AIDS Fertile Ground

Over the last three weeks Jonathon Miles and Ben Dyer have discussed “Gay Rites – Debating the Moral Question.” It is helpful to realize that we can challenge the thinking of others, and indeed ours, in a generally courteous fashion and make our case on an issue. First century believers lived in a culture that valued these sorts of exchanged. It is something we need to recapture in this largely post-modern culture. In trying to address the marginalization of the church we are returning to our series on the history of the Culture Driven Church this week.

As 1960 dawned, Abraham Maslow’s views had become largely mainstream in psychology, culture and increasingly so in the church as well. Self-esteem, hierarchy of need and peak experiences would take slightly different manifestations inside and outside the church but they would become the guiding principles for how we understand ourselves and for Christians, how we understand and interpret Scripture. AIDS (Acquired Ignorance of the Doctrines of Scripture) would continue, pretty much unchecked until they would reach an epidemic proportion in the future.

In 1960 Carl Rogers was completing a book that would outline his views on self-actualization which would become a best seller and award him celebrity status in the growing human potential movement.

Rogers outlined a process of self-exploration by which the individual strips away the “false fronts” that he has used to present himself to the world and becomes “the self which one truly is.” Anticipating the day when non-fiction would be dominated by personal narratives, he began with a chapter entitled, “This Is Me..” The remainder of the volume equated “personhood” with the discovery of one’s inner, presocialized “me.” The search for truth, Rogers wrote, must begin and end with identifying one’s true feelings. “Neither the Bible nor the prophets – neither Freud nor research – neither the revelations of God nor man – can take precedence over my own direct experience.”1

Human centeredness and personal experience had fairly well taken root both inside and outside the church and now a “respected professional” gave permission for that to be the way to know truth.

Also by 1960, Clyde Narramore’s book The Psychology of Counseling would become one of the most widely used textbooks in seminaries and Bible Colleges. He had founded the Narramore Christian Foundation in the early 1950s which began the concept of “Christian Counseling” as something different than pastoral counseling. After all, the thinking went, pastors really only had Scriptures and theology at their disposal which, in the more educated and enlightened understanding, doesn’t really equip them to deal with the “real” problems and needs of human beings. In his book he gave the average pastor psychological tools for counseling and also advised them to send the more difficult cases to professional psychotherapists. Narramore was one of the first “integrationists.” He worked toward integrating psychology and the Scriptures with a view to down play the humanistic, Freudian and Jungian perceptions which went with psychology and co-wrote The Integration of Psychology and Theology. Narramore was quite an evangelist for his integrationism through not only his books, but his popular radio show and magazine.

1960 also witnessed the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as President of the United States. For Fundamentalists, the election of a Roman Catholic as president heralded the fulfillment of the end times prophecies of Revelation. For many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals there was the fear that Rome would now be governing the United States as the Pope handed down his dictates to his Roman Catholic representative in the President’s office. The now maturing Conservative Intellectual Movement (led mostly by Roman Catholic thinkers) saw this as a furthering of the liberal agenda. Although these three groups didn’t work together at this point, the future would find them at least working in the same direction, to defeat liberalism and reclaim their nation!

The Law of Unintended Consequences

As is often said, hindsight is 20/20. It is often easy to look back over history, see the consequences of decisions and actions and assume the worst in those who went before us. It is not certain, and indeed likely not probable that any one of us today would have done anything differently in the past given the prevailing worldviews which were influencing the culture and the church at the time.

Maslow, whose worldview was at best agnostic about God, appears to have wanted the best for humanity. In order to achieve maximum mental health, his worldview maintained that one had to become a fully self-actualized person. This came through, in his view, meeting our hierarchy of needs, having good self-esteem and achieving peak experiences which in turn would help mankind tap into the all knowingness of the ages. Ideas have consequences, or so it is said, and Maslow’s ideas proved to have unanticipated effects on the future through others who adopted and took them to the next step. For example, Abbie Hoffman:

… Hoffman understood Maslow perfectly. He saw self-actualization theory as setting out a sort of “moral ladder,” challenging people to ratchet up their standards of social responsibility, undoubtedly what Maslow had in mind….Counselors in the 1950s continually emphasized the need to adjust to the values of the group. But kids like Abbie Hoffman had already made a break with the values of their parents just by deciding to go away to college, and they didn’t feel comfortable aping the manners of either the genteel middle class or the lefty bohemians they met on campus. Embarrassed by their families at times, they were also bitterly resentful of professors and fellow students who looked down on them.

For young people caught between two worlds, Maslow’s vision of creating an authentic personality through self-actualization offered an attractive alternative. His writings emphasized the virtue of creative rebellion. You could challenge authority, pick and choose your values, do what felt good inside, and create a new identity that was uniquely your own.2

The young Harvard psychologist, Timothy Leary, would pursue Maslow’s “peak experience” and “self-actualization” with a vengeance through drug experimentation using natural (psilocybin mushrooms). Designer drugs (LSD) were also being developed and used at a number of other universities in peak experience research.

In an effort to bring the maximum number of people to full psychological health, Carl Rowan Rogers developed the group therapy (encounter group) style of counseling. The psychologist in his view became a facilitator. This was the natural outworking of his anti-authority position. Author, Peter D. Kramer:

… credits Rogers with an “extensive contribution to contemporary culture, to our sense of who we are.” As to the nature of that contribution, Kramer sums it up nicely: “For Rogers, the cardinal sin in therapy, or in teaching or family life, is the imposition of authority.”3

The thinking goes that we are all really equal regardless of our age, experience and training and so bring about growth and wholeness as we share our experiences. Maslow saw the encounter group as probably the best vehicle to bring about self-actualization for the majority of the population. He also began toying with the idea of nudism and group therapy. Before long, Paul Bindrum, a psychologist in California began carrying out this new styled encounter group. One of the “healthy” practices this facilitator included was that:

A naked woman lay on the floor as Bindrum raised and spread her legs, while asking her a series of questions including, “Who in this room would you least like to have know about this area of yourself?”4

It would take years but this “counseling” mentality would eventually infiltrate church groups as well. Psychology by its nature is human centered and problem driven. The central focus is “me.”

Fundamentalists, in the mean-time, were working hard at strengthening and setting up new fences of protection around their followers. The anthropocentric theology and did not depend on God to empower, strengthen and grow His people but rather on our efforts to protect ourselves from ungodly influences. Believers had to somehow escape from the world. It was really more of a humanistic and behavioristic methodology for bringing about “holiness.” This would appear to be in direct conflict with Christ’s prayer in John 17. As He prayed He prayed for the Father’s protection on His followers and those who would believe in the future through the word that He had given. He didn’t pray for their removal from the world, for doing so would eliminate their influence upon the world.

I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: they word is truth. (John 17:15-17)

The example of the life of Jesus is that He was unafraid of the competing worldviews and teachings around Him. His relationship with the Father and dependence upon the Father’s word was the protection that was needed. The protection and sanctification of His followers was dependant on their relationship with and focus on God rather than on a relationship with and focus on a list of do’s and don’ts.

Fundamentalism more resembled the practice and views of another group who lived in the first century, the Pharisees. They too had lost the concept of a personal relationship with God and substituted a series of rules, steps, behaviors and dress codes which, to be sure, were intended to be God honoring and thereby make humans more acceptable to God by external appearance and practice. In neither case were their motives necessarily evil but their theology was human centered rather than God centered. To the first century group Jesus said:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matter of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought to have done, and not leave the other undone. Ye blind guides that strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. (Mathew 23:23-24)

This is the same group of which Jesus said:

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)

Loving God with their heart, soul and mind had been displaced with doing things which made one look and act more godly but didn’t necessarily move one to a closer relationship with God. 20th century fundamentalism had moved in a very similar direction. This humanistic and behavioristic approach would become more refined into a guaranteed mechanistic cause and effect system of steps and principles as the church moved through the 1960s with the as yet to arrive Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. Through this period evangelism became more and more a process of trying to figure out ways to get non-believers into the church where they could hear the gospel and respond to the alter call. With that there was of course less emphasis on training, equipping and growing believers to do the work of ministry since the ministry of the church (training, and equipping believers) had been largely displaced by the mission of the church (evangelizing and sharing the gospel with the lost outside the church).

Evangelicals were busy trying to hold the line of Orthodoxy on the essentials of the faith and at the same time still working to gain credibility and acceptance in academia. They, like fundamentalists, were concerned about the proclamation of the gospel to the lost and were trying to figure out ways to work better across denominational lines in order to carry out that mission. At the same time Clyde Narramore and others were busy “integrating” psychology and theology which continued Evangelicalism’s trend away from a Theo-centric to an anthropocentric understanding of Scripture. This strongly affected the way segments of the church would “do church” in the future. As with fundamentalism, we believe Evangelicals intentions were honorable in their attempt to show the world that one could be Christian and smart. Unfortunately the reliance was more on their abilities and the wisdom of the world than on the power of God. The necessity of “meeting our needs,” and “self-esteem” would gradually become the guide and grid through which Scripture would be interpreted by and for the masses of born-again Christians. Maslow’s “peak experience” and “self-esteem” would be primary areas to be advanced in the church.

1 Joyce Milton, The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, Encounter Books (San, Francisco, CA; 2002) 135
2 Joyce Milton, The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, Encounter Books (San, Francisco, CA; 2002) 61-62
3 Joyce Milton, The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, Encounter Books (San, Francisco, CA; 2002) 127
4 Joyce Milton, The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, Encounter Books (San, Francisco, CA; 2002) 172


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