deeply. Oh, the thrill of going deeper than “mere” Scripture! Christian psychology offered something that the Bible, as much as I claimed to love it, couldn’t give me.

I knew I had problems with anger, but the Bible only admonished me to exercise self-control. Psychology promised that, by uncovering reasons for my anger (which my pastor divined most likely came from childhood trauma) I could overcome anger without needing to actively control myself. Counseling, I believed, would rid me of all angry feelings so that I’d automatically respond to any irritant in a sweet, Christlike manner.

Oh brother!

The Bible does teach that patience and self-control come from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but it also holds Christians responsible to walk in obedience to the Spirit  (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit doesn’t magically remove our angry feelings; He just empowers us to choose not to act on them. No introspection. No analysis. Above all, no blaming our parents for childhood traumas which then excuse our sinful behavior.

Psychology, you see,  offers us an excuse to stay in our sin “while we work on it.” Usually, that means our counselor has at least two years of income as she finds all sorts of underlying issues for us to work through. But we believe her psychological training gives her deeper knowledge than Christians trained in the Bible possess, and we enjoy focusing on ourselves.

In summary, psychology attracts us with its promise to supply special insight into our natures. It deceives us into thinking that God’s Word lacks the ability to address our issues and free us from sinful behavior patterns. Like all forms of gnosticism, it shifts our attention from the Lord to ourselves.  And like all forms of gnosticism, it should be avoided.

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Saturday Sampler: October 1 — October 7

Fantasy Flowers Sampler

Fall has arrived, meaning that the time all too quickly approaches when cold New England winters will prevent John and me from going anywhere. Including church. We grieve that many able-bodied evangelicals don’t appreciate the privilege of weekly church attendance. Perhaps Scott Slayton’s post, What You Miss When You Don’t  Gather With Your Church in  One Degree to Another, can give you a different perspective on the importance of meeting with your church as often as possible.

In Growing 4 Life, Leslie A. lists Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself. Gulp! Her insights don’t  comply with psychological principles, but they definitely agree with God’s Word. Please make this one a high priority on your reading list!

I love Rachelle Cox’s Let’s Get Real About Women’s Discipleship in Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This article puts forth some unexpected thoughts about ways women disciple each other, and I think those thoughts might encourage some of you. See what you think.

For an accurate and concise explanation of Revelation verses Illumination, please visit Unified in Truth and start using the two terms Biblically. If you still believe that the Lord gives revelation now, you may need to rethink your theology.

Some of you are probably married to elders in your church. If so, you might appreciate An open letter to elder’s wives by Andrew Gutierrez in The Cripplegate. I find it also instructive to those of us who are friends with women married to elders. Let’s not place these ladies in awkward positions.

As an introduction to a new series in her Do Not Be Surprised blog, Erin Benziger writes about The Lie of ‘Acceptable’ Sins. This series, she promises, won’t be comfortable, but it will lead us to find comfort in the Gospel of God’s grace. I’m looking forward to it, knowing that Erin writes with fidelity to the Scriptures and with reverent passion for the Lord.

For a truly intriguing discussion on a perplexing passage in Genesis, you shouldn’t miss Mercy, Hope, and The Tower of Babel by the author of A Narrow-Minded Woman. She brings out a variety of points that I’ve never noticed, making the incident much more compelling and applicable. I especially like her emphasis on the sovereignty of God.

In an article for Meet the Puritans, Joel Beeke enumerates Ten Lasting Fruits of the Reformation. Those who consider history to be boring and irrelevant should read this piece, if only so that they can see why geeks like me keep writing about the Reformation as if it actually matters.

Have you been sending positive thoughts to Las Vegas this week? In Why Your Positive Thoughts Are Not Helping Anyone, Josh Buice of Delivered By Grace explains why Christians err when they speak of sending positive thoughts. He also tells us how we can actually help hurting people.

I want to close this week’s edition of Saturday Sampler by sharing the video below of the sermon my pastor, Jeremy Garber, preached at First Baptist Church in Weymouth, MA last Sunday. The reminder to use discernment fits so seamlessly with the purposes of this blog that I believe I must include it.

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Saturday Sampler: September 17 — September 23

Tulip Sampler 02I like reading Nick Batzig, even when he puts his finger on my sin. Servants Of Grace republishes his article, Nothing to Complain About, which certainly makes me think about my selfish attitudes. See what you think.

And in case Batzig’s blog post doesn’t humble you, Michelle Lesley writes You’re Not Awesome…and You Know It in response to those airbrushed memes all over social media that tell us how wonderful we are. Michelle has an inconvenient habit of holding things like this up to the Word of God, and then believing that God has the final say.

Julie Ganschow of Biblical Counseling for Women warns us about The Dangers of Drifting From the Spiritual Disciplines. We all need reminders like this from time time.

Do you think you’ve done pretty well at overcoming sin? Read Elizabeth Prata’s 17 minutes of continual sin in The End Time.

In his essay on the Ligonier blog, Derek Thomas explains the balance between God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility by showing us how Scripture synthesizes the two realities. People commonly criticize Reformed Theology for (as they see it) teaching that we’re mere robots, but this criticism ignores the fact that people in the Reformed camp believe all Scripture is God’s Word.

What lesson can we learn from the episode of Leslie A. forgetting to wear makeup to church  one Sunday? Beautifully and Naturally Changed, her article in Growing 4 Life, answers this question by challenging us to examine our motives.

Biblical Woman runs a thought-provoking piece by Candi Finch entitled How We Hear Mixed Messages From Christians and Feminists that encourages us to think consistently. A rather unexpected piece, this article reminds us to speak about others respectfully and in ways that honor God.

With astonishing candor, Jennifer of One Hired Late In The Day shares her reflections on Song of Solomon: my least favorite book. She explains her distaste for this book, but also helps us understand the Holy Spirit’s wisdom in putting it in His Word.

Writing for The Cripplegate, Mike Riccardi demonstrates How to Kill Your Neighbor with gossip and slander. Can you claim that you’ve never murdered anyone? Neither can I. But Mike’s article uses Scripture to guide us to repentance and help us honor God with our words. Please take time to read this one.

In her article for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Jen Oshman counsels American moms to Shatter Your Kid-Centered Kingdom. Her advice makes sense to me, but maybe it does because I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s when life revolved around more than kids’ activities.

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Saturday Sampler: September 10 — September 16

Fish SamplerHurricanes. Floods. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Is it the birth pangs? asks Elizabeth Prata of The End Time. You’ll appreciate the Biblical and sensible way she addresses the eschatological concerns that natural disasters invariably raise.

Berean Research includes Amy Spreeman’s answer to an email lamenting, “I can’t find a solid church”. Sadly, fewer and fewer evangelical churches these days offer strong Biblical preaching and teaching, thus spawning malnourished Christians and false converts. Praise God for true believers like the one who reached out to Amy, who long for the Word of God.

Look at 1 Chronicles 21:1-2. Compare it to 2 Samuel 24:1-2. But instead of tearing your hair out trying to understand whether the Lord or Satan incited David to take the census of Israel, read Think These Biblical Passages Contradict? Not So Fast by Michael S. Heiser in Logos Talk to see how to resolve the discrepancy. Articles like this one highlight the value of good Bible study.

Lara d’Entremont points out that there’s Hope for the Indecisive in the Sufficiency of Scripture. Her blog, Renewed In Truth Discipleship, refreshes me by demonstrating how Biblical Counseling (rather than so-called Christian psychology) effectively ministers to people. I can’t recommend her blog enough!

According to E.J. Hutchinson, who authors The Calvinist International, Martin Luther’s famous stand on God’s Word at the Diet of Worms, though revolutionary in many respects, had roots in Augustine’s writing. Hutchinson’s article  entitled “Here I Stand:” The Patristic Roots of the Reformation helps us see how the Reformers, rather than breaking with church tradition, actually upheld Biblical Christianity and restored it to its original intent.

Do you need guidance on doing evangelism? Go to Growing 4 Life and read Leslie A’s On Sharing the Gospel. She works through 1 Thessalonians 1:1-12 to outline ten Scriptural principles to  aid us in witnessing to people.

Writing for Biblical Woman, Katie McCoy examines a disturbing trend among professing Christians. More Than Marriage: What’s Behind Polyamory in the Church? illustrates the moral disintegration that inevitably follows when people disregard the authority of God’s Word. Although this blog post is extremely uncomfortable to read, I include it here as a reminder that postmodern evangelicalism has turned away from the Bible, and that Christians must be resolute in our obedience to the Lord.

Michelle Lesley is really on fire with her article The Five Solas of the Protestant Deformation! John and I had been talking about how evangelicalism has turned away from the principles that the Lord restored to the Church just hours before this piece was published, so I really appreciate the confirmation that others see what I see. Thanks, Michelle!

In a blog post appearing in For The Church Pastor Casey Lewis answers the question From Where Does Bad Theology Come? with an appeal to Scripture. His assessment puts spiritual warfare in its proper perspective.

Some of my fondest memories go back to the years I wrote and directed plays in drama ministry, so reading John Ellis’ Drama Programs Do Not Belong in Church in PJ Media  hurts a bit. It hurts because I now believe he’s right. The fact that he builds his case from his knowledge of theater strengthens his credibility.

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Saturday Sampler: September 3 — September 9

Heart Sampler 01Let’s start out with a difficult, but incredibly basic, challenge: loving our enemies. In these days of robust polemics and doctrinal minutiae, we easily ignore Christ’s teaching on this matter. Thankfully The Cripplegate features Clint Archer’s bracing post, A higher standard of loving, to pull us back to the fundamentals of Christian behavior.

Also on The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge gives us Three Reasons to be Unashamed of the Gospel as he reflects on the bravery of Martin Luther and other 16th Century Reformers. History, and especially church history, has tremendous application to our lives today!

Glenn Chatfield, in The Watchman’s Bagpipes, shares some helpful information on The Importance of Genesis Chapters 1 through 11. You might be surprised by how frequently the New Testament mentions incidents that occur in these chapters.

I love seeing ways that Biblical counseling gets to the heart of a matter and then applies Scriptural principles to set a person free. Lara d’Entremont demonstrates how the Bible addresses perfectionist tendencies in Hope for Perfectionist in Progressive Sanctification. Lara’s blog, Renewed In Truth Discipleship, contains many such essays. What a Christ-centered alternative to psychological counseling!

Lara’s essay inspired Lisa Morris of Conforming To The Truth to write The Unexpected Gift of Perfectionism. She lists several Scriptures to help us climb out of this particular sin.

Continuing her new series on Do Not Be Surprised, Erin Benziger writes Unshakeable Joy in Times of Trial in order to direct us to the sovereignty of God. Admittedly, I still struggle to rejoice in hardship or persecution. You most likely do as well. But that’s precisely why we need to read Erin’s article.

If you’re like me (and I suspect you are), you probably wonder what Scripture means when it tells us wives to respect our husbands. Answering from a male perspective, Tim Challies fills Let the Wife See She Respects Her Husband with practical tips on how to obey the Lord in marriage. What a valuable article for us to read! Please don’t ignore this one.

Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day evaluates Self-Care and the Christian by holding the idea of making time for oneself instead of serving others against the teachings of God’s Word. In this age of promoting self-love, Jennifer’s call to obey the Lord is badly needed.

Sadly, the obvious about gender and sexuality is no longer regarded as obvious. Even by professing Christians. Michelle Lesley responds to this moral disintegration in her blog post, Basic Training: Homosexuality, Gender Identity, and Other Sexual Immorality. Before you think she’s pointing fingers sanctimoniously, you might want to read her entire article. All of us have committed some form of sexual sin, and all of us can experience the Lord’s forgiveness.

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How Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Almost Torpedoed My Christianity

IMG_1524

Taken at the Dreamland Wax Museum in Boston

Last week I included Leslie A’s blog post, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: America’s New Religion in my Saturday Sampler collection. I’d seen this term before, most notably in Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity. Horton’s book sort of reminded me of how my involvement in Christian pop-psychology eroded my theology over the years, but reading Leslie’s post really alerted me to the fact that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism poses a serious problem in evangelical circles.

To explain Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, let me borrow from Leslie, who in turn borrowed from Wikipedia:

There are five main beliefs of MTD–

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

(from this Wikipedia Article)

While I probably would have intellectually disagreed with pretty much all of those tenets when MTD influenced my thinking, on a practical level I lived out those basic attitudes. The church and ministry I belonged to at the time used Scripture, yes, but often we used it to buttress psychological or mystical ideas rather than evaluating those ideas through the lens of sound doctrine.

I hasten to say that some of us in that group were genuinely saved. I believe I was. Sadly, the overwhelming prevalence of psychological ideology distracted us from properly interpreting and applying God’s Word to our lives. Despite our insistence that we believed the Bible, we in fact followed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in how we ministered to each other. Slowly, at least in my personal life, fundamental Christian doctrines took a back seat to the “deeper ministry” of Christian pop-psychology.

During the height of my deception, I had conversations with two non-Christians who used the same psychological terminology that we had been using in the counseling ministry I worked for. Additionally, I watched Oprah Winfrey on my days off, intrigued that she also used the same psychological jargon. I found myself entertaining the unbiblical idea that, even through someone didn’t acknowledge Christ, they might know Him through pop-psychology.

Mercifully, the Holy Spirit never let me fully embrace such blasphemous notions, but I relate my experience here to augment what Leslie wrote last week. Bible-believing Christians must vigilantly guard against Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, recognizing how subtly it blends in with popular trends in evangelical thought. I anticipate writing more about this topic in future articles, as I believe it’s a top threat to Biblical Christianity. Thankfully, the Lord has power to rescue people as He rescued me.

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From My Archives: In Eve’s Footsteps

3d383-ladies2bstudy2b03My schedule is a little different this week, therefore diminishing my time for blogging. Please enjoy this article  from May 2016:

Eve’s fatal encounter with the serpent and subsequent rebellion in eating the forbidden fruit is such a familiar narrative to me that sometimes I fail to comprehend all of its implications. But an article in the January/February 2016 issue of Modern Reformation sent me back to the text in Genesis 3. Simonetta Carr’s article, “East of Eden,” tells the story as if through Eve’s words, comfortably familiar (as I said) until I reached  this paragraph:

As wonderful as the Garden was, the serpent convinced me we could have much more, right then and there, without waiting for God’s timing. The serpent appeared to be our friend, but he was strange. He could speak our language and seemed to know more than we knew, but I didn’t give it much thought then. It was an enticing prospect of having our eyes opened, of being like God and knowing more than what God had revealed.

The story continues as she heartwrenchingly wrestles with the realization that Able died and Cain suffered banishment as a result of her rebellion in eating the fruit, and I don’t mean to misrepresent the point Mrs. Carr intended her article to convey. At the same time, the paragraph I just quoted sparked my thinking concerning women and our attraction to mystical adaptations of Christianity.

Specifically, the closing phrase of that paragraph captured my attention.”Knowing more than what God had revealed.” Was that Eve’s motivation? Had Satan promised her revelation beyond the words of God, insinuating that what God had spoken to her and Adam wasn’t sufficient? Fascinating questions! I went to my Bible to verify this interesting possibility. Genesis 3:6 had my answer.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (ESV)

That phrase, “the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” gave me confirmation Simonetta Carr had indeed offered a profound insight. Despite the intimate fellowship that she and Adam regularly enjoyed with God, Eve liked Satan’s suggestion that they could possess knowledge beyond what He had revealed to them.

That idea made me think of the mysticism that pervades many evangelical churches today. Although many men get sucked into this terrible trend, it appears to be the most pronounced in women’s ministry. Immediately I think of Beth Moore’s claims of revelations from God and Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling. I also remember countless women’s retreats and Bible Study meetings where leaders encouraged us to “allow” the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself, not in the pages of Scripture, but “personally” during times of “listening prayer.”

All too often, evangelical “Bible” teachers send the message that the Bible only goes so far in showing us what we need. Typically (and I speak from both personal experience  and first-hand observation), evangelical women receive subtle pressure to understand their psychological wounds and/or to  experience God emotionally. They may certainly start with a Bible verse that “ministers” to them (i.e., that gives them goosebumps), but they must then seek “more.”

One example of the mysticism evangelical teachers push on women comes in the form of “intimacy with God.” Jesus must be their “Lover,” especially if they’re single. Beth Moore and Ann Voskamp both urge women to enjoy “romance” with Him…with Voskamp  boldly advocating erotic expressions of such romance. Sometimes single women are actually shamed for wanting a flesh-and-blood husband when Jesus “offers” them emotional and even sexual satisfaction.

That spiritual rush, of course, exceeds the limitations of mere Bible study. As with other forms of evangelical mysticism, this intimacy with God suggests that we need more than what He has given us in His Word. But didn’t Eve plunge all of creation into decay and death precisely because Satan convinced her that she needed to digest the knowledge of good and evil? Didn’t he persuade her that God’s Word didn’t give her everything she needed?

Evangelical women fall for the same stale lie that Satan first told Eve. Thankfully, we can trust that God’s Word really does supply everything necessary for us to live on this side of heaven.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~~2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)

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