Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How People Change

I recently went through a course at our church on "How People Change," based on a workbook and book written by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. One of our pastors described it as "an introduction to Biblical Counseling."

I wanted to review it here briefly. First let me say that the class was helpful in applying the gospel to many different areas of life. It challenged me to consider God and the gospel in a new light.

My concerns don't have much to do with what the material contained, but I guess with what it didn't contain. I felt like it was a great explanation of how the forgiveness we have in Christ should effect our daily lives. What I felt was lacking was a more comprehensive description of 1) what we bring to the process, and 2) what Christ's work can accomplish in our lives.

Let me explain what I mean. First, I appreciate that the authors are concerned to address some of the common excuses we all have for sin, like "it's because of my background," or "it's just my personality." But I think they take that too far in totally discounting what powerful influences our background and personalities (for example) can be in the process of working out the gospel. I think it's too simplistic to say that when heat comes, the only thing that manifests itself are sins that need to be mortified and forgiven. The heat also provokes deep wounds that we carry around, sometimes all our lives, wounds that are a result of living in a broken world. These wounds can deeply influence our clarity, willingness and ability to respond to God the way we ought.

It seems minimalistic to reduce the Christian life to "repentance and faith," though it is certainly not less than that. The Christian life, as I see it, has at its center repentance and faith, but it is so much more than that - it is healing of the whole person so we can rightly relate to God, involving healing of memories, using our imagination to deeply appropriate grace into the broken parts of our lives, etc. This leads me to the second observation.

Since they seem to reduce the Christian life to repentance and faith, Christ's work is reduced to forgiveness of sins. Again, his work is that centrally, but it is not the only thing he came to do. Passages like Isaiah 53 & 61, Psalm 103 and others, with language like "binding up broken-hearts" and "carrying griefs and sorrows," "by his stripes we are healed," all speak to me of a wide-ranging redemption that is certainly not less than forgiveness of sins, but includes the restoration of the whole person to God. Jesus often healed people of sicknesses and diseases that often had immense shame attached to them ( e.g., Matt 4:23-25), and it makes sense that his grace extended beyond the physical ailment to the shame underneath. Also, language in the Epistles about being "chosen," "adopted," and "beloved" speak to me of a grace that touches and heals the deep wounds we carry, often from childhood.

The material gives a good framework for a basic understanding of some aspects of the Christian life, but as a comprehensive framework for the Christian life I think it fails. My fear is especially for broken, hurting people to be deeply discouraged by this material. I know I was on many occasions as a result of the material. An extreme example I thought of was a (hyposthetical) young girl who had been seriously sexually abused over her childhood years, who came to Christ within the last 5 years. She has deep issues affecting her ability to trust in God and his provision in Christ. When heat comes on her life, she has a much more difficult time trusting Christ than other Christians who may not have such a broken past. To categorize her and her response as "sin" alone seems cruel and foolish. Sure, sin is involved, but intertwined with deep recesses of pain that need healing.


Brian said...

You wrote, "... a wide-ranging redemption that is certainly not less than forgiveness of sins, but includes the restoration of the whole person to God." To which I say, Amen!

Nate said...

This is really good Scott, thanks. I have not read the book yet, but have had significant exposure to biblical counseling (the more balanced expressions of it), and your comments seem insightful and fair.


Scott said...

thank you for your thoughts!