The following excerpt was taken from The Therapeutic Gospel by David Powlison.
“The Contemporary Therapeutic Gospel:
The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of twenty-first century, middle-class Americans are different from the felt needs that Dostoevsky tapped into… We find our miracle-substitute in the wonders of technology. Middle-class felt needs are less primal. They express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self-interest:
- I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally.
- I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact.
- I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires.
- I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears.
- I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.
The modern, middle-class version of therapeutic gospel takes its cues from this particular family of desires. It appeals to psychological felt needs …
In this new gospel, the great evils to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead. These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained, and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches…
The Once-for-All Gospel:
The real gospel is good news of the Word made flesh, the sin-bearing Savior, the resurrected Lord: “I am the living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (Rev 1:18). This Christ turns the world upside down. One prime effect of the Holy Spirit’s inworking presence and power is the rewiring of our sense of felt needs. Because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, we keenly feel a different set of needs when God comes into view and when we understand that we stand or fall in His gaze. My instinctual cravings are replaced (sometimes quickly, always gradually) by the growing awareness of true, life-and-death needs:
- I need mercy above all else: “Lord, have mercy upon me.” “For Your name’s sake, pardon my iniquity for it is very great.”
- I need to learn to love both God and neighbor: “The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
- I long for God’s name to be honored, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth.
- I need God to change me from who I am by instinct, choice, and practice.
- I want Him to deliver me from my obsessive self-righteousness, to slay my lust for self-vindication, so that I feel my need for the mercies of Christ, so that I learn to treat others gently.
- I need God’s mighty and intimate help in order to will and to do those things that last unto eternal life, rather than squandering my life on vanities.
- I want to learn how to endure hardship and suffering in hope, having my faith simplified, deepened and purified.
- I need to learn, to listen, to worship, to delight, to trust, to give thanks, to cry out, to take refuge, to obey, to serve, to hope.
- I need God Himself: “Show me Your glory.” “Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Make it so, Father of mercies. Make it so, redeemer of all that is dark and broken… But there are no prayers and songs in the Bible that take their cues from the current therapeutic felt needs. Imagine, “Our Father in heaven, help me feel that I’m okay just the way I am. Protect me this day from having to do anything I find boring. Hallelujah, I’m indispensable, and what I’m doing is really having an impact on others, so I can feel good about my life.” Have mercy upon us! Instead, in our Bible we hear a thousand cries of need and shouts of delight that orient us to our real needs and to our true Savior.”