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 and attraction 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, 2017 in response to the ideas behind the Revoice Conference.

Such Were Some Of You

Greg Johnson, the PCA pastor whose congregation hosted the Revoice Conference and who, in late May, announced in the pages of Christianity Today that he is, in fact, “Gay,” i.e., he has a permanent, irrevocable SSA but he does not act on it,  argued on the floor of the assembly that we should think of same-sex attraction (SSA) the way we think of alcoholics, paraplegics, and those afflicted with infertility. Watch for yourself:

The influence of the therapeutic revolution appears immediately in this speech. The first thing to which this shepherd of God’s flock appeals is not God’s Word but his feelings. Article 7 of the Nashville Statement says that it is sin to adopt a homosexual self-conception. That statement is true.

There are several serious problems with Pastor Johnson’s reasoning here. First, his speech was highly biographical, emotive, and even prejudicial. He implied that anyone who disagrees with his position “hates” homosexuals. It equates traditional Christian sexual ethics with anti-gay bigotry. Second, he assumes that, except for his commitment to Christ, he might have taken a same-sex husband and had a family and that by not violating God’s natural and moral law thus he has made a great sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. He even invokes Matthew 19:29 to that end. Giving up sin is not a sacrifice. It is required of us who have been bought by the blood and grace of Christ. When our Lord commanded us hyperbolically to cut off our offending right hand (Matt 5:20) there is no hint that we are treasure it. Paul says “such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:11). He assumes that SSA is natural or so innate that it is irrevocable. This is an assumption that is a gratuitous and false as it is essential to his argument. His argument would be much more credible had Johnson bothered to find any of the numerous believers whose sexual orientation has has been changed by the grace of God.

Pastor Johnson is welcome to attend the AGR Conference later this month featuring Rosaria Butterfield, who was a practicing Lesbian, whom the Lord gave new life and true faith and whom the Lord has given a husband and a family. Johnson is well aware of Rosaria’s story and if he is not it is not the fault of those who have tried to notify him and the Revoice Conference about her work. Learn more about the conference and register

The category of “Gay Christians” is utterly foreign to the history of Christianity. There are Christians who struggle with sin but there are no “Thief Christians” or “Murderer Christians” nor “Pedophile Christians.” So his analogies fail spectacularly. The drunk whom the Lord has redeemed from addiction to booze makes no great sacrifice to the Lord by not drinking or getting drunk. He is doing only what is expected of one redeemed by grace: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10; ESV). It is orthodoxy in Alcoholics Anonymous to say that one is always a drunk but we do not confess The Big Book. We confess the Good Book, God’s Holy Word. The concept of an “alcoholic” is unknown to Scripture. Certainly the disease model is a fabrication, for which there remains no scientific evidence and certainly no biblical support.

The appeal to the analogy of paraplegia and infertility borders on the offensive. It certainly assumes what must be proved: that homosexuality is as innate as those afflictions. The evidence for this claims is wanting. Scripture never treats such cases as sin but it is explicit that homosexuality is sin.

Johnson worries about how those who identify as Gay or homosexual will regard the PCA after this. I can answer that question: They should regard themselves as sinners welcome to visit PCA congregations, to see themselves as fellow sinners, to repent of all their sins (including their homosexual orientation), and as welcome to receive the free and full forgiveness of all their sins for the sake of the righteousness and death of Jesus. All are welcome, not exceptions. It is not mean to tell sinners that they are sinners. It is not mean to specify sins. It is not mean to resist the culture when it demands that the church capitulate on this or that point as a condition of being accepted.

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. Our name is defined by our baptism into the name of the Triune God, not by our former way life.

Grace is healing. It restores. It renews. God Word says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

In this life none of us realizes the full benefit of God’s renewing grace. We have but a beginning but by his grace we do have a beginning. Let us endeavor to speak and think about our old life and our new the way God does.

R. Scott Clark

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