Along with Darwin and Marx, Sigmund Freud was one of the great shapers of the modern world. This was not exactly a stellar accomplishment when we consider the inchoate shapelessness of the modern world, but it was an accomplishment after a fashion. This remains the case even though his system as a system is now out of favor — but there remains one element of his teaching that is with us still, and we will get there in a minute. For you November junkies, the outrageous stuff will be a bit further down. I have to set the stage first.
Just as people tinker with Darwin, but a naturalistic understanding of origins is now accepted as the received wisdom, so Freud has left a lasting mark. Just as people still mess around the edges of doctrinaire Marxism, but the modern world nevertheless has internalized the idea that everybody else’s stuff is somehow in the communal pot, and up for grabs in principle, so also Freud is with us still.
And so here it is. Freud taught that guilt was an inescapable part of the human condition. This guilt was not objective, meaning that it had no reference to God, for God did not exist in Freud’s system. But given man’s prehistoric antecedents, it was a subjective reality that was ineradicable. Nothing whatever could be done to remove this guilt, but analysis could help someone to understand it a bit better. And that understanding might make it a little easier to bear. So, as the joke went, with analysis, Van Gogh would still have cut off his ear, but he would have understood why he did.
So then, Darwin, Marx and Freud, a triumvirate of nonsense. We have from them a naturalistic account of origins, a naturalistic account of ownership, and a naturalistic account of guilt. My interest here is with that doctrine of ineradicable guilt.
Forgiveness Versus Coping
Ultimately, there are only two approaches that can be taken with guilt, the Christian and the pagan. The first approach is to forgive it, which means there has to be some basis for the forgiveness, some sort of gospel, and the guilt has to be objective and personal, a function of a relationship between persons.
The second approach is to try to cope with it in some way, to struggle along somehow.
In the first approach, the guilt is dealt with because it is just clean gone. In the second, the guilt can be shuffled or moved around a little bit, but it is always present, always there. Not only so, but in societies given over to pagan assumptions, as ours has been given over, this guilt grows and accumulates until we are all living next to these vast reservoirs of guilt. The more people live as though there were no transcendent reality, the more they feel free to lie, and fornicate, and steal, and murder their offspring, and so year after year, the reservoirs grown in magnitude.
Forgiveness can deal with this, if only the gospel is preached, but coping is harder — because every year there is more to cope with, and the lies that have to be told are more and more transparent.
Now it is the glory of the Christian gospel that it proclaims free and sovereign forgiveness to the worst of sinners. There is no upper limit on how much sin God can wash away. God can take a blaspheming and insolent man, a persecutor with blood on his hands, and transform him into an apostle to the Gentiles, using him over the course of decades to write the majority of the New Testament. This has to be paid for, of course, but it is never paid for by the forgiven sinner. The redemption price was the blood sacrifice of Christ on the tree. As the hymn puts it, Jesus paid it all.
In contrast, whenever the great mass of people are left to “cope” with their guilt, this opens up an opportunity for others to step forward to help “manage” the guilt. One man’s need to cope is another man’s opportunity to manipulate. Therapy is just another name for such manipulating. People who are guilty are fearful, and ashamed, and cowed, and craven, and above all else, easily steered.
Although the Christian gospel is a message of free grace, whenever it gets corrupted, as it did in the medieval period prior to the Reformation, somebody figures out a way to monetize it. And once they monetized it, and were selling tickets out of Purgatory like they were carnival barkers, the same thing happens. Whenever grace is mixed with anything else, it ruins the whole. The name grace may still be there, but the potency of thing itself is gone.
In order to be grace at all, it must be free grace. In order to be grace at all, it must be sovereign grace. In order to be grace at all, it must be unilateral grace. It must be undeserved, unearned, unmerited, and unwanted. God must reach down and do it all.
Such free grace is the foe of soul-tyrants everywhere, because free grace strikes off the chains that the soul-tyrants love to use.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
Rom. 1:16 (KJV)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Rom. 8:1 (KJV)
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Gal. 5:1 (KJV)
But What Happens to Christians When Churches Don’t Preach Gospel
A church is not protected from the “winds of doctrine” just because the pastor goes to shiny Reformed conferences, and even spoke at one once. A church is not protected because they proudly insist on their commitment to inerrancy. All their women deacons hold to inerrancy also.
The evangelical establishment in North America, and I am talking about the conservative side of it, over the last half century established a Maginot Line conservatism, with a lot of really scary looking inerrancy bunkers. This line was built as though there was no way for the woke Nazis to just go around through Belgium.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive”
Ephesians 4:14 (KJV)
But in our time, the evangelical establishment has blown over in the face of every wind of doctrine. You name it, our leaders have collapsed before every wind of doctrine that has come along. There just needs to be the slight breeze of a lie, and over they go. You name it, and they fall for it. Our stalwart leaders fell for the Black Lies Matter nonsense. They fell for the #MeToo business. They acted as though it were a good thing to be woke. They fell for the mask mandates. They didn’t fire people who were manifestly asking for it. They went along with draconian lock downs, like so many moo cows. They whitewashed the Revoice business.
There needs to be a changing of the guard pretty soon, before there is nothing left to guard. I am talking about the leadership of the PCA and the SBC and all the conference circuits in between.
But I am not talking about political differences I might have with them. I am talking about their refusal to apply gospel to the glaring lies of the day, their refusal to inoculate the saints against those lies. And the only way to do that is through inculcating a message of wild, untamed, sovereign, free, and unfettered grace.
When free grace is not understood by preachers, and hence not proclaimed by them, and hence not understood by the people, what happens? The widespread acceptance of this tenet from Freud outside the church seeps into the church. The doctrine of inescapable guilt bears a superficial resemblance to the Christian doctrine of original sin, and so people are easily fooled. And people with a Calvinistic background think that they are simply acknowledging the fact of our depravity, but that is not what it is at all.
The difference is stark. The first is a message that you are a bundle of brokenness, and that you need a handler, or interpreter, or a therapist to accompany you at all times so that you might realize your (permanent) position. The second is a message that you were a rebel, guilty of the worst crimes imaginable, but that the God against whom you rebelled sent His Son to die in your place so that you could walk away from all your objective guilt a free man.
Make no mistake, there is a true scandal here. Can a rapist be forgiven? Yes. A murderer? Yes. A racial bigot? Yes. A white supremacist? Yes. A black thug? Yes. An abortionist? Yes. A thief? Yes. A race hustler? Yes. Freely and totally and entirely forgiven, all of them. Like it never happened.
You mean to say that someone who was openly dedicated to white supremacy, and who was heavily invested in it, can just repent and call on the Lord? And that’s it? And he is no longer complicit, no longer guilty, no longer under condemnation? Yes. Exactly so. But if people can just be forgiven for sins like that, how shall we keep the hooks in? How can we continue to monetize our projects? How is Kyle Howard supposed to make a living? Have you ever thought of that? Answer me that.
This offer of free grace includes, incidentally, those Christian leaders who have compromised their positions of responsibility in order to play footsie with the woke crowd. But if God were to forgive you, oh great conference speaker, for having given away the store, it wouldn’t be the first time. The apostle Peter gave away the store and worse, with curses, and he was restored.
You can be restored also, but you have to stop repeating lies.
Cover Your Face
What do you do when you are ashamed? You cover your face. Why did so many Christians instantly capitulate when they were commanded (by tyrants) to cover up their faces? They complied so readily because they were already deeply ashamed of themselves. Unforgiven men do not know how to stand up straight. They crawl.
They did this because in the churches that they attend, sin has not gone away. Sin hasn’t gone away, but the gospel has.
Show me a picture of a thousand Christians all lined up in their masks. I do not see a thousand brain surgeons about to go into surgery in order to save the life of another in an act of dedicated selflessness. No, I see a thousand cowed Christians, sheepish and ashamed of themselves, preparing themselves for what it might take for them to survive a Biden presidency. Survival at all costs! The motto of 21sts century North American martyrs!
COVID is a metaphor for sin and guilt. It is invisible and weighs on everybody, and it wrecks everything, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. And the masks are a metaphor for the uselessness of all human solutions to this pervasive sense of guilt. The only thing left for you to do is yell at maskless strangers in parking lots because you envy them their freedom.
Cowards don’t like feeling like cowards, and men still have a deep need to feel righteous, to feel courageous, to feel like they are moral paragons. This is why societies that live on the banks of these vast reservoirs of guilt go on periodic and spasmodic moralistic crusades. They are going to save the rain forests. They are going to eliminate teen-aged smoking. They are going to fight racism. They are going to look down on those benighted Trump voters. They are going to bring in living wages and affordable housing, and they are going to do it all without a lick of economic sense.
The problem with these crusading social justice advocates is that they don’t know what the word social means, and they don’t know what the word justice means. Other than that, everything is fine. Apart from a biblical understanding of Genesis, there is no such thing as social cohesion, and apart from a biblical understanding of Exodus through Deuteronomy, there is no such thing as justice. If you want social justice, ask a theonomist. Everybody else is just posturing.
Make no mistake. Cancel culture was beta tested in the church first. Cancel culture only works because Christians have already accommodated themselves to it. Christian men won’t stand up to tyrants because they forgot how to stand up to anybody. Churches have been practicing “let’s not offend anybody” for a long time now. It began with Christian men not standing up to Christian women. It began with Christian women coming to believe that they somehow had the right to never be disturbed by anything that the Christian men might say or do. But it turns out that men who don’t know how to be disturbing anymore are largely useless as protectors.
Francis Schaeffer once said that the problem with Christians is that they saw things in bits and pieces, instead of seeing things as “wholes.” And so here it is. If you are a pastor, or Christian leader, or an elder, or a husband, or a father, and you do not see all the crazy elements of this last year or so as one, monumental lie, you will not be able to do your job. All of it. The lock downs. The masks. The riots. The scandals. The election. The controversies. The cancellations. All of these are guilt rivers emptying into the guilt reservoirs.
And there you have the only real alternatives. It is either guilt or it is grace.