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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At The Cross

What makes you valuable? Is it your skilled understanding of the Bible? Perhaps the number of followers you have on social media? How about your connections with well-known Christian personalities?

The hymn I’ve chosen to present today humbles me. As much as I feel tempted to boast in all the things listed in the paragraph above, I must realize that only Christ gives me worth. Nothing I do either enhances or diminishes my worth precisely because I derive my worth exclusively from Him. And He assigned that worth to me at the cross.

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Saturday Sampler: April 8 — April 14

rose-sampler-silkUsing 1 Corinthians 12, Kristen Wetherell of Unlocking the Bible demonstrates our responsibility to Trust God With the Spiritual Gifts He Gives. She brings us back to the reason He gives those gifts in the first place.

Evangelism intimidates most Christians. Because of this fact, Becoming More Faithful in Evangelism by Zach Putthoff in Parking Space 23 will encourage you through its practical counsel.

In Throwback Thursday ~ Don’t Get Your Theology from the Movies, Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women cautions us that a Movie Subscription Service doesn’t necessarily promote sound doctrine. We can’t hear this message enough!

Katie McCoy lists 5 Things A Woman Considering An Abortion Needs To Hear in a post for Biblical Woman. She raises a couple points that I never would have come up with.

The term “evangelical” has a complicated history, as Jesse Johnson of The Cripplegate shows us in I’m old enough to remember when “evangelical” was a bad word. He provides interesting insight into the theological mess in Christian America today.

Few people understand how to pray Biblically. On her blog, Growing 4 Life, Leslie A asks Are You Treating God Like Your Personal Genie? She uses the Lord’s Prayer as a template for true prayer. Interestingly, my pastor is preaching through Luke’s treatment of that same topic.

Let me squeeze in a second post from Michelle Lesley. Safe Spaces and Wearing Our Hearts on Our Sleeves: 6 Ways to Follow Jesus’ Example of Handling Hurt addresses self-centered attitudes that far too many Christians (including myself, I admit with shame) nurture.

Michael Coughlan, in a contribution to Things Above Us, offers some Recent Racist Rhetoric Reflections that balance the discussion. I really like his delineation between the Gospel and its efforts.

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Are White Evangelicals Guilty Of Assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr?

Five Easter BabiesI’ve spent all week trying to articulate how Christians should respond to racism. I’m not certain I’ve done the greatest job of handling this topic. Most of the time, I’ve felt as if I was trying to put pantyhose on an octopus.  As I remarked Monday, writing on racial issues as a white woman pretty much sets me up for accusations of racism, white privilege and any other invectives liberals might care to hurl my direction.

So I worked hard at my attempts to acknowledge that American blacks have suffered mistreatment. That mistreatment sometimes affects their perception, causing them to cast unfair judgments such as when the young man in the nursing home bit my head off for calling him “boy.” I continued by arguing that I am grieved and embarrassed because of actions that my great-great-grandfather and my grandmother took, but that God doesn’t hold me responsible for their sins.

I’ll add today that, regardless of Thabiti Anyabwile’s demand that white evangelicals repent of our complicity in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (please, I was only 14 at the time!), such demands are unbiblical and unnecessarily divisive. It both puzzles and saddens me that Anyabwile, a prominent figure in Reformed circles, would write something so opposed to the foundations of the Protestant Reformation.

In requiring that white evangelicals repent of our parents’ and grandparents’ supposed participation in King’s assassination, Anyabwile seems to ignore basic Gospel teaching. Those evangelicals who are truly saved (and my regular readers know that many evangelicals are false converts) have experienced complete forgiveness at the cross.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. ~~Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

Certainly, we must daily confess and repent of sins we commit after the Lord saves us, but Jesus paid the penalty even for those. If we’ve engaged in racist attitudes and/or behaviors, by all means we should repent! You can be sure I’ll never call a young black male “boy” again!

Yet even in our sorrow over sin, we mustn’t wallow in guilt.  Continual penance looks back to Roman Catholicism and its endless efforts to remain in a state of grace. Worse, repenting for the sins of ancestors, grandparents and parents for their roles in slavery, Jim Crow laws and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. seems all too reminiscent of buying Indulgences to free loved ones from Purgatory.

Has Anyabwile forgotten that we can’t atone for our own sins, much less the sins of our parents and grandparents?  If so, he has forgotten why the Reformation happened in the first place! I would hope that he would go back into church history and brush up on Martin Luther and the 95 thesis.

And as long as he is studying history, I suggest that he think about Martin Luther King’s Dream  Speech. Rather than holding white evangelicals accountable for King’s assassination, perhaps he should see us as individuals. Perhaps he should judge us, not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our individual characters.

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Bearing My Great-Great-Grandfather’s Guilt

dark-bibleYesterday I tried to make the case that, as white Americans, we need to be sensitive to the discrimination and injustices that black Americans have suffered. Denying slavery, Jim Crow laws or racial profiling doesn’t ease tensions; it simply serves to confirm perceptions that we neither understand nor care to understand what black Americans have collectively endured.

The bulk of discrimination, sadly, was and is all too real. Contrary to popular opinion,  however, a percentage of the injustice seems to be their perception (possibly augmented by past experiences) rather than actual injury.

The two examples I cited yesterday underscore this point. The young man that I called “boy” projected racist motives onto my remark even though I had no way of knowing the connotation of what I’d said. He perceived the racial slur that most people mean, and therefore assumed that I was also making a racial slur.

Similarly, my then fiance’s comment that every black person in the south can point to a tree where one of their ancestors was lynched may have been hyperbole. Someone I respect sent me a Direct Message on Twitter after reading yesterday’s blog post, mathematically challenging the claim my ex made. Possibly, my ex had heard so many accounts of KKK lynchings that it certainly seemed like every black person in the south could point to a lynching tree.

Perception can often affect beliefs, and therefore magnify anger. From what I’ve read, this magnified anger came out at the MLK50 Conference last week in the form of demands that white American evangelicals adopt an attitude of continual repentance for the sins our ancestors committed against blacks.

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to the United States during the Irish Potato Famine, settling in Georgia. He was 16. Soon after, he fought in the Civil War with the Confederacy. For years, I struggled with guilt and embarrassment that he essentially fought to preserve the sin of slavery. I also felt guilty and embarrassed that my grandmother occasionally expressed racist sentiments.

Scripture, however, teaches that each person is accountable for his or her own sin, not for the sins of his or her predecessors.

14 “Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: 15 he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. ~~Ezekiel 18:14-17 (ESV)

If God doesn’t hold me responsible for the sins of my grandmother or my great-great-grandfather, why should anyone demand that I live in perpetual repentance for what these two did? If Christ’s blood completely atoned for my sin, why should anyone hold me responsible for sins that my ancestors committed — sins that have absolutely nothing to do with me?

The assertion that I must continually repent for sins that I didn’t commit goes directly against the Gospel. Jesus dealt with my sin at the cross. Only He knows whether or not my grandmother and great-great-grandfather had saving faith, so He will judge them accordingly. Yes, actions like theirs devastated American blacks, and the repercussions extend to our present time. But the guilt isn’t for me to own.

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Worshiping Together And Understanding Differences

Two Young LadiesBefore we can adequately address the latest evangelical craze of abolishing racism,  we must agree that racism is indeed a sin. Social justice warriors don’t have a monopoly on that truth. The apostles, in fact, openly (although briefly) rebuked the racial divisions that caused tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in the First Century.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. ~~Colossians 3:9-11 (ESV)

Paul wanted Christians to focus on Christ rather than on racial and ethnic differences that would cause unnecessary divisions.  As we begin putting on our new selves (2 Corinthians 5:17), we treat each other as brothers and sisters, not as members of other people groups. Any attitude of superiority (racial or otherwise) has no business in Christ’s body!

Additionally, white Christians in the United States of America need an awareness of the suffering that black people have endured. I learned this  lesson through a very painful incident.

When I lived in the nursing home in Memphis, a young man who happened to be black struck up a conversation with me. He also lived in the nursing home, and that day he’d decided to befriend me. I was old enough to be his mother, and found myself having maternal feelings toward him.

The conversation was sweet and playful, making both of us smile. When you live in a place like that you really want friends who you can enjoy, so I got excited about having a “son” to banter with.

My excitement got the better of me. I called him “boy.”

The rage that flooded his face flabbergasted me. If he hadn’t been a quadriplegic, I seriously think he might have physically attacked me, based on the fury he exhibited. Through clenched teeth, he commanded, “Never, ever call me boy!” With that, he drove his power wheelchair away and never allowed me to speak to him again.

Somebody later explained to me that the term “boy” carries connotations of superiority, evoking memories of slavery and Jim Crow. Even though this young man had been born well after Civil Rights laws had been enacted, he knew better than to permit a white person to demean him. How could he know that I honestly had no idea I’d used a pejorative term?

That day taught me that black people, particularly in the southern states, have scars. My former fiance told me that practically every black person in the south can point to a tree that the KKK used to lynch one of their near ancestors.

So as I challenge the Social Gospel and its new emphasis on race relations, please don’t misunderstand me as being insensitive to the ways black Americans have been mistreated. And are still mistreated. I realize that I don’t fully understand what black Americans go through, and I probably never will.

But I don’t believe making racism a “Gospel issue” furthers God’s kingdom. As I see it, the current conversation distracts us from from worshiping Christ as a unified body of His believers. Paul’s words to the Colossians should call us to unite around Him.

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When A White Woman Fears To Be Outspoken

Biblical UnityThis bout with writer’s block has nothing to do with a lack of ideas, but rather with a reluctance to write about the ideas I have. For instance,  last week’s MLK50 Conference, added to Beth Moore’s vague “repentance”  from racism a week earlier, have ignited my thoughts concerning the Social Gospel that some evangelicals embrace lately. Although I believe I should address these matters, I question whether or not I possess enough understanding of them to write a responsible essay.

Well, that’s only a partial truth. Yes, I’d like to do more research on the MLK50 Conference, since I don’t have first-hand knowledge of what the various speakers said. Reading reports on Twitter, even from reputable people that I trust isn’t responsible journalism, nor does it reflect Christian integrity. Just this morning, as a matter of fact, I read about the importance of guarding our words.

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~~Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

But my reticence goes deeper, to be perfectly honest. Now that the Social Gospel adherents have officially attached themselves to the hot potato issue of racism, there’s really no way a white woman can critique it without being accused of racism.

I could, I suppose, defend myself by telling you that my first fiance was black. During our engagement, we encountered more opposition from black people (including his pastor, who refused to acknowledge me) than from white people. Black women advised him to dump me and find a nice black girl. If that’s not racism, please tell me what is!

But my anecdotal evidence most likely wouldn’t convince anyone (and especially anyone on this current bandwagon) that I have valid reasons for challenging the Social Gospel. As far as evangelical social justice warriors are concerned, anything I write that raises questions about their efforts to end racism in the name of Jesus automatically brands me as a racist.

So I’m paralyzed. I do want to examine the Social Gospel from a Biblical perspective, primarily because I see a misplaced emphasis in their efforts. And I think, if this movement hadn’t lurched into the politically charged area of racism, I might have been able to write about it with confidence. But the MLK50  Confidence (and, to a lesser extent, Beth Moore’s “repentance” Tweets) have put me in a difficult position.

Perhaps I suffer from cowardice. Perhaps I should risk being misunderstood and maligned on this issue, just as I’ve risked it over other issues discussed in this blog. I won’t change the minds of evangelical social justice warriors anyway, but I might encourage others to put the focus back on Christ and His kingdom. After all, in His kingdom people of every race and ethnicity will join together in worshiping Him.

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