Why American Christians Are Losing Their Minds: Part 2

In my last post (found here), I began discussing how the church has followed the culture in losing its mind: Christians do not know what they believe and why they believe it because they have accepted the idea that faith has nothing to do with knowledge.  In this post I will be focusing upon a second reason why Christians have lost and are losing their minds: they are suffering from the “empty self” syndrome just like the culture around them.

The “Empty Self”

American culture has come to accept that life is about the “self.” This obsession with the “self” (i.e., self-centeredness, also known as narcissism) has become so widespread in American culture that psychologists have designated a term for it: the “empty self.”

The “empty self” syndrome has several traits. It is first of all inordinately individualistic.  Americans are consumed with self-interest with little interest of others; they are concerned with their own goals, values, and passions. Empty selves are also infantile, always preoccupied with food, entertainment, sex, physical appearance (e.g., hair style, clothes, shoes, tattoos), and feelings. Things such as hard work and delayed gratification are blasphemous to empty selves.

Empty selves are narcissistic and passive, spending an inordinate amount of time with self-fulfillment by manipulating or allowing others to do things for them. They expect teachers to educate their children for them; restaurants, maids, or schools to cook for them or their children; coaches to teach their kids how to play sports; youth ministers to teach children the faith for them; preachers to know the Bible for them.

Empty selves are also sensate, controlled by images, especially electronic images. They lack interior lives (like the development of discipline, focus, and virtues in general), and they are hurried and busy (looking for noise and things to drown out the deafening inner voice that is screaming for true fulfillment). Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland explains, “Because the empty self has a deep emotional emptiness and hunger, and because it has devised inadequate strategies to fill that emptiness, a frenzied pace of life emerges to keep the pain and emptiness suppressed.”[1]

The “Empty Church”

In many ways the church, unfortunately, has taken on the empty self of the culture—it has become the “empty church.” When it comes to individualistic, narcissistic tendencies, Christians are often not to be out-done. Despite the emphasis at times on divine guidance for the Christian life, Christians are constantly being told in popular publications to find their purpose and to have their “best life now,” right in line with Burger King’s anthem that you can “have it your way, right away.”[2] Preachers often provide a buffet of “how to” sermons for their respective flock to feast on: how to have a better relationship with your children, how to have peace in a life of chaos, and how to have a better marriage. Although such sermons may have some truth in them, such moralizing self-help pep talks are often entirely devoid of coming to the knowledge of God and giving him glory. At the end of the day, Jesus becomes one’s own personal therapist who is there to get us out of trouble when “tough times” come. In other words, God is just a means to self-fulfillment and happiness (however that is defined).

Could it be that one’s “personal relationship with Jesus” has become more about us than Jesus? Theologian Michael Horton has some words that may be worth pondering: “As much as we might talk about a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, there doesn’t actually seem to be much of a relationship at all, except with the self. Confession is good for the soul—that is to say, a form of therapy. Perhaps the result of all this emphasis on my personal relationship with Jesus means, finally, that Jesus really becomes my alter ego.”[3]

It is no wonder, then, why American Christians are losing their minds—that they have little to no idea what they believe and why. They are too focused upon building their own self-esteem than learning about God. Besides, who has time to sit and focus upon the ultimate questions in life, like who God is and what he really wants from his creatures, when life is about seeking self-fulfillment? Just like the culture, Christians run hither and thither from one event to another with their ipads and iphones fused to their hands, ignoring God and the world around them. Life is about us, isn’t it?

No, life is not about us. It is about the Creator of us. If Christians want to obtain true fulfillment, then it is required to know who God is. And to know who God is, we must have theology and even apologetics. The church must love God with all their hearts, strength, and minds (Matt. 22:37). What this means is that the church will need to return to studying, reading Scripture, and meditating on such things. Yes (gasp), engage faith cognitively. When Christians take this step, they will find that it will enable them to to live and experience God more richly. It is past time for the church to put down its widgets and gadgets and contemplate once again the things of God—indeed, to put God first—to worship him and not itself. Of course, this means the church will have to relearn focus, discipline, and study. And, no, there is no “app” for that.

Grace,

Peter Jay Rasor II

Notes:

[1] Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind, 92.

[2] For example, see the popular publications by Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer.

[3] Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 43.

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9 Responses to Why American Christians Are Losing Their Minds: Part 2

  1. Chris LaDuke says:

    Very insightful. Thanks.

  2. Kathy E. Comp says:

    Is there a way for me to get your blog in my gmail inbox? I like what you have to say about biblical illiteracy.

    • prasor says:

      Kathy, at the present time I do not have an RSS feed or otherwise set up. I’m not as savvy when it comes to technology, but I will be attempting such a set up in the near future so you may sign up to receive my blog. Others have inquired about it, too. Thanks for your interest!

  3. Alfred J. Brown says:

    Brilliant analysis. The empty self is the embodiment of post-modern culture (I know we are tired if hearing this term).

  4. Mike Carmen says:

    Peter,

    There is obviously more than one cause to this problem of American Christians losing their minds as there is obviously more than one answer. Reading your article I was reminded of Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind as he discussed similar issues facing America in the 1980’s.

    I do appreciate Christian preachers and authors who help their fellow Christians find answers to the personal problems they face. I have greatly benefited from the ministries of men like Neil Anderson and Charles Stanley in my daily walk with Christ. I do believe, however, that unless we carefully and methodically teach that the Bible address far more than just the resolutions to our personal problems more churches will evolve into centers which teach, as Albert Mohler would say, moralistic therapeutic deism.

    After twenty plus years of ministry I am well aware that many Christians and Christian leaders base their beliefs on what they feel about God and not what they think theologically about God from the Bible. I have seen how this has tragically effected Christians as they try to live their lives independently of the totality of what the Bible has to say about an issue. I have also seen how church leaders have made tragic decisions regarding the theological fitness of men to serve as elders and teachers in the church.

    As we minister into the 21st century I am reminded that one of the foundational principles of Christian education I was taught in Bible College, which was to teach people how the Bible applies to their lives, was very unbalanced and perhaps fundamentally wrong. I certainly do believe in application, but application at every level is what is missing today. I believe it was Ravi Zacharias who said, “The issue is not whether the Bible is relevant to my life. The issue is whether or not I am leading a life that is relevant to the Bible. The Bible is already relevant.” It was also G.K. Chesterton who said we must not only convert lost people to Christ, but Christians to the Christian faith. I really believe that the role of the minister today is also one of an apologist, because his shepherds and flock can be very indoctrinated with scientism, liberal theology, and postmodernism. If we don’t apply the Bible to our understanding of ourselves and the world we really do have only a partial Christian worldview and this can be pretty dangerous in making disciples.

    Mike Carmen
    http://www.apologetics360.com

  5. DT says:

    Yes this was me for the first part of my life.
    Engaging my faith cognitively is what caused me to leave it.
    How is that a solution? Sometimes I think it would be easier to be an ignorant Christian than an aware agnostic.

    • prasor says:

      “DT,”

      I am saddened to hear that engaging your faith intelligently/cognitively led you to disbelief. I have found the opposite to be true for me. The more I have engaged my faith intellectually and rationally, the more convinced I am that God exists and that Christianity is objectively true (factual). In fact, many have experienced the same, e.g., C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, Wiliam Craig, and a host of other Christians. I have actually read and heard of more examples of Christians leaving their faith because they did not engage their faith intellectually. Take for example the many studies over the last few years that show the majority of Christian youth who become atheists or agnostics when they go off to college. In my estimation and others, the reason why so many become atheists is because they have not engaged their faith intelligently, but relied upon emotional experiences. And so once they get to college and are faced with intellectual challenges to their faith, they are weaponless and have no idea why they believe. And they have no idea that the challenges to their faith are just repacked objections from the 1700/1800s that have been answered and shown to be quite weak.

      The question I think you should ponder is, what specifically led you to disbelief? Is there one objection in particular or a host of them? Then, I personally believe that the intellectually responsible action to take is to seek out those who have answered such an objection(s) to belief. I don’t know you personally, but perhaps you have not read works by Christians that can answer your objections. If we are genuine seekers of objective truth (facts), then we will seek out the answers and make conclusions based upon the best possible explanation.

  6. Josh Hicks says:

    Great Articles! Sadly Many churches are moving more and more to the “how to” than to the learning aspect.