What a beautiful time of year, as flowers pop up everywhere and trees adorn themselves with tender leaves or brilliant blossoms. The wonder and purity of springtime reminds me of Jesus and His loving rule over His creation. So I’ve selected a hymn that focuses on how that creation dimly reflects His beauty.
Mother’s Day touches a variety of powerful emotions. As I begin this blog post, I immediately think of my young friend who had her first baby a week-and-a-half ago. Knowing her, she’s undoubtedly tickled pink about celebrating her first Mother’s Day as a mommy. She’ll probably eagerly check her Facebook page all day tomorrow for Mother’s Day greetings. I plan to be among the many who will leave one.
For her, Mother’s Day is full of joy and newness. She will remember to acknowledge her mom, her stepmother and her grandmother, as she always does, but this year will have a different sweetness for her. And I find myself rejoicing with her.
I also think of my college chum who raised three sons. She navigated through their teenage rebellion, in its varying degrees of complexities. That family faced serious struggles, one of which nearly destroyed her with the sort of anguished grief that only that child’s death could have surpassed.
But, praise God, the boy didn’t die. He and his brothers straightened out and grew into responsible young men. Yesterday she proudly posting a picture of a Mother’s Day bouquet her oldest son sent to her. I felt her joy palpably despite the 3000 miles that stretch between us, and my heart danced with hers.
But I also think of a friend who couldn’t get pregnant. Circumstances prevented her and her husband from pursuing adoption. She spent Mother’s Day curled up in bed, finding it unbearable to go to church and endure sermons on God’s blessing on motherhood. And I remember sitting through a Mother’s Day service with another friend who silently wept the entire time because she had suffered the latest of many miscarriages earlier that week. Finally I think back to a few short years ago when my friend (at the time only 15-years-old) bravely came to church on Mother’s Day, shattered because her mom had lost her battle with cancer just the night before.
My heart broke for these dear women. For them, and many like them, Mother’s Day means deep emotional pain.
I also experience discomfort on Mother’s Day, receiving no gifts, cards or flowers. Well-meaning people sometimes assure me that I’m a spiritual mother to many. I never hear such words at other times of the year. And really, I’d like a pretty gift bag with yellow tissue paper poking out of it (maybe an Amazon gift card inside) or a phone call from my nieces.
Yet I live between the women who celebrate this holiday as happy mothers and the women who suffer through the day with overwhelming sadness. My discomfort only comes from minor selfishness, which I can confess and renounce fairly quickly. I believe the Lord would be more honored if I joined my happy friends in their delight at motherhood and sorrowed with my friends who face the holiday with pain.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. ~~Romans 12:15 (ESV)
Why shouldn’t Christians take advantage of psychology just as they take advantage of medical procedures and treatments? Actually, many evangelicals do regard psychology as a viable component of pastoral counseling or (if they use professional counselors) a supplement to Biblical teaching. Even though most evangelicals will say otherwise, they clearly deny the sufficiency of Scripture.
But should Bible-believing Christians add psychology to their arsenal of spiritual weapons? Of course, my regular readers already know my answer. But let me offer my basic reason for rejecting the blending of psychology and the Bible.
Most of us, I believe, would consider Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as the fathers of modern psychology. For that reason, we ought to know something about their spiritual outlooks. Let’s first of of all determine whether or not these two men operated out of personal philosophies consistent with a Scriptural worldview. Did they hold views that agree with Biblical doctrine? Did they recognize God’s holiness and man’s innate sinfulness? Did they develop therapeutic models that affirmed the necessity of repentance and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? Obviously, a thorough examination of their spiritual convictions lies well beyond the scope of this small blog post, and you’ll need to do your own research, but let me prime the pump just a bit.
Freud, for the most part, exhibited blatant animosity, not merely towards Christianity, but towards religion in general. Admittedly, in his later life, embraced his Jewish heritage only in response to anti-Semitism. In all other respects, as the following quote exemplifies, he demonstrated great contempt for religion.
“Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. […] If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.” –Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 1939
In Freud’s estimation, religion was a neuroses that needed to be overcome through analysis rather than God’s revelation of Himself that in turn gives us a correct understanding of ourselves. He dispensed with the concept of sin, and promoted the notion of self-esteem. Sadly, many Christian counselors incorporate elements of Freudian psychology into their practices
Jung, on the other hand, had no trouble with spirituality, as his father was a Reformed minister. But he rejected the idea of specific creeds and approached the idea of God from a New Age perspective.
“It is only through the psyche that we can establish that God acts upon us, but we are unable to distinguish whether these actions emanate from God or from the unconscious. We cannot tell whether God and the unconscious are two different entities. Both are border-line concepts for transcendental contents. But empirically it can be established, with a sufficient degree of probability, that there is in the unconscious an archetype of wholeness. Strictly speaking, the God-image does not coincide with the unconscious as such, but with this special content of it, namely the archetype of the Self.”
Jungian psychology emphasizes “balancing” the conscious and unconscious parts of personality–a philosophy he developed as a result of his lifelong contact with a spirit guide (probably a demon) named Philemon. As a child he participated in seances. He believed in a spirituality that denied the existence of sin. Jungian psychology, which generally requires several years of counseling sessions, promises to uncover the counselee’s unconscious, therefore being a rebranded form of gnosticism (one of Satan’s oldest lies).
Neither of these men believed the Bible, and therefore they constructed psychological models based on human reasoning and demonic influences. If you’ll examine their histories (even at a surface-level), you’ll find their beliefs to be antithetical to the clear teachings of Scripture. Yet Christian counseling, like all forms of Christian ministry, must rely exclusively on God’s wisdom, which sets itself apart from human theories and philosophies.
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. ~~1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV)
The vast majority of 21st Century evangelicals have been influenced by Charismatic teaching to think of spiritual warfare as taking authority over Satan and his demons in the same way that Jesus and the apostles did. Although I won’t delve into all the evidence that the apostolic era ended with the death of the apostle John in today’s blog post, I firmly believe that the spiritual warfare present-day Christians fight has almost nothing to do with casting demons out of each other or (as I once did in my Charismatic days) commanding unclean spirits to leave houses.
Scripture gives us two interconnected patterns for engaging in spiritual warfare. Primarily we battle our own sin natures, as the apostle Paul describes most poignantly in Romans 7:7-25.We’ll spend many future blog posts discussing that aspect of warfare, I’m sure. For the purposes of this post, however, I want to briefly introduce the more fundamental concept of spiritual warfare as a battle against thoughts and ideas that contradict God’s Word. Until we grasp the knowledge that this battle lays the groundwork for all spiritual warfare, we fall prey to all sorts or misconceptions about this topic.
Paul provides excellent framework for understanding the nature of spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (ESV)
Verse 5 unlocks this passage by telling us what the weapons of spiritual warfare do and how they operate. With spiritual weapons we demolish arguments against “the knowledge of God.” Once we realize that the knowledge of God comes through the apostles’ teaching (and therefore through Scripture), it becomes clear that the warfare consists of using God’s Word to refute ideas that draw away from it. Ephesians 6:17 makes it clear that the one offensive weapon we have is the “sword of Spirit,” which Paul identifies as the Word of God.
So we see that spiritual warfare has more to do with correcting false teaching than it does with casting out demons. The battle revolves around errors in thinking. As we will see in later posts, erroneous thinking inevitably leads to sin (see James 1:14-15), which constitutes our primary battle. As a result, we cannot ignore our responsibility to fight against the doctrines that warp the Gospel and lead us into sinful thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.
In my last blog post, I tried to refute the habit of using feelings as a way to determine one’s own approach to truth. If spiritual warfare requires us to repudiate the worldly ideologies that lead to sin, subjective feelings only complicate matters–and perhaps fortify the very strongholds that we ought to rip apart. Consequently, we must lay aside our flawed human reasoning in favor of the Bible’s sound wisdom.
I do understand the allure of commanding evil spirits to submit to us “in the name of Jesus.” Although I started moving away from Charismatic thinking 25 years ago, I still remember the feelings of spiritual power I enjoyed when I’d “bind Satan” during my prayer times. So yeah, I totally get it that people prefer their spiritual warfare to be the guts and glory of head-to-head confrontation with the powers of darkness. The idea that 2 Corinthians 10:5 makes it about doctrine quite honestly disappoints us.
Yet the Lord has already defeated the enemy by His death on the cross (see Colossians 2:15). While there most certainly is warfare we must wage as Christians, Scripture shows us that we wage it by simply standing on God’s Word.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. ~~Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)
Since spiritual warfare involves coming against doctrinal error by properly and accurately using God’s Word as the sword of the Spirit, our dependence on subjective beliefs, opinions and emotions leave us defenseless against Satan’s ploys. We can shout blistering rebukes at him all we want (through 2 Peter 2:10-13 and Jude 8-11 associate such behavior with false prophets), but so doing won’t do anything more than inflating our egos. As Bible-believing Christians, we need to put away human strategies that appeal to our sense of adventure and instead quietly resist Satan by obeying the Word of God.
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How can we effectively shut down those who disagree with our viewpoints? According to a New York Times article I read today, we have only to utter the two simple words “I feel.” The writer, Molly Worthen, makes the case that, rather than appealing to what we think or believe in a manner that could encourage an intellectual and objective exchange of ideas, we shield ourselves from exposure to such challenges by taking refuge in the subjectivity of our emotions. To a large extent, I agree with her assessment.
But I would take her theory even further by positing that even using the phrases “I think” and “I believe” demonstrate a subjective mindset, particularly in the realm of debate between professing Christians. Several years ago, John and I engaged in a conversation with an evangelical friend who made a statement (I forget now what it was, and it doesn’t really matter) that contradicted Scripture. John gently showed her what God’s Word said, only to have her answer, “Well, I’m just saying what I believe.” Obviously, her personal beliefs carried more authority in her life than the Bible.
21st Century society in general promotes the attitude that each person has the right (and perhaps even the responsibility) to determine truth for himself. I expect non-Christians to embrace that way of thinking (after all, they reject the Bible). But it troubles me that evangelicals increasingly build their theologies on subjectivity instead of on the Word of God.
Why should they place their opinions, experiences and feelings above the authority of Scripture? Yes, I know…I’ve done it too. I can actually remember telling myself that, when my personal experience conflicted with the Bible, I needed to interpret the Bible through the grid of my experience. Lord have mercy!
God’s Word explicitly says that we mustn’t presume to be wise in and of ourselves.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. ~~~Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)
My mother always characterized me as being opinionated. And I have always seen myself as being led by my emotions. But what I think and how I feel must be governed by the Word of God. Scripture alone must inform my beliefs. I can’t use what I think, feel or believe as a way to end a discussion, for then I would essentially elevate myself as my ultimate authority.
Neither should you appeal to your opinions, beliefs and (least of all!) your feelings when someone challenges you. You and must reason from a biblical perspective, convinced that the Bible really is the very Word of God and therefore the objective and ultimate way of determining truth. Maybe the rest of the world, because of their spiritual blindness and innate animosity toward the Lord, can hide behind mere subjectivity, but Christians must rest squarely on Scripture!
Earlier today I reviewed a couple articles critiquing Beth Moore. Increasingly, her critics notice what they call her narcigesis. Narcigesis is a recently coined term describing the practice of interpreting a passage of Scripture as an allegory about one’s personal spiritual experience. Matt Slick’s C.A.R.M. article on Moore cites several examples of her poor exegesis, including this one:
Quote: “As stated in the introduction to this book, we may not always be sure God wills to heal us physically in this life of every disease or prosper us with tangible blessings, but He always wills to free us from strongholds. You will never have to worry about whether you are praying in God’s will concerning strongholds. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” (Gal. 5:1)(Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds by Beth Moore, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 2009, p. 36, italics in original)
Response: The context of Gal. 5:1 is dealing with being under the law (Gal. 4:21). Paul contrasts children under the law and “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Paul was warning the Galatians about being enslaved to the Mosaic law, which is why he says in the next verse ” . . . that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” Beth Moore has improperly applied a verse, taking it out of its original context and meaning, and used it in a manner for which it was not intended–as the Biblical context demonstrates.
As I read through Slick’s article, my mind went back to all the sermons, Bible Studies, books and women’s retreats where I saw this hermeneutic applied. I remembered two women’s Bible Study leaders in particular that consistently taught using that methodology. At the time I attended their Tuesday morning meetings, I believed that they rightly applied the Bible to modern spiritual struggles. Slick’s article tempted me to resent those two women (as well as other leaders in Charismatic churches) for teaching me this illegitimate way to study and apply God’s Word. Shame on them!
Then, to my horror, I remembered all the counseling letters I wrote for Love In Action in which I did the same thing. Shame on me, both for misusing the Bible and for self-righteously throwing stones at those who taught me. Shame on me for looking down my sanctimonious nose at Beth Moore! Praise God for His correction and forgiveness!
Beth Moore definitely needs to be called out for her irresponsible handling of God’s Word, so please don’t misunderstand me as excusing her behavior. On the other hand, please do understand that Moore has most likely learned, as I did, that Scripture lends itself to allegorical interpretation. We must judge her narcigesis as being disrespectful to the Scripture she professes to love and harmful to the people who sit under her teaching, but we must also pray that the Holy Spirit will gently lead her to repentance.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.~~Galatians 6:1 (ESV)
Matt Slick’s article didn’t change my conviction that Beth Moore is a false teacher who poses a great danger to the Body of Christ (for several reasons). But it did remind me that I once practiced one of her most glaring errors. That humbling knowledge helps me pray that the Lord will show her the same compassion He’s shown me.
Some may wonder why I constantly write about the basic Gospel message. Surely I could advance to more sophisticated subject matter, like ten steps to being a godly woman or how to develop discernment in the 21st Century. But I don’t believe a true Christian ever grows tired of hearing that the Jesus shed His precious blood to pay the price for our sins, that He rose from the dead as proof that the Father accepted His sacrifice and that He’s coming again to establish His eternal Kingdom. That narrative grows more precious to me each day!
So the hymn I picked today encapsulates the joy I feel whenever I write about the Gospel.