Michael Horton has recently described his concern about the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the church. His concern is quite valid.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the distinction between preaching behaviorism and preaching Jesus. Behavioral teaching goes like this: “You should not steal, but you steal. So stop stealing, and here are some tips to help you stop” (a.k.a. you can fix yourself). Or, you should not lie, but you lie. So stop lying, and here are some steps to help you stop lying (a.k.a. here’s how you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps).
Teaching Jesus looks like this: You should not steal, but you are a hopeless stealer. There’s no way you’ll ever stop stealing on your own because you’re a thief at heart. So cast yourself on Jesus! He is mighty to save! He can set you free and give you life. See the difference? In this way, salvation in Jesus Christ becomes the answer to every question and the solution to every problem of life. As a result, God gets the glory and we get true freedom and joy!
Along these lines, I recently heard pastor Mark Driscoll say he never had another fist-fight after he was saved. He said the change did not happen because he went to a class about letting go of anger but because Jesus got a hold of him and saved him. I heard another pastor say he had spent thousands of dollars and sent his son to weeks of rehabilitation to get him off of drugs. But not long after the rehabilitation clinic, he and his wife found drugs in the son’s room again. It wasn’t until the boy gave his life to Christ that he was set free. And when he turned to Jesus, no clinics were needed.
I can also remember a professor once saying as a Christian he had an amazing marriage, but it wasn’t until recently that he had found out men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and apparently, men are like waves and women are like rubber bands (according to the book). But even without that information, somehow his marriage had survived (note the sarcasm). His point behind the sarcasm was that a life surrendered to Christ, yielding the fruit of the Spirit, does a lot more for a healthy marriage than popular psychology. Who needs self-help books when Jesus is flowing through your limbs?
So where am I going with this? Here’s my concern. I catch a whiff of behaviorism in many of the bible studies I come across. In an effort to be biblical and relevant, ‘hip’ new bible studies emphasizes action steps and changed behavior in light of the truth. That’s fine. But if we’re not careful the way we teach this and the way we go about it can promote the idea that we can change ourselves. Instead we should teach our parishioners to casts themselves on God and turn to Jesus for salvation.
Prayer, bible study, fasting and all the other spiritual disciplines are simply ways to cast ourselves on Jesus, showing and declaring ourselves to be fully dependent on God.
Can some advice help? Sure! Can some practical steps help? Sure! But they will never solve the problem. Parents often ask me as a pastor to help fix their kids. So I lay out steps and give advice, but don’t be fooled. If you’ve been around long, you know regardless of whether the kid follows my advice, if there’s no heart change, the “dog returns to his vomit” every time.
Thus, in all we do, let us preach Jesus as our salvation, as the author and perfecter of our faith.