This week, I want to take maybe just a few minutes, and I want us to discuss sort of the opposite of what I talk about all the time. I talk all the time about the beauty of the church. I talk all the time about wanting to reclaim this idea of the church as a culture of care. As the entity and the institution that is responsible to God for caring for the souls of humanity. It’s also important for us to see the beauty of the church in its functions, in the way it honors God and ministers on behalf of God to those who are hurting and broken and have wounded hearts. I think it’s also equally important to see and maybe contemplate when the church doesn’t do this aspect well. I think we’ve been really in a season for several generations where the church has not done this particularly well. I’m not saying every church, but the church at large has not done this maybe super well. We’ve abdicated our responsibility.
Unintended as though they might be, what are some of those consequences? It’s important for us to consider those so that we see what’s at stake and how the church is responsible to do this work of soul care or how the church will give an account to the Lord for how we handle the care of souls. So we consider what some of the things that hinder the church from caring well are, and what are some of the implications. Now, before we get into this, I am not saying that those who are a part of the church are intending not to care well. That’s not the intention. Anyone who loves Christ at all desires to help people, they desire to minister well to people, they want to see hurting people helped, but what I think we miss is the implication of when we imbibe culturally relevant means of care.
What are some of those implications? I think that’s important for us to consider. I’m not questioning the motive of a person, but when we imbibe these cultural systems of care, what are the implications? I think that is so critical. I love what Carl Trueman says in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. In that book, he notices how dominant cultural relevance is even for us in the West, particularly churches who are intended to uphold some sort of moral standard, yet we find ourselves consistently drifting toward cultural relevance. And man, nowhere is that seen more so than in the church in the way in which we think about soul care. But this is what he says about cultural relevance; he says cultural relevance can be a cruel mistress. What an important statement, I think, for us to consider because in our desire to uphold cultural relevance, what we don’t see happening in the background is this constant erosion of biblical truth, biblical doctrine, sound doctrine. Every bit of doctrine is intended to be applied. When we’re not applying things that are consistent with sound doctrine, guess what falls by the wayside? Solid sound doctrine. I’m going to try to demonstrate that to you, at least for you to consider some of the ways in how that happens when the church doesn’t practice its soul care well. You’ve got to understand; when we practice a system of soul care, we are imparting beliefs. We are imparting a system of beliefs about man, about man’s problems, about the world, and it has implications on sound doctrine from the Scriptures. Let’s consider some of those things.
The first is the way in which we view the church. We view the church really as secondary, not really as important at all, in some of these issues of the problems we face in humanity. “Well, that’s in another domain that’s outside the church. The church can deal with spiritual problems.” Yes, that’s true. But the church can’t deal with those types of problems. And think about the implication on one of the primary means of soul care in the church in something like church discipline. Now, I don’t mean just ex-communication; I mean the whole process. How we deal with one another when we offend one another? How do we maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? One of the ways that we do that is the first step of church discipline. You offended me, so I approached you. We begin to reconcile and, praise the Lord, we’ve won our brother, and God is to be praised. He’s brought us together, and we’ve been reconciled. That’s a part of what it means. And we fought sin in the process, which is destructive. We made the proper enemy the proper enemy. We fought against the right thing and praise the Lord the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is upheld, and we love one another well.
That’s a part of what it means to care well, but when we adopt culturally relevant means, we don’t understand that function of the church is so important for the sake of our souls. The fact that we’re under proper authority with our elders and that we are to hear and be shepherded by them, to have a heart that desires to be obedient to the things that they call us to from the Scriptures. We begin to lose the idea of being cared for well in this function of church discipline, and we’ve watched over the last century the practice of church discipline essentially fade. Why? Because we were wanting more culturally relevant ways to deal with some of our problems and that began to impact and affect the church. We began to see discipleship in the church, not as a pursuit primarily built upon relationships that is pursuing sanctification and health of our souls (stability as James 1 describes it). No, we see discipleship more as some sort of intellectual pursuit. “Well, if I know these things, then I’m discipled.” That’s not the measure of what it means to be a disciple. Remember, Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7 that you can hear all the things that He said, and I presume even intellectually be able to regurgitate the principles that He gave in His Sermon on the Mount. But here we are in Matthew 7, and He says not just to be a hearer of the word, but to be a doer. James repeats that same idea in James chapter 1. This is what it means to be wise. This is what it means to live a stable life. When we don’t live according to these ways, the implication is when we’re not truly discipled, where we learn to obey all the things that Jesus commanded. We begin to see ourselves living unstable lives.
This is one of the implications that we see in our desire to be culturally relevant is that what we think positions people well to have a successful life, we adopted from secular ideologies. We begin to dismiss the value of the church, the value of church discipline, the value of discipleship as a relational entity pursuing sanctification for our good. But that’s not all. We see a shift in the way we think about humanity. This is probably one of the most impactful ways that we’ve seen the ideas of the therapeutic impact the church. The therapeutic self now culturally reigns.
The way that we think about the self from a cultural perspective is that our biggest problem to health in life is weakness from within and the means by which we walk healthy is to build the power from within the self—that’s sort of our humanistic flavor of the day that we live in right now. And as the church over time has tried to be culturally relevant, we’ve imbibed this idea, and nothing could be more detrimental to the way we think about soul care than adapting our view of humanity. Because even when we want to hold a solid view of God and a solid view of the Scriptures and doctrine, we’re now trying to apply those views of doctrine and Scripture to a different humanity, to a different person because we see this tension, like social science says that the means to health is to build the self, to remove everything that hinders me being happy because that’s what it means to be healthy. That’s a huge problem.
And how did this happen? Essentially what happened is we began to imbibe humanism. As we began to imbibe humanism, we began to look at humanity no longer as this primarily spiritual entity that will live forever in one place or another, right? As we experience the second death into separation from God forever, or whether we experience eternal life living with Christ and being made new, being redeemed. We see humanity sort of broken up into three parts. The biological aspect of man, the psychological, and the spiritual. Essentially what begins to happen in this therapeutic view of self is we see experts in different areas say what makes a person healthy from a biological or physical perspective from a “psychological perspective,” which by the way may or may not have implication relative to spiritual things. It’s sort of its own entity with its own rules and that sort of thing. Then we have the spiritual. Maybe 70, 80, 90 years ago that sounded okay because in many people’s minds, the spiritual was the largest part of that human being. And so, the Bible was still very relevant. Interestingly, what’s happened over time as the therapeutic culture has gained ground, it has dismissed God. In our naturalistic views, we began to see humanity more in terms of this biological perspective—that’s what makes us who we are—or the psychological parts of man.
These forces from within that sort of by fate dictate who we are, our personality, the way that we become, our attitudes, our actions, our quirkiness and so on. There are whole sets of systems and rules that sort of dictate how we live healthy lives, biologically speaking, from a mental chemical perspective, or from a psychological perspective. All the while what’s happening is this domain that’s sort of over here that we considered spiritual, has been dwindling more and more and more in the secular definition—that’s by design. That’s by design based on the schemes of the evil one, for what purpose? Because even for those who are conservative in the way that we think about the Bible, guess what happens? The Bible becomes less and less relevant for the whole of humanity. In fact, what happens is the Bible only becomes “sufficient” for that small section of humanity that we deem to be spiritual, and who’s the one who dictates that kind of stuff, right? Some experts that we look to out there who would say, “Yes, this is a spiritual issue, this is a psychological issue.”
And so the Bible is relevant for the small section of spiritual issues, but it’s not relevant or sufficient for the psychological problems because we deem it so. While the Bible makes very clear that our inner man is connected holistically to our biological man and the two things interact quite consistently because we are holistic beings. That’s what it means to be human is to be material and immaterial, to have a biological part of our being and an immaterial part of our being. A spiritual inner man.
Listen to the way Paul describes this. This is important not just in relation to our view of humanity but also in our view of sin and suffering. I think Paul really captures this idea here to help correct the proper view of humanity, but also to help us to understand suffering, suffering well. Because what Paul does in 2 Corinthians 4, he’s discussing here the way that he’s being poured out, and he says verse 16, “So we do not lose heart.” What does he mean by that? What he’s saying is all that’s happening on the outer parts of who I am, that’s happening to me and around me, and it’s impacting me, that may make me feel like I need to lose heart or lose hope because things are crushing in around me, but then what does he say? “So we do not lose heart though our outer self is wasting away.” He’s not denying the fact that our outer self, our biological being, is wasting away. The environment around us is not improving it actually is showing signs that it’s deteriorating. And so what are we to make of this? Paul acknowledges the truth that even though the outer man is wasting away, all of us are dying, right? You listened to the podcast today to find out that you’re going to die. All of us are wasting away. But what does he say? Our hope is not bound in that stuff. Our hope is bound in that the inner man—still being renewed day by day. When we try to be culturally relevant, we change the way that we think about humanity to this therapeutic idea of man, which changes and alters then the way that we think about suffering.
How so? Well, if I look at suffering from a therapeutic perspective, then what becomes my enemy is the thing I believe causes the suffering and so that thing that I believe causes the suffering that causes my depression or that causes my anxiety or that has caused this trauma, that has to absolutely get out of my life in order for me to live happy and healthy or if I feel like well that can’t change, I can’t change him, or I can’t change her. So you become hopeless in being able to live life in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord or in a happy and healthy way.
When in reality, what Paul is helping us see is, yeah, all these things are turbulently happening around us and it’s not like they’re a facade. They’re really happening, difficulty that’s happening in our life. But the inner man is being renewed, day by day by day. What happens with the therapeutic aspect of man is when suffering occurs, there’s no meaning and purpose in that, right? There’s no meaning and purpose in me having a bad day. Some sort of traumatic event happened in my life and now what’s the purpose behind that? Because it’s actually keeping me from being happy and healthy. From a biblical perspective, we can see that even when the world is being torn up around us and even when our physical bodies are decaying or even when some sort of trauma is impacting us, it doesn’t determine that we can’t grow in the inner man. It doesn’t keep us from growing in the inner man. And so what we see Paul expressing here is that the inner man can grow, why or how? Think of the brilliance of God here. Even in the suffering, He’s bringing about meaning and purpose so that we don’t become dependent on the things that are outside of us. We’re not becoming dependent on the environment around us to give us hope and happiness. God is actually saying that leads to detriment that leads to difficulty. But what does happen is now we see what we’re truly dependent on for health, for hope, and for happiness, and that is Christ Himself. The inner man can still be renewed. In fact, it’s challenged to be renewed because we see those things outside of us are not worthy to be trusted. And so we want to run the into the things of Christ.
Listen to the rest of the verse where he says this, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” What a brilliant way of putting this by Paul as he talks about light momentary affliction he’s not dismissing the fact that we are afflicted. We are afflicted. Earlier in this passage, he says we are afflicted in every way, crushed but not destroyed. So, it’s affliction, unbelievably so. And in comparison to the things on the earth, it’s a major ordeal. What he’s saying is in comparison to the things that are unseen is its building for us an eternal weight of glory.
Listen to the meaning and purpose that infuses. The therapeutic self needs suffering to go away to be happy. When we think about the Christian narrative, suffering actually presses us in to see what meaning and purpose of life is really all about. No longer do we find ourselves hopeless sitting around dependent upon our circumstances changing. But now, even despite circumstances, the inner man can grow in such a way as to hope more in God to see the value, meaning, and purpose in life as we display the glory of Christ, and we are not dependent upon those environmental circumstances. Now, I’m not saying they don’t influence us. Of course, they do, but they don’t dictate us. You see, we lose this when we adopt a culturally relevant view of man, that man is therapeutic. It’s all about building the self, building his esteem—that’s what makes him happy. That is completely false according to the Scriptures.
When we change our view of man, that also has implications for the way that we view God. When we see man as a therapeutic version, we have less need of God. We no longer see God as absolutely necessary for life that our very lives are dependent for everything good on Him, but we now see God as not the prize, but a means to gain the prize. And what’s the prize? The prize is that we build our own selves and God, if He’s one option that can help us to build ourselves well, then He’s good and helpful. That’s not a proper biblical view of God whatsoever at all. We are to die to ourselves, the Bible says, why? Because we can’t find life, certainly not life abundantly, in the things of the earth. Our hope in those things are vanity, the Bible says, but our whole life is dependent on God as the prize of life, and so we no longer see Him as necessary but sort of optional, one of the several possible things in the toolbox that helps us to feel better and to live our best life. That is an unbelievably unbiblical view of God because we no longer see God as truly holy. We began to dismiss our sin because we don’t see God in His proper holiness, so we don’t see ourselves for who we really are. We begin to justify all the difficulties in our life, and we certainly don’t want to call them sin because then that means that we have to change and conform ourselves to God who is perfect and holy. So we begin to dismiss. We may give lip service to the holiness of God, but we begin to dismiss His holiness and no longer it’s us conforming to Him, but we want Him to conform to us. I think that’s a part of what we’re seeing. These are just a few brief things that I would say are implications when we adopt a culturally relevant view of man from a therapeutic perspective and when the church doesn’t care well, these are some of the implications. We leave people in a state of hopelessness.
Just a couple of more unintended consequences as I close this one out today. When the church doesn’t care well, and we adopt these views of God, these views of sin and suffering, these views of humanity in this particular way, these views of the church, we begin to promote the deeds of the flesh. We may call them good rather than evil. We see them as a means of health, but we begin to promote deeds of the flesh, especially if we’re not correcting those things. If we’re not warning our people, admonishing them that these deeds of the flesh are bad. Take anger, for example. In so many systems, it’s good, healthy even to express anger or to vent in certain ways. We’re actually promoting deeds of the flesh. We have to be careful to try and be culturally relevant, especially when it’s against the Scriptures. I think this is one of the reasons we see such instability in some of our churches. We often are promoting secular forms of wisdom that are competing against God’s wisdom, and James 1 tells us that when we adopt these ways, we become a double-minded man and unstable in all our ways.
The last thing I’ll say is that it hinders a true witness of the church. It hinders true and legitimate fellowship in the church. Where we build relationships that our senses of belonging because we know these people love us to such a degree that they would give themselves for us, and we love them to such a degree that we would give ourselves for them. Think about how that’s the witness to the outside world. So often, the world thinks of the church as just an entity looking to gain whatever they can from the outside world. That is not supposed to be a part of our DNA. Jesus makes very clear, John 13:34-35, that the people outside will know that we are His disciples by the way in which we love one another. The therapeutic idea of self simply builds and when the church promotes this, we’re not carrying well, the therapeutic idea of self actually calls us not to love one another, but to love the self more than anything else. And it begins to hinder the witness of the church to the watching world. Because then we’re not known by the way in which we love one another. We’re known by the way in which we use God as a means to love ourselves.
This is the greatest detriment, and so when the church doesn’t care well, it has implications, and we’re promoting those secular views of what it means to be healthy. Prayerfully, we can call ourselves back to a biblical view of humanity, a biblical view of the church that cares well.
- The Church as a Culture of Care by Dale Johnson