Go Heretical – in the good way

American Christianity needs to let therapeutic ‘believing’ die in order to move forward and impact the world.

A therapeutic form of ‘believing’ is not about individual doctrines or particular answers to any of those age-old questions of existence or the faith. In fact one could be a therapeutic conservative or progressive Christian. It is not about a collection of ideas that are assented too but one particular shape believing took in light of modernity. Therapeutic belief is about the existential shape of one’s faith and not (primarily) about its particular content.

Therapeutic Christianity takes the ‘as is’ structure of our world, church, and self off the table and asks ‘how can we as function better as individuals? How can we make our world a bit better than we found it?’

My assertion is that therapeutic Christianity became a possibility because of modernity’s secularizing trends and ended up being the religious ally to the very structures whose outcomes threaten life on our planet in the next 100 years. Should the church retain its therapeutic form of life, its professed connection to Christ will continue to become incredulous.MP900405058

Prior to modernity God was necessary and determinative in the West’s account of reality. One couldn’t talk about what it means to be individuals, communities, biological or economic beings without God. In fact all reality was perceived as a cohesive whole with God at the top of the Great Chain of Being.

During the Enlightenment the progress of science disenchanted the world, taking God’s necessity for the World’s enduring existence off the table. The Nation-State and eventually democratic forms that privileged the individual’s voting conscience came to determine humanity’s political arrangements and our economic relations came to be determined by the market. These were not of course the only non-religious social relations that came to hold sway in modernity, but more than the religious loss of interpretive authority was the conscious awareness of religious plurality…and not just all the new types of Protestantism!

Under these conditions in which religion lost its ability to be identified as the shared organizing structure to society, the ubiquitous sacred canopy, or the culturally assumed ‘given’ for life and as such religion had to reposition itself. Though religion ceased to hold authority in reality, it did come up with all sorts of theological justifications for the minimization of its authority. These theological mythologies about the divine origin of ‘democratic freedom,’ for example, enabled the religious faithful in turn to be faithful to other life-determining structures as though they were of God.

Rendering the story of modernity this way serves to highlight both the origin and shape of therapeutic Christianity.

Therapeutic Christianity originated along with global capitalism, the Nation-State, and democracy and has functioned in such a way that its practitioners assumed these three structures into their faith.

These three historical and contingent structures which mediate our social relations, determine the possibilities for life and the means by which power is exercised and distributed are understood (at least in practice) as final. Our age is the age of fine tuning the fruits of humanity’s social evolution. Our ministry as a church is to help its members be good people (citizens? consumers?), advocate for a slightly more benevolent system (regulations? rights? redistribution?) and care for its victims.

The problem is that the world can’t take another 100 years where the followers of Jesus put more faith in the ‘as is’ political, economic, and ecological arrangement than our inherited religious beliefs.

  • Yes there are many Christians who use their faith therapeutically as a security blanket and need to be honest about their genuine doubts;
  • Yes too many leaders just say what everyone wants to hear, performing belief on the behalf of others, so that serious questions never get raised;
  • Yes much religion has become a marketable means to comfort and console human beings looking to ignore suffering, responsibility and the absence of meaning.

But underneath the hidden doubts the ‘postmodern’ and ‘progressive’ types are letting come up for air are some strong and unquestioned beliefs about the finality of our human and ecological relations.

Perhaps the most problematic belief in Christianity isn’t the inerrancy of scripture, strict Calvinism, religious exclusivism or ‘open but not affirming.’ What if the future of life on our planet is most threatened by our unconscious blind faith to the ‘as is’ assumptions integral to therapeutic Christianity? More importantly, what if Christianity freed from its role atop the symbolic chain of Being can take another form that doesn’t assume the ‘as is’ structures of our suicidal machine are final and is even more Jesuanic (that is a nerdy form of Jesusy!)?

Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians were an eschatological people. The apocalyptic prophet was crucified and through the event of the resurrection the church came to see the first fruits of New Creation breaking through in the present order. The eschatological breakthrough made the divinely gifted future of Creation present.

Said a different way, the kingdom made present in the ministry of Jesus became the permanent coming horizon of each and every moment through the resurrection. The resurrection of the cross-dead Jesus was God’s confrontation of each and every inherited structure and assumption about the world as it is with the prophetic critique and eschatological hope of New Creation’s ‘will be.’

The resurrection then and now proclaims to every present order that they are not final. Each time a disciple prays the prayer Jesus taught they pray for God’s kingdom to come and will be done on earth, they are participating in the genuine ‘will be’ structure of Christian existence. The shape of a faith formed in the God’s promise of what will be is far from therapeutic. It cannot assume our present ‘as is’ structure is final. Even while recognizing the progress made through the advent of democracies, nation-states, and capitalism, a Christian cannot assume that this is the best our world can get.

A Christian can’t relegate faith making it a particular means to cultivate a kinder, gentler, and slightly improved version of the world we are handed. If we are honest about our global situation we know we can’t. In letting a therapeutic faith die it is my hope that the church stop pleading the 5th or silently affirming our world as it is and find its prophetic voice again. We must insist that humanity can dream and create a more just and equitable way of relating as peoples and to our planet. We can do better.

What is needed are more Christian heretics. Christians for whom their previously assumed and unquestioned allegiance to Global Capitalism is as shaken as their ability to talk about original sin. We need heretical Christian communities where in our worship, devotion, and living our unquestioned fidelity to a utilitarian and mechanistic relation to Creation is rejected. Heretical Christians and a Prophetic Christianity are actually interesting, as in I would gladly get up on Sunday morning to be a part of that community. It is making claims for itself and our world in response to God’s promise in Christ.

A Christianity given shape by what ‘will be’ can never be content with what already is and that is exciting. It is inspiring.


You can hear more about Therapeutic Christianity in contrast to both Prophetic and Messianic version of Christianity in the this week’s TNT Call-In Special on the church and the world . 

If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts,
there are two ways you can support our work.
glassdimly like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I agree with everything in this article, it's awesome.

Except the formulation of heresy. I say we need to blaspheme the gods of global capitalism, not paint ourselves as heretics. But to cede orthodoxy to the heretics who espouse therapeutic pseudo-religion is more than I can stomach.

When we paint ourselves as heretics, we LOSE. While actually, God's victory over the world is sure and incoming. When we recognize the temporariness of the world, we are orthodox, not heretic.

This is not an inconsequential framing. Orthodox means we are in line with the crucified prophet Christ. It's not very postmodern, but postmodernity is a conceit of a decadent age that cannot understand the end of time because it lives in the eternally consuming present that is the consciousness of the empire that of global capitalism.

We need to recover our prophetic tradition in **accordance with the Scriptures.** That is, as orthodox Christians. The struggle for "orthodox," is really a struggle for who will carry forth the legacy of the crucified prophet Jesus Christ. And that's a struggle worth dying form


Hear hear!  It seems to be cool and trendy to call ourselves "heretics" these days and I don't get it.  But "orthodox" doesn't mean "popular" it means right.  Either "right teaching" (from the Latin) or "right worship" (from the Greek).  I'm sure there is MUCH about my beliefs and my worship that are not right ... but I don't know which elements are incorrect.  And I'm trying to be right.

Risking Godwin's Rule, there were lots and lots of heretics running around in 1930s Germany.  Bonhoeffer went against the flow.  That didn't mean Bonhoeffer was heretical, it meant the other folks were.

There are plenty of good ways to be unpopular.  There are lots of good ways to be prophetic.  (There are also ways to convince yourself you're being prophetic when in actuality you're just being an ass.  But that's a different conversation.)  There are no good ways to be heretical.

(Okay, when Tripp challenges Chalcedon, okay that's probably heretical.  Stop that, Tripp.  But that's a very different conversation than what we're having here.)


This isn't calling for heresy it's calling for reform.  And bring it, I say.  Reformed and always in need of reformation.  We need prophets.  We need reformers.  Always have and always will.

But words have meanings and there is nothing good about heresy.  Or apostasy.  Schism may in rare instances be necessary but is always tragic.


(And if I seem POd now you should see me go off when people talk about a rich chocolate dessert as "sinfully delicious."  Words have meanings.  Sin is not yummy like chocolate.  Sin is bad stuff.)

BoSanders moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@glassdimly LOVE the shift to blaspheme! I will be borrowing that just FYI -Bo 

glassdimly like.author.displayName 1 Like

@BoSanders @glassdimly Thank you. I really think it changes the focus towards the true problem: the seductive power of anonymous consumerism and global capital.

joebumbulis like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@glassdimlyThis is a great post Tripp.  

I don't think we lose if we paint ourselves as heretics. In a way, the "rise of the nones" is the rise of the most religious people who are forsaking the "as is" power structures of therapeutic Christianity to live in the world differently. I know the "nones" get a bad wrap for being individualistic, consumer spiritualists (as if there are none of those in churches), but they are also leaving because of the type of formation orthodox spirituality/religion creates in them and in the community. 

We need people who are on the fringes or edges of orthodoxy standing with the disavowed declaring that the status quo of christianity is no longer viable. To claim heretical christianity is to step outside the hegemonic framework that allows and supports the suicidal cycles of orthodoxy and declare disruption when orthodoxy is standing at the gates declaring "peace, peace when there is no peace." 


@joebumbulis @glassdimly The margins are not the place for the prophet. The prophet stands at the center of God's will, and tells the church that it is they who stand at the margins of God's will. Doesn't sound very postmodern, does it?

I don't think too highly of the spiritual/political witness of the nones, though many of my friends are nones, because their witness lacks coherence. They lack instititutions or the unity to build institutions. Most of my most prescient friends cannot envision salvation outside of a re-configuration of culture, politics, and wealth.  Moral relativism and partisan or identity politics crushes the cogency of movements formed outside the walls of a unifying faith declaration. Either that or, groups find identity simply in some inarticulate aspect of the American identity, like pluralism.

Movements create a new orthodoxy, they reclaim orthodoxy. Nobody joins a "movement of one" in which one is consigned to be a perpetual heretic unless one sees oneself ultimately within the will of the Creator God. And we're back to the beginning of this small post: the prophet stands in the center of orthodoxy, of the will of God.

David Miller
David Miller

@glassdimly @joebumbulis I don't see being on the fringes of orthodoxy and being in the center of God's will as mutually exclusive, in the same way that I don't see being in the center of orthodoxy as the same thing as being in the center of God's will.

BryanJensen like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@glassdimly - I posted this to a small Facebook group in which I participate where we occasionally muse on the signs we see of a post-postmodern age. I'll also respond here because you've piqued my interest.

"Encountered this comment on the article...— a confession of a thinker of a post-postmodern age, framed in the thought structure of reclaiming orthodoxy. What intrigues me most is the idea that it is orthodox (big-O, little-o?) to live in the existential awareness of the finality of our age, expressed as "the end of time".

"Orthodox means we are in line with the crucified prophet Christ. It's not very postmodern, but postmodernity is a conceit of a decadent age that cannot understand the end of time because it lives in the eternally consuming present that is the consciousness of the empire...of global capitalism."


  1. […] from low church to high ( I may have even just committed it! read on…). Unlike Tripp’s recent advocation of a healthy form of heresy, this one is all bad, a blot on the whole Christian […]

  2. […] The form of Christ in all its diversity and depth is always trying to get itself known and shown.  Who would ever want to limit that?  Certainly not God, right?  Only a narrow, un-universalized reading of the creeds and the great church tradition could warrant a restrictivist or exclusivist view of salvation.  This is the big mistake made by popular preachers and authors like David Platt and Francis Chan (see this video, for example), I believe, who, despite their welcomed challenge for American Christians to embrace the call of discipleship more seriously, have really thrown the baby out with the bath water when it comes to their understanding of the meaning of salvation and how non-Christians might receive it.  It would really help Christian leaders like Platt, Chan and others if they would recognize a distinction between the historical Jesus on the one hand and the cosmic Christ, or second person of the Trinity, on the other.  Instead though, theirs remains a black and white, individualist understanding of the good news reverting back to early stages of faith development, and I think that, despite the admirable and genuine zeal and fervor, they’re stuck in a form of therapeutic Christianity.   […]