Category Archives: Therapeutic Culture

Story-Shaped Lives

“The same impulse that makes us want our books to have a plot makes us want our lives to have a plot. We need to feel that we are getting somewhere, making progress. There is something in us that is not satisfied with a merely psychological explanation of our lives. It doesn’t do justice to our conviction that we are on some kind of journey or quest, that there must be some deeper meaning to our lives than whether we feel good about ourselves. Only people who have lost the sense of adventure, mystery, and romance worry about their self-esteem. And at that point what they need is not a good therapist but a good story. Or more precisely, the central question for us should be, ‘What personality dynamics explain my behavior?’ but rather, ‘What sort of story am I in?'”

~ William Kilpatrick, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong (New York, NY; Simon & Schuster, 1992), 192.

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The Enlightenment as Christian Heresy

“One way of understanding [the Enlightenment] is to think of it as a Christian heresy. What Christian faith had offered was retained while the Source from which that offer had been made was rejected. The prerogatives that had belonged to God did not simply disappear; now they reappeared in human beings. The revelation he had given now reappeared in the form of natural reason, which would do what revelation had done but without the discomfort of requiring humanity to submit to God from whom the revelation had come; the idea of salvation was retained but transformed into the drive for human perfectibility, at first achieved by moral striving and then, as we know it today, by psychological technique; grace became effort; the life of faith became the hope of personal growth; and eschatology became progress (what Lord Acton called the religion of those who have none).”

~ David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Powers (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2005), 30.

Diagnosing the Human Condition: Sickness or Sinner?

“The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian know this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my  heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God; the brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York, NY; Harper & Row, 1954), 118-119.

Neopagan Spirituality

Carl E. Braaten describes a form of neopaganism that sounds alarmingly like a lot of the therapeutic spirituality that has taken such a firm hold on much of modern evangelicalism. He writes:

Neopaganism is spiritual religion attuned to the ‘Zeitgeist.’ It has no use for the concrete historical elements of the biblical gospel. It has no need of the church and the external word (verbatum externum), turning instead to pure immediacy and inwardness in which each individual personally acquires knowledge of God out of the depths of his or her own experience. People of this type care solely for their own spiritual journeys through life, and while they believe in an emerging universal fellowship in the spirit of love, the reality of the church as an elect communion of saints and sacred things is alien to their thinking. They do not understand the doctrines of the gospel to be true statements about events that have happened once and for all, but see them as symbols of eternal truths reflecting ever-recurring processes of life in the presence of God. History itself is nothing but a resource of symbols to stimulate certain moods and feelings according to each person’s private fancy. Worship means getting together in small groups of kindred spirits to hear one another’s stories.

~ “The Gospel in a Neopagan Culture” in Either/Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 1995), 19-20.

Therapeutic Spirituality

“The cold logic of mid-twentieth century atheism has now given way to an era of renewed ‘spirituality,’ but it is an awakening more therapeutic than pious, more attuned to self-expression than self-denial. It is now fashionable to talk about God, though it is still deeply unfashionable to believe in him. Yes, Americans are a religious people, but we embrace religious beliefs in the same way we adopt preferences for certain brands of product. The commitments are deeply personal without necessarily being deeply held. Our convictions are about identity, not reality. They suggest who we want to be rather than what we believe is true.”

~ J. Mark Bertrand, (Re)Thinking Worldview (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007), 57.

The Therapeutic Nihilism of Our Time

“The central issue with which Our Time must now reckon: the loss of its center. The world is now filled with so many competing interests, so many rival values, so many gods, religions, and worldviews, so much activity, so many responsibilities, and so many choices that the older symphony of meaning has given way to the random tumult of the marketplace, to a perpetual assault on all of the senses. . . . We may now have everything, but none of it means anything anymore. The most we seem able to do is to take daily inventories of personal needs and then try to match up people, products, and opportunities with them.”

~ David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2000), 14.

Thinking of Ourselves & God

Reflecting on our rebellion against God and the idolatry of self from Romans 1:18-32, Karl Barth makes this profound statement:

Thinking of ourselves what can be thought only of God, we are unable to think of Him more highly than we think of ourselves. Being to ourselves what God ought to be to us, He is no more to us than we are to ourselves.

~ The Epistle to the Romans (London, England: Oxford University Press, 1968), 45.