Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Psychological Effects of Law/Gospel

A few weeks ago, my family went to dinner at some friends' home. The husband mentioned to me that he is in a Christian counseling program which utilizes the scripture in order to help people psychologically. He described some of the priciples of this program of study, and I realized something; psychology deals in degrees.

Some would say that the fusion of Christianity and psychology demeans both fields. They run on different presuppositions. Christianity is centered on the work of Christ on the Cross, while psychology is anthropocentric, meaning it is centered on man (and his development). Christianity is passive, in the sense that Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, while psychology demands activity from the one who submits to it (meaning the psychologist's recommendations).

These recommendations may include doing something that you never have before. An example of this is when a psychologist empowers you to say "no" to your mother and establish boundaries with her. The Christian psychologist may draw on Christ's response when told that his mother and brothers were outside waiting for Him. He replied "Who are my mother and brothers?" He was individuating the psychologist tells us.

Another recommendation might be in the field of pornography. Christian men struggle with this almost more than non-Christian men. The psychologist would recommend to keep the pornography out of the house and put a filter on the computer. It is an attempt to control the circumstances of a wildly out-of-control human being.

These are not bad things. If you don't look at pornography, you have more time to read Plato, or if you're a Christian, the Gospel of Luke. But the suggestions of the Christian psychologist end up being ... well ... psychological. S/he may borrow from scripture to strengthen her/his point, but it does an injustice to the radical nature of the Gospel.

I believe psychology is important. I believe it is particularly important in the field of relationships and emotional health. When a trained professional can look at your concerns and "objectively" guide you through them, you learn a new way of thinking that should lead toward greater emotional health.

I believe in the proper preaching of the Law and the Gospel. Christianity loses its vitality without this preaching. This preaching does not say that "application" of the scripture makes you more holy or complete. Instead, it hands the hearer the proclamation that Christ is the author and perfector of faith. In other words, our salvation and sanctification are the work of the living God in, and especially, through, us.

The Law, which is spoken through the pastor, brings the conviction of guilt, not by the condemnation of his statements, but by the scripture itself (note that scripture is God-breathed and the Holy Spirit works through the words). This does not produce guilt or self-condemnation. The preaching of the Law pierces the heart and causes the hearer to say "Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips". In other words, I am a complete sinner worthy of God's destruction. This is radical. It does not fit into psychology, and psychology would criticize it. It would say that this minimizes a person's self-esteem. It is irresponsible.

I agree. It is irresponsible to preach the Law without the Gospel. The preaching of the Gospel after a person's conviction of sin (not self-condemnation or guilt) is paramount. You cannot over preach it. This gospel says, "You have been forgiven all of your sins because Christ Jesus took them upon Himself and received eternal punishment (within three days) for you. You are now a priest and co-heir with Jesus." This is radical, too. The psychologist would say this is delusional. It is narcissitic. It is absolutism at its worst. But isn't it the absolutism of salvation we all crave? As Christians, we proclaim Hebrews 11:1, which tells us that faith is assurance. And, this assurance does not come from what we have worked with our hands, but from The God-man Jesus Christ who erases the gray areas and proclaims to us, I am the way the truth and the life, there is no way to the Father but through me. (psychologist: narcissitic delusion).

What is the psychological effect of this Law/Gospel preaching? It destroys hope in one's ability to uproot sin in their own life. Since the heart is deceitfully wicked, it doesn't ask you to look inside yourself, because you are a convoluted mess. It tells you that look to Christ on the Cross. As Luther put it, "I have a crucified God!" (psychologist: embraces contradiction; delusional). The Christian, then, is not told to improve by degrees and effort, but by death and resurrection ... being killed by the Law and resurrected by Christ. The Christian becomes radicalized. Simultaneously, you enjoy peace, because you are assured that Jesus loves you yesterday, today and forever because He has placed His name on your forehead. May God bless and keep you, Amen.