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I don’t always compose follow-up posts, but, in this case, I think further elaboration and clarification are in order. In my “qualified defense” of therapeutic Christianity, I utilized Christian Smith’s and Melinda Denton’s 2005 book Soul Searching to highlight the debates in evangelicalism and the need for those in the Wesleyan tradition to take seriously those debates while also standing their ground on therapeutic Christianity, because therapeutic Christianity is part of the Christian tradition. I also suggested that Wesleyans should take seriously Reformed criticisms because of the tendency in this post-Freudian environment to reduce discipleship to modern psychology.

I wanted to point out that their use of the adjective therapeutic is not entirely helpful as it complicates the discussion of therapeutic Christianity within the tradition. Part of this is no doubt due to a host of overlapping terms such as happiness, emotion, desire, passions, affections, the soul, etc. This was not to claim that Smith and Denton equated the tradition of therapeutic Christianity with their understanding of “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD). I fault myself for not being sufficiently clear on this point.

In referencing therapeutic Christianity in Christian tradition, I used terms like emotion and desire to capture something of the breadth of Christian vocabulary on the psychological movements within the human person and as generic descriptors for what is surely a quite complicated set of terms and ideas. The problem for those of us speaking of these maters today is that different writers in the Christian tradition use technical expressions for these terms. As a brief example, there are three Latin translations (pertubatio, affectio/affectus, passio) for the Greek term path?, and this does not begin to address the various terms for love, desire, and will.

How are we to render such vocabulary into English? Should we go back to the eighteenth-century vocabulary of affections that John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards preferred or the seventeenth-century French vocabulary of sentiment that Pascal utilized to describe the heart’s reasons? Or, should we simply stick with emotion, which came into common usage in the nineteenth century and now dominates the English landscape? There are no easy choices here. The challenge is that the very terms this tradition employs to describe the interior life of the person correspond to terms used in English today with their own set of meanings.

When Smith and Denton utilize similar vocabulary, it complicates theological debates and discussions within evangelicalism in my view, whether they meant to or not. I tend to think it is one reason why certain Reformed criticisms get leveled at the Wesleyan tradition. I might add that it complicates any catechesis that relies upon common, non-technical English to hit its mark.

The point behind this complicated vocabulary in the tradition is to suggest that there are motions within the soul and body that unite them. Fundamental human drives and appetites give rise to desires and emotions that can be ordered or disordered depending upon how they become integrated and directed by the human person. Since all human persons share a diseased or sinful condition, this means that their desires and emotions grow in disordered ways and thus require grace as the medicine to cure the soul. Ultimately, this grace is the power of the Spirit whose love issues forth in the erotic movement of charity toward its ultimate end. The Spirit launches Christ’s arrow of love into the heart simultaneously piercing and softening it so that the desires and emotions can begin to flow rightly. Such is the essence of regeneration from which the therapy of the soul begins.

As challenging as sifting through this vocabulary is, it is worth it for Wesleyans. A recovery of holiness requires going back to the tradition of therapeutic Christianity and showing how this tradition is manifested in the Wesleyan emphasis. Moreover, the Wesleyan tradition can contribute to the broader discussion of sexuality occurring today if it will renew its understanding of holy living, not in mere behavioral terms, but in terms of moderated and ordered emotions and desires that beautify the soul and so perfect the human person. It can begin to recover the idea that desire and emotion are the womb or tinderbox of sinful behavior and how sanctification concerns the continuous re-ordering of that very desire and emotion. Such re-ordering occurs as an extension of the flight of eros to the infinite when in the ecstatic embrace of an encounter with God the soul is transformed and given wings, which are nothing less than the rectifying of the soul’s desires toward their heavenly home. This flight occurs at the altar, the place of the soul’s death to self, whether it be the high altar of the Eucharist or the low altar of the mourner’s bench, or, better yet, both. As Phoebe Palmer put it, one must throw oneself entirely upon the altar to become entirely sanctified.

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