Therapeutic Antinomianism

Written by Ben C. Dunson |
Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Therapeutic-antinomian preaching follows a predictable pattern. Take any imperative of Scripture, tell the congregation how they are unable to obey that imperative, and then urge them to trust that Christ has obeyed it for them. Then end the sermon. Every sermon will be the same, no matter the text.

This week my wife wrote a very helpful review of, and interaction with, Abigail Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up. Shrier’s book is an expose of the many ways in which modern therapy, under the guise of empathetic caring, has made children into psychological and emotional wrecks.

As my wife put it:

Shrier outlines the problem: therapy and therapeutic concepts (“mental health”) are ubiquitous today and parents are quick to find therapeutic solutions for everything, including medicating kids with psychotropic drugs and stimulants to treat normal childhood behaviors. Any pain or disappointment is equated with trauma and, in our risk-averse society, must be avoided at all costs, or treated as a problem to be solved with therapy and drugs.

Shrier doesn’t get into the implications of her research for the church, though my wife also rightly pointed out that “[t]his ideology is even common among Christian parents, who readily rely on therapy to address perceived behavioral issues (aka sin) or on medication for normal childhood characteristics like being wiggly or distracted.”

Therapeutic concepts are so prevalent in our society that it is often hard to understand how they impact our reasoning in different areas of life. In fact, one could say that therapeutic thinking serves as one of the chief supports of a heresy that plagues the church today, as it has in every age, the heresy of antinomianism, that is, being against (anti) God’s law (nomos) as the necessary rule of life for the Christian.

Antinomianism rarely takes the form of an overt and explicit rejection of God’s moral law. Normally it is far more subtle. A particularly subtle (and thus far more dangerous) form today goes like this: No one, not even a born-again Christian, is capable of keeping God’s law perfectly. The law simply shows us our sin, and thus our need for the grace of forgiveness in Christ. Everything in the two previous sentences is true except for the word “simply.” It is with this word that antinomianism slithers in unnoticed.

It is not the case that God’s moral law simply shows regenerate believers their sin. The law does indeed do that (Rom 3:19–20; 7:7), but the law is also the necessary guide and rule for the life of the Christian. Obedience to God’s law, by the working of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:7–9), will be worked by God in the life of every genuine Christian. No one can be justified (“declared in the right with God”) on the basis of obedience to the law (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:15–16; Phil 3:8–9), but all believers are brought into submission to God’s law, which is simply submission to God himself, as a necessary outworking of God’s grace in their lives (1 Cor 9:21; Titus 2:11–14; James 1:25; 2:8).

The therapeutic mindset (a warmed-over Freudianism) tells us that our chief problems in life come from outside of ourselves, that we are passive victims of any number of traumas we have experienced. We likely did not even recognize them as traumas at the time. What is more, therapy teaches us—the helpless victims we are—to see all difficulties in life, from the smallest to the greatest, as insurmountable ordeals inflicted upon us. We’re told that the normal stresses of work, school, family, finances, and more, have wounded us beyond our ability to cope. Thus, we need therapy (or drugs), which is quite convenient for those whose livelihood depends on their patients remaining unwell. Instead of being taught to cast our cares on the Lord (1 Pet 5:6–7) and confront and overcome those things that create anxiety (Matt 6:25–34; Phil 4:4–7) Christians are left defenseless. Modern therapeutic methods encourage, rather than help overcome, extreme mental, emotional, and spiritual fragility.

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