The Abuse of Introspection

Some people dwell so much on their sinfulness that they find themselves constantly bombarding their status with doubt. Am I really a Christian? Am I worthy? These questions are not atypical of those who grow up in environments where internalized Christianity is emphasized. There is a healthy form of self-examination and Paul informs Pastors (II Corinthians 13:5) to encourage parishioners to examine themselves. At the same time, there is a difference between self-examination and introspection that is not often considered.

It is worth mentioning that God cares about our hearts. Out of it can flow the waters of destruction or waters of peace (Ps. 42). The repentant psalmist cries that God would create in him a clean heart, and that God would restore the joy of his salvation. Here again it is important to notice that this salvation has a face, a joyful one.

Martyn-Lloyd Jones wrote that a depressed Christian is not a good apologetic for Christianity. Whether there are physiological components at the root of this depression or not, it is still not a good presentation of the Christian faith. Depression is a form of despising God’s gifts and goodness. All of us are prone to it, and all of us must fight it. Schmemann once wrote that “Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.” Joy is not forced, rather it is the natural outflow of a heart saturated with grace.

But aren’t we all sinners in need of repentance? While Simul Iustus et Peccator is true, we can over-stress the clarity of our sinfulness. I am aware of pastors who declare with great boldness the sinfulness of men without declaring with great boldness the sublime fact of the justification of men through the act of the ascended Messiah. This latter part seems to be missing in our day. The doctrine of total depravity has had the effect of depriving many Christians from a life of common joy lived in the presence of the One who has become our joy. While stressing man’s condition as sinful is important, an over-use of this hermeneutical tactic can lead men and women to live lives of doubt and insecurity.

While we invest time in our spiritual journeys to reflect and examine our lives, and to see if there are any wicked way in our thoughts and actions, we must invest an even greater time nourishing the spiritual magnitude of our status before God. When we live our lives in a constant environment of self-mortification we will mortify not only our flesh, but also our joy.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes in his insightful Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures that “we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end in our life (17).” When the chief end of man becomes self-examination there will always be a temptation to morbidity and spiritual depression. By constantly “putting our souls on a plate and dissecting it” we are showing the world a severe level of insecurity in our union with the reigning and risen Lord.

There are vast implications for all of this. Two examples will suffice to make this point:

First, introspective people–as I hinted earlier–rarely find time for others’ needs.  They have the immensity of their own depraved heart to occupy themselves. I have seen this played out throughout the years and, in fact, I speak from experience. When one delves deeply routinely into the many conspiracies of the heart he will sink in them. The heart is deceitful above all things, even deceiving us to think we only need to dwell in it.  The pastor may encourage his people to examine whether they are loving, desiring, and pursuing God as they should. But if this is the theme of his preaching and pastoral ministry he is building a congregation of morbid purists. This is why–I argue–there is legitimacy to those who call us to look to Jesus (Heb. 12:2). But generally when some call us to look to Jesus, they are in fact calling us to look back to our hearts to see whether we are looking to Jesus. Again, this is problematic and only exacerbating the problem. We do not look to Jesus as a lucky-charm, rather we look to Jesus because we reflect his glory and righteousness. Those who are united to Jesus become like Jesus. Those who worship Jesus become like Jesus. We look to Jesus, so that we move from self-examination to living out our faith with joy, peace, and abundant satisfaction (Ps. 16:11).

Ultimately, introspection is deadly. It is not surprising, then, to see those who walk about with defeatist spirits sporting their defeatist introspective theology.

Secondly, this motif plays out in the Eucharistic life of a church. At this point, I criticize even my own Reformed tradition. Though strongly committed to Reformed truth I am also aware that instead of producing joyful Christians, our tradition produces an army of introspective experts.

This is seen most clearly in the Reformed liturgy. Some churches justify their monthly or quarterly communion by stating that the congregation needs a week or more to examine themselves for the day (usually Sunday evening) of the Lord’s Supper. But what kind of vision are we perpetuating for our people? That the Lord’s Supper depends on our worthiness? That the Supper demands an environment of perfected introspection? That the Supper and somberness are part of the same context?

It is my contention that until we are able to undo the decisively introspective evangelical culture we are going to provide ammunition to non-Christians. We must recover a healthy self-examination, but also a redemptive display of over-abundant joy.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Counseling/Pastoral Issues, Psalms, Puritans, Reformed Theology, Theological Thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Abuse of Introspection

  1. chrisattaway says:

    Great article Uri. I really love Joy. That our Lord wants that for us inspires awe. It inspires well, Joy!

  2. Sarah P. says:

    How does the Christian, who has been living in morbid introspection for years, get out of those habitats of sin and live in the joy and freedom found in Christ?

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