Religion is often presented today as a kind of therapy. Find the treatment you like best—the one that meets your needs and warms your heart. That’s the point of religion. But is this the way that Christianity presents itself? Did Jesus offer himself as a kind of sage who could help us to cope with life’s difficulties, or did he come to tell about himself, our problem, and his solution?
On this program Michael Horton and the panel discuss these questions and more with Greg Koukl, founder and president of Stand to Reason and author of The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important That Happens in Between. Join us for this new edition of the White Horse Inn.
“Wade Clark Roof, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, a sociologist, says that Americans inherently give more authority to that which is inward precisely because it is inward than to anything external. There is no external authority that counts as highly as an inward hunch, experience, or what have you. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French commentator who came to the United States for a visit in the mid-19th Century, said one of the unique characteristics of the American character is that they don’t need any books because they’ve already found the truth within themselves.
“Now, here we are living in an era where we think that that’s kind of new, but this sort of narcissism or self-confidence in the intuitive rather than the external in my own self and its authority over against external authority, that is really something that has been woven into the American character for a long time. When we’re talking to non-Christians this is their assumption. When it comes to ultimate truth claims, the more important they are, the less external the claim should be and the less based on an external authority.” – Michael Horton
Term to Learn:
Today’s spirituality is novel in the sense that it is based upon a person’s felt needs, as opposed to an authoritative person or text. Self-expression has become the new form of worship in both traditional and innovative religious practices, rather than a practice of self-denial. This spirituality adopts preference as a means of self-actualization (i.e. a way of becoming the fullest expression of yourself as a human being). The commitments to these preferences are deeply personal and subjective, which results in the expression, “Your own personal Jesus” who neither confronts with his transcendent ‘Otherness’ nor deals in categories of sin, hell, or judgment. Therapy as a model of spirituality has replaced traditional norms due to the secularization of culture (i.e., the cultural shift that has resulted in religious beliefs becoming wholly individualized and disassociated from the social sphere). Divine Providence over mankind has been replaced by the invisible hand of economic forces. Whereas the Almighty beneficent being was previously seen as integral to daily life and well-being, today, he is seen as a cosmic bellhop who comes at our beck and call.
With the loss of life’s ‘center’ by these competing visions of reality, faith has been left only with an interior and subjective expression which allows ‘believers’ to cope with the ‘real world’ science and technology have given them. In the face of this modern nihilism (i.e., the belief that there is no true reality beyond that which is apprehended through the senses), religion has often attempted to fill the vacuum through such therapeutic modes of expression. Even in traditional, conservative contexts orthodox worship and practice may succumb to this mode of spirituality, ultimately leaving little effect upon the practice of the worshipper or in the public square at large. Concrete, external liturgical practices (such as the reading of the law, corporate confession, a declaration of pardon, and corporate supplication) are often displaced by personalized small groups that help believers in their life journey. This is deemed as more ‘relevant’ to the therapeutic man, and an improvement upon the ‘dead rituals’ that don’t speak to the hearts of worshippers. Worship thus becomes a therapy ‘session’ something akin to Alcoholics Anonymous, a place where kindred spirits can hear one another’s stories and help one another cope with their weaknesses and failures, rather than a place of divine judgment and salvation where sinful people meet with a holy God, and through faith in their Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are forgiven for their rebellion, and comforted by the assurance of their salvation. (Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Spirituality,” WHI [blog], August 10, 2014)
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