Review: David Powlinson’s “Life Beyond Your Parents’ Mistakes”

by Marie Notcheva ©

David Powlinson is a well-known CCEF counselor, writer and speaker at biblical counseling conferences. Also a member of the Board of ACBC (formerly NANC), he has produced many books, presentations and mini-books on a variety of practical topics. Along with Ed Welch’s writing, I find Powlinson’s material to be extremely helpful…not just as a biblical counselor in training, but for my own personal edification.

CCEF’s publishing arm, New Growth Press, made a download available of Powlinson’s “Life Beyond Your Parents’ Mistakes: The Transforming Power of God’s Love“. In the 32-page booklet, Powlinson deconstructs the Freudian myth that human beings cannot experience God as Father without having had a loving, nurturing father figure. It is just such reasoning that has led to unhealthy dependency on the counselor, which often accompanies psychology-based therapy. This view also promotes the myth that“re-parenting or corrective emotional experience” is needed in order to know God as He is. It also begs the questions Powlinson raises:

“Are there any people with bad parents who have a great relationship with God? Are there any people with good parents who have a rotten view of God?”

Powlinson uses Scripture to counter this man-centric reasoning, which distorts the nature of the human heart and the reasons why people believe lies about God. Seeing God through the lens of an abusive, remote, or disinterested parent denies the power and truth of how God actually works through His Word and Spirit. Axiomatically, insisting that one must first experience a corrective human relationship to believe the reality of God’s fatherly love is essentially to turn Almighty God into an almighty psychotherapist.

It is a sad fact that those of us who had abusive parents (especially of the “religious” variety) often project those images onto the true God. There is a hurt and a betrayal that doesn’t just go away the moment we became Christians, and Powlinson acknowledges this. However, having sinful (or even evil) parents, of course, does not mean God is that way, so why do we often twist our view of God? Powlinson doesn’t let us off so easily – and his clear, compassionate but uncompromisingly biblical angle makes us sit up and listen.

Other titles by which God identifies Himself include King, Shepherd, Master, and Savior. If human equivalents of these descriptions are corrupt, does that influence the way we see God? Not usually. Powlinson writes:

“Clearly, our fallen experience need not control us. Yet for many, the truth that “God is Father” seems to be the exception. They do feel that their knowledge of God the Father is controlled by the earthly parallel. So we turn to the second question: Must your own father dictate the meaning of that phrase until a substitute human father puts a new spin on it?”

This backwards, create-your-own-god philosophy comes from Freud and Erikson, not the Bible, and caters to our sinful tendency to find excuses and reasons for unbelief. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are prone to look for excuses and blame outside ourselves for our false beliefs and sinful behavior.

As with any false belief or assumption, this view of God as remote, severe or capricious must be countered with Scripture itself – the living and active Sword of the Spirit, and the only way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Powlinson points out that we change when we see what God tells us about Himself, as portrayed in Isaiah 49:13-16 (a nurturing Comforter); Psalm 103:10-13 (compassionate Father); and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (gentle, encouraging and comforting Father). Ultimately, the sacrificial love of Christ in coming to die for rebellious children displays the pinnacle of what God’s fatherly love is – an historical fact from which counselees often feel disconnected.

Of course, these are only a very small sample of all the Scriptures revealing God as the perfect Father; one of the specific steps Powlinson recommends the reader take is to go through the Bible, finding specific truths that contend with the lies and cravings he identifies in his thinking about God. “There ought to be a battle going on within you daily as God’s light and love battle your darkness,” he advises.

This booklet is extremely helpful not only in defining the problem, but also in countering it on biblical terms and pointing the reader back towards the only source of truth and help – the Word of God – for the solution. Additionally, in true biblical counselor form, Powlinson leaves the reader with nine well-thought-out, probing questions to work through in order to identify and change warped thinking about God, due to parental abuse or poor relationship. I plan to tackle them myself, and expect it will take me at least three months to fully explore and resolve them. God desires His children to know Him as He is, not to view Him through the warped lens of fallen humanity! This little book is a helpful, convicting resource to help Christians struggling with a “dysfunctional” past not to use that as an excuse to keep God at arm’s length. I highly recommend it for counselors and counselees alike.

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