Analysis Paralysis, part ii

January 7, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

[Kris says:  This is part ii of some thoughts I had about a bunch of teachings I listened to the other day.  You can access part i here, where you will find links to sound files of the teachings, as well as PDFs of accompanying handouts.]

As I listened to several of these teachings yesterday, I was also struck by something else, one particular theme that came up again and again.

The theme?

The continual exhortations to “seek wise counsel” for (seemingly) every decision.

OK, before you start pelting me with all the Proverbs that praise wisdom and good advice, let me say this:  I am not knocking “wise counsel.”  I believe the Bible supports the idea of looking to the wise and godly people in our lives and asking them for their input.

But, that being said, I also think it’s interesting how so many of the Sovereign Grace Ministries teachings I’ve listened to put so much emphasis on seeking advice from others…

…even as all the Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors would also be quick to condemn “fear of man” as a sin.

When analyzing anything that comes out of SGM – whether we’re talking about decisions made by leadership or concepts taught by pastors – I think it can be very interesting to start by examining the ultimate effects of a decision or teaching.  So, let’s look at the possible results of SGM’s heavy emphasis on “seeking wise counsel” – especially when juxtaposed against the idea that making decisions based upon what other people might think of us (i.e. “the fear of man”) is sinful.

First of all, I think we need to figure out precisely where SGM pastors would say “wise counsel” comes from.  Who are the “wise” people to whom members should turn for “counsel”?  Certainly not just anyone would be considered “wise” by SGM pastors.  I think we can safely guess that SGM pastors would say “wise counsel” would need to come from someone who shares a commitment to the “local” (i.e. SGM) church.  And from there, it’s not a huge leap in logic to infer that in the SGM pastor’s mind, “wise counsel” would come from people who are living “wisely” as SGM pastors would define “wise”…which would then mean that “wise counsel” would come from those who are doing things the way that SGM pastors believe they should be done.

So, in their exhortations to people to “seek wise counsel” when faced with decisions, the logical outcome of this wisdom-seeking process is that the seeker is going to be advised to choose the same things that SGM pastors – or, at the very least, most other SGMers – have chosen. 

And, wouldn’t it also be nearly impossible for the seeker to not cave to the (according to SGM teachings) sinful “fear of man” when considering how to handle the advice he has been given?  After all, if the seeker chooses to disregard the “wise counsel” he receives, wouldn’t he then risk being labeled by his “wise counselors” (who are oftentimes his SGM pastors) as “proud” or “unteachable”?

How does that work, exactly?  How does someone habitually “seek wise counsel” while faithfully following his own Holy Spirit-led convictions…but while NOT falling prey either to conformity motivated out of concern for what other people might think (the “fear of man”) or getting labeled as “proud” and “unteachable”? 

After pondering these questions, I can’t help but wonder if all the “lifestyle” teachings really serve some larger purposes, one of which might be cultural homogeneity within Sovereign Grace Ministries.  After all, no matter how many disclaimers they utter to the contrary, unless SGM pastors want people to make roughly the same kinds of choices, there’s really no reason for teaching specifics about how to make those choices.  When you factor in how they continually urge people to “seek wise counsel,” and when you consider the likelihood of what that “wise counsel” will typically turn out to be, it seems like a surefire formula for practically guaranteeing that anyone who listens to his SGM pastors will eventually end up living like his SGM pastors would think people should live.

Another of these larger purposes, I think, just might be training people to be unable to make decisions and think for themselves.  If you are taught repeatedly that “truly godly” people must “seek wise counsel” when making lifestyle choices, and that you cannot depend upon your own sinful heart and sin-addled perceptions to guide you to make good decisions, you will eventually reach a place of “analysis paralysis.”  You will not have any confidence in what your own eyes and ears are telling you.  Instead, you will feel compelled to ask others – your pastors, or those whom you know your pastors think are “wise” – for their input.

Additionally, being trained to “seek wise counsel” at every turn can cause people to develop a lack of boundaries.  While I realize that the notion of “boundaries” (that we are individuals, separate from one another, and that it is healthy and good to maintain some sense of our individuality and our independent standing before God, even as we love each other and serve God together as the Body of Christ) is one which is often scorned within SGM as the product of “modern psychology,” it nonetheless remains true that even Jesus Himself had his inner circle of closer confidantes.  Jesus did not “let it all hang out” with all of His followers…least of all, His mother and brothers!  And nowhere does the Bible tell us that we are supposed to go around sharing every last one of our problems, struggles, and sins with everybody, even our Christian parents.

We can especially see this weird lack of boundaries in what SGM advocates as the ideal relationship between parent and teen or young-adult “child.”  Parents are taught within SGM to expect their children to remain totally and completely emotionally naked in front of them, at their command, well into the child’s later teens (and even into adulthood).  Parents are taught to train their children to seek – and, more importantly, heedall parental “wise counsel.”  If a twentysomething SGM “kid” decides to disregard his parents’ “wise counsel,” he definitely runs the risk of being deemed in sinful rebellion.

Certainly any sane and level-headed thinking person can see the problems inherent in teaching people to expect to have no psychological boundaries with one another.  It’s not hard to see the pitfalls that lurk beneath the expectation that the “truly godly” person will always seek and follow “wise counsel” from other believers.

But, let’s move away from this “dangerous” area of psychology, and instead turn to Scripture.

What’s especially interesting to keep in mind is how all the admonitions to “seek wise counsel” appear in light of the fact that there are few – if any – places in the New Testament where we are told to do that.  Although of course the Proverbs singing the praises of wise counsel remain true, could it be possible that since we now have the indwelling Holy Spirit, maybe our focus should be less on following what other people tell us and more on listening to God for ourselves? 

Was Paul always telling the Corinthians or the Ephesians to ask other Christians for advice?  Did he remind the church at Philippi to send all their questions his way…or make sure to hit up their elders for direction about what to do?

Consider James 1:5, which says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”  Notice, this New Testament instruction does NOT say, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him seek wise counsel from the guys in your church.”  Matter of fact, although I’m still looking, I haven’t found ANY place in the New Testament where we are commanded to consult with other people before making decisions in areas of our lives where the Bible gives us freedom to choose according to our personal convictions.

So, all of this is to say, I find SGM’s “lifestyle” teachings confusing – and contradictory – on many levels. 

First, as I said in the previous post, these classes, seminars, and sermons are obviously tacitly unnecessary.  They are typically served up to audiences who are already in basic agreement with the principles being taught..and very often (even according to the pastors themselves) already doing the things being taught, thereby negating the pastors’ overstatements about the urgency of whatever crises they’re purporting to address.  Secondly, even as the pastors claim they’re not telling people that certain choices are spiritually superior to other choices, it becomes clear by the end of most of these teachings that the pastors themselves hold to obvious convictions which (if you’re wise) you will then feel compelled to duplicate.

Thirdly, the very process of “seeking wise counsel” – which SGMers are told to do at every juncture – almost demands a certain level of succumbing to the “fear of man”…which SGM pastors then turn around and label a “sin” in other contexts.

I don’t know about you, but just thinking about all of this makes me tired.  What’s your opinion?  Does anybody else find this element of SGM life – the multitude of teachings about lifestyle choices – as confusing and exhausting as I do?

© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.