The Therapeutic and The Emerging Church


I wrote the following email this morning:

Dr. Lee,

Not sure if you remember me, but I took your class with Dr. Balswick a couple years back…. my wife, Sarah, was the receptionist at SOP for about a year when we were in Pasadena.

Anyway, we’re now in Cincinnati, OH and are part of the leadership of Vineyard Central ( We’re a network of house churches… more or less an “emerging church” by the current definition (at least according to Ryan Bolger’s/Eddie Gibbs’ upcoming book).

On my way to work this morning I was thinking about some of the leadership struggles we have in our church and my mind landed on the discussions from our class and your book, Beyond Family Values. Even as our community is counter-cultural to much of typical American Evangelicalism and while we value (and practice) things like a holistic life, simple living, and community – I still find that we have deep undercurrents of the therapeutic (and consumerism and individualism, but therapeutic comes to mind the most prominent at present).

I plan to go back and re-read your book, but I wanted to send an email to say thanks for this insight and for what you teach. And to ask a question – how do you perceive these three factors playing themselves out uniquely in the emerging church scene – in as much as it is different from other expressions of church in the US? And (this is the real kicker for me) how do we in this emerging context move beyond the prisons of assumptions that these three dynamics seem to hold us in?

If you have time to engage in dialogue about this I would very grateful.

Many Blessings
I hope he is able to respond and offer some insight (I’ll share it if he does). I think this stuff is pandemic – deeply effecting and infecting all that we do as a church, both locally and more broadly.

Here’s the book – Beyond Family Values: A Call to Christian Virtue, by Cameron Lee. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.)

Here’s a quote:
“I suggest that our contemporary American culture is dominated by three types of moral discourse, each imposing its own inherent logic: the language of individual rights, the language of the consumer market-place and the language of psychotherapy. Such is the case both inside and outside the church: the three languages become mingled in practice and in some case replace the biblical narratives as the functional moral logic of today’s Christians.” (pp. 12-13) (pulled from a review of the book – here)

I’m beginning to become convinced that much of our underlying problems in our church stem from these three prevailing issues. We have deeply come to expect the church to be our therapist, our provider of religious/spiritual goods and services, and the great defender of our Ultimate Right to be an autonomous individual, a “beautiful or unique snowflake” (thank Tyler Durden). We are in desperate need for a Narrative Intervention of the Biblical variety and scale.

In the words of Father Creech, “We are parts of one another. That should say it all. Know at all times that you were not created to be alone, to act alone or to exist only for yourself. Recognize the Body. Always consciously see yourself as a part of that whole. This community is the every-day tangible expression of that Body for us. It is where we live out our union with Christ.”


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