Is God a therapist? | Carl R. Trueman
ABishop Chaput recently wrote that holiness, above all, must mark the Church and its members. It was an encouraging reminder that in a time when church leadership is often characterized by bureaucratic skill rather than godliness, the Lord still has a few who have not flinched before the various Baals of efficiency, awakening and madness. And although the archbishop did not elaborate on this point, it is clear that holiness is a corollary of a high and orthodox doctrine of God.
At this time, Christian churches face an unprecedented challenge. Western nations have (with few exceptions) experienced the breakdown of the broad moral outlook that made them cohesive entities. This collapse means that even the most basic requirements of membership in society at large are increasingly antithetical to the most basic requirements of membership in the church. Some deny that this is happening, but they tend to be the ones who enjoy what we might call “progressive privilege” – temporary protection from left-wing culture warriors because they engage in ritual acts of Christian self-hatred and focus only on the doctrines that accompany them. good with everything well-meaning inclination of the day. But the changeling morality of the secular elite is a fickle mistress. Progressive Christians will learn, like liberal Christians of the previous generation, that conceding too much is never enough for the enemies of Christianity.
I predict that within five years we will see significant disruption among all major representatives of the Christian faith. The fault lines will run between those who find a way to adapt to conditions of worldly citizenship and those whose faithfulness to Christ leads to varying degrees of internal exile in this earthly city. The former will eventually accept the collapse of biblical anthropology, denying its implications for sexual morality, for human identity, and for addressing the various socially constructed issues we face today, such as those of race and gender. gender. The latter will maintain Christian teaching and will be decried as at best naive, at worst sectarian.
How should we prepare for what is to come? I agree with Bishop Chaput that holiness and devotion must mark the witness of the Church. After all, if we don’t take faith seriously, how can we expect others to do the same? Moreover, holiness is not simply, or even primarily, an apologetic strategy. This is partly a response to the doctrine of God. Only by grasping this can we truly put our own lives into perspective and anchor our faith to resist the cultural moment. If our imaginations are not fired with the greatness of eternal fellowship with our glorious God which will be consummated at the end of time, then the problems of this present age will loom large and ever threaten to overwhelm us.
I reflected on that last Sunday, when I had the privilege of leading an open-air worship service in the Agora of Corinth, the scene of one of Saint Paul’s famous discourses. I noticed a stone there on which the text of 2 Corinthians 4:18 is engraved in both Greek and English: “For this momentary slight affliction prepares for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond compare.” Paul did suffer – as the litany of trials he recounts in 2 Corinthians shows – and yet his suffering was like a small thing to him because his God was very great.
This great God is in short supply among those who profess to be Christians today. The anthropomorphic godlet of so much modern evangelicalism is a sad substitute for the Christian God of the Nicene fathers. Even more damaging is God the Therapist, a function of the modern cult of victimhood that has deprived us of the ability to distinguish the real suffering embodied by true martyrs from the trivial discomforts that the social media generation now routinely presents as martyrdom. Both approaches—approaches that ultimately make man the measure of all things—must be repudiated.
And so if the church wants to cultivate the holiness of its people, it must inculcate in them a glorious and beautiful doctrine of God, a doctrine which so seizes their imagination that it carries them out of themselves and to the gates of the sky. How can this be done? First, the church must clearly understand the doctrine of God and its meaning. the incomprehensibility of God; his existence as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and its glorious self-sufficiency must be clearly proclaimed in the preaching of the Church, its religious confession and its liturgical worship. Christians often praise God primarily for what he has done, is doing, and will do. But we should also praise it simply for what it is. And that means the church needs leaders who are deeply acquainted with the doctrine of God and who know the awesome texts of Athanasius, the Cappadocians, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Anselm and their ilk.
Second, worship must be serious and mature. Our age is childish with a consequent tendency to remake God in childish form. Thus, he becomes “the big man upstairs” for every sports player who thinks that God’s priority is to pave the way for a championship; or the cosmic boyfriend addressed in countless contemporary Christian songs; or the big shoulder to cry on for anyone who’s been the subject of a nasty comment on social media. But we worship the God who speaks (most untherapeutically) to Job who suffers out of the whirlwind and silences the poor man in the midst of his agony. He is not a childish God but a mysterious and terrifying God, and our worship should reflect this fact. As church leaders must learn great theology, they must also lead people to it through prayers, hymns, and the proclamation of God in word and sacrament.
Third, Christians must put their own lives in perspective before this God. The greater our understanding of the transcendent mystery of God, the greater will be our understanding of his immanent grace as shown to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. A trivial God is a God of trivial actions. The Triune God of glory is a God of glorious Triune grace. It is only when we bow down to such a God that our present sufferings will seem only light and momentary. Only then will holiness be the evident mark of the church.
Carl Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and a member of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
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