Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Gospel is Better than Unconditional Love

JT recently alerted me to a 1995 article written by David Powlison in the Journal of Biblical Counseling entitled, Idols of the Heart and "Vanity Fair." The entire article is worth reading as it persuasively identifies heart idolatry as the root of all human rebellion.

Near the end of the article, Dr. Powlison addresses the tendency among some Christian counselors to psychologize when making a diagnosis. In the course of doing that, Powlison puts words to what, in my observation, is the default pop-evangelical Gospel presentation.

The logic of therapy coheres with the logic of diagnosis: "I accept you, and God really accepts you. Your needs can be met, and you can start to change how you feel and act." Behavioral responsibility is muted, and the process of change becomes a matter of need-meeting than conscious repentance/metanoia and renewal of mind unto Christ.
He continues,

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." Where "the Gospel" is shared, it comes across something like this: "God accepts you as you are. God has unconditional love for you." That is not the biblical Gospel, however...

The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, "God accepts you just as 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 Christ."

I always have the 'this-doesn't-sound-right' feeling when I hear the line "God accepts you as you are." But I've never been able respond to my own satisfaction. When I read this part of the article, I wrote in the margin, "Yes. That's it." Exactly."

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