The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life by Dan Allender
Paperback; ISBN: 1578563917
Thesis: God even uses hurts to sanctify Christians
Positioning himself in a long line of Christian tradition that seeks to draw Christians onto the “way of life” (i.e. Didache 1:1-2; c.f. Deut. 30:19, Psa. 1:1-2; John 14:6) with promised blessing, healing, and restoration, Dan Allender’s The Healing Path summons doubting, despairing, and disappointed Christians to embrace these downfalls as God’s strange tools of healing along the path of faith, hope and love.1
In essence, Dr. Allender seeks to give Christians a grand change in perspective: instead of being controlled by the devastating effects of the Fall, Christians are to see how God is controlling even the fallen world (with all of its hurts, lost dreams, devastations, etc.) in such a way as to invite them into His glorious joy, if believers will only see their lives from His perspective. In mode, Dan’s book is a cry for restoring human dignity.
Through his creative, playful, and engaging writing one cannot help but feel Allender’s keen awareness of both the majesty of human dignity created in God’s image and the devastation of sin’s defacing that magnificent dignity.2 And it is in this crux of devastation, an overwhelming tension between what is and what was supposed to be, that Dan challenges his readers to live with holy discontent. He wants Christians to see that God restores our dignity-He makes us more human; He gives us back the dignity that humanity lost (and continues to deface).3 And further, Dr. Allender attempts to take us by the hand to show us how God gives humanity back its dignity amidst the brokenness of life.4
With this goal in mind Dan speaks to the inner parts of the heart, wooing readers to the risk of hope with evocative and earthy illustrations that put into words the heartfelt desires for redemption that are often difficult to communicate on one’s own.. He whets Christians’ palette with the taste of glory. This book is most helpful in peeling back the lid if your heart and guiding you into the dark crevices, both revealing the brokenness and hurt and then helping you to find language to express the strange pains on your insides. In other words, The Healing Path is a useful aid in learning the grammar of the human soul.
As good as Allender’s book is in terms of understanding one’s own heart, however, it evidences some serious weaknesses in terms of explaining how one finds and treads God’s healing path.
Critique: Without the objective accomplishment of salvation by Christ as the robust foundation for the application of Christ’s benefits, one risks subjectivity and Pelagianism
As necessary and useful as it is to learn how to diagnose the hurts in one’s own soul, the subjective application of Christianity’s redemption is powerless without first being robustly connected to Christ’s objective accomplishment of redemption. The one is not possible without the other. There is one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5); all of the benefits of redemption are bound up in Christ’s person and work (Eph. 1:3) before being applied as gifts to Christ’s people (Eph. 2:8-10). Therefore, it is incorrect and misleading to invite Christians onto the healing path in order to receive the benefits of redemption without drawing believers’ faith onto the accomplished work of the Mediator.
In other words, the danger of Allender’s work is not one of saying untrue things about the application of redemption, but of not clearly giving the whole story, the accomplishment in Christ before the application to believers, the objective and the subjective. This theological deficiency reveals itself time and again in Dr. Allender’s practical applications. Notice, for example, how a lack of clarity on the objective work of Christ accomplished in history on behalf of the elect leads to a confusing, Pelagian-like exhortation to meet God half-way with open arms:
Opening the heart to face the complexity of living in this world requires waiting for truth to come to us. We are to move toward reality, but we can’t go the whole distance; truth must come to us. We are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, but change-profound, unquestionably supernatural transformation-comes not from our will, but from God’s mercy. We must stretch out our arms to life, but God arrives when he wills.5
The exhortation to “stretch out our arms to life” in the tension of the fact that “God arrives when he wills”–a description of the application of redemption to a world not yet totally renewed–only makes sense in terms of one who knows he is already an adopted son of God through Christ’s objective accomplishment of salvation for him. Without this objective work, the believer has no reason to wait in hope and no ability to stretch out his arms (Romans 3).
Furthermore, in terms of redemption accomplished, believers do not have to “wait for truth to come” because Truth Himself (John 14:6) has already come in Christ both in His own person and work and in His outpouring of His Spirit on all believers (i.e. Joel 2, Acts 2). “Supernatural transformation” depends wholly on God’s work accomplished in Christ objectively, in real history 2,000 years ago, being now applied by the same Mediator, our Great High Priest whose subjective application of mercy to us is grounded in His objective work (Hebrews).
Going directly to subjective application of Christ’s benefits without referring to the objective accomplishment of Christ’s earning salvation is what causes the Pelagian confusion: without the objective work of Christ believers are awash in a world of subjectivity, having no hope that Christ will “show up” or “lean into our situation” as Allender likes to say.
Another place reveals the same Pelagian proclivity. Dr. Allender again attempts to apply the benefits of sanctification directly to believers without any reference to Christ as the sanctifier of His people, the objective (outward and ordinary, WSC 88) means of grace God has given for our sanctification, etc:
We all want to change, but change requires a herculean effort that seldom brings the immediate benefits needed to reinforce the initial cost and disruption change entails. The formula for change seems to be: high cost today–no gain for a long, long, time; high gain in the distant future–if one perseveres daily in hope.6
Again, rather than pointing his readers first to Christ’s coming down to earth to accomplish the salvation and sanctification of His people and to Christ’s ascending to the throne of heaven to be vindicated as Lord of Heaven and Earth and to give as gifts the benefits of salvation to His children (gifts including sanctification), Dr. Allender points his readers to themselves with a vague exhortation that “reaching out to eternity is to live with an unquenchable hope, refusing to resign to being as we are in the world as it is.”7
This exhortation turns the Scriptural pattern on its head. For, in the Scriptures, God (eternity) comes to man on God’s own initiative and through God’s appointed Mediator; this pattern is seen most clearly in God’s sending His Son as the incarnate Christ (John 1; 3:16). God only sees His children through the lens (as it were) of the Mediator. And as it is with God, so with man: God’s children only see God in the face of Christ. It follows, then, that applying God’s benefits to man must come via the Mediator.
Dangerous Subjectivism: Faith = Memory
Dr. Allender’s penchant for subjectivism (a failure to show how the objective work of God’s Mediator relates to the subjective application of redemption) is dangerously clear in one striking passage in which he grounds faith completely on the believers subjective memory rather than in God’s gift (Eph. 2:8). Notice how this dangerous subjectivising move kills any chance for a believer to know (contra John 17:3; 21:24; 1 John 5:13) that the objective Christ did empty Himself, taking on flesh for the accomplishment of our redemption in real time and space:
The external world and our internal gyroscope are never so clear that we have absolute assurance that a personal God is at work redeeming us. Instead, we have a gallery of pictures-a wall of remembrance that holds the faces of the actors in our lives who spoke their part in the play of our redemption.8
Nothing but a “gallery of pictures” in our own minds? This strong subjectivity is foreign–yea an offense–to the Christian Gospel as proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures. For in the Scriptures salvation is everywhere rooted in God’s objective work in Christ; salvation depends wholly on Christ’s work outside of me, not my memory of that work inside my own head. Read 1 Corinthians 15! Without this objective work outside of me there is no salvation to be applied to me! “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”9
Still a helpful book if read critically
Such examples of Dr. Allender’s skipping over the objective work of Christ to directly apply the subjective benefits of Salvation abound in this book, and the discerning Christian reader will not want to skim lightly over this shortcoming. Furthermore, much more could be said on issues that stem from this root problem, such as Dan’s misguided approach to ecclesiology.10 Nevertheless, in spite of these strong concerns Dr. Allender has given Christians a book that can be of great use, especially in terms of learning the grammar of the soul, as long as the reader engages this soul-reading activity with one eye fixed firmly on the objective work of God’s only Mediator between God and man, our strong Saviour, Jesus Christ.
1. Preface, x.
2. I.e. pp. 54ff.
3. “Christians don’t seem to grasp that the goal of redemption is to make us more human. Instead, we labor to be superhuman and lose what makes us more like Jesus-our humanity” (194).
4. “I will never, never be fully God, but by taking the healing path I can become more and more like Jesus by becoming more human” (ibid.)
5. P. 38.
6. Pp. 74-75.
7. P. 75.
8. P. 115.
9. 1 Corinthians 15:14 (ESV).
10. For example, Dr. Allender, a professional psychologist (neither a pastor nor a theologian) prescribes an ecclesiological view that downplays the spirituality of the church, blends general and special office, has no use of the means of grace, etc. etc. (see chapter 12). His ecclesiological view is thus misguided in that he makes no reference to the spiritual weapons that God has prescribed for the church with which to fight its spiritual holy war: preaching of the Word of Christ, administrating Christ’s sacraments, and enforcing Christ’s discipline.