Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Gospel is better than unconditional love

In an article I found very instructive and stimulating, David Powlinson argues that the biblical category of idolatry is vital for counselling and pastoral care. The category of idolatry gives a powerful perspective on the complexity of human behaviour, motives, desires etc. One section that particularly struck me is on the danger of the tendency of Christian counselling to psychologise, that is, focus on the category of 'need', especially the need for love/self-esteem. The danger is that God can be presented as a way of meeting an idolatrous desire, rather than that idol being challenged.

This quote develops this thought and asks "what happens to the Gospel?"

What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? "God loves you" typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - "grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against" - is down-played or even twisted into "unconditional acceptance for the victims of others' lack of acceptance." When "the Gospel" is shared, it comes across something like this: "God accepts you just as you are. God has unconditional love for you." That is not the biblical Gospel, however. God's love is not Rogerian unconditional positive regard writ large. A need theory of motivation - rather than an idolatry theory - bends the Gospel solution into "another gospel" which is essentially false.

The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, "God accepts you just s Christ is. God has 'contraconditional' love for you." Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you his own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father's child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me "as I am." He accepts me "as I am in Jesus Christ." The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God's love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul's lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically decenters people
- what the Bible calls "fear of the Lord" and "faith" - to look outside themselves.

Powlinson, David "Idols of the Heart and "Vanity Fair"', Journal of Biblical Counselling, Volume 13, Number 2 (Winter 1995) pp.35-50. Quote from p.49

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