Gary: This week’s item is from The Jewish World Review of March 29, 2000, with the headline, “Sin, anyone?”
“Americans are the most religious people in the developed world. More than 90 percent tell pollsters that they believe in God, 43 percent say they attend religious services at least once a week, and 58 percent report that religion is very important in their lives. But what does it really mean? When everyone from Hilary Clinton to Ralph Reed professes to be motivated by religious values, can those values have any identifiable content? And when the society at large enshrines tolerance and reluctance to make moral judgments as the highest virtues, what can they be hearing at those weekly services?
“James Davison Hunter answers that question in the spring edition of The Public Interest, and he concludes that at this moment in history, the secular worldview is influencing the churches far more than the churches are influencing the surrounding society. In particular, Hunter examines the moral education curricula at churches and synagogues around the nation, and he finds that the old categories of sin, repentance and redemption are out, and the therapeutic language of self-esteem and self-love are in.
“Hunter cites Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, as well as a professional psychologist, as an example of this melding of psychological beliefs into Christian moral education. As religious educators go, Dobson is quite orthodox. Pre-marital sex, for example, is a no-no. Nor does Dobson slight the traditional Christian teachings on marriage, fidelity, honesty, and so on. But the very first reason Dobson offers for refraining from premarital sex is the risk of venereal disease, and he instructs adolescents that the primary task of their developing years is to acquire good self-esteem.
“Another popular evangelical writer, Kenneth Erickson, is even more in sync with popular psychology. While emphasizing God’s love, Erickson focuses most of his attention on building self-esteem, understanding one’s “inner child,” and eschewing perfectionism and shame-based morality.
“Hunter explains, while he writes of the importance of forgiveness, the problem of sin is all but absent. The rabbi at a large Reform congregation in Manhattan was asked whether theological concepts like sin are used to instruct the young. ‘Sin isn’t one of our issues,’ he replied. ‘My guess is that in twelve years of religious school, our kids will never hear the word.’”
The principal of a Catholic school in San Antonio, Texas, expressed a similar view on sin. “Oh, no. That kind of language would not relate to them anyway. When I was growing up, I personally might have responded to someone if they said, ‘Hey, this is a sin.’ Today, though, I don’t think that young people would respond to that. The most you could say to them is, ‘That is not allowed.’
“The triumph of the therapeutic has left millions of Americans without the mental equipment to make moral choices, and when sin does rear its ugly head, our national response, both secular and religious, is to call in the shrinks.”
Tom: Dave, this—as Gary mentioned—this is from The Jewish World Review, and this is Mona Herron indicting in some cases evangelicals, but particularly the religious, and she’s right on target.
Dave: Yeah, I would have to agree with her. It’s a sad commentary, and what is happening is—you know, we referred to it a little bit earlier—“I’m spiritual but not religious.” And by “religious” meaning—well, some people might even say, “I’m religious,” but it means “we don’t conform to any dogmas now.”
Now, that’s fine. Don’t conform to the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church or the Mormons or of anybody else. But God has some rules, and He’s laid it out very clearly. But the tragedy is that we have this idea of being broadminded—we’ve got to build up self-esteem. And it’s tragic that Dr. Dobson, for example, if this is accurate—what this person says—that we abstain from premarital sex or free sex or whatever, the major reason is to avoid the disease…
Tom: Yeah, the consequences of sin…
Dave: Yeah… that we might contact, rather than moral obedience to the God who created us, and to His laws and to His Word. But people are not moved by that, so maybe Dr. Dobson realizes “we’ve got to be strategic” in the way we present these things, because as the…was it a Jewish person later on, who said that, “We might have been moved by that when I was a boy, but not any more.”
Tom: That was the principal of the Catholic school.
Dave: Oh, the Catholic school.
Tom: The rabbi says, “My guess is that in twelve years of religious school, our kids will never hear the word.”
Dave: Yeah. So, now we’ve got to—we’ve become so (I love that last paragraph, it’s so accurate)—we’ve become so psychotherapeutically oriented that this is the way we now appeal to people. But that is not the way God appealed to people, and we know that psychotherapy doesn’t work anyway. There has to be some fear of God, and of eternal hell as the consequence—not just some disease that we might get in this life. And this is what is missing in our society and, tragically, in our churches.
Tom: Dave, just…this article seems to me to be a reflection of 2 Timothy 3. First of all, that’s the only place I know that self-esteem is mentioned in the Word of God. “Mark my words, in the last days, there will be perilous times. Men will be lovers of themselves….” And then, a little later, it talks about “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” This is what this is all about.
Dave: The Bible’s an amazing book, isn’t it? It lays it out ahead of time. And, Tom, once again, it brings us back to the very title of our program, and the very purpose that we have: Search the Scriptures Daily. We are not trying to put our ideas over. We’re not trying to present the latest philosophy. We’re not trying to present the latest from the academic world, or even from the scientific world. Man has not changed since the Garden of Eden. And the basic problem is still man’s relationship with God. We’re rebels against God.
So, we’re not trying to offer our ideas. If man is to be made right, and if God really created him, which we believe, which the Bible says, and if the problem is man’s relationship with God, then only God can solve this problem, and He is the one we must heed when He tells us the solution. And that solution is only through Jesus Christ, who is God, who became a man, who paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. That’s the message we’ve got to preach. Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word.” Instead of that, we’re preaching the latest psychotherapeutic techniques, because we think that that will appeal to people today—modern man or modern children, more than the Word of God. And that is a mistake.
Tom: Dave, twice, I believe, in Proverbs, we have the scripture: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” We pick and choose all these things that have to do with man’s ways or seducing spirits or doctrines of demons, and it’s destructive at best.