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Have you noticed how often mental health is now referenced by celebrities, sports figures, and politicians? 

Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #108 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.

For a while now, reaching back at least into the COVID experience, I’ve noticed that mental health seems to have taken center stage, particularly among the young. Sports figures like Olympics swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps, Japanese professional tennis player Naomi Osaka, and Olympic gymnastics star Simone Biles have all revealed struggles with what they called mental health issues. 

Actor Elizabeth Olsen addressed her mental health struggles, which she only experienced when she was living in New York at age 21. "I remember I would get [panic attacks] on the hour every hour," Olsen recalled. "I used to live on 13th Street between 6th and 7th. I was crossing 6th Avenue at 14th Street, and I realized I couldn't cross the street — I stood up against the wall, and I just thought I was going to drop dead at any moment."

Singer Selena Gomez, said, “Last year, I was suffering mentally and emotionally, and I wasn't able to stay all that kept together. I wasn't able to hold a smile or to keep things normal…It felt like all of my pain and anxiety washed over me all at once and it was one of the scariest moments of my life.”

These athletes and entertainers are people in peak physical condition, in their 20s and 30s, and they live with considerable resources and access to entire entourages of support. Yet they have struggled with mental health issues.

Of course, fame and fortune are no barriers to stress, emotional traumas, depression, and tragedy. I understand that these people are just human beings like the rest of us, and in no way am I expressing disrespect or making light of them or their struggles. I recognize, too, that mental health issues are real, and that people can experience an extensive variety of mental challenges, some rooted in their own earlier choices and behaviors, some traced to sources of no fault of their own, e.g., difficult a family upbringing or physiological imbalances. Whether Nature or Nurture, we live in a fallen world and many things can contribute to mental ill-health.

While my heart goes out to anyone struggling with mental health issues, I wonder why there is a significant increase of this challenge in the US, especially among female and also wealthier adolescents: mood swings, psychological distress, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, suicide-related outcomes, psychosis symptoms. Some say this is happening due to loneliness or frightening current events or social media isolation or drugs. In the U.S., this phenomenon is being called a mental health crisis.

I am also concerned when I hear Christian leaders, churches, or Christian ministries talk about mental health as the primary goal of their ministries. This is a relatively new thing, religious organizations suppressing, let’s call it spiritual vocabulary, in favor of psychological vocabulary, medicalizing spiritual issues. Theology is replaced by therapy.

This watering down trend that trades theology for therapy is part of a larger DIY religioun movement in the US – described with a ten-dollar phrase, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

The term, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism was first introduced in the 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by the sociologist Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton. The authors coined the term to “describe the (religious) system as being ‘about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherent’ as opposed to being about things like ‘repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering…’ and further as ‘belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs – especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved.’

The authors state that ‘a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

A church has become therapeutic if the gospel is reduced, and reducible, to the premises and vocabulary, concepts and recommendations of therapy. A therapeutic church does not speak of sin, judgment, guilt, shame, wrath, hell, repentance, punishment, suffering, crucifixion, deliverance, salvation, Satan, demons, exorcism, and so forth.

It takes most or all of these to be in need of translation or elimination: the latter, because they are outmoded or harmful to mental health; the former, because they are applicable to contemporary life but only in psychological, not spiritual, terms. A therapeutic church speaks instead, therefore, of wellness, health, toxicity, self-care, harm, safety, balance, affirmation, holding space, and being well-adjusted.”

“The question is not whether mental health is real (it is), whether medication is sometimes worth prescribing (it is), or whether therapy can be helpful (it can be). The question is whether mental health is convertible with spiritual health. The question, that is, is whether the work of therapy is synonymous with the work of the gospel; whether the task of the counselor is one and the same as that of the pastor. Answer: It is not.”

The “therapeutic church is atheist because it has lost its raison d’être: it preaches a gospel without God.”

“A therapeutic church has, in way, lost its nerve. It simply does not believe what it says it believes, what it is supposed to be preaching. It does not believe that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is the best possible news on planet earth, meant for every soul under heaven. It does not believe that the problems of people today, as at all times, have their final answer and ultimate fulfillment in the Word made flesh. Or, to the extent that it does believe this, it is scared to say so, because the folks in the pews do not want to hear that. They want to be affirmed in their identities, in their desires, in their blemishes and failures and foibles. They do not want to be judged by God. They do not want to be told they need saving by God.  They do not want to learn that their plight is so dire that the God who created the universe had to die for their sins on a cross. They want to be told: I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay—so long as we accept our imperfections and refuse the siren songs of guilt and shame. They want, in a word, to be heard, to be seen, and to be accepted just as they are.”

But “God is not a therapist, and his principal goal in Christ is not to ensure a high degree of mental health in the context of a larger successful venture in upper-middle class professional/family life. God, rather, is in the business of holiness.”

“Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily…Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith. This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.”

According to the veteran researcher (George) Barna, ‘Practitioners of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are not anti-religion or anti-Christianity. They just are not willing to surrender themselves to authentic Christianity’s demands—or to believe that a real faith would even make such demands of them.’”

“As Barna noted, ‘It seems that most of these folks want to do the right thing; they simply have been led down the wrong paths toward achieving that end.’”

The “therapeutic gospel concerns itself with people’s ‘felt needs’: for love, significance, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-assertion, pleasure, and excitement. The therapeutic gospel gives people what they want. It makes them feel better—at least temporarily. It centers around the welfare of man and temporal happiness. But…it discards the glory of God in Christ. It forfeits the narrow, difficult road that brings deep human flourishing and eternal joy…(Yet it is) the gospel of Jesus Christ brings change through repentance, faith, and transformation into the image of the Son.”

Therapy asks us to change ourselves, something we cannot do.

Theology provides a way through the Word for God to change us.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3).


Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s 

And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.

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