Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the felt-needs to his or her heart." ???

According to the Senior Pastor of one of America’s largest and fastest growing churches:

"It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the felt-needs to his or her heart. That key to each person's heart is unique so it is sometimes difficult to discover. It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with the person's felt needs. As I pointed out earlier, this was the approach Jesus used” [i]

  At first such reasoning sounds benign in nature: rather than immediately preaching at people, take the time to address their present circumstances and concerns first, then move on to spiritual things should they become open. 
According to Albert Mohler:

“I think the language here is a bit dated now, in other words I don’t hear as much about the methodology of the seeker-sensitive church as explicitly as it has been referred to in the past but the logic is still there. Here’s the logic – and it’s a pretty seductive logic: if you scratch people where they now itch, they’ll be more open to hearing the gospel. And the logic is that if you help them to have a better bank account, more obedient children, greener grass, a well-manicured lawn, and whatever else you’re trying to help them with, and you do a sermon series on it, you’ll earn their trust because you actually met their needs – this is explicit in the methodology – so they’ll then trust you when you talk to them about the gospel.”[ii] 

  Should Christians strive to meet the felt-needs of others? It is true that people – both non-christians and believers alike – have legitimate personal issues and problems that require attentions and care. In the ensuring controversy within the 1stcentury church over the place of the Mosaic Law in the believers' lives, Paul says that Peter, James and John “asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).  
  Internal controversy within the body of Christ was never to be a hindrance to the church's outreach and charity. To quote Tommy Barnett: "Find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it.”

  But is it legitimate to meet such needs not so much as an act of charity and social justice, but as evangelism in place of preaching the gospel itself? I.e. “Jesus is the answer to [insert felt-need]”. As one prominent Sydney-based pastor once said:

“Now we might think that warning people about hell, and telling them they need to receive Jesus in order to go to heaven will win people to Christ, but it doesn’t. What we need to do is to actually address the needs that are in people’s lives and go and meet them.” [iii]

The concept of felt-needs evangelism is actually based on secular psychologist Abraham Maslow's “Hierarchy of Needs” which sought to explain the motivations behind human actions and behaivior. According to Maslow, human needs can be divided into two main categories: Deficiency and Growth
1. Deficiency Needs
Physiological: The needs of the living organism (breathing, food, water, excretion)
Safety: Legal, financial and mortal security
Social: Friendship, intimacy, family
Esteem: self-esteem, respect towards and from others

2. Growth Needs
Cognitive: growing in intelligence, intellect and knowledge
Aesthetic: Creativity and artistic expression

  The goal of meeting these needs is self-actualization: the final stage of psychological development comes when the individual feels assured that his physiological, security, affiliation and affection, self-respect, and recognition needs have been satisfied. As these become dormant, he becomes filled with a desire to realize all of his potential for being an effective, creative, mature human being. 

  In Maslow's theory, human needs are arranged in a hierarchy of importance. Needs emerge only when higher-priority needs have been satisfied. By the same token, satisfied needs no longer influence behaviour. This point seems worth stressing to managers and administrators, who often mistakenly assume that money and other tangible incentives are the only cures for morale and productivity problems. It may be, however, that the need to participate, to be recognized, to be creative, and to experience a sense of worth are better motivators in an affluent society, where many have already achieved an acceptable measure of freedom from hunger and threats to security and personal safety, and are now driven by higher-order psychological needs.
  In short, self-actualization is reaching one's fullest potential.[iv]
  How does this compare with Scripture? Is man some kind of autistic-savant who possesses deep-down the ability and power to self-realize his own salvation? Can the preaching of the gospel be waved aside on the grounds that other needs require greater priority?
Firstly, the Bible is clear that apart from divine intervention in the form of God's sovereign grace, man is not just spiritually sick or ineffectual, but spiritually dead in sin:

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms 
Ephesians 2:1-5

  Secondly, taken to it’s logical conclusion, the felt-needs view of man results in God and the Christian walk becoming a hurdle to be overcome in order for one to become perfected. Compare that to Jonathan Edwards’ explanation of the New Nature we have in Christ:

A false conversion makes a man in his own eyes self-sufficient. He saith he is rich, and increased with goods, and hath need of nothing; and knoweth not that be is wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. But after a true conversion, the soul remains sensible of its own impotence and emptiness, as it is in itself, and its sense of it is rather increased than diminished. It is still sensible of its universal dependence on God for every thing. A true convert is sensible that his grace is very imperfect; and he is very far from having all that he desires. Instead of that, by conversion are begotten in him new desires which he never had before. He now finds in him holy appetites, an hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a longing after more acquaintance and communion with God. So that he hath business enough still at the throne of grace; yea, his business there, instead of being diminished, is, since his conversion, rather increased

What is the point, Edwards would say, of meeting one’s felt-needs in the hopes of leading someone to Christ when upon conversion, one’s felt-needs are only amplified and increased to a much higher caliber? If anything, one of the tangible fruits of genuinely seeking God is not a sense of self-fulfillment and/or self-actualization, but rather a growing sense of weakness, lack and hunger affecting body, mind and spirit:

My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;my heart and flesh sing for joyto the living God.Psalms 84:2
 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;my soul thirsts for you;my flesh faints for you,as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.Psalms 63:1 
My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgments.Psalms 119:120 
So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength. 
Daniel 10:

  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Revelation 1:

          There is also a much darker aspect of what happens if you want to be true to Maslow’s theorum and bring God into the equation. If in the goal of self-actualization you seek to not only meet your felt-needs (biological, psychological, social, spiritual), but to overcome them entirely to reach your full potential as a human being, who or what is the final rung on the ladder you have to climb over? 
          God Himself. 
          It is essentially the theme underlying modern Nihilism. Nihilism is the doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more relevant aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, orintrinsic value. Moral Nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived by society rather than any presupposed absolute.  
          One of the most prominent Nihilistic philosophers of the modern era was none other than German Atheist Frederic Nietzche (who, by the way, Maslow saw as being one of the few people to have ever truly reached self-actualization). In contemplating Nihilism, Nietzche envisioned the Übermensch , or “the superman”. In his fictional allegory Thus Spoke Zarathrustra, the title character (a parody of the Persian prophet Zoroaster) proclaims:

"I teach you the over-man. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
"All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the over-man: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.
"Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
"Behold, I teach you the over-man! The over-man is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the over-man shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!"[v]

          The Übermensch is said to be the next step in human development and evolution. Not restrained by social, religious or even natural norms, the Übermensch is free to develop his own values and meaning without the need for the supposed delusion of other-worldly goals as taught in Christendom for such have been overcome.
          Is this not what Maslow envisions when it comes to Self-Actualization? In order to truly reach his own potential, a disciple of Maslow must overcome their higher spiritual felt-needs. The only source of fulfilling these higher spiritual felt-needs is God. Once the need is fulfilled, God no longer needs to be a determining indluence upon one’s behavior. Ergo, God is seen not as the object of one’s worship and adoration, but is regarded as an adversary to be beaten and conquered in the name of personal victory.
          Could any idea possibly be more Satanic in concept and practice? 

         Thirdly, the idea that anyone can lead anyone else to Christ, simply by unlocking the felt-needs of the heart, is pure humanism at best. 
          According to Michael Horton, integrating a therapeutic view of spirituality into the church’s outreach implicitly leads one to legalism:

   I realize that a lot of people who might gravitate toward a therapeutic approach to life, including their faith, would nevertheless balk at the accusation of works-righteousness. The key to my criticism however, is that once you make your peace of mind rather than peace with God the main problem to be solved, the whole gospel becomes radically defined. More than that, a therapeutic worldview gravely distorts the terms of the gospel even as the same terms are still employed. Feeling good is more important than being good; in fact, normative judgments external to the self are out of place. One may feel guilty, but no one actually is guilty before God. The very thing that God’s Law comes to do – namely, to strip us of our pretentions of having it all together – can only be considered a violent aggression against the core value of self-esteem.  
   “How can I, a sinner, be right before a Holy God?” is simply off the radar in a therapeutic mindset. Once the self is enthroned as the source, judge and goal of all of life, the gospel need not be denied because it’s beside the point. But people need to see – for their own good – that self-realization, self-fulfillment, and self-help are all contemporary twists on an old heresy, which Paul identifies as works-righteousness.[vi]

          On a practical level, Albert Mohler continues:

“…Two problems I see with that – Number One: it doesn’t work. 
And Number Two: in a lot of these places, they never get around to actually talking about the gospel. You come back years later and they’re still on ‘green grass’, only that now instead of dealing with pre-schoolers, you’re dealing with teenagers. In other works, we never actually get around to it. I tell you, just look phenomenologically at this, look at how many big churches were built on this methodology, their back door is larger than the front and you just don’t have much of a church left.” 

          Finally, to suggest that “…this was the approach Jesus used” is a serious misreading of Scripture. While Jesus definitely loved and cared for people during his three-year ministry, his motives were far from desiring to see people’s felt-needs answered or to see them achieve self-realization. If anything, the call he gave to would-be disciples to follow him was ultimately a call to self-denial:

18  Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 
19  And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 
20  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 
21  Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
22  And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” 
Matthew 8:18-22

17  And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 
18  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 
20  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 
21  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 
22  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23  And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24  And the disciples were amazed at his words. 
But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 
26  And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 
27  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 
28  Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 
29  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30  who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Mark 10:23-31

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Luke 9:23-25

25  Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:25-33
1  Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.2  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.5  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.6  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.7  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.8  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.9  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.10  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:1-11

Commenting on Jesus’ call to self-denial, Martin Luther writes in Article #4 of his 95 Theses which he nailed to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany:

The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.[vii]

The message is clear: if you desperately seek the fulfillment of your felt-needs in the name of self-esteem, self-fulfillment and self-actualization – Stay Away From Jesus Christ at All Costs. He just won’t give it to you, at least not in the way you may think favorable in this lifetime here on Earth.

         Should churches be concerned about the needs and hurts of people and be willing to extend compassion and charity? Yes, however that is not the gospel message; when all are made to stand before God on Judgment Day, the trump card will not be one's worldly circumstances, but whether one abides in Christ. Only God has the ability to even know the heart (Jer. 17:9-10; Rev. 2:23), let alone change it. It is His Spirit who cleanses the heart (Titus 3:5); it is His Word that penetrates through layers of doubt and unbelief (Heb. 4:12); He is the one who calls sinners to Himself (Rom. 8:29-30)— having specifically chosen them before time began (Eph. 1:3-6). 
          And while men are certainly His agents for preaching the gospel (Rom. 10:14-15), God is nonetheless sovereign in the entire process (Rom. 9:18).

[i] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, Pg. 219
[iii] Phil Pringle. “Evangelism”. Sermon preached at City Christian Church Oxford Falls, 26 May 2008.
[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs
[v] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, , §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann, Prologue
[vi] Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Baker, 2008. Pg 41
[vii] http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html