Item description for The Altars of Ahaz: How a Therapeutic Culture Has Blinded Us to the Claims of the Gospel by Evangeline A. Thiessen...
Overview Secular humanism is in competition with Christianity to provide answers to what were once thought to be religious and existential problems. What is even more alarming is the degree to which the church has become dependent on therapeutic self-understanding. This book is an attempt to separate that pairing and to examine what the Gospel actually reveals as to who we are, what has gone wrong with us, and how we come to again achieve wholeness and meaning in life.
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Therapy as heresy Jun 18, 2008
This is a powerfully perceptive and underrated book that, if discovered, may well become a minor classic in Christian literature. This is a bold statement, but I invite you to read the book for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Evangeline Thiessen is a person of deep Christian faith whose book was sparked by her struggle with depression and the pathos of life. But unlike most modern self-help books which degenerate into gushy drivel about one's self, one's victimhood, or navel gazing, this is a serious work about one of the most-obvious but almost never-mentioned heresies in Christian churches - the compromise of the Christian Gospel with a modern therapeutic culture.
Sociologist Peter Berger once observed that America is like a highly religious India presided over by a secular Sweden. According to Thiessen, something similar could be said for much of the Christian church - it is a church building on the outside which has been furnished with therapeutic couches mimicking altars on the inside; or a church infiltrated by parasitic therapists trolling for patients.
Hence the title of Thiessen's book The Altars of Ahaz. In the book of Second Kings 16 in the Hebrew Old Testament Bible two altars were erected by King Ahaz in ancient Damascus, whereby a new altar was erected for offerings and sacrifice and the old altar used for spiritual guidance was relegated to a place of insignificance.
Thiessen convincingly makes a case that we are worshipping at a false altar of therapy instead of a holy altar of God.
According to Thiessen the church has made several compromises with the therapeutic culture, listed as follows:
Life: secular or sacred endeavor Knowledge systems versus narrative The unconscious versus transcendence Integration versus overcoming Knowledge versus love Self-love versus accepting love Redemption versus cure Depression: Illness versus "Shadow of thy hand" Holy spirit versus universal spirit Sin versus pathology Science versus faith God versus gods Well-adjusted versus transformed
Thiessen's book is chocked-full of original and perceptive insights drawn her own life experiences, from the 230 books she has read listed in the bibliography, and the 479 footnotes contained in the book. Some poignant excerpts from the book:
"Hell, I have been told, is not a place, but a condition. In that case, it was also my home address...I began to notice what difficulty the church was having in mediating God's life to our broken lives. In fact, to a large extent, it seemed to have given up trying; it had just called in the assistance of the therapeutic to cover for God."
"Of course religion does not always broaden our horizons. Often it is used for the opposite purpose - to create small enclaves or pseudo-certainty so that one can ignore how many and how large the questions of life really are. In our growing dependence on the therapeutic, we have just exchanged one fundamentalist system for another...We have exchanged religious fundamentalism for secular fundamentalism."
"The fallacy in the thinking within the therapeutic movement lies in their belief that knowledge can change us. It doesn't."
"The more pronounced God's absence and silence becomes, the more the church seems justified in enlisting the aid of the therapeutic. The more dependent the church becomes on the therapeutic to provide answers to our unease and feelings of being lost, the more pronounced the absence and silence of God becomes."
"Jesus created no political movements, did not destroy His enemies (they destroyed Him). He did not overcome poverty to rise in society. He won no visible wars, He did little to change the corrupt nature of the Pharisees and the Sadducees who had gained control of organized religion, and He seemingly did nothing to eliminate Roman oppression. In the ways that we in the world normally think of "overcoming," Jesus was a failure."
Borrowing from sociologist Peter Berger, there are two main heresies in modern Christian churches in the U.S. -- the politicization of the Gospel in liberal churches and its therapeuticization in conservative churches. Politicization has gained most of the media attention with the division between liberal and conservative churches. But few, except Thiessen, have perceived the equally insidious heresy of the therapeutic. The politicization and the therapeuticization of the Christian Gospel are two sides of the same coin of reactions to modernity.
It will likely be hard to read this book without being transformed -- which towards the end of the book is what the book is all about. I invite you to read this trenchant book by this gifted writer.