Christianity as therapy

  • Sumo

I was reading this article about (US) Christianity, and the following two paragraphs stopped me in my tracks:

More often, though, therapeutic language wholly replaces theological concepts. In his study, Smith notes that the teenagers used the phrase “feel happy” more than 2,000 times in the interviews. None of them used the terms “justification” or “being justified,” “sanctification” or “being sanctified.” The “grace of God” was explicitly mentioned only three times.

“The language, and therefore experience,” Smith found, “of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.” Smith views this not as a sign that Christianity is being secularized, but that it is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or being replaced by a quite different religious faith.

(The ‘Smith’ is the┬ásociologist Christian Smith.)

In short, the language used by Christians to explain their Christian life is not┬áthe language of theology. It is the language of therapy, of our feelings, and of us getting on well with a successful life. Doctrine is downplayed. And – here’s a punch to the solar plexus – evangelicalism bears a large responsibility.

Evangelicals, goes the claim of this piece, get converts. These converts become fond of Jesus – but really love themselves. These Christians become consumers of spiritual therapy – but not disciples.

If that’s the tragic view of North America, I am sure it is active is Australia as well. Are we less down this path than the US (because we always follow the US)? Or are we perhaps further down this path (because Australia has so little of the US tendency for public theological discussion)?

In either case, here’s my advice. Let’s talk about God. Let’s use the language and terminology of the Bible, and of Christian history. Let’s not be embarrassed to mention ‘holy’, or ‘Trinity’, or ‘repentance’. Let’s be aware that removing the word ‘sin’ from our lips will only free sin to reappear in an acceptably churchy manner.