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Deep Psychology of the Gospel

2009 November 20
by Tim V-B

I recently had a long train journey and listened to a talk by Paul Tripp on The Deep Psychology of the Gospel.  You’ll find it at Sojourn Church (but you’ll need iTunes).  It seems to be addressed at Christians doing training on counselling.  Essentially it is a call to think deeply about what the Bible means by ‘sin’.

He starts with a quote from Eugene Peterson, in Subersive Spirituality.  (Link is to Amazon.co.uk; you can read inside.  Search for ‘caring’ then read pages 155 following.)

We know more about caring than any other generation that has ever lived on the face of the earth. We have more men and women professionally trained in the skills of caring and committed to professional lives of caring, and yet the reports coming back day after day from the field – people telling stories of what has happened to them in the hospital, church, with the social worker, at school – document an alarming deterioration of care on all fronts.   …

So, “Teach us to care.” We begin with a realization of our poverty: We do not know how to care. What we have been prayerlessly engaged in and glibly calling care, is not care. It is pity, it is sentimentality, it is do-goodism, it is ecclesiastical colonialism, it is religious imperialism. Caring, noble and commendable as it seems, is initiated by a condition that can, and often does, twist it into something ugly and destructive. That condition is need. (i.e. responding to need, which is good but not enough)

But there is another element in this scenario that is frequently missed and when missed, silently and invisibly squeezes all the cure out of care. That element is sin.

(The rest of this post is abbreviated notes from the talk.)

In the rush to care, don’t bandage wounds too quickly.  Wounds are the chance to open up to God and others.

To do caring we need to know our calling.  2 Corinthians 5:14ff.  This is not an evangelistic passage. It’s a counselling passage!  It is the Corinthian believers who need to be reconciled to God.  This reconciliation is progressive sanctification.  Sin is living for ourselves. To the degree we live this way, to this degree we need reconciliation.

Our calling is NOT (first) to fix people.  It is to be an ambassador of Christ and reconcile people to God, so they become people living for God.  We must not think of “normal” without thinking of God and people trusting in him.

What is our core diagnostic?  Every system of care has a philosophy of “what is wrong.”  Accuracy of diagnosis → effectiveness of cure.

The Bible is simple (but not reductionist) about this.  The Problem is Sin.  However, normally our understanding of sin is reductionist, i.e. about “bad behaviour.”

In the next post I’ll outline 5 Dimensions of Sin that Paul Tripp gives.

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