Thursday, July 31, 2008

The poison of the therapeutic gospel

While scanning through Paul Marshall's book Their Blood Cries Out, I came across this excellent quote. It shows the poisonous nature of the therapeutic gospel and prosperity gospel in times of suffering. Marshall here sounds very similar to David Wells, and helps explain why so many American Christians are apathetic to global persecution today.

Clearly, a positive outlook can have value in dealing with most of our ordinary day-to-day frustrations. But if God is always supposed to provide relief, then suffering Christians seem to make God appear untrustworthy and the product unreliable. Why hasn't Christianity "worked" for the Sudanese the way it does in America? How can the prayers of suffering Christians in Vietnam remain unanswered?

Historically, the heart of the evangelical gospel has been "Christ died for your sins," not the modern preoccupation "Christ died for your problems." If religious teaching becomes a promise of psychological benefits, then a seemingly logical conclusion is that suffering stems from a lack of faith...

But what does this mean for those who struggle against adversity, persecution, and poverty? If obedience is the key to the future, then they must somehow have failed, somehow have fallen short of God's best, somehow been disobedient. What does it say of the apostle Paul, writing letters from a prison cell, not to mention Jesus, who was markedly "unsuccessful." He found himself betrayed, abandoned, and hung on a cross.

These are not the only tendencies in evangelicalism. But they are the dominant ones. They are the themes that dominate the best-seller lists, the magazines, the TV shows, and all-too-many of the churches. The result is a faith that has its eyes turned resolutely inward.

Self-absorption is clearly not the only reason western evangelicals remain unconcerned about their persecuted counterparts across the sea. But it certainly contributes to the apathy. (pp. 155-56)


David said...

Wow! that is exactly what I shared with our church Sunday.

I was talking about end times and shared that I am not a pre-trib person because I believe it is wrong for us in America to say "there is no suffering before Christ return" when around the world our brother and sisters are being murdered for their faith. About 50 thousand people a year die for their faith! And we in America are preaching health and wealth. God is waking me up. Thank you for your post!

Natalie said...

My first thought after reading David's post was, hey, I'm pre-trib, and that's not what I believe. But then I thought, maybe I've got the wrong technical name for it in my head. Of course I haven't studied it all out like you guys have.

Well, Stephen said that pre-trib IS the name for what we believe (I thought so). Like I said, "there is no suffering before Christ's return" is not what I believe. Here's why.

I agree that we in America, myself included, sometimes forget about, make light of, or (as in the quote Stephen left) disregard the persecution of the saints in other countries. However, persecution can easily fit within my pre-trib thinking.

The Bible does not say that Christ will rapture us out before any pain and suffering occur, but before the HORRORS of the tribulation period occur. Yes, there have been major horrors of persecution already. But persecution is not the only type of horror.

Rev. 6:6 talks about worldwide famine/inflation. Some areas have seen that, but not worldwide.

Rev. 6:8 says that 1/4 of the WORLD'S population will be wiped out "with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth." (100-25%=75 remaining population) This has not happened yet.

Rev. 6:12-17 talks about MAJOR natural disasters, one on top of the next. We have natural disasters, and some of them are major, but not the way John describes them.

Then comes Rev. 8:7-8, more natural disasters, taking away another 1/3 of the earth's already diminished population. (75-33%=50.25 remaining population) This hasn't happened yet.

Rev. 8:10-11 talks about water that is no longer palatable. v.12 goes on to describe the celestial beings as disappearing so that 1/3 of the day would be in darkness and 1/3 of the night would also be in darkness. Out here in the desert, we can walk outside, day or night, and see that hasn't happened yet.

After describing some plagues Rev. 9:18a says "A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues". (50.25-33%=33.667 remaining population). That leaves us with only 1/3 of our starting population remaining on the earth. This is certainly not the case.

Well, I could go on, but I think I've made my point. Yes, persecution is horrible -- and I don't ever wish to go through what some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering in this present age. And persecution will definitely be a part of the tribulation period (Rev. 6:11). Nevertheless, I can confidently say that we have NOT seen the HORRORS of the tribulation. And praise God we won't have to!!!!

Stephen Jones said...

Thanks Natalie for your comments and for answering a lot more thoroughly than I probably would have!

I agree with David that it is wrong of pre-tribbers to tout the rapture as an "escape hatch" from suffering and persecution. This is very insensitive to our brothers and sisters around the globe (some even here in the States) who suffer immensely for their faith.

However, I do believe as Natalie pointed out that suffering, persecution, injustice, economic crises, and natural disasters will grow exponentially during the coming Tribulution. Jer. 30:5-9 likens this period to a woman in labor. This intense affliction is directed at Israel and will eventually bring about a national revival (cf. Rom. 11:26).

David said...

Hi Natalie,

I hope I did not offend.

I have more than once had pre's tell me, "A great point of evangelism is to tell people they won't have to go through the suffering of the tribulation." I'm not sure we can take that position when when so many believers are enduring great suffering, to the point of death.

I do understand the increase in evil described in Revelation. Jesus spoke of us having "tribulation" in this world, and Revelation speaks of believers being sealed to go through the tribulation. I do not see a place in Revelation where Believers are pulled out.

But my thought really was that we Christians should simply be careful in America not to presume all is well or faith is easy just because we live in an island of freedom.

I did not mean to come down so hard on pre-trib. Most of our church is pre-trib.


Natalie said...

No, David, you did not offend. Please forgive me if I implied so.

Thanks for reading (& commenting) on Stephen's blog so faithfully. I love reading your input!