Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hogwash, Bad Hermeneutics and Psychology (with a bit of poison in the Kool Aid as an added bonus)

Here's a pop quiz for the Bible scholars in our audience:
Identify where this verse talks about your emotional needs . . .

Ephesians 5:33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

What's wrong? Couldn't do it? You may just need to be less theologically strict in your interpretive methods.

The pastor of a Southern Baptist church in my area can help you. Attendance at his church is around 5,500. In a recent sermon titled "What a Man Needs", this pastor stated the following:

"God has wired a man in such a way that his greatest emotional need is respect."

The preacher builds his thesis on the following logic:

P1 God's primary command to a wife is to respect her husband.
P2 God's primary command to a husband is to love his wife.
C Therefore, a wife's primary emotional need is love. and a husband's primary emotional need is respect.

The implied reasoning: we can define a person's emotional needs by the commands God gives to others.

This sounds sensible enough in our cozy, americanized, pop-psychology-influenced church culture. But there might be a few problems to consider before we drink too much of the Kool Aid . . .

This type of thinking is drawn directly from the "Hierarchy of Human Needs" developed by atheist/humanist Abraham Maslow. This hierarchy is a primary resource that is used extensively by psychologists - including many who call themselves Christians and market their books to the Church.

I'm curious, what exactly is an "emotional need?" Aren't emotions a response of the body-and-mind to internal and external circumstances? Do I need to feel a particular way? What do my emotions have to do with a command from God to my wife?

I'm not saying emotions aren't powerful and important (they certainly are), but I question the very idea that "needs" can be attached to them. Our feelings can't be directly controlled by us, but they can be influenced and eventually changed by our thinking, and by our circumstances (whether relational or incidental). God's commands are meant to teach us how to think and what to do. They're not meant to ascribe needs to our fluctuating emotions.

So what is meant by the idea that I have an "emotional need" for respect that can only be met if my wife behaves a certain way? Does it mean I lack something essential simply because my circumstances aren't ideal? What happened to the teaching that Christ is the One who meets my needs? Why is the burden of my emotional stability placed on my wife's shoulders? Why is she manipulated into obedience by my ever-changing feelings? And where does God say marriage is about meeting each others' emotional needs? I thought it was a picture of Christ and the Church? What need does He have for my respect? Isn't it my role to glorify Him by my obedience and service, without regard to my feelings at any given moment?

Ephesians 5 contains many straightforward commands, but no list or description of anyone's needs. These needs exist only in the mind of the preacher. It's the same kind of self-focused, reverse-logic hermeneutic that drives a preacher who should know better to say, "the command to love your neighbor as yourself means you can't love others until you love yourself." In this way Christ's clear command, "love your neighbor," is turned on its head and made into a murky admonition to "love yourself." May God have mercy on us, and forgive us for sending people on a futile quest for more self-love. It's like looking for water in an ocean. God is calling out to us, saying, "Come up on shore, come out of that briny, turbulent sea of self-love, and draw freely from my refreshing artesian wells. Then share my water with others. Sure, you're going to smell like salt for awhile, and you may even find yourself body surfing in that unsatisfying sea water. But once you've tasted fresh water you'll know the difference and you'll long for what satisfies your thirst. You'll become more like Me and learn to delight in serving others rather than yourself." Meanwhile, culturally blinded pastors are pushing their flocks further out to sea, with promises of fulfillment for those who dive deeper into the illustrious love of self.

There's nothing inherently wrong with emotions. There's nothing inherently wrong with desiring respect or love from others. There's nothing at all wrong with the the kind of self-love that causes one to turn away from evil. But there is something very wrong with twisting the commandments of God into psycho-babble and failing to declare the truth as it is found in the text. There is something desperately wrong when church leaders validate the idolization of desires, the deification of feelings, the shifty blame game of invented emotional "needs" and the manipulation of a spouse through this world's hollow and deceptive philosophy. The Word of God should not be turned into humanistic drivel.

We're all loaded with emotional desires - this is what drives most of my struggles with sin, I think. I want something to happen, I want to be treated a certain
way, I want to have a feeling of significance and pride, I want to be appreciated and esteemed by others - and I'm willing to go against God's directives to get these things. To call these desires "needs" is both dangerous and unbiblical. Normal human desires very quickly turn into idolized demands, and this doesn't qualify them as needs. It makes them SINFUL God-replacements.

Recently, I've had numerous discussions with various people about nouthetic counseling and psychology. Nouthetic counseling isn't perfect. But in my experience, pastors who are influenced by the nouthetic approach don't fall for all of this psychologized Scripture twisting. They teach the commands and promises of God, not the self-focused idolatry of made-up "needs."

I'd suggest the following alternative to eisegetically reading emotional needs into the text.

P1 God's primary command to a wife is to respect her husband.
P2 God's primary command to a husband is to love his wife.
C Therefore, the best way to glorify God in the role of a husband is to love your wife; and the best way to glorify God in the role of a wife is to respect your husband.

After all, this is why we're here, isn't it?

A nice byproduct of glorifying God in this way is . . . your spouse will probably be more emotionally healthy and satisfied in the relationship. Both of you will enjoy marriage more. But let's not ever make this the focal point. Let's keep the focus right where God has it: ON HIS GLORY.

I must love my wife as Christ loved the church - without regard to her respect for me or my feelings about her behavior - because this glorifies God. I must do this out of love for God, and love for her, and in response to His love, and not for my own selfish ends. Isn't this the kind of love that moved Christ to the cross?


  1. Derek,

    I'm not sure if you're referring to Emerson Eggerichs or his book "Love and Respect" but I'll make a few observations assuming that the pastor you mentioned is at least in some way influenced by Eggerichs. I could be way off base in my assumptions, and way off base in the observations I'm about to make, so feel free to correct me.

    Generally speaking, I don't like most of the popular Christian books on marriage, for some of the very reasons that you've listed here. My wife, however, does. We've talked about our disagreements, and on many issues have agreed to disagree.

    I say all that to say this. She's wanted me to read "Love and Respect" for several years, but I've firmly declined. Then a few months ago one of the couples in our church started a class on the book. My wife wanted to go, and I agreed. We're only about halfway through the book at this point.

    Despite my reservations I've found the book to be fair and helpful, even though there are serious hermeneutical flaws in it, as you've pointed out. That hasn't prevented my wife and I both from benefitting from it immensely, though. Among other things, I've realized why I do some of the things I do and have been able to repent and experience a measure of authentic change.

    With that background, I want to ask a simple question. Is it really accurate to say that we only have emotional desires, but not emotional needs?

    You said (and I agree): "We're all loaded with emotional desires - this is what drives most of my struggles with sin, I think. I want something to happen, I want to be treated a certain way, I want to have a feeling of significance and pride, I want to be appreciated and esteemed by others - and I'm willing to go against God's directives to get these things." But is it accurate to carry that a step further and say that none of those desires are also legitimate needs?

    The Bible acknowledges the fact that we have a variety of different types of needs---practical and material (Matt. 6, Phil. 4, James 2, etc.), as well as spiritual (Hebrews 4:16). And although 1 Cor. 7 doesn't use the language of need in its discussion of sex, it seems to me that the concept of need is clearly present. We are, in fact, in many ways a needy people. Although I can't think of any direct biblical reference to emotional needs, I think it's fair to say that since we are not merely physical or spiritual beings, but emotional beings as well, we all have some emotional needs.

    The question then becomes one of how we go about meeting the various needs we have. Some means of meeting our needs are legitimate, others aren't. We aren't permitted to steal in order to have something to eat, even though we need food; or to create gods of our own making in order to satisfy our innate need to worship.

    Commendably, the focus in Eggerichs' teaching is not on how to get your own needs met, but on meeting the needs of your spouse regardless of whether your needs are met. Big difference, and very helpful.

    Eggerichs does an exceptionally good job of taking away every possible excuse that a woman might give for not respecting here husband, and a man might give for not loving his wife. A failure on the part of one spouse is, in no case, justification for even the slightest disobedience on the part of the other.

    Sorry this is so long, and not particularly well developed, since I haven't thought through all of these issues as well as I should. I just wanted to throw this out there for your comment.

    Thanks, brother.

  2. Barry,

    Thanks for your comment, and the background story. I didn't necessarily have Eggerichs in mind here, and don't know much about him - other than having heard him on Dobson's program years ago. I was commenting more on pastors who parrot the teachings of Christian psychology and read them into the text instead of drawing out the Biblical meaning. That replaces the Word with human teachings.

    Eggerichs is to be commended for teaching on emotional needs without leaving room for excuses and blaming. Unfortunately, some others in the world of popular Christian psychology teach that one's emotional needs must be met before one can be healthy enough to show love to others. That's a very pernicious teaching!

    Your question about and brief argument for the existence of emotional needs is very much to the point. I've been planning to follow up on this post with another, which will attempt to define what a need is and what emotions are. You've hinted at the direction I'm going - BUT - I reject the idea of emotional needs based on two things: the definition of "need" and the purpose of emotions. Lots more I could say here, but I'll save it for later . . .

    In the meantime, I should add that I appreciate much of the practical advice given by non-nouthetic counselors. Some of them are very good at counseling, and very effective at helping people. I don't question their sincerity and their desire to serve God. It's the unbiblical advice that inevitably gets mixed in that I find most troubling, and on Biblical grounds I disagree sharply with their foundational premises and the underlying influences behind their teachings. But none of that stops them from bringing some good things to the table, in my view. It's discernment that is most "needed" in these matters.

    Stay tuned for more . . .

    Grace & peace,

  3. Thanks for the response, Derek. I look forward to reading your follow-up post. Blessings!

  4. if the manner in which the church uses this psychology is that people demand others meet their 'needs' then they place themselves in dangerous position of being easily manipulated emotionally or getting upset based upon whether or not they think others are meeting their 'needs'. but if people take responsibility for themselves and focus upon what they need to be doing such as loving the wife or respecting others, then the focus is not on what others are doing but upon what i am doing. so i'm in full agreement with your observation that the church can greatly misuse this psychology. and it appears that we would even agree upon one's own relation with self as far as responsiblity is concerned. where we might differ is in the theological basis of the nature and capacities of man

  5. JD,

    Nice to hear from you, my friend. Thanks for your comment. You make some great points here.

    I don't doubt that we would disagree on the nature and capacities of man, and that's okay. One really big purpose of THEOparadox is to encourage searching of the Scriptures, and to viewing them as entirely sufficient and reliable. I'd bet you are doing just that.



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