Jesus loves sinners. He loved his elect from all eternity. Among those elect are those who have SSA, those who have abused alcohol and drugs, those who have murdered, and those who have lied. Grace is the abounding free favor of Christ to helpless, lost sinners. As a consequence of his grace, however, he calls us to repent, to turn away from our old life—not to adopt aspects of it as our permanent identity. Our identity is in Christ, not in our sins nor in our former way of life.
More than 50 years ago Philip Rieff alerted us to what has been called the “therapeutic revolution.” The West did not pay attention and now our broader culture is awash in therapeutic categories and rhetoric. Anyone, on most any university campus, who dares to proclaim the existence of objective truth or reality would be immediately denounced as “hurtful,” and possibly attacked physically by masked, black-clad fascist thugs (the so-called Antifa movement). When Rieff published his seminal work, The Triumph of the Therapeutic Billy Graham, for good or ill, was the nation’s de facto pastor. Today the nation’s pastor is Oprah, who rose to famous by popularizing the therapeutic revolution.
The Triumph Of The Therapeutic
Consider the way people think and speak about civil government in our time. Remember that the civil government is empowered to use physical violence to enforce its laws. It is a blunt instrument fit to accomplish a few basic tasks: collect taxes (Rom 13:6; Matt 22:21), defend the people (Rom 13:4) and to keep order (Rom 13:4). It is common, however, for people to think and speak about government in therapeutic (helping) categories so that when the magistrate does what he is called to do, to arrest criminals and prosecute them, people are genuinely shocked. We are so persuaded of validity of therapeutic categories that, when someone does something evil, we immediately turn to them to explain it: “he must be mentally ill.” Now, mental illness is a reality but so is evil and so is sin but the latter two are severely neglected in our age. Where therapeutic explanations predominate, personal responsibility shrivels.
Therapeutic ways of thinking and speaking are so common, so interwoven into the fabric of late-modern Western culture, that we are mostly unaware of how deeply we have been influenced. The result of this revolution is that how one feels is considered of much greater importance than the truth of what is said. We might speak of the triumph of the affective over the effective. To effect is to bring something about. To affect is to move one emotionally.
Truth Is Not A License To Kill
To be sure, to value truth and to prioritize it over feelings is not say that feelings are unimportant and still less is it to license rudeness. The Apostle Paul explicitly contrasts love with rudeness (1 Cor 13:5). Kindness is work of grace in the Christian (2 Cor 6:6; Col 3:12) and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). According to God’s Word, however, truth is and it must be spoken in love (Eph 4:15). We may not substitute, “in a way that makes one feel warm and fuzzy” for “in love.” This is how the triumph of the therapeutic subtly changes our frame of reference and thus our understanding of Scripture. We read into Scripture an alien, late-modern, subjectivist, therapeutic framework rather than realizing how Scripture challenges our cultural assumptions.
Pastoral Is Not Therapeutic
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly recently concluded its business and perhaps the major piece of work before those assembled was to decide to how address the Revoice Conference held last summer in St Louis. That conference was held to affirm that there are Gay Christians, that it is morally right to affirm that one may be a Christian and experience sexual attraction to persons of the same sex (SSA) so long as one does not act on this impulse. In other words, homosexual orientation is not sinful per se. This is the so-called “Side B” approach to homosexuality and Christianity. So, the conference was affirming of a variety of attitudes and behaviors that traditionally have been considered beyond the pale of Christian sexual ethics.
Before the assembly was the question of how to respond. Two or perhaps three positions emerged. Some, represented by the lengthy report produced by a committee of the presbytery in which the conference was held, defended the intent and substance of the conference while criticizing it mildly for some rhetoric excess. A second group is deeply concerned about the theology, piety, and practice of the Revoice Conference but convinced that the Westminster Standards are sufficient to address it. A third group wanted to adopt the Nashville Statement, which was produced in August, 2018 in response to the theology behind the Revoice Conference.