Monday, May 09, 2005

Felt Needs & Desperate Needs

Over the last couple of months our community has been sharing God's love and His Kingdom with a man who has been heavily involved in the "under-culture" of drugs and crime. The "kick-proof" doors on his house aren't there to keep the criminal element out, but to keep the police from getting in before the drugs can be flushed.

In the last three weeks, in separate incidents, three of his associates have been arrested on his property, for drug possession and driving a stolen vehicle. Last week, two of his "friends" were involved in a police chase that included the attempted murder of three officers, the theft of two vehicles, and ended with the death of a woman who was a passenger when the high speed chase ended in a head-on collision.

This man has been finding Jesus . . . which leads me to think about the whole 'felt needs" discussion. Generally I don't like the felt needs approach because it often transforms God into "a means for my own agenda." The needs people "feel" are generally totally misconstrued addictions to themselves. Allowing Christian faith to be shaped by the perceived needs of the unregenerate or immature regenerate will result in shallow Christianity.

However, the situation with this individual has reminded me that the legitimate aspect of a felt needs discussion is that the work of God in Christ must be shown to be relevant to where people are. I've not talked to this man about Jesus in terms of personal salvation and the forgiveness of his sins, but for him Jesus offers a strength to overcome his own addictions and a new way of living without all the chaos. Jesus is peace, a refuge . . . his Higher Power because his own life is unmanageable. He falls back in faith on the sovereignty of God as he is overwhelmed by the inscrutable nature of his life.

We cannot retool Jesus to make him the answer to whatever felt need a person has, but we should demonstrate in a way that starts with robust theology that Jesus is a Savior in the midst of our desperate needs. That is contextualization of the good news of grace in terms of human life.


Mark said...

Wow, great thoughts. I've always wondered what felt needs were to tell the truth. I have a feeling (is that a felt need?) that they are almost always all about us, and often (not always) a figment of our imagination. UGH! I'm reminded of our recent discussion one Sunday about becoming Christian so that we can go to heaven or we can have some other felt need met. Throughout scripture we see God respond to the real needs of his people even when they don't realize the need, which takes them out of the "felt need" arena.

Frank Bellizzi said...


A great post. I couldn't agree more.

What's hard to handle is when the majority of a congregation concludes that what you're showing here as false is actually gospel truth.

Maybe I'm not explaining it very well, but I sometimes get the oddest looks when I say to churches that the truth of the gospel doesn't rely on the verification of our current experience. So I talk about Jesus' experience in Gethsemane, at Golgotha, etc.

Maybe American Christianity is stuck on this felt-needs-satisfaction approach. Or maybe the groups that I've spoken to are wondering why I'm pointing out the obvious. Or maybe it's something I'm just imagining. Or maybe Paul would say, "Am I going to have to teach you the gospel all over again?"