The Therapeutic Gospel – Introduction

Posted on January 27, 2011

Many observers claim that American Evangelicalism preaches a “therapeutic gospel”. This observation is not intended as a compliment by those who make it – it is an accusation and an indictment of the way faith is practiced by many believers. And it is an accusation made by those within the movement of Evangelicalism — not by its critics.

The therapeutic gospel is a defective gospel according to those who coined the phrase. I don’t know when I first ran across this formulation but, once I heard it, I began to encounter it frequently.

Well … what else is new? Nothing seems to propagate so fast in the Evangelical community as another cause for self-loathing. Homo evangelicalus is an inveterate critic who is always sounding the alarm about the next big thing that is going to destroy the faith and render Christianity impudent.

I want to delve into the therapeutic gospel accusation. I hope to persuade you that it is a misguided allegation that is destructive of true faith. And I want to argue that whatever weakness there is in the Evangelical community comes more from the teaching of those who make the therapeutic gospel accusation than from those who adhere to it.

This is a big topic so I won’t put it all in one post. Seriously – if I put it all down here in one blog post, you’d have to take a sabbatical to read it. I know you like me but nobody has that kind of time. Plus, putting this out in small chucks will probably lead to more discussion.

When I started the Two Kingdoms blog back in December of 2007, the “therapeutic gospel” was the topic on which I most wanted to pontificate. I’ve made many attempts prior to this but kept getting bogged down. So I’m telling my perfectionist streak to take a hike and putting this out even thought it is not all perfectly clear in my own head. There is probably some benefit in accepting a messier process.

So stay tuned.

2 Responses to “The Therapeutic Gospel – Introduction”

  1. Brad Widstrom
    Feb 06, 2011

    If you haven’t already you should read “Soul Searching” by Christian Smith. It is the largest and best done research project (both quantitative and qualitative) of adolescent spirituality. The label that Smith and his research team gave to adolescent spirituality is “Moral Therapeutic Deism.” Would be a good read as you launch into your dissection of a therapeutic gospel.


  2. FRANK PARDUE
    Feb 06, 2011

    So sorry for delay in responding to your blog. An interesting book that came out last year was a new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”. Bonhoeffer really struggled with the German church, which followed blindly into Nazi German nationalism. The church leaders ignored the “Jewish solution” and followed blindly. Bonhoeffer used the term “cheap grace” to describe the national church’s view of Christianity, which focused more on satisfying their own cultural and ethical standards.

    I am not saying that the American “therapeutic gospel” is at the same place, but there is a possibility of focusing more on a positive personal self-help gospel than where we need to be. No doubt the gospel needs to be contextualized, but we also need to be aware of our cultural blind spots. Just a thought.



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