15 October 2009

Self-help, self-esteem, self-destruction, and large, irresponsible mouths

by Dan Phillips

Rebekah Lawrence was a married woman whose husband did not share her desire for children. Troubled by that friction, and by another relatively minor issue or two, she attended a $600 four-day self-help course called Turning Point in Australia.

After the fourth and final session, with no history of serious mental health issues, Rebekah's thinking and behavior took a dramatic turn for the worse. Then suddenly, at work, she behaved in a deranged manner, murmured an affirmation and, with a song on her lips, jumped to her death.

Now officials are investigating as to whether the self-help course led to her death. The reporting notes that the program was run by people with no formal psychological training. The speculation is that it may have triggered a psychotic episode.

Now, let's duly note that the same people who'd criticize such courses would equally fault any pastor who tried to counsel anyone about anything. They would note that many pastors also lack "formal psychological training." As Jay Adams pointed out long ago, psychologists have become the new priesthood, unchallenged experts on the human soul. As Adams also rightly noted, this is far from a Biblical model.

Before coming to my point, let me add this: having said all that, I've said far from all that could or should be said about helping troubled people.


Now to my actual point. Here's where this story turns my mind: preaching and writing by folks like Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, and teeming hordes of wannabes.

These men (and women) take on the mantel of authority, stand in the pulpit, and tell every last one of their hearers unconditionally and without qualification that God loves them, accepts them just as they are, approves of their hopes and dreams and aspirations, and wants nothing more than He wants for them to be happy and fulfill their desires. God will initial all their aspirations, and back them up all the way.

But who is in those audiences? How do the speakers know? They never even meet 0.001% of the people who hear them. Who are they cheering on, to whom are they promising God's unconditional approval? Unstable folks like Rebekah Lawrence? Pro-abort extremists like the late Dr. George Tiller? Who is listening? What nascent murderers, rapists, heretics, apostates, false teachers, false prophets, or other lost souls are being promised God's smile?

Nor does the preaching include any limits, provisos, warnings, nor conditions. God loves you just as you are, and He wants to fulfill your dearest dream — whoever you are, whatever you are, no matter what you're dreaming!

So let me just say right now, to every one of our readers: God may well not want you to fulfill your dreams and desires. He may well not approve of your plans and aspirations.

In fact — I have to say it; truth and love for God and you constrains me — He may well not accept you, just as you are, right now.

But you can't see His face just now. We can't hear His voice speaking individually to us, as if from mid-air. So how can you know? How can we tell?

First: you may not be accepted by God, but may instead be under His judgment and wrath. In terms of global population, it is likelier that this is true of you than that it is not. All of us rebel against the Godhood of God, as expressed in His revealed word, the Bible. We are rebels by nature and by choice. It isn't even in us to submit to God's law; we naturally hate both it and Him.

However, the great good news is that God has provided a wonderful way to reconcile us to Himself, forgiving all our sins and crediting the righteousness of His Son to us, as we do a 180 and believe in Christ.  (Read more about how He does this, and how we must respond, HERE.)

This truth confronts you decisively. You cannot go on the way you naturally live, and be heading for God's kingdom. You must be born again to see the kingdom of God. You must do a radical, root-to-branch turnabout, trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Only thus can you be reconciled to God. Not to say "Yes" to Christ in faith, is to say "No" to God — and you must never expect His smile nor His blessing if you choose to say "No" to God's call and command.

Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). If you would know God, you must know Him in Jesus Christ. There is no hope elsewhere nor otherwise.

Second: God may not approve of your plans. Hollywood is dead wrong. Our hearts are not always right. In fact, they are deceitful and incurably sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Not only must we be born again, and bow the knee to Jesus as Lord; but we must continually take His yoke on us and learn from Him, in a committed teacher-student relationship (Matthew 11:29). We must continue in His teaching (John 8:31-32), must have His word as the critic of the thoughts and feelings of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).

Only by that Word can we know what delights and pleases God on the one hand, and what repels Him, on the other (Psalm 19:7-11; 119:9, 11; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Only by that Word can we know God's will, and know what is pleasing to Him.

Do not slight your spouse and think that is the path to blessing (Ephesians 5:22-23). Do not shame your parents and expect a happy future (Ephesians 6:1-3); nor lie (Ephesians 4:25), nor re-shape His word like silly-putty (2 Corinthians 4:1-2), nor compromise the gospel to please men (Galatians 1:10). Neither the all-out pursuit of money (1 Timothy 6:9-10) nor of popularity (Proverbs 18:24) are the way of God.

You and I must not assume God wants us to do anything simply because we want to do it.

But if you are in God's will, though you may suffer terribly, you can be assured of His loving smile now, and His verdict of joy in eternity (Matthew 5:3-12; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; 1 Peter 4:12-14).

The only way you know whether you are a child of God at all, and whether you are in the will of God, is the same way: by the Word of God.

Stay in it, and stay close to it. And stay in a church where the Word is taught and practiced, pedal to the metal; and where a pastor takes to heart the care of your soul (Hebrews 13:17).

It is the only way.

Dan Phillips's signature

55 comments:

SandMan said...

YES! Thank you for saying this. It turns my stomach when I see Osteen and others with their wry smiles "encouraging" people to just believe... in what? Our senile ol' grandfather god (little "g" on purpose) who smiles and nods at all our exploits and reaches in his deep pockets and flips us a quarter everytime the ice cream man goes by... because after all, what could be more important than our happiness with temporal pleasures?
Thank you, again. The true gospel is the only cure and it can't make sense without telling people that God ain't happy with you right now.

1Cor1031 said...

LOVE this post . . . Thank you for laying that out Dan. I hope & pray many eyes see this.

NoLongerBlind said...

"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" is just, ummmm, so much easier to swallow than all the talk about sin, and warnings about judgment and wrath. You can't fill up those big arenas with that approach.

/sarcasm off.



Great proclamation and exhortation!

Penn Tomassetti said...

Wow... this is powerful Dan! Somebody could print this on one of those fake money bills, or at least pass out printouts.

Craig and Heather said...

Another "hit me where I live" post.

Lately, the sobering reality if taking up my cross has haunted my thoughts. And I often wonder what that looks like, 2000 years after Jesus said it.

Think I will read this again :o)


That is horrifying to realize that there is a hugely successful Pied Piper gospel that dances its followers to as certain a destruction as overtly godless self-help garbage.

Heather

Heather

Craig and Heather said...

I meant "of" taking up my cross.

H

olan strickland said...

Here is an O.T. example of our modern day "self-help, self-esteem, self-destruction, and large, irresponsible mouths." Their sermons are filled with so much sugar that I don't see how their listeners don't go into a diabetic coma.

Penn Tomassetti said...

I thought Olan's reference was perfectly fitting and worth posting here in a comment for all to read:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
(Jeremiah 23:16-17)

Olan,
Thanks for the ref.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

A post of the finest Pyromaniac tradition! Well done!

A tertiary observation (and perhaps one that is borne from mere coincidence), but I could not help noticing this comment near the end of your excellent essay:

"And stay in a church where the Word is taught and practiced, pedal to the metal; and where a pastor takes to heart the care of your soul (Hebrews 13:17)."

As I mentioned before, this may be mere coincidence, but this exhortation echoes Centuri0n's comments in the thread of his immediately prior post. By and large, I don't think any regular TeamPyro reader would disagree with this counsel.

However, I should like to kindly ask whether you'd agree with a logical corollary to your counsel:

"If you're in a church where the Word is *not* taught and practiced, petal to the metal, and where a pastor (or pastoral staff) does *not* take to heart the care of your soul, then you have freedom to seek God's will about departing from that church in whatever God-glorifying manner He leads you."

As an example (and I mentioned this in the prior thread) I offer up Pyromaniac Phil Johnson's journey:

"I had grown up in an extremely liberal United Methodist Church, where I had no exposure whatsoever to evangelicalism. Frankly, I don't remember ever hearing anything about the gospel in all those years in the Methodist church."

Phil subsequently left this liberal United Methodist Church. And his departure is an example of the corollary that I just submitted for your review.

P.S. This is just a comment about a small point you made in your post. The main point of your essay is superb.

Frank Turk said...

The great thing about this post is that it really does speak to everyone.

Nice work, DJP.

Solameanie said...

Dan,

I truly think this is among the best posts you've ever written, and is something we sorely need to hear.

Allow me to add my own hearty "amen" to what will probably be a loud chorus.

Benjamin Nitu said...

"You and I must not assume God wants us to do anything simply because we want to do it."

Amen!

SandMan said...

TUAD...
I saw that too, but left it alone because I would hate for true Gospel to be eclipsed by the haggling of what percentage of folks leave church for a legitimate reason.

Again, not a rebuke. I was tracking with you. I am by no means authoritative around Pyro, I was, however, one of those disagreeing with SOME of Frank's comments yesterday.

It will be truly sad if yesterday's meta rears its ugly head in this meta and shifts focus from anything but the excellencies of the Gospel.

Saying it in love and humility.

DJP said...

TUAD, thanks for the kind words.

Then there's your apparent restless desire to put two friends in a room and watch them fight.

I decline.

stratagem said...

WOW. This is why I read this blog. What a great post, hitting at the very root of today's self-oriented, man-is-basically-good "Christian" preaching.

As an aside, I am reminded of a article on Rob Bell's church, where he said he stands at the door as people are coming in and tells them "God loves you just as you are - period." At least the first three words are accurate, probably a pretty good average for Bell.

mark pierson said...

"Not only must we be born again, and bow the knee to Jesus as Lord; but we must continually take His yoke on us and learn from Him, in a committed teacher-student relationship (Matthew 11:29). We must continue in His teaching (John 8:31-32), must have His word as the critic of the thoughts and feelings of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12)."

Dan, that was EXCELLENT!!! Way to some it up!

Mark

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Then there's your apparent restless desire to put two friends in a room and watch them fight."

Sorry, you wrongly impute motives.

Daryl said...

Excellent post Dan. And a great reminder to have a care to whom we entrust ourselves.

TUAD, we're not blind and it's not like this is your first attempt...

Paul D said...

Totally agree with the post, really awesome – do have a question regarding 1 item:

...tell every last one of their hearers unconditionally and without qualification that God loves them...But who is in those audiences? How do the speakers know?

I recall bringing up a question in Sunday School: is telling people indiscriminately that “God loves you” helpful, or even right? Like putting it on a church billboard. I recall a violent reaction from my peers – how could I dare suggest that God does not love every human…

Well, I’m no genius, and I’m only offering my humble opinion because I think I could use some clarification/correction. God does love every human just as every human is a recipient of general grace. But telling people that they are under the general love and general grace of a Holy God with no instruction provided as to the effects of God’s general love on unredeemed humans is entirely unhelpful - it gives unredeemed people a false sense of security. An unredeemed person under the general love and grace of God will face the condemnation and wrath of God…

Craig and Heather said...

Um. I hope this is not terribly off-topic.

But, I noticed that in the linked article about the woman, the secular, emotional/psychiatric-centered approach to treatment was not simply a-spiritual, but instead had a decidedly negative effect on the woman's spirit.

The final state of the woman was eerily similar to the Biblical description of the demon possessed man that lived among the tombs.

I've noticed that people sometimes like to say that "good" without "God" is 0. But it seems to me that the results are far more horrific than just "nothing".

Heather

DJP said...

I think ONE big trouble with a lot of those self-help courses and books (and sermons) is that they assume a lot. The books in particular seem assume a fundamentally healthy, coping individual. Which this poor lady no longer was.

donsands said...

Well done.

In his book, "Christless Christianity Michael Horton calls the Osteen gospel something like "a moralistic, therapeutic deism" gospel.

The counseling and "Christian" clinics can be bad for sure, not that all counseling is bad.

One man in my church told me he learned at the clinic in DC his wife was beating him up with her words, (and they never spoke with his wife). He seemed to be encouraged by their counsel.
I said, "Give me a break.
Love your wife as Christ loves her. And seek His grace and power by faith, and the church will help support you in prayer."
He kind of got upset with me to be honest.

This particular couple divorced after a while.
I agree that there are dangers out there in the clinic, even the Christian ones. Not all, but probably more than not in our culture.
That's my two-bits worth.

Craig and Heather said...

@ DJP

That's kind of a weird thing to assume.

If a person is healthy and able to cope normally, why would they be seeking professional help?

I suppose "healthy" and "normal" are relative terms. Is it possible to be truly well adjusted without Jesus?

H

Craig and Heather said...

Never mind.

I'll stop distracting from the main point and go follow my rabbit trail off site.

H

Citizen Grim said...

Craig & Heather, the same thought occurred to me (re: the demon-possessed man). I would not at all be surprised if this woman was having some serious spiritual issues in her final hours, after having put herself in the spiritually perilous setting of the self-help group's hypnosis.

I recall someone once arguing that hypnosis is dangerous because it leaves your mind like an open door, ready for anyone to stroll in... The person saying this was not a Christian, so I'm sure they were worried about an unethical therapist, but their analogy reminded me of Christ's analogy of a certain mind as a house occupied by evil spirits in Luke 11:24-26.

Penn Tomassetti said...

The wrong counsel always ends bad, whether or not one commits suicide.

David said...

There is a tremendous harmony here between the two posts.

But we've heard so many people screaming one note in our ears that we've been deafened to the chorus of the gospel.

stratagem said...

I don't think we can assume too much about this lady's situation either before or after the so-called self-help; I believe Dan made that point fairly well. Personally, I would assume that she was depressed and didn't know where to turn, perhaps turning to the self-help as a penultimate act of desperation leading up to the tragic final act of desperation? That is only a guess, but plausible.

If my assumption is correct, it just reinforces the need to keep our eyes and ears open to those who need to hear the real Gospel. Even if her depression were primarily stemming from a physiological condition (as many depressed persons' depressions do), she surely would have been better off coping with it as a Christian with a sure hope for eternity and having God's help in her life.

Of course, the other side of the same coin is that this tragic situation points out the often-hidden costs of those like Kenneth Copeland, Osteen, etc ad nauseum, who preach a phony gospel of this-world-ism. Which does nothing (or worse than nothing) for those who have real permanent problems.

Aric said...

Great post Dan!

As you pointed out, men like Joel Osteen, et al., proclaim their message without knowing who is listening. Makes me wonder if that is why expository preaching is a better way to go: the Word is always true, no matter who is listening.

Craig and Heather said...

I don't think we can assume too much about this lady's situation either before or after the so-called self-help; I believe Dan made that point fairly well.

Yes. I didn't mean to direct anyone to speculate about the woman's situation. And I do know first- (and second) hand about unchecked depression and how devastating it can become.

Your thought about Christians needing to be aware of need is a logical extension of noting the potential dangers of certain forms of counseling--especially if pursued by a non-Christian and/or apart from the truth of Scripture.

And it is important to remember to not just breathe a sigh of relief and sidle away if I hear that a friend or acquaintance is having trouble but "in counseling".

H

Joshua said...

Wow, that story is incredibly sad.

Does anyone have more details about the situation? Is Turning Point associated with Osteen's church, do they tend to do their seminars amongst evangelicals, or what? I seem to remember the organization being advertised at a church around here, which is why I ask.

Sir Brass said...

Bravo, Dan! Excellent post!

Rachael Starke said...

Amen and amen!!

"You and I must not assume God wants us to do anything simply because we want to do it."

...which is why we should be careful to pray Psalm 37:4 the way God meant it to be prayed - "Help me to want You above all things so that when you don't give me the other things I want, because they might cause me to want you less, I am thankful and full of praise.

You know, the opposite of what these charlatans teach.

stratagem said...

Heather
Good point. Could be that if we hear someone is in counseling, that we should be even more aware than if they are not.

One of my close relatives is a Kenneth Copeland follower and never went to a doctor because of his foolish teachings about how you'll never get sick if you just have enough faith. She finally went to the emergency room at 58 years old with blood pressure of over 200! She has since gone on meds but probably too late to totally avoid damage to her system.

The costs of these lies are high, it really doesn't matter who is listening.

Brenda on the S OR Coast said...

This reminds me of the sewage that is being stuffed down our children's throats left and right:
"You can be anything you want to be!"
It's such a happy, positive, encouraging,hopeful lie that schools and cartoons and everyone in between wants to sell it.

/homeschool mom rant

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Rachael and I are thinking along the same lines.

I remember reading Psalm 37:4 as a child,

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart...

and thinking, "Wow! Great! God will give me what I want!"

But I clearly remember the Ah-Ha moment of realizing that His desires were different and better than mine.

You know... I was growing up.

Jason & Jodee said...

This is an excellent demonstration of how the Gospel can be presented in a mixed audience without second guessing who might hear what. It also seems to me that the Gospel should convict both the saved and the unsaved. I know reading this I was very much convicted although I am secure that God’s condemnation is no longer on me because of Christ – Romans 8:1. I think it also interesting that Paul longed to preach the Gospel to believers in Rome Romans 1:7 + 1:15.

Thank you for being faithful to the truth.

puritanicoal said...

The juxtaposition of a psycho-babel, self-help seminar and Me-Church Pastors is apropo.

Daniel S. said...

During recent talks about this very topic, the friend that I was in discussion with was a bit perturbed that we are so critical of churches/ministries that we're not actually a part of.

While there is some truth to that point, I feel as though we can and should look at the church body at large with constructively critical posts like Dan's (Thank you by the way!).

We should, of course, be praying that God raises up people around guys like Osteen that aim to challenge/correct/rebuke and make sure that "what were being saved from" and "why we must be born again" is preached, rather than what we can obtain by having "faith".

I cannot recommend Michael Horton's take on this topic in "Christless Christianity" enough. That book was such a thorough look at how both ends of the theological spectrum, and much of the churches in between, have removed Christ altogether, and replaced him with the now-often repeated phrase, "Moralistic, therapeutic, deism".

stratagem said...

BTW, I am starting my own TV ministry. My first sermon topic will be "How much beer can I drink and still get into Heaven?"

Craig and Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~Mark said...

"So let me just say right now, to every one of our readers: God may well not want you to fulfill your dreams and desires. He may well not approve of your plans and aspirations.

In fact — I have to say it; truth and love for God and you constrains me — He may well not accept you, just as you are, right now."


~Amen.

TAR said...

Amen!

The Squirrel said...

Dan,

A slam dunk! Could be your best post ever! (and you've written some mighty good ones in the past)

Printed and filed and will be plagiarized in the future as needed

:o)

~Squirrel

candy said...

Dan. This has to be one of your best. posts. ever! Good job!

DJP said...

Thanks, folks, for all the kind comments.

Solameanie said...

"Great, kid! Don't get cocky!" (Joel runs before the force lightning hits....)

I couldn't resist the Star Wars reference.

Sir Aaron said...

This is the line that got to me:

"Stay in it, and stay close to it."

I hear this a lot, but this post really put some meaning and emphasis behind it. How often are we told as children or adults to do something or not to for our own benefit. We brush it aside until we see or hear of something that makes us think "Wow, that really is important isn't it?" This post is one of those times.

P.S. In my experience (tainted only slightly by my profession), most self-help gurus don't believe in their own snake-oil. They do it for profit and that's it.

Steve Scott said...

"You and I must not assume God wants us to do anything simply because we want to do it."

Take this a step further and you could say that we must not even assume God wants us to do something even if it is good, right and doesn't contradict His word. He may have other plans.

Gilbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gilbert said...

Dan,

So much to say about this post...

>I think ONE big trouble with a
>lot of those self-help courses
>and books (and sermons) is that
>they assume a lot."

Here's the one overarching problem with self-help books. "Self-help" is a complete misnomer; you can't possibly do it. It's a totally flawed concept from the start! Otherwise, we could, in theory, possibly help SAVE ourselves. Bzzzzt!

And then, by the grace of God, you skillfully laid out the basics. We are condemned; we need to be saved, and no amount of anything that we can do will ever help. And once saved by God through faith in Jesus and Jesus alone, we need to stick to Him like glue through His Word.

This is going out to my fellow deacons, trustees and pastor...ahh, the heck with it. The whole church gets an email from me shortly.

And thanks again for this blessing and this gift, Dan...and for using your gifts so well.

Mel Kizadeck said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and YES!
Preach it brother!
I am saving this one in the "read again" file, and "pass it on to friends" file.
I like Penn's suggestion that it become a pamphlet or tract. I would pass it out!

John said...

Awesome, awesome post. It'll preach.

For a long time, the phrase "God loves you just the way you are" has bothered me. I've raised my concerns in meetings and everyone always shoots me down.

But "just the way I am" before God would turn me to ash, I think. Glad Christ is in-between.

round.tuit said...

Thanks for the post.

I have difficulty with the words "...Come, just as you are to worship; Come, just as you are before your God..."

Our finite minds cannot grasp the majesty and greatness of God - the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Isaiah 40:12). God's holiness is beyond our comprehension (Revelation 4:8).

Croconilly said...

Great post. Never thought of Osteen in the category of self-help, but perhaps it fits. Although, his approach seems more to be self-deception.