About 25 years ago professional psychology turned “positive” and I think we can learn something from them in our theology. For decades the field of psychology almost exclusively focused on mental illness but in 1998 the newly elected president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman decided to make Positive Psychology the theme for his term of office. Instead of focusing only on how to help people move out of mental illness, he wanted the profession to also promote well-being and happiness and to focus on what the things are that help people to grow and thrive. The resulting Positive Psychology movement has flourished as they promote strengths and virtues, and produce research on what psychological flourishing and the meaning of life would look like; how one could increase happiness.
The movement has much to contribute to our understanding of life and happiness and I am constantly impressed by the research that this field produces. But we can also learn from them in the Church. I think that a theology than only deals with resolving sin, failures, disappointments and hurts from the past can become a one-sided theology. Dallas Willard in his award-winning book, The Divine Conspiracy called this the gospel of sin management. He suggests that we have replaced the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed with a gospel that only deals with sin. We make an appeal to people to make a decision for salvation so that their sins would be forgiven. This decision has been the focus of our global evangelistic efforts to make sure that people go to heaven when they die.
But Jesus’ gospel was more than a fire-escape from hell. He was appealing to people to become His apprentices, to learn from Him, and to become LIKE Him. While we are so often obsessed with getting people to make a decision, the apostles were obsessed with making disciples. After all, was that not what Jesus’ Great Commandment was all about? “Go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the essence of what we could call a positive theology, a theology that does not ignore sin, or the salvation message that Jesus’ death provided for us. But it is a theology of how to live a life of obedience to the Spirit. It is about developing the character of Christ so that the world can tangibly experience the love of God when they come into contact with us. It is about being a disciple.
At Discipleship Dynamics our passion is getting people to make a more significant decision that is more than just managing the sins of their past. We want people to be disciples of Jesus.
I am a disciple by choice.