The more nonsense I see emanating from so-called evangelical Christians, the more I despair. On a daily basis we see the faith once delivered by the saints being ripped to pieces by trendy upstarts. And so much of this is being done by those who claim to be Bible-based believers.
As the latest example of this, it now seems that we must have a psychological assessment of why believers believe what they do. Those who are bold in proclaiming truth need a bit of psychological counselling to help them deal with their issues.
Those who champion truth and do so with some certainty are now being asked to be assessed for their psychological condition. Forget the fact that there might actually be truth which exists and which is important for us to adhere to. Forget the fact that truth is mentioned hundreds of times in Scripture.
Forget the fact that certainty is something Jesus and the disciples everywhere affirmed. Forget the fact that the insistence on right doctrine over against false doctrine is championed repeatedly in Scripture. Forget the fact that throughout church history people have risked life and limb to defend biblical truth.
Now it seems all this fuss about theology, doctrine and creeds is all just a matter of psychological shortcomings. An evangelical psychologist has just recently weighed into the current controversy about Rob Bell’s new book and his push for universalism. Instead of dealing with biblical and theological concerns, she wants us to see it all from the vantage point of secular psychology.
The piece is on a site called ‘Recovering Evangelical’. That should send the warning lights flashing. Usually whenever such a term like this is thrown around, it means some guy who used to be a bible-believing evangelical has decided to ditch his faith – or good hunks of it – for the latest trendy nonsense that is making the rounds.
They tend to be bitter and angry, and like to lash out at the old evangelical convictions and verities. So this just seems to be more of the same: another ‘up yours’ to an evangelical past which is being rejected for the latest bowl of theological porridge.
In a new article, “evangelical social psychologist” Dr. Christena Cleveland says those who are getting a bit worried about where Bell and the emergents are going are just getting worked up about nothing, and their desire for theological certainty can all be explained away with humanistic psychology.
We are informed that those wanting to affirm truth and certainty suffer this disease: the need for cognitive closure. She says this: “More recently, social psychologists have studied a phenomenon called need for cognitive closure which is defined as an individual’s ‘need for a firm answer to a question, any firm answer as opposed to confusion and/or ambiguity’.”
There you go: the reason why some Christians are sticklers for doctrine is because they are insecure and have this deep need to be right. Never mind the hundreds of times we are commanded in Scripture to seek the truth, affirm the truth, defend the truth, and preach the truth.
Never mind all the times Jesus and the disciples challenged those who had faulty understandings about God and his mission. Never mind how often in Scripture we are told about how we can have certainty in what we believe. Never mind the strong conviction about truth which all the OT prophets, Jesus and the NT disciples had.
She concludes her short piece this way: “In theory, our common group membership as Christians should supersede theological distinctions, thus overriding these nasty group processes. However, anyone who spends any time on Twitter knows that this is not yet the case.”
There you go again. We need to transcend mere “theological distinctions” if we are to be real Christians. So Bell is pushing the heresy of universalism? Just get over it – it’s no big deal. And if another emergent church leader comes along with another best-selling book, this time telling us that Jesus is not in fact God, well, hey, don’t get too shook up about it.
After all Christian unity is all that matters. Doctrines divide, but love unites, so let’s just chuck all those divisive doctrines out. There are far too many of them anyway: the reliability of Scripture, the Trinity, the uniqueness of Christ and his work; salvation by grace through faith, the second coming of Christ, and so on. Let’s just abandon all these troublesome doctrines and let’s abandon the search for theological certainty as well.
As the emergents keep telling us, let’s just rejoice in ambiguity, doubt and uncertainty. That is so much of a safer and kinder place to be in than actually claiming that certain doctrines are true and certain doctrines are false. Gee, we could have used this kind of pop psychology centuries ago.
It would have helped to straighten out Jesus, or Paul, or Augustine, or Luther, or Wilberforce. They were all so dogmatic and intolerant and insistent on knowing and proclaiming truth. If the shrinks could just have got Jesus to lie on the couch for a while, he would have realised that all his insistence on truth was just an attempt to get some cognitive closure.
Paul was also a very needy candidate for this psychological assessment. His run-ins with Peter, the Galatians, and others, and his insistence on certain true beliefs and behaviours obviously flowed from some deep insecurities in his psyche.
While we are at it, let’s get on the couch Al Mohler and John Piper and J.I. Packer and Mark Driscoll and D.A. Carson and Chuck Colson and all those other rather bigoted folks who claim to know truth and who seek to defend it. They obviously have some big issues to deal with.
A couple of months on the couch and we will straighten out these fightin’ fundies. And we can also do so much more for the good of the church. Why don’t we get the Psychologist Study Bible out there, where we can do psychological assessments of all those black and white passages in Scripture?
In no time we can get the whole Bible to be nothing more than a book of 99 shades of grey. Just think, we could have prevented so many Christian martyrs going to an early grave. These countless martyrs who died for the strength of their Christian convictions did so in vain. If we could only have gotten them on the couch and taught them to cope with their inner insecurities and foolish need for cognitive closure.
Let me conclude with a different tone. I have written plenty of times elsewhere that there is a place for mystery and wonder, and there is a very big need to stay on our knees in humility before God as we seek to understand and convey the truths of God. But with that humility must come some assurance, conviction and boldness in proclaiming the biblical truths as found in God’s word.
Have some believers been too cocksure, arrogant and pig-headed in their use of truth? Sure. But many believers today are now rushing in the opposite direction, which is just as dangerous, if not more so. The answer to arrogance and inflexible truth is not to go into the error of relativism, scepticism and non-stop doubt.
Truth and love must always go together, and we all know of some folks who clobber us over the head with truth. But the answer to this is not to renounce the truth altogether, and seek to psychoanalyse anyone who speaks with the courage of his convictions.
Jesus, Paul and millions of others spoke fearlessly and boldly about the truth of God. Yet they also walked in love, humility and with respect toward others. That is what we are called to do as well. Avoiding one extreme by going to the other extreme is never the right answer.
I will continue to proclaim truth in the public arena, while continuing to stay on my knees, asking God to always keep me on the straight and narrow. If a shrink wants to analyse me for doing this, so be it. But with Paul I have to say, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” – and with conviction, boldness and certainty.