May 26, 2017

Classic iMonk: Theology, Depression and the Unsolvable Problem of the Right Church

Church Pew with Worshippers, Van Gogh

A note from Chaplain Mike:
This classic iMonk post from January 2009 brings together a few important issues that Michael has written about over the years, particularly depression, theology, and the search for a church home.

I am going to write rather directly to those of you who feel that you are experiencing some measure of mental anguish, anxiety and depression in regard to theology and, especially, the church.

I have in mind, particularly, those who are tormented about the so-called “Search for the true Church.” I’ll be relating at least some of this to the subject of depression, which has been a major part of the menu here at IM this past week.

1. Depression has a variety of causes, from strictly bio-chemical to completely event related. There is no simple, one-note description of depression. If you are confused about what is depression, find a diagnosed and successfully treated person and let them describe to you what depression was like. Read a few accounts of depression. Realize it’s not just being down or feeling bad. It is the closing in of the mind, hope, and clarity. It is a kind of abyss and it doesn’t give up easily.

2. A particular person’s depression has a trigger (or triggers), and a route and a resolution (or resolutions.) All are part of depression, but each part is different for each person. Some triggers seem non-existent. Some are unfathomable. Some are obvious. Some resolutions come from treatment. Some out of nowhere. Don’t generalize from any one situation.

3. Some depressions come and go and are never cured. Some end in tragedy. Some come once and go away. You won’t know.

4. Pastors and Bible teachers (and bloggers) are not to be trusted as expert authorities on depression. See a licensed pastoral counselor and a medical doctor. (I am neither. If you write me a long letter describing your depression, I will tell you that 1) I’ve prayed for you and 2) go see a doctor.)

5. Is depression related to theology? A better question is this: Are persons with tendencies toward depression likely to get involved in theology? Oh yeah. Oh yeah. They get involved in church looking for love, acceptance, God, truth, community, help. All the big holes we all carry around. They bring their intellect into the arena of Bible teaching or preaching. They bring their heart into the church as community and experience. They take seriously what preachers and teachers say is serious and important. When someone says “the Bible teaches this,” or “the Church has always believed that,” they take it in. When depression comes- for whatever reasons- theology is going into the experience. GOD is a big word to someone who really believes that God matters in everything and that GOD is working through the church.

6. I think it’s also something like this: Some human beings are susceptible (in varying measures) to the “unsolvable puzzle” syndrome. This can happen in any discipline: math, music, medicine or theology. There are people that have to raise a perfect kid. There are people that have to have the perfect body. I heard Ron Block, banjo player for Allison Krauss, say that his perfectionism in the studio almost cost him his job with Union Station.

So there are people who get into predestination or various Biblical issues or some aspect of the mind of God or religious truth and they don’t ever solve the puzzle. It won’t cooperate. If they begin to associate that unsolved puzzle with their life, feelings, GOD, etc., then you can have a volatile mix laying the foundation for problems.

Notice that there are some people who are able to leave the questions of theology and “unsolvable puzzles” in the book and be perfectly happy. My father-in-law is a bright theologically and Biblically astute guy, but he can shut the book, or teach the lesson, give his view, accept that we aren’t going to answer all the questions before lunch and go back to work. H’s been a happy Baptist his whole like with no axes to grind at anyone else.

7. Look at the pages of intense apologists for a particular kind of tradition or denomination. Triablogue or Bryan Cross, for example. Now realize this: there are a percentage of people that are driving themselves into depression and anxiety hell because they aren’t that certain, that confident and that knowledgeable. There is a much larger section of the population that either don’t care, say “good for them,” or just don’t see the need. If you are in the first group, if you believe you need this level of knowledge and certainty to know for sure, for certain, for real that this is THE truth, THE absolute truth, THE truth from God, THE truth that answers the questions, then you are, in my view, a fairly high target for depression, obsession, anxiety and constant doubt and insecurity. Not necessarily, but higher than average, and I think our discussion this week bears that out.

8. You need to admit something: the voices you hear on the internet, in conferences, and in the bookstore are human beings with certain characteristics. They may be compulsive workaholics. They may be holy men of prayer. They may never sleep. They may be huge liars. They may have IQs of 170. They may have such low self-esteem that they can’t stop trying to prove their worth. They may be closet homosexuals trying to fight off the urges. They may be anointed of God. I don’t know, but I do know this: THEY AREN’T LIKE ME. I’m different. I’m me. I’m the person God made this way. I have a different set of motivations, sins, flaws, gifts and quirks.

This makes it pretty likely that I am never going to be as smooth as Keller. As arrogant as Driscoll. As productive as Witherington. As gracious as Challies. As smart as White. As confident as Macarthur. And they don’t blog/podcast as much as me  🙂

The point is that the people selling you certainty or their brand of Christianity aren’t you. And those human differences make a huge difference. You may not be able to be that certain, etc. It’s just not you and won’t be. You will have to find another kind of happiness. If you want what is only in someone else, you’re headed down a road that isn’t healthy.

(BTW- there is a whole industry in most religions telling you that human factors don’t matter. That it’s all just doctrine. Bullxxxx. Look at the Reformed Baptists. Look at the Catholic apologists. Look at the LCMS stalwarts. Those aren’t “clumps” of similar personalities? That’s a forest and those are trees.)

9. Now, I want to get down to this matter of the One True Church. If you judge that you are a person who believes there is only one true denomination, then I believe you should check out the candidates from the RCC to the EC to the LCMS to the local Church of Christ (if you are in west Kentucky) and reduce your choices to the actual candidates. You simply don’t need to mess around with denominations that don’t believe there’s only one true franchise or that believe we are all part of the broken, fragmented body of Christ. If you are in a typical Baptist church and you really believe that Jesus made the successor of Peter the living authority, then go to the RCC, please. Whatever the issues are that are keeping you from doing that aren’t very important.

Now, if you say “I just don’t know,” you should keep reading.

10. I am a critical and analytical person. Send me to ten churches, and I will find ten things to like and ten things not to like at each one. I do not believe that any congregation is an expression of the one true church so much that there aren’t problems. But this is my nature. It’s EASY for me to see the brokenness and hard for me to see anyone’s claim to being the one, divine “it.”

Now, if I am convinced that one Denomination is right, my problem is going to be this: I still have to belong to a congregation, and a congregation is the place where the “essentials” are worked out in real life, not just in my head. So if I believe that the RCC has it right, I won’t be hanging out with B16 or Scott Hahn. I’ll be at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, a fine congregation that doesn’t have a piano, that has congregational meetings that make me want to be Shinto and a priest who thinks a homily is practice for his missed career in stand-up. Oh yes, the Catechism is in the church library, but THIS is where I am a member, out here where no one knows what I’m even talking about.

If I believe the Southern Baptist Convention is the church Jesus started, then I’m clearly insane, but for the sake of the illustration…here’s this wonderful statement of faith, and a great missions network, and Al Mohler and those fine Calvinistic Ascol boys. But at my church, doctrine has been replaced with “How to be a great parent” sermons, the deacons have fired the last three pastors in less than 4 years, the music is a cross between an 80’s metal band made up of fat 45 year old men and the senior adult choir singing from the 1956 hymnal. We haven’t baptized a convert since 1993. Our current pastor looks like Ryan Seacrest and the youth minister looks like the Mindfreak guy.

That’s your church. Oh sure, you can drive elsewhere and you can improve. (I drive two hours each way.) You can work for improvement. You can do all that stuff. But here’s my point: You chose the one true denomination, you still have to deal with your local church. It is the place you do or don’t hear the Bible. It’s the place you do or don’t start churches and do evangelism. It’s the place you are or are not taught the faith you read about on that great web site.

The search for the one true denomination will drive some of you into depression, especially if you can’t admit that no such church exists and that you may never be happy if you find it. That every church is a compromise. That they all require you to live with some tension. You are convinced the LCMS has it right doctrinally? Great. Been to a local LCMS church lately? It’s a dice roll. That’s not an indictment. That’s the grown up world and it’s true across the board.

11. In his book Is the Reformation Over? Mark Noll makes this point very clearly. When you get Protestant converts to the RCC to answer researcher’s questions, they have a list of things they miss that’s not short or insignificant. Tears are shed. The broken body of Christ has the better sacramental thinking in one place and the better missional/evangelistic ministries in another. It’s the real thing. You want to be depressed? Go down the rabbit hole of endless despair? Just walk into ANY church saying “This is going to be great,” and forget how far short we all fall, how broken the body is, how much we all contribute to that brokenness.

There is no paradise in the SBC, the EO, the RCC, the megachurch, Redeemer Presbyterian, Mars Hill or the house church in Frank Viola’s living room. We’re all still working on this thing. We are all experiencing the brokenness and our part in it. We are all holding onto some part of the treasure, but none of us have it all. (Though as I said, if you believe someone does, then reduce your choices and go there.)

My friend Phillip Winn at the BHT is a good example. When I first met him on line, he was a member or a large Charismatic megachurch. Over time, he decided his family needed something more catholic and evangelical, so today he is a leader at a conservative ECUSA church working for renewal in that denomination. But Phillip is passionate about Jesus. He knows the flaws of his church. He knows the contributions his churches have made to the good and bad of the unity/disunity in the body of Christ. He loves his church, but his love for Jesus is what has transcended all the other aspects of his journey. If one church has nurtured that journey more than another, that doesn’t mean one is all right and the other all wrong.

Phillip is off the treadmill of looking for the perfect church. As a believer, he’s made a choice and he’s experiencing the ministry of Jesus in and through the church, imperfectly.

12. If you are depressed over this to the point of despair or atheism, I would advise you to step back; step back to the place you can see the goodness of God and the simplicity of faith. Move forward only as you are able to experience God along the way. If you believe God is playing a game with you, hiding the truth and holding out the carrot of really knowing Jesus if you choose the right door, please don’t go further down that road. God is good. Jesus love you. All that God has for you is there in Jesus, available to all who trust in Jesus alone by faith.

Comments

  1. donald todd says:

    On the doorpost of the church administered by St. Augustine was written THIS IS THE DOOR OF THE LORD, THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL ENTER IN. Augustine wrote that the person entering his church “is bound to see drunkards, misers, tricksters, gamblers, adulterers, fornicators, people wearing amulets, assiduous clients of sorcerers, astrologers. He must be warned that the same crowds that press into the churches on Christian festivals also fill the theaters on the pagan holidays.”

    Augustine has no doubt about who enters the church doors. He does not bother to weed them out. It is God Who will separate the wheat and the tares.

    If you are not convinced that the church you attend is the true church, perhaps grace is telling you something that you are required to respond to. Perhaps the quality or maturity of the congregation is of less importance than other issues.

    If our obligation to the Truth Who is a Person is foremost, then there is an obligation to find out what He started and go there, no matter the discomfort to our previous beliefs. You follow Me was said to Peter, but intended for all of us..

  2. Great Post! I am an Evangelical converted to RCC. I felt the worship in RCC and reverence is so historical and beautiful, yet theologically I am more Evangelical still . . . I have just had to let the tension remain and enjoy the beautiful parish I attend . . . to spite the apparent problems my theological perfectionism might impose . . . in that sense I guess I am no longer a theological perfectionist!

  3. Good ol’ classic iMonk. Gotta love it.

  4. Christopher Lake says:

    Michael, I don’t know if you are even physically able to read these comments, with all that you are enduring, but this post is indeed a classic, and it really speaks to me. In my current place of being “a questioning Reformed Protestant who is reconsidering the Catholic Church,” I have dialogued with the brilliant RCC convert, Bryan Cross. I respect the brother. I have affection for him and thankfulness for the time that he has taken with me. I’m almost certain that I will never have anything *approaching* his intellect. Reading his writings, and those of other convinced Catholics, has been helpful for me in certain ways. At the very least, it has been informative. With all that said, I wish that I could have his certainty about specific RC claims, but at this time, I don’t.

    Perhaps that fact will change with more study. Thank you for reminding me though, in the meantime, that I shouldn’t be losing my vital, everyday relationship with God, *and* my joy in Him, while I am in the midst of trying to sort out Catholic and Protestant claims. Even the Pope says that I am a brother in Christ (a “separated” brother but still a brother), and if I am in Him, then I should have the joy that comes from *being* in Him. That joy doesn’t mean that I stop researching Catholic and Protestant claims, but it simply does no one any good for my passion for God Himself to become dampened, or otherwise hindered, while I am on the search for the *possibly* True Church.

    • MAJ Tony says:

      Have you read or listened/watched Tim Staples? I saw Tim at Church last Wed night, and he told his story of his conversion into the Catholic Church (and subsequently his whole immediate family, including his brother Terry, who is now Fr. Terry Staples, Archdio of Richmond, VA). It all started when he was in the USMC, and was stymied by a fellow Marine who was Catholic, and actually knew his faith. It started with “Call no man ‘Father.'” I learned there are at least EIGHT verses in the Bible that can be used to refute the arguments, and they’re not dicey uses of scripture either. Then he goes into the sacramental priesthood: argument against: Jesus is the last, and only High Priest. Counter-argument: according to the Bible: all Christians are Priests. Counter-counter argument, so why do we need ministerial Priests, it’s not in the Bible. CCC Argument: no, not spelled out, but pretty well defined by what an Apostle is/does, etc. Trinity isn’t “spelled out” either, but all orthodox Christian sects believe it, and use the “extra-Biblical” term.

  5. Thanks, Michael and Mike, I needed to read this.
    In those early days after some close friends and I started a network of home churches in our community, my head was filled with all sorts of utopian, Violan ideas about how it would be. Finally, we had stripped away all the oppressive trappings of institutional religion. Finally, we could pursue “true” church in the “correct” New Testament way.
    More recently, the romance and idealism of my honeymoon with home church has faded considerably. Now, I’m not saying I’m ready to throw in the towel or anything. Rather, I’m coming to realize that trying to be a church based primarily on close relationships and without the supports and resources of institution is far more difficult and messy than I at first envisioned. And, truth be told, we’ve got some weaknesses and holes you could drive a truck through.
    Just earlier this evening, we spent most of our weekly gathering expressing frustration about how we can’t seem to move into any kind of depth of prayer, worship, or conversation with all the rug rats running about, shouting, crying, banging on things, and pulling each other’s hair. Being mostly young couples in the prime of their child-bearing years, we now have as many humans under the age of four as we do over. It has become a problem, and now it looks like we’re going to have to develope some kind of nursery/childrens program — after all the diatribe we’ve spouted out against programs and organizational structures. Maybe we should have a salad with our crow soup.
    We humans seem to have this strange habit of idealizing things (be they denominations, church styles, or political parties) of which we are a part — and being highly critical or even demonizing anything of which we are not a part. It’s the same psychological force that compels us to root for the home team — which, to a certain extent, requires dismissing the opposing players, coaches, and fans as not quite as genuine or determined or dedicated as we home town folks are. You might even say it’s a kind of modern day tribalism that drives the “true church” or “my church is better than your church” tendencies within Christianity.
    Sometimes this can be a natural and healthy off-shoot of dedication toward one’s church or denomination — but, taken too far, it can be dangerous and destructive. For example, one of the couples in my home church fellowship has been going through the ordeal of having an infant that was born three months too early. It’s really a miracle that little Isabella has survived thus far, and she’s nowhere near out of the woods yet. This has been a matter of much concern and prayer and shared tears in our church since Christmas, when doctors did the emergency delivery. Very recently, however, someone who used to be a part of our fellowship (but has since joined another church), let it be known that he believes that this situation was due to the fact that we are in error as a church and that we are not praying properly — meaning we’re not praying in the authoritative, name-it-claim-it way his new church teaches. Back when we were part of the same fellowship, I would have never imagined that this person would say something that thoughtless and hurtful. Maybe it’s just part of fallen human nature that we need to hate where we were in order to feel good about where we are.

  6. wow, there’s so much to think about here i don’t even know where to begin. let me just say it’s a very interesting post that has definitely made me think.

  7. Cynthia Jones says:

    My pastor often says that if you find the perfect church, you should not go there because you will mess it up. How very true.

  8. Joe Robertson says:

    I do agree as follows: 1. No individual congregation is “perfect”. Sinners make up every one.
    2. There IS such a thing as doctrinal perfection, it’s called Scripture — absolute truth.
    3. People interpret this absolute truth differently.
    4. Some people insist that only they are right, and only their opinion is true interpretation.
    5. Other people are grateful for grace, and willing to extend it to others.
    6. Hebrews 10:25 is not just a command to attend church; it has to do with encouraging each other.
    7. Some people argue that their church or congregation is the only perfect one because they are experiencing demonic impulses to divide Christians from one another and from God.
    8. Nearly as bad as depression is “church-hopping”.

  9. “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.” I love that, Michael! And “If I believe the Southern Baptist Convention is the church Jesus started, then I’m clearly insane, but for the sake of the illustration…..” is excellent too. I do love Michael’s writings.

    And Cynthia writes, “My pastor often says that if you find the perfect church, you should not go there because you will mess it up.” That’s a good one, Cynthia!

    As some of you know, I am Catholic but in a very ecumenical way, I guess you would say. I love my local parish and its priest, its people, its music, all of it. But I do have some…issues?…with some of what the Catholic doctrine teaches. Not a lot, but some. And it makes me very sad to think of all the damage done through the years by priests and nuns who abused children. I do think the Church is finally taking more responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again. I pray that is the case.

  10. Great post. But it’s depressing to realize that one will never be able to find the church that will end or alleviate one’s depression about the church. 🙂

  11. We need more essays like this.

  12. Many years ago we attended a denomination-diverse, language-diverse church in a foreign country not friendly to Christianity. Our options were limited–it was this one or the military chapel. We had 8 pastors from several denominations that took turns at the pulpit. We had both hymns and contemporary worship music. And we had Sunday school classes happening in at least two languages on any given Sunday but the sermon was in English. It was a grand but daring experiment. We knew that no single denomination could really be successful on its own so we had to “play nice.” It was a rich experience.

    One Sunday, I remarked to the lead Pastor that I was really enjoying the church, but there were a couple things I was less comfortable with. His reply has stuck with me for 20 years: “I you were too comfortable, that would mean someone else was too uncomfortable and we’d have to make adjustments.” It was an aha moment for me.

    Incidentally, the church and pastor are still there in that city, although they have been evicted a few times, had car bombs set off near the church, etc.

    Culturally in America we expect to have choices. But church is not something on the supermarket shelf (okay maybe it has become that). I wonder: is our perception that church is imperfect a reflection of our own imperfection and immaturity?

    • I wonder: is our perception that church is imperfect a reflection of our own imperfection and immaturity?

      I would change this to read: “Is our perception that church (pastor, teacher, program, denom, etc) is PERFECT a reflection of our own imperfection and immaturity (and failed attempt to compensate for such). that’s my edit, anyways.

      Pax
      Greg R

      • Perfect or imperfect–doesn’t much matter. Some see a given church as fully imperfect and others as fully perfect. Neither way is healthy. That was my point. And as usual, as soon as I hit the submit button, I realized I could have made it clearer.

        I am glad our God is big enough and has grace enough to reach out to us in this thing we call church!

        • Yes, God is not confused or imbalanced….ever. We have the Father/parent we always wanted and needed. I’m sure HE hears lots of church prayers, some praises, some cries for help.

  13. This is a breath a clean air in the smog of Christian life.

    For me, I now realize, after all these years, that I sought an answer to my depression in an obsessed search for an unfindable answer. I am working on freeing myself of this mindset by putting into my mind two points which clear things up for me. One, all theology and thought by Christians throughout history, from Augustine to Calvin to the Pope to Mark Driscoll to commentaries and study notes, is man’s opinion, nothing more. Two, that scripture is a simply a book of history, given to the church by His grace, to remind us of who we are.

    Some days I live a free man, at peace with God through Christ and free in His grace. Other days my depression drives me to agonize to the point of madness found in endless controversies.

  14. Wow. I read this one last year and I am amazed at how quickly I need to be reminded of this again. Especially as I am going through my confessional identity crisis (Ausburg? Westminster? London? etc….), it is helpful to remember that no man made system can ever bring me salvation of any kind. But that still doesn’t help me to choose which “room” of Christianity I would be best suited to serve in. I suppose that at the very least I have to admit that I’m happy enough to be an evangelical, and going to RCC or EO would probably leave me missing too much of the entertainment that I’m addicted too. And I could never convert to liberal protestantism just because I’m probably not capable… I would become like an evangelical in their midst. Wherever I end up, I take comfort in knowing that Christ can truly be found there, fallen man just as surely, and grace can be experienced in my life through the church and in the church through my life. Sometimes I wonder though, is there a chance that anyone has a tinge of validity to their claim to be the “true church”? Because if so, it would be in my best interest to find out. This post was helpful to me to step back, take a more honest and objective look at that picture, and say… “nah….” not likely. Christ has built his church, not us. Thanks be to God.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      “Sometimes I wonder though, is there a chance that anyone has a tinge of validity to their claim to be the “true church”? Because if so, it would be in my best interest to find out.”

      I think its possible, but for me, I wonder and doubt that I have the necessary perceptual graces to discern and understand the good in unfamiliar guises, preferring banality and familiarity and the flaws I can empathize with.

  15. Great post.
    I have referenced you in a blog I posted, “Can 539 Christians be Right?”
    http://menaftergod.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/can-539-christians-be-right/

    You speak directly to the issue at hand. The search for the Prefect Church. I myself have become caught up in the frenzy over being in the right place at the right time. When it should really be about being where God wants you and in His time.

    Glen
    “Lov’n the Lord & Liv’n the Life…”

  16. Thanks, Michal, for this post. And thanks, Chaplain Mike, for reposting it.

    This one speaks to me. I’ve always liked to have things nailed down. I learned, after converting to Christianity as a teenager, that certainty was possible. Everybody seemed to have it. I had tracts and books from people who seemed to have it all figured out.

    Then I grew a little and found out that I couldn’t nail anything down — not absolutely, anyway. Initially, it really depressed me. I was totally paralyzed. I dropped out of all my leadership positions at church and obsessed with trying to understand what the True Church was. At the time, I believed that I had to have certainty to be have faith and to be following God; yet this is was the one thing I could not obtain. I felt completely trapped and miserable. The one thing I needed was the one thing I could not hope to accomplish.

    My perspective has changed since that time! Perhaps I am wrong here, but over time I’ve come to think that while questing after truth is a basically good impulse, my obsession with certainty isn’t really about faith or love. Its about security, or even power. Its about knowing or even owning the truth, being able to disprove or dispatch one’s adversaries, and being able to influence others. There’s some genuine hope and love of truth there, but there’s ego too.

    I am trying to understand a new truth — I don’t need to own the truth: I just need it to own me. I don’t need to figure God out; I need to learn to trust God’s grace to wide enough to include me. I don’t need a perfect church, and I don’t need to be perfect: but I do need a community, and I need eyes to see where God is working among us.

    I don’t think I’ve really grasped this yet, but I’m trying to!

    • “I don’t need to own the truth: I just need it to own me.” Beautifully written, Danielle!

      Unfortunately I don’t think any of us will ever “figure God out”, but then again, maybe it’s a good thing. If we could fully know God and know all truth, we’d probably get bored and stop appreciating it. Instead we get to spend our wholes lives getting to know Him better and learning to trust Him more and more, which sounds pretty good to me =)

      • ““I don’t need to own the truth: I just need it to own me.”

        I love that too, Danielle! Thanks for sharing that with us all.

  17. It’s very true that no church is going to be perfect! And each member of a particular congregation or parish probably has different ideas about what needs to change and how to change it.

    But I think sometimes we get too focused on those issues that we lose sight of the fact that serving God is really about serving others. While worship in church is extremely important(!), our faith must ultimately help us love and serve others, especially our less fortunate brothers and sisters. And whether we do it through your community at church or elsewhere, I think that’s at least one truth we can all agree on.

    • While worship in church is extremely important(!), our faith must ultimately help us love and serve others, especially our less fortunate brothers and sisters .

      Very well said, and the encouraging thing to me is that this is gaining a lot of traction among the next generation of believers and ‘oldies’ like myself that are weary of doctrine wars and culture wars. I think a focus on actually DOING something for the lost and the least will revitalize a me-first lethargic church. Here’s hoping……

      Greg R

  18. I grew up LCMS and never got a “One True Church” vibe. When a Southern Baptist asked me “You were sprinkled as a baby!?” was the first time I even imagined diferent churches were considered “out”… And that consideration was pointed at me.

    Doctrinally errant maybe, but not out.

  19. This post contained many, many important thoughts we all should take to heart. I would like to clarify a possible misunderstanding of Frank Viola’s vision of ekklesia. He has never portrayed life in organic church as utopian and without bumps. Important aspects of his realism about organic church can be seen, for example, here: http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/organic-church-life-doesnt-work/
    I heard Frank speak near Toronto last year about the place of the cross in church life, and he made it clear that authentic corporate life is no piece of cake, and requires death to all your agendas, opinions and preferences. He amplifies such perspectives in Finding Organic Church and in Reimagining Church.

  20. “See a licensed pastoral counselor and a medical doctor.”

    Doctors are a blessing. Just ensure your “pastoral counsellor” is biblical.

    For true believers – you should be getting counsel from no other source than Nouthetic counselling.

    Psych-anything is not warranted nor needed.

    • To hold such a position about all psychological or psychiatric therapy, Matthew, denies the doctrines of general revelation and common grace. I call it docetism.

    • I have a friend who won’t hire a non-believing contractor to re-shingle his roof.

      Thank God for First Corinthians chapter 5, vss 9-13, which gives me an excuse to keep hanging out with my non-believing friends. And I hired them, too; and now my roof doesn’t leak.

      As it turns out, it’s the believers we’re supposed to avoid, if they act badly; not unbelievers.

      Dorothy Sayers echoed chapter 5: “The only Christian work is good work, well done.”

      • I know of people who run the other way when they find out a businessman or a contractor is a “Christian,” because they’ve run into too many who think that “being saved” counts more than doing the right thing, whether it’s doing a job correctly or paying one’s bills.

        My daughter said the absolute worst tippers in the restaurant she worked in were the after-church Sunday-lunch/dinner Christians, who felt that they could hog a table and “fellowship” ad infinitum and left measly tips or sometimes no tip but a tract instead.

        Shameful.

        YMMV

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      And no other medicine than prayer-healing, right?

      Yawn.

      • Did you read my post Patrick?

        I said Doctors are a blessing…..

        And what do they perscribe? Medicine!

        Lo and behold………………

        • It’s fallacious.

          If you think only God can heal your mind, then it follows that you should conclude that only God can heal your body.

          True believers should shun invasive, physiologically-alterative intrusions into their bodies, which God surely did not intend them to submit themselves to, and die as God wills it.

          Or, you know, we should all submit ourselves to good reason and effective therapies whenever we can avail ourselves of it.

        • So…you never get sleepy, Matthew? You never find it hard to concentrate when you’re hungry? A headache doesn’t make you irritable? Pain doesn’t distract you? You’re never more cheerful on a sunny day than you are after days on end of clouds and rain? Nothing happening in your brain or your body affects your mood, ever?

    • The key word was “true” believers. Jesus loves me even though I am not an uber-Christian.

      • “Not every one who says to Me , ‘Lord Lord’…………………………………..”

        The demons believe and they tremble…..

        • Sigh. Matthew, why do you always say that to the people who disagree with your theology?

          • He can’t help it. You know how it is with people who know everything and are always right. They consider it their ministry and gifting to tell people where and how and when they’re wrong, and they always have a Scripture to quote for the purpose.

            Some call them “prophets.”

            Others use less polite terms.

          • i was simply replying to the point about TRUE believers.

        • True believer is an oxymoron. It’s like being just a little pregnant. Moving beyond boilerplate diatribe and proof texts would be helpful in order to understand the basis of your reasoning in differentiating believers, as opposed to simply playing the tiresome game of guess the sheep and goats.

          • hence what I wrote on “February 26, 2010 at 6:17 am”

            ‘True believer’ may be semantics but in this day and age we are in when the lines are most blurred I feel it is ample to elaborate.

        • Codewords and proof texts, been there, done that. The elitist model, which holds that some believers have a monopoly on the Gospel, is the precise reason I found iMonk such a refreshing voice in the first place.

          • rubbish.

            again – let me ask you; do you think when Jesus spoke of the narrow way in Matt 7, He was refering to those on the broad way as being the pagan unbeliever? No.

            He was talking of those who would emphatically declare themselves to be believers [calling Him ‘Lord Lord’] and be told “depart from Me I NEVER knew you”.

          • To the true believer, only his interpretation of Scripture and only his window on Scripture is valid. All other or contrary interpretations are rubbish.

          • Reader,

            Would you care to elaborate on what exaclty you mean?

            Either I cannot pick up on sarcasim or you are saying that one can interpret the Scripture and massage in his/her meaning of it………….

          • I’m newer to Imonk, but this battle with words reminds me of the last 10 years of my 42 year old marriage (to a man whom I still dearly love) but who has been caught up with a modern prophetic that leaves me cold. It is elitist at the very least. I am with you, Stuart. I love the honest message that Michael Spencer shares.

    • Melissa says:

      Matthew –

      Did you miss point #2 completely?

      “A particular person’s depression has a trigger (or triggers), and a route and a resolution (or resolutions.) All are part of depression, but each part is different for each person. Some triggers seem non-existent. Some are unfathomable. Some are obvious. Some resolutions come from treatment. Some out of nowhere. Don’t generalize from any one situation.”

      DON’T GENERALIZE FROM ANY ONE SITUATION! Don’t assume that one approach will “fix” everyone (even if it is a good approach). Don’t dismiss credible, scientifically-backed treatments just because they come from a secular source.

      Some folks dealing with depression need drugs. Some need pastoral counsel. Some need a psychiatrist. All of those can and should be viewed through a christian lens, but there is no need to dismiss a source just because it doesn’t have the christian sticker on it.

      Also, from the website of NANC, a nouthetic counseling certificate requires a grand total of 50 hours of supervised counseling. Currently, the most lax requirements in my state require a 250 hour internship experience for state certification. That is not saying that a nouthetic counselor will not be able to help, but recognizing different levels of experience and training is ESSENTIAL for someone who needs to find the right sort of help FOR THEM. 50 hours compared to 250 hours is a huge difference. And to assert that one approach will be right for everyone is absurd.

  21. Oh, yeah, got it right on the nose with Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility 🙂

    I just have to remember that when I’m mentally critiquing the sermon for “I wouldn’t have said that/put it that way/cracked jokes/more of the day’s lectionary readings and less of the anecdotes” that I’m probably just as big a stumbling block for another of my neighbour in the pews.

    (Having said all that, the only thing I know about this Triablogue guy is the recent “humorous” post he?/they?/it? did about Carmelite dominatrices – in an astounding exhibit of missing the point about mortifications in Catholic theology and practice – which did not make me want to be Calvinist/Reformed or whatever Brand X denomination Triablogue is selling but did make me want to punch him in the nose, so… yeah. Sometimes perfect confidence does come off as arrogance, guys).

  22. When Michael Spencer was more able to post his wonderful writings here, he often mentioned that Robert Capon was a Christian writer of books that he admired. I finally got around to reading one of Capon’s books, The Parables of Grace. At first, it took me a little while to get used to this guy. He writes about Jesus, God, the Bible, grace like no one I have ever read. Some may think he is even being irreverent, but it’s not that at all. It’s just that he gets so tired of Jesus being trotted out as someone who is going to keep you in line or else. Let me just give you one of his milder writings from page 98, “He does not come to see if we are good: he comes to disturb the caked conventions by which we pretend to be good. He does not come to see if we are sorry: he knows our repentance isn’t worth the hot air we put into it. He does not come to count anything. Unlike the lord in the parable, he cares not even a fig for any part of our record, good or bad. He comes only to forgive. For free. For nothing. On no basis, because like the fig tree, we are too far gone to have a basis….We are saved gratis, by grace. We do nothing and we deserve nothing; it is all, absolutely and without qualification, one huge. hilarious gift.”

    I think the book Michael most mentioned by Capon was Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace and I like what the folks at Amazon say about the book, “With wit, humor and exegesis, Capon evokes a bit of C.S. Lewis as he brushes past centuries of dry theologizing on concepts of grace and freedom, law and sin, and actually makes the questions fun. Describing his method as “theology by way of entertainment,” he illustrates the radical nature of grace with a “parable” about an illicit affair between a promiscuous English professor and a graduate student, both married. Capon, an Episcopal priest, is determined to “separate the liquor of grace from the mash of mortality,” and some may accuse him of excessive haste in setting aside the latter. His justification: “No mistake can hold a candle to the love that draws us home.” Chiding the “grace-fearing spoilsport in every one of us,” Capon argues that organized religion too often encourages us “to act more like subjects of a police state than fellow citizens of the saints.”

    And just in case anyone thinks that Capon is against “organized religion”….he is an Episcopal priest.

    • I have a quote of his on “drinking grace neat” on my desktop. Grace the way Capon renders it is so unhuman. That’s why probably most of us just don’t get it. It is just that..too unhuman. Thanks for your post.

  23. Paul Davis says:

    I needed to hear this, I’ve been searching for a church I can call home and it’s been the worst experience of my life, if I didn’t have this deep hunger to know God better I’d just give up and walk away (I did at one point).

    This along with the PEW article Chaplain Mike posted spoke to me directly and more importantly told me I wasn’t alone, there are many of us out here who are frustrated with the Evangelical church today. I never considered Atheism, but I was ready to just walk and it never occurred to me that trying to find a ‘perfect’ church would lead me down a dark road.

    Because of this and the other posting I’m going over to talk to an ACNA Wednesday, to get a feel for their doctrine. I just can’t stomach these emotional modern services anymore where we are attending now, I want some depth, I want some reverence. I want someone in the pulpit who doesn’t shy away from complicated topics, who doesn’t blanch when asked about deep theological issues.

    None of us can do (or should do) theology alone, but nowhere in the Evangelical landscape can I find churches that are training disciples, instead they turn out little bible quoting robots with little to no depth.

    Michael my prayers are with you and your family, get better soon. This is the first time I’ve ever found anyone saying what I feel, in just a short time your writings (and Chaplain Mikes) have impacted me dramatically…

    God Bless You Both…

    -Paul-

    • Paul,
      Quote: “I just can’t stomach these emotional modern services anymore where we are attending now, I want some depth, I want some reverence. I want someone in the pulpit who doesn’t shy away from complicated topics, who doesn’t blanch when asked about deep theological issues.

      None of us can do (or should do) theology alone, but nowhere in the Evangelical landscape can I find churches that are training disciples, instead they turn out little bible quoting robots with little to no depth.”
      ************

      WOW! you just hit the nail on the head for me! This description sums up what worship in the church my family and I attend was like for the last few years. I am a pastor who left parish ministry several years ago for health reasons and pursued other avenues of ministry. Our family found a church where we really felt at home, so we became part of the life of that church.

      The church called a new pastor shortly after we started there and the first few years he was there were ok, but the last few years were really a disaster. It seemed to be all about “entertaining the crowd” and the pastor made a number of very bad decisions that negativly affected the church. I never felt that he taught from a deep theological understanding and he wanted to do just what you described, turning out little Bible quoting robots. Over the last 3 years, I threatened my husband many times that I would find another church to go to, but he always urged me th “hang in there.” In June of last year the pastor announced that he was leaving and asked me to fill in as the church went through the call process. I am working very hard to turn things around–Biblical preaching, Bible studies and attempting to reach out to the people we lost over the years that pastor was in our church. He took us so far down spiritually and financially that there is no way the church can afford to call and support a full-time pastor at this point.

    • Well said, sir, and I am on the same wavelength. As I see many are. Comforting, isn’t it??? 8^)

  24. This mid-fifties ol’ “Jesus Freak” has moved into a new city. How does one find a new group to be with? I believe God has so made us to need one another. BUT, so many sundays find me at home instead of fellowshipping with someone. This post and several responses have encouraged me to get going in a serious way towards finding a group to fit in with. What an adventure!