The New York Times on “How People Change”

Posted by Pastor J.D. on December 4, 2012
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I ran across a New York Times article this week by David Brooks entitled “How People Change.” This is a fascinating little op-ed piece that reflects what gospel-centered people already know—you cannot change a person by telling them to ‘be better.’

Brooks talks about a now infamous email that British father Nick Crews sent to his adult children, berating them for their poor life choices. The email, which was recently released to the public by one of Crews’ daughters, has been colloquially termed the “Crews Missile.” The term fits, as the tone of the email is downright scathing. “If it wasn’t for [my grandchildren],” Crews writes, “I would not be too concerned as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashed from one cock-up to the next. . . . I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.”

As Brooks comments, the email has been received by many with delight. “Many parents are apparently delighted that someone finally had the gumption to give at least one set of overprivileged slackers a well-deserved kick in the pants.” The problem, though, is that people don’t change by being told that they don’t measure up. Tirades like this might be emotionally satisfying, but they aren’t effective.

As Brooks writes, “People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape.” Or to use theological language, we don’t keep on sinning because we don’t know what’s right. We keep on sinning because we love sin.

Not surprisingly, Brooks doesn’t end his article with a gospel proclamation. At least not completely. But he does close by reminding his readers that the most effective way to engender change is not by “bludgeoning bad behavior” but by “changing the underlying context.” In many ways, this is what the gospel does. The gospel is not a message to “go and do,” but a message that salvation has already been done. The underlying context has been changed. We are changed not by being told what we need to do for God, but by hearing the news about what He has done for us.

 

Pastor J.D.

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J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

4 responses to The New York Times on “How People Change”

  1. Paul David Tripp and Timothy Lane wrote a book entitled HOW PEOPLE CHANGE. They believe people can change, but it is only through the power of the gospel that the deepest heart change happens. It is an excellent book on the topic of change.

  2. Thanks for your insights on this matter of change. I’m a marriage & family therapist in private practice and I can confirm that rebuking and shaming do not bring change. In Ephesians 3 Paul prays for the church, longing that they would get a glimpse, a taste, of what Paul himself knew and had experienced– a astonishing love that surpasses all comprehension that “you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.”

    Paul is saying if you and I really understood how much we are loved by God it would be life-transforming. Paul experienced and understood the profundity of God’s grace and love and it radically changed his life (and world history). It is demonstrated again in Victor Hugo’s character Jean Valjean, the convict who receives undeserved mercy from the bishop, who then responds by being a champion for generosity and mercy himself.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Sparks for Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | Ponder Anew - December 5, 2012

    [...] How People Change (Brief Article) J. D. Greear (Brief Article) [...]

  2. Destinations « Luggaged - December 5, 2012

    [...] J.D. Greear interacts with a New York Times article about how people change. He hears and echo of the Gospel in the Times piece. Here is the concluding paragraph: Not surprisingly, Brooks doesn’t end his article with a gospel proclamation. At least not completely. But he does close by reminding his readers that the most effective way to engender change is not by “bludgeoning bad behavior” but by “changing the underlying context.” In many ways, this is what the gospel does. The gospel is not a message to “go and do,” but a message that salvation has already been done. The underlying context has been changed. We are changed not by being told what we need to do for God, but by hearing the news about what He has done for us. [...]

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