Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Response to Dr. Henry Cloud's Sermon at Gateway Church (July 9)

Last weekend, Gateway Church, which I love, hosted psychologist and controversial author Dr. Henry Cloud as a guest speaker for our weekend services. There was a very enthusiastic reaction when it was announced that he was coming. This week Pastor Robert endorsed his sermon as being "Phenomenal!" I can offer no such promotion. As a matter of fact, I have been deeply concerned and saddened by some of the things that Mr. Cloud said. I have allowed the past week as a sort of cooling off period to contemplate how I should respond to certain claims he made and shenanigans he pulled. For one, he had the chutzpah, the unmitagated gall, to say that God is "INCAPABLE" of healing us without working through other people. This adds to my concern, as I have noticed a disturbing trend in some charismatic circles to accept secular, worldly craftiness and acumen as "prophetic." There is an unhealthy infatuation with celebrity and a lack of discernment that leaves them vulnerable to incorrect and unbiblical teaching. We need to take our cue from the Berean Jews and start carefully checking the word of God. That is what I did when I got home from church last Saturday night.

Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true. -Acts 17:11

In context, it was the teaching of Silas and the Apostle Paul that they were checking against scripture, and they were commended for it. 

In his sermon, Dr. Cloud, whose degree is in Psychology, not Theology, told 7 lengthy stories and used 10 shorter illustrations, none of which came from Scripture. I've never kept statistics like that during a sermon before, but for some reason, that night I did. I'm sure his speech coach would be very proud, as this is precisely what celebrity speakers are trained to do. He inserted only 2 Bible verses into his slick presentation and when I looked them up I discovered that he had manufactured a false context for one of them to tailor it to his cleverly written script. He superimposed only a few passing references to God into what was an otherwise godless, secular speech. One of these allusions was to a made up passage of Scripture from Ephesians 4 that does not exist, claiming that God only heals us in groups. Ironically, when I read it, I found out that very chapter actually warns us against false teaching. It is so obvious, I must confess that I actually wondered whether he might have put the false reference in there on purpose just to see if anyone would bother to look it up and call him out on it, to see if he could get away with it. Only God knows. I can only report what I found: 

"We are no longer to be like children, tossed around by the waves and blown all over by every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men with cunning in deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all ways into Messiah, who is the Head"  

While it is true that God works through people, it was wildly inappropriate, and possibly even heretical to claim that God is "incapable," that "God cannot heal you in isolation," that "God only heals in groups" or to place other limitations on God that push people toward psychological counseling, or impress upon them a need to buy the speakers book. God chooses to work through people and often does so to foster relationships, but when Elijah fled from Jezebel, He helped him when he was all alone, When Daniel fasted for 3 weeks, God healed him all alone, He met with Moses alone at the burning bush. He dealt with Jonah's selfish heart in complete isolation. He redeemed Paul one on one on the road, though he left his eyes unhealed so that Paul would immediately be accepted in relationship as he received ministry from other believers--but that was for physical healing. God, Himself, healed all the heart stuff. Can the Holy Spirit work through other believers to bring healing to our hearts and minds? Absolutely. Is He incapable of doing so without human help? No. It is true that God works powerfully through His church full of born-again believers, who are filled with the Holy Spirit. But the starting point is salvation through Jesus Christ. His Spirit is the glue that holds us together, unites us and allows us to help each other. It's all about Him. There is no healing of hearts without Jesus. We can grow together, but the work of salvation--which is the healing, renewing and restoring of our souls, that belongs to Christ alone. We can preach the gospel and guide others to it, but ultimately it is a one on one decision. 

It seems very arrogant and disrespectful of God's word to me, that in a sermon series on Prayer, this man did not speak about prayer at all, except for his made up reference to "remember the time" Paul was struggling and praying for help and God sent Titus. God did send Titus to encourage Paul, but the Bible does not record the rest of what Dr. Cloud said. Worse, he even said that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, bible reading and attending church or a bible study were good but that they empty us out. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that spiritual disciplines are ways that God fills us up and helps us grow. He recommended therapy to fill us up, indicating that spiritual disciplines are incapable or insufficient to accomplish this. Let that marinate for a second. I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. The astonishing hubris this man displayed by promoting psychology over Scripture is unacceptable. You can reference my blog post "Living Water," to read about how God pours into us through spiritual disciplines: http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2016/03/living-water.html

I listened hopefully, on the edge of my seat, as he began speaking at length about the human heart and our need for healing. Sadly, instead of preaching the good news of salvation through Jesus, who comes into our hearts to renew, restore and heal, he promoted psychology through therapy, counseling and support groups. It was like the whole sermon built up to the solution to our problems being to receive Jesus into our hearts and then at the last minute, he pulled Jesus away and presented Psychology as the hero of the story. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with receiving wise counsel and help, we should do that. Praise God for Christians who give wise counsel. But it is wrong to idolize those things while trivializing Jesus' completed work on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He promotes the secular, needy, dependant-on-therapy dynamic that is the hallmark of secular psychological practice, designed for the purpose of keeping people writing checks and coming back for more.

Mr. Cloud works as an author and a Life-Coach to Hollywood celebrities and to Fortune 500 Executives. His entire presentation last weekend came from HIS book, "The Power of the Other," instead of from the Bible. Based on his presentation, I feel this book is founded more in secular humanism, than anchored in a Biblical worldview. 

I'm tired of hearing sermons from a guest speaker's newest book instead of the Bible. To me, it feels like some churches are pimping out their pulpits to popular pastors, prominent psychologists and prosperity preachers who seem more interested in promoting their publications, padding their pocketbooks and publicizing their brand names, than in Jesus name (a name which, according to my recollection, failed to receive even a single mention in last weekend's pontification). As the people of God we must be more perspicacious (discerning) about the teachings we accept and allow to permeate the church. 

Dr. Cloud's teaching about the power of the other flips the Biblical point of view upside down by focusing on what others can do for us, instead of focusing on what we can do for others. Here is a great link to a list of verses on one-anothering: http://overviewbible.com/one-another-infographic/ 

The fatal flaw of secular psychology is that it is entirely inward-focused. It's all about self. If Satan can keep us focused on our own selves, on our own problems, circumstances and trials, then he handicaps us from spreading the good news of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus heals our hearts and minds, completely forgives us and puts us in a right standing with the Father so that we can focus on helping others. The key is to put others first, to die to self and live a life of one-anothering. God can heal and help us in many different ways. One of the fastest ways to receive healing in your own life is to focus on helping others. 
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Addendum: Please don't misunderstand this as a wholesale attack on Psychology and certainly not as a commentary on Christian counseling. I took 6 Psychology courses as an undergraduate and then completed 9 credit hours of Seminary graduate studies in which we carefully weighed and measured various Psychological theories against what the Bible says. I found Child Development and Adolescent Psychology to be very helpful in being patient and understanding with students. In Classroom Management, a class based entirely upon Psychological theories, we studied Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Kohlberg's levels of moral reasoning and others. There were appropriate outbursts of indignation at the comparison of the teaching of children to the training of Pavlov's dogs. In Seminary, in Theology and Philosophy for Christian Education, we took a careful look at 30 educational theories to see how they hold up when scrutinized by God's word, and none of them measured up. Biblical Anthropology and Pedagogy took a detailed survey of human growth and development from a Scriptural point of view and presentations were given analyzing the Biblical fidelity/infidelity of the work of 4 prominent behavioral theorists. Principles of Biblical Counseling, which is the counseling training course for pastors, challenged secular ways of thinking, confronted us with the truth of Scripture and fostered a Biblical worldview. Sometimes secular Psychology stumbles upon a principle that lines up with Scripture, but sometimes it does not. One of the pioneers in the field, Carl Junge, stated that Psychology was becoming a religion for people who could accept no other and that people were coming to them seeking help that only a priest could give. The Bible trumps Psychology and must be the standard by which all other teaching is judged. 




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