When Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free,” he meant it. Writers, preachers, and speakers should wise up: Every time you deliver God’s truth, you have the potential to unlock emotional chains in your hearer’s heart. A skilled Christian Communicator weds good theology with healthy psychology. That’s not an argument for shallow preaching, or an excuse to regurgitate pop psychology. It’s a recognition that redemption is an ongoing process of setting people free through Christ and his truth — especially from chains they didn’t realize they had.
- If you preach to the head only, you become a dry, academic lecturer and create an audience of theological snobs and condescending doctrinal critics.
- If you preach to the heart only, you become a manipulative puppet-master and create an audience of spiritual adrenaline-junkies… salivating for their next worship-high.
- If you preach truth to the head even as you apply it to the heart, you set people free to become all God called them to be. And sincere seekers will flock to your message.
Here are five questions to keep asking if you want to serve up books and talks that set people free:
- What lies about God does my audience believe?
God is better than and bigger than your audience believes. Let them walk away from your work inspired by God’s ability, God’s sovereignty, God’s providence, and God’s care. Unless your arguments unleash God from the lies your hearers believe — by celebrating his attributes, promises, names, character, works, and abilities — they will walk away unchanged and still trapped in the unhappiness defective theology inevitably brings. Even if you psyched them up with temporary razzle dazzle.
- How does my message untwist my distorted view of my identity in Christ?
Who am I? I am who God says I am, not who my crazy parents or schoolyard bullies convinced me I am. As a fledgling pastor, an aged Gandalf in my life named Lance B. Latham (founder of Awana), told me “Teach them their riches in Christ.” I took that to heart. There is, inside of every Christian, a radiant, Christ-shaped IDENTITY eager to emerge. That self is powerful, rich, and free. But it’s crusted over by the devil’s lies. Good theology peels away those lies, and let the new creation fly free.
- What is God’s duty and the believer’s privilege?
Here is my heart’s passion: to reverse the epidemic of legalism in today’s Christian messaging. Repeat after me: The primary duty lies with God. The primary duty lies with God. The primary duty lies with God. And yet… almost every sermon, and nearly every Christian best-seller, shouts forth the duty of ME. I’d be the last one to deny Christian duty, but our proportions are dysfunctionally out of whack. If you want to heal people remind them of how God has obligated himself to bless, to provide, to protect, to go to war for, and to shower his love upon them in each and every situation. This is how theology heals psychology.
- What super-power does my message promise that my audience needs to seize?
Remember the little phrase, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”? Sing it. Write it. Tell it. Explain it. Develop a reputation as a speaker/preacher/writer who ENABLES your audience. Inspire them to lay hold of their divine privileges and to sally forth to slay their dragons.
- Where’s the grace?
You’re not ready to communicate a truth until you see the grace in it. Is grace offered? Resisted? Explained? Illustrated? Snubbed? Defied? Distorted? Denied? Embraced? Applied? Unless you show how God’s never-failing supply, presence, work, gifts, and love apply in each specific situation, you’ll morph into nothing but Oprah with a little Jesus sprinkled on top.
Theology heals psychology, if we will let it. In our sex-saturated, parentally-starved, narcissistic, dysfunctional, fearful culture, those who bear the mantel of a Christian Communicator need to focus ninety percent of our “practical applications” on unravelling the web of lies and installing a matrix of truth in our audience’s heart and mind, so they possess the INNER resources to live as God intended. Let us faithfully communicate Christ and him crucified — and all the beautiful truths that radiate from him — as the only Savior who sets people free.
I’d love to interact with you on this. How has theology healed psychology for you? How has theology been used to damage psychology? In the Christian messaging you’ve been exposed to, what share of the “duty” lies with you? with God?