by Debbie Dewart, MA

All over the country, women are emerging en masse to attend the “Outrageous Joy” conferences sponsored by Women of Faith. Nearly twenty thousand turned out for the September 1999 event at the Anaheim Pond, with another fifteen hundred viewing videos in overflow rooms at local churches. The names sound inviting and innocuous. After all, as believers we have real reason to rejoice over our promised heavenly inheritance, even when devastating trials tear through our lives (1 Peter 1:6-7). Christian women are indeed “woman of faith,” faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But titles can be deceiving. Lurking behind the scenes is a big, powerful industry that wreaks havoc in today’s church: “Christian” psychotherapy. Steve Arterburn, founder of New Life Clinics, is the mastermind behind these round-the-country events. The psychological undercurrent is hardly hidden, as both New Life Clinics and Remuda Ranch have displays and representatives advertising their allegedly “biblical” programs of psychotherapy, in-patient and out-patient. New Life Clinics are scattered all over the United States, claiming to offer therapy that is biblically grounded. Remuda Ranch, located near Phoenix, Arizona, offers intensive psychological treatment programs for women suffering from bulimia and anorexia.

“Anorexic Christianity.” Perhaps it is modern Christianity that suffers from “anorexia.” The writer to the Hebrew compares God’s Word to physical nourishment, admonishing his readers that by now they should be ready for the “solid food” of that Word, moving on from the “milk” of baby Christians (Hebrews 5:13-14). Paul wrote to Timothy that he had been “nourished” in the words of faith and sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). Today’s church, sadly, is malnourished, starving for that sound doctrine. Speakers at “Outrageous Joy” briefly noted a verse here and there, but the presentation was primarily entertainment directed toward the senses. There was no intellectual stimulation, no intensive teaching from any text of Scripture, and no mention of sin, repentance, or man’s depravity as presented in the Bible. It seems that the real “anorexia” is the appalling lack of biblical nourishment in today’s church. Instead of sound doctrine, believers are fed the “junk food” of contemporary psychotherapy, couched in Christian terminology that deceives the unwary.

Where in the world is the church? It is hard not to ask WHY so many thousands of woman are compelled to battle crowds and traffic in search of “outrageous joy,” competing for autographs and time with a few select “celebrity” Christian women. Where are the women of the church? Whatever happened to the book of Titus, where Paul instructs the older women to teach the younger women to follow God’s Word? I couldn’t help but think of my dear friend Beverly, my “big sister,” diagnosed four years ago with colon cancer. I’ll never forget the day I stopped by to give her my love just prior to her first surgery. She was on the phone, cheerfully telling a friend that “God will use this for good.” Then she was making a list of people she could pray for during her recovery, and she wanted to know, “What can I put down for you?” [Who, me? You’re having cancer surgery and you want to pray for me?!]

Four years and three surgeries later, this dear lady has two tumors in her lung and is on her fourth round of chemotherapy. But her “outrageous joy,” in a truly biblical sense (James 1:2-4), never ceases to amaze those who love her. Beverly has never seen a psychotherapist in her life, but she has immersed herself in God’s Word. Her “outer man” may be decaying, but her “inner man” is being renewed day by day, so that she never loses heart (2 Corinthians 4:16). There’s something about actually watching a godly woman walk through a trial, week after week, year after year, that can’t be captured in a thirty-minute speech on stage by a person you don’t know and may never see again. Where are the women of the church? Why are so many women, thousands of them, rushing to a conference to seek what they ought to be finding in their local churches?

“Unconditional love” versus condemnation. The underlying conference theme is God’s “unconditional love.” The general presupposition is that most of us feel unworthy of that love. God’s love, of course, is a key truth that runs throughout Scripture. But to understand and appreciate that amazing love, we must first be confronted with the reality and horror of sin. When the prophet Isaiah realized that he was in the presence of a holy, righteous God (Isaiah 6), he was terrified. In fact, he literally stated that he was “damned.” God restored the man and sent him out on a prophetic mission, but not once did He tell the prophet that he was “worthy.” God has provided atonement for our sin, satisfying divine justice. The gravity of man’s sin and depravity is precisely what makes God’s love so awesome. When modern speakers shrink back from the mention of sin, exalting God’s love while neglecting His holiness, they actually diminish the intensity of divine love. If we were truly “worthy” of God’s love, it would hardly be worth all the fuss. It is the fact that we are unworthy, that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), that makes God’s love so incredible.

One of the speakers (Barbara Johnson) talked about her discovery (in 1975) that her 20-year-old son was a homosexual. After she had condemned him, he disappeared from his family for about eleven years before a reunion occurred. The speaker said nothing about homosexuality being a sin and nothing as to whether her son continues to practice this sin. She now maintains a ministry to parents of homosexual children (Spatula), but she picks and chooses the verses of Scripture that are acceptable for that ministry. Texts describing homosexuality as an “abomination” are quietly discarded, while Scriptures that talk about God’s love are the ones she presents. But people need the whole counsel of God. It is wonderfully true that there is now “no condemnation” to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Nevertheless, homosexuality is a sin, an abomination in the eyes of God. We are to respond to homosexuals as we would to any other sinners, with love, gentleness, and humility. We are called to restore those entangled in any sin, whether it be homosexuality or something else (Galatians 6:1). Compassionate ministry doesn’t mean that we overlook or redefine sin, but rather that we act with humility in view of the fact that we are all sinners, equal at the foot of the cross (Romans 3:23).

Casting out the moneychangers? When Jesus found merchants buying and selling in God’s holy temple, He immediately cast them out. Today’s current buzzword phrase seems to be: “What would Jesus do?” I can’t help but wonder, indeed, what He would do at the “Outrageous Joy” conference. Twenty thousand women paid approximately $50 each to attend, and there were fifteen hundred in overflow areas paying $25 each. Do the math; it adds up to well over a million dollars! Every speaker had a table selling books and/or tapes. Women of Faith sold t-shirts and other conference souvenirs. New Life Clinics and Remuda Ranch offered high-priced “professional counseling” to replace the free Word of God (Isaiah 55:1-2). What would Jesus do? Would He cast out these moneychangers?

This conference was surely something of a mixture. The psychological undercurrent was sometimes unmistakable, as when Sheila Walsh described her journey to the psychiatric hospital to be treated for “clinical” depression. It seems, for her, that life began after psychotherapy even though she trusted the Lord as a young child. Speaker/comedienne Chondra Pierce never mentioned psychotherapy, but offered an encouraging testimony about how her mother praised and trusted God despite the death of two daughters and desertion by her husband. On the whole, the presentation was one designed to appeal to the senses, with little biblical depth and a not-so-subtle enticement to seek answers in psychotherapy.

(PAL V7N6)