Toxic Positivity

Posted: Feb 05, 2024

“It is a fight making its demands upon physical, mental and spiritual powers, and there are many adversaries. The dead weight of heathenism, the little appreciation of one’s object and purpose, and the actual, vigorous opposition of the powers of darkness, make it a real fight, and only men of grit, of courage, devotion, and infinite patience and perseverance will win. Have I painted a discouraging picture? Am I frightening good men who might have volunteered and done well? I think not. I think the right sort of men, those who ought to volunteer, will be attracted rather than repelled by the difficulties.”
– Rev. J Lampard, India, early 1900s.

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
Jeremiah 6:14

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was an Irish-born missionary who served in India in the 1900s. As her ministry grew, she was invited by her supporters in the UK to write a book on her experiences there. She sent them a manuscript, which they rejected. Most of the stories Amy shared ended in tragedy, with some they ministered to being drugged to the point of insanity, kidnapped, or abused. The publisher wanted a book filled with conversions and happy endings. Amy refused to change her manuscript and sent it to another publisher in England who printed the book we know today as Things as They Are.

In her book, Amy recounts that a person in mission leadership told her, “People will read what is buoyant and bright; the more of that sort we have the better.”

Amy writes: “We are told to modify things, not to write too vividly, never to harrow sensitive hearts. Friends, we cannot modify truth, we cannot write half vividly enough; and as for harrowing hearts, oh that we could do it! That we could tear them up, that they might pour out like water!… For more has been written about the successes than the failures, and it seems to us that it is more important that you should know about the reverses (failures) than about the successes of the war. We shall have all eternity to celebrate the victories, but we have only a few hours before sunset to win them. We are not winning them as we should because the fact of the reverses is so little realized, and the needed reinforcements are not forthcoming, as they would be if the position were fully understood. Reinforcements of men and women are needed, but, far above all, reinforcements of prayer.”

Amy took flack from other missionaries and believers for her unwillingness to compromise, dress up, and cover up the truth.

Does the church of 2024 have the same problems?

Kendra Cherry, MS,Ed, writes:
“Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. While there are benefits to being optimistic and engaging in positive thinking, toxic positivity rejects all difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful and often falsely-positive façade. Having a positive outlook on life is good for your mental well-being. The problem is that life isn’t always positive. We all have painful emotions and experiences. Those emotions, while often unpleasant, need to be felt and dealt with openly and honestly to achieve acceptance and greater psychological health.”

Kendra describes the signs of toxic positivity as:
* Brushing off problems rather than facing them.
* Hiding your true feelings behind feel-good quotes that seem socially acceptable.
* Minimizing other people’s feelings because they make you uncomfortable.
* Shaming other people when they don’t have a positive attitude.

Does any of this ring a bell? “Brushing off problems rather than facing them”… when is the last time you heard a church leader own up to the rampant sexual sin, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse in the church? Or that hordes of youth have been hitting the exits for the past 25 years? “Shaming others when they don’t have a positive attitude.” I’ve been reamed for daring to say that the church is corrupt with sexual sin. One woman wrote me and said I was “ruining the reputation of the church.” And those are the nicer comments we’ve received.

Have you ever read through the book of Acts and noticed their tone in evangelism? Those guys didn’t hold anything back. Peter’s first sermon includes the following:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Acts 2:22-23

Peter! You can’t tell people they killed Jesus! Shouldn’t you say something about the love of God, or at least quote John 3:16? But Peter doubled down:

“…Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Acts 2:36

I don’t expect to see a modern evangelist on a “You Killed Jesus” tour. We tend to sell people on the positive side of salvation by focusing on the love of God first and soft-pedal the horror of the sin that lives in each of us that Jesus was killed for… or to use Peter’s words, we killed Jesus with.

Yet, what was the fruit of Peter’s sermon?

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Acts 2:37-41

The early church spent 7 days in prayer before the day of Pentecost; Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit when he spoke. Using razor-sharp words, Peter honed in on the demand for repentance, and the Holy Spirit cut them to their core. If we don’t warn people that repentance is a critical part of salvation we put them on dangerous ground. It’s like a man saying he can get married but keep seeing old girlfriends.

How about the Apostle Paul?

“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”
Acts 24:24-25

Paul, what are you doing, talking about righteousness… and God’s judgment in eternity(!), when many will hear their final sentence sending them to a place of torment with no chance for reprieve? Don’t you see that you freaked Felix out?

The Positivity Bible would have rewrote Acts 24:24 as: “And as Paul told Felix that God loved him and had a wonderful plan for his life, Felix began to warm up to the idea of salvation.”

Before I go any further, the love of God is wonderful, life-changing, life-giving, and heart-overflowing. The Lord radically changed my life when He poured His love into my heart around 25 years ago. In no way do I discount the love of God or that we need to talk often about it. The idea here is to give people all of the truth, not just the parts we like.

My friends, toxic positivity is killing the church and sending people to hell. (Oops, sorry, that wasn’t positive or encouraging.) If we won’t talk about the sins people are in bondage to or playing with, some will assume their sin isn’t a big deal, putting them in a dangerous place spiritually. Jesus didn’t allow Himself to be killed so we could serve God, our flesh, and the enemy.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Jesus, in Matthew 5:29-30

Toxic positivity puts people in a spiritual coma. God loves us and “once saved always saved,” so we’re set. Give me a little doctrine hit on Sunday along with some energetic music, and I’m good.

This is what Toxic Positivity is doing to the church:
1. Making posers and liars. Sunday morning we fake it, put on a plastic smile, pretend everything is okay. We don’t want anyone feeling uncomfortable if we break down and cry in front of them. One woman shared that when she walked into church and was on the verge of tears because of a stressful time in her marriage, she didn’t dare tell anyone. She didn’t want to pop anyone’s comfort bubble or risk being judged.
2. Keeping people in bondage. Better not to share a struggle with porn and masturbation with a TP Christian if it might send them over the edge. Since breaking free in isolation is impossible, they remain trapped in sin.
3. Creating isolated believers. Since we can’t share our struggles, we withdraw into a protective shell.
4. Contributing to the great falling away. Without holiness, conviction, prayer meetings, and the challenge to go all out for God, church becomes an entertainment option.
5. Destroying lives. TP churches that don’t equip their people in spiritual warfare send their flocks out to battle in their pajamas. Without an understanding of warfare, these believers will be easy prey for the enemy.
6. Creating lukewarm believers. TP churches will struggle with giving people a faith worth giving everything for. The message is “you can have everything in moderation, as long as it isn’t sin” which is a setup for being choked with the entertainment and pleasures of this world.
7. Creating shallow believers. See the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Without deep roots, during trial or suffering they are vulnerable to falling away from the faith or becoming spiritually useless.
8. Distorted vision of God. How often do we experience the fear and reverence of God in our church services? TP churches put a high premium on comfort, no one should have to squirm in their seat from conviction. “You killed Jesus” won’t be heard there. They will be given the Americanized, happy hippy version of Jesus, not the Son of God with eyes like fire, hair white as snow, gleaming white clothing, feet like polished bronze (Revelation 1). John—who frequently wrote about the love of God—dropped to the ground in terror when the Revelation version of Jesus appeared.
9. Playing a part in sending people to hell. Without the many warnings in Scripture not to play with sin or treat their relationship with God in a casual manner, people will be liable to taking the wide road that leads to destruction instead of the narrow path that leads to life that few will find, as Jesus said (Matthew 7:13-14).

While in my mid-teens, as I walked home from school one day, I started experiencing sharp, intense pain at the waistline. I was taken to the hospital; the doctor told me my appendix was inflamed and I needed to go into surgery immediately. If the appendix is left untreated for 48-72 hours after the initial onset of symptoms, it can burst, leading to widespread infection and death.

If the doctor hadn’t told me I was in a life-threatening situation and needed surgery immediately because it wasn’t a “positive topic” and he didn’t want to worry or scare me, I would have been dead within several days, if that long.
He would have also been bankrupt because my parents would have sued him for malpractice.

In the same way, Toxic Positivity is destroying lives. There is no greater issue than where we will spend eternity. Holding back from giving God’s people the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), as Paul termed it—including the epidemic of porn and sexual sin that has infected the church—is like walking onto a battlefield and singing praise songs as the enemy mows your regiment down.

The spiritual appendix has burst in the church and the infection has spread quickly. We desperately need a sense of urgency to expose the issues people are in bondage to, help them heal, and move them onto the battlefield. Anything less is playing church.

I’ll leave you with three quotes from a woman who had her share of battles with the TP crowd.

“Singing hymns from a distance will never save souls. By God’s grace, coming and giving and praying will. Are we prepared for this?… Are we coming, giving, praying till it hurts? Are we praying, yea agonizing in prayer?”

“Brave men are needed, men with a fuller development of spiritual vertebrae than is common in these easy-going days… God create them, they are not the product of our theological colleges.”

“We feel compelled to give ourselves mainly to work of a character which, by its very nature, can never be popular, and possibly never successful from a statistical point of view… If one is truly called of God, all the difficulties and discouragements only intensify the call.”
– Amy Carmichael