Readers of this blog know that I have a high degree of respect for the Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, whose show Thinking in Public I cannot tout enough.
I highly recommend a recent show entitled “An Anthropologist Looks At Evangelicals: A Conversation With Tanya Luhrmann” for all kinds of reasons. For one, it takes Christian Smith’s observations regarding “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to new levels.
There is an interesting point in the conversation I want to quote and comment on:
Mohler: Well this theology that is of such obvious concern and interest to you as an anthropologist is of very great concern for me as a theologian, and deep within your book I think you uncover something of incredible theological significance when you write, this is on page 105, “the point is that the real problem with which we all struggle is not God’s judgment but our own. God believes that we are worthwhile and loves us for ourselves, we feel shameful and unworthy because we magnify our guilt and hold ourselves responsible for our pain.” I think that is a brilliant description of a huge theological shift that many pastors perceive but don’t know how to name. I think you’ve actually named it pretty well in just that one sentence.
Luhrmann: Thank you. That is really interesting, I do think that that is a terribly important way of thinking about sin that I just saw in the church. That it was not about you’ve done something wrong and God is punishing you, but that a shadow falls between you and God because of the way you have been thinking. It’s also a psychotherapeutic God.
That is interesting. As a Lutheran of course, I think immediately about how we emphasize that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (II Cor. 5). Via His atoning sacrifice, He is reconciled to us! And here the focus is not so much on us, whom the Scriptures describe as having “become worthless”, but on the God who loves us because of who He is. “Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” as the hymn writer puts it.
It is for this reason that we take delight in the Luther movie (2003) when Luther’s “father-confessor” Staupitz says to a Martin Luther who is terrified and angry with God: “You just aren’t being honest. God is not angry with you. You are angry with God”
So here, we see something that is not so much “therapeutic” as pastoral. Luther had not disowned his Christian faith, but was nevertheless imagining that for God, judgment triumphed over mercy. Staupitz responds appropriately to His confusion. Christ reconciles judgment and mercy, taking judgment onto Himself for our sakes… Indeed, He is reconciled to us that we might have eternal life by knowing Him in His grace and mercy.
And yes, “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them”. (John 3:36)