FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 10, March 8, 2018
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty deceit, but with humility of mind, let each of you consider one another as more important than yourselves.” -Philippians 2:3,4
Psychotherapy and the Lack of Repentance
Karl Menninger, the famed psychologist, in response to the folly of so many psychotherapists in his day, wrote a book in 1973 entitled Whatever Became of Sin? He opens the book with the humorous story of a solemn-faced man standing in the Chicago Loop, raising his right arm and announcing to everyone who walks by “Guilty?” The pedestrians stare at him, then look away, look at each other, and walk more briskly to evade him. One pedestrian is heard saying to another, “But how did he know?”
Menninger’s point in his book is to address the issue of modern psychotherapy which says that our problems are external, that they simply have come upon us by the action or inaction of others, that we are victims of all manner of hardships. Consequently, we are really not responsible for our actions. Menninger is showing us that our problems are largely on the inside.
I enjoy reading, from time to time, Seventeenth Century Puritan Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory which is around one thousand pages of double columned, small print on every conceivable problem a Christian can face. And since Baxter wrote long before the modern psychotherapeutic age, the contrast of his writing with so-called Christian psychotherapists today is very telling. Baxter and Menninger both arrive at the same point. There is an inward corruption in each and everyone of us, and unless this is addressed, very little can be done to effect a long term change in anyone. And herein lies the modern day problem of many Christian psychotherapists. They are failing to understand that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Man is born a rebellious, hell bound sinner who is spiritually blind, and can never clean himself up by his own self-discipline, positive thinking, or self-actualization.
You know how it goes, don’t you? You reared your children in the Lord, taught them the Scriptures and the Shorter Catechism, homeschooled them or gave them a solid Christian education. You took them to church Sunday morning and evening. They probably heard two thousand sermons by the time they went off to college. They get a nice job, marry, give you a few grandchildren, and then you begin to hear from them that you failed them. They tell you that they now realize you were very legalistic, harsh, and judgmental, that you did not give them the freedom to think for themselves. They try to put you on a serious guilt trip, telling you that they are now experiencing emotional problems, or perhaps marital problems, and cannot hold a job because of how you treated them. They need a little break from life, so they are thinking about quitting their jobs, and are kind of wondering if you can make things up to them by taking their kids for a couple of months while they “get it together.”
Okay, some people have been traumatized by life and have suffered terrible injustices like racial slurs, sexual assaults, or bullying at school. So they need some help and naturally go to a well recommended psychotherapist. And when the pain becomes unbearable, then the psychotherapist prescribes some kind of anti-depressant medication which hopefully will “mellow out” the victim so that he can sleep and cope with life. This never ends well, often resulting in prescription medication addiction.
Just listen to various evangelical preachers and you will hear psychotherapeutic language peppered throughout their sermons. This all probably started with Norman Vincent Peale at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City in the 1950’s with his book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) which spent 186 consecutive weeks on the New York Times best seller list. Peale borrowed from Christian Science and believed the world was more mental than physical. Chapter headings of the book included “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” “How to Have Faith in Healing,” and “Power to Solve Personal Problems.” Peale teamed up with Freudian psychoanalyst Smiley Blanton in 1951 and established an outpatient clinic next door to the church, and also established The American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry.
Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California carried this message much further over the next several decades with his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. In this book Schuller defined sin as “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem.” He also says that the core of sin is the lack of self-esteem. . . that sin is psychological self-abuse.
So today one gets the impression that we are never, under any circumstances, to feel bad about ourselves. We are never to feel guilty, that indeed our self-inflicted guilt is the reason so many of us “have issues.” So the best thing to do, so goes the thinking, is for every preacher to absolve people of their guilt by assuring them that God really loves them, and really wants them to be with Him in heaven, and as long as they acknowledge that, then there really is no reason to worry about continuing in their fornication, homosexuality, drunkenness, dishonest business practices, or lying.
Can you see, now, why so few American churches preach repentance? Such preaching simply goes against the grain. Got to maintain the status quo.
1. The False Teachers, Tim Challies <www.challies.com> April 2, 2014.
2. Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, page 14.
3. Ibid. pages 98,99.