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Misunderstanding – Crabbs Needs

Need Theology

Disregard of Crabb’s Words
Emotive Attack

Disregard of Crabb’s Words

The Bobgans’ unreflective prejudice against Crabb can be seen in the way they treat the shift he has made from using the word "needs" to using "longings". In the preface to Understanding People, Dr Crabb says,

Readers familiar with my earlier books will recognise movement in my concepts but not I think, fundamental change. For example, my preference now is to speak of deep longings in the human heart for relationship and impact rather than personal needs for security and significance. Some have interpreted me to teach that man’s needs for security and significance define his essential nature and therefore properly become his life concern. The result, in the minds of some, has been a man-centred focus on fulfilment rather than a God-centred emphasis on obedience to Him and preoccupation with his glory. Because my choice of the term "need" has apparently communicated to a few what I do not believe and what I strongly oppose, I hope that referring to "deep longings that constitute the thirst which our Lord alone can quench" will better convey what I have always believed. 1

Here is how the Bobgans treat what Crabb has said. In a passage in which they quote the first two sentences from the section from Crabb which I have given above, the Bobgans say:

In his earlier books Crabb calls the two unconscious needs "security" and "significance." Later he changes his terminology to "longings" for "relationship and impact." However, as Crabb himself indicates, his change in words does not involve any change in doctrine… Because Crabb affirms that both personal needs and deep longings identify the same doctrine of man in his system, we use the phrase interchangeably throughout this critique. 2

What Crabb has said could be paraphrased, "My doctrine has not fundamentally changed, but my earlier terminology caused people to badly misunderstand my doctrine; therefore I have changed my terminology." What the Bobgan’s have done with that is to say, "The doctrine is still the same, therefore we will continue to use Crabb’s earlier terminology." They therefore make certain that casual readers of Prophets of Psychoheresy I will take away exactly the same wrong understanding of Dr Crabb that he has tried to guard against by his change of wording – all the more so, because the Bobgans omit the sentences in which Crabb explains what he believes the misunderstanding to have been.

Is this dishonesty? Not consciously so, but I think it is evidence of the prejudice which the Bobgans have brought to their "study" of Crabb. Their readers need to beware of it.

Emotive Attack

Two chapters earlier, in chapter 10 of Prophets of Psychoheresy I, the Bobgans had also made reference to this same quotation from Crabb, alluding to its content at the start of the chapter (page 135), and citing part of it at the chapter’s close (page 146). However, they chose to call chapter 10 "Need Theology." In the first half of the chapter they pay occasional lip-service to Crabb’s preference and use the word "longings", but always in close proximity to "needs". Overall, in that part of the chapter, "needs" appears three times for every occurrence of "longings."

In the second half of the chapter, "longings" disappears from sight altogether, except for one occurrence of its synonym, "desires." Relentlessly – about 65 times, in fact – the Bobgans press the word "need" or "needs" upon their readers: words which Crabb said he has realized carry connotations contrary to what he had intended to teach. The Bobgans show no sign of having given serious thought to what Crabb has said; they treat "longings" as identical to "needs", and their every page imports into their argument all the emotional baggage that "needs" carries with it. The Bobgans do not refute Crabb, they ignore him.

In fact, the bulk of the final section of chapter 10 (the section subtitled "Need Psychology/Theology") does not deal with Crabb at all. It is chiefly a summary of what humanistic psychologists teach about human need. If it stood as part of a critique of secular psychology, without reference to Crabb, I would find no fault with its repeated use of "need". The trouble is, it purports to be part of a critique of what Larry Crabb is teaching, and Larry Crabb very definitely and deliberately has chosen to use the word "longing" in order to show his disagreement with many of exactly the same elements of secular psychology that the Bobgans disagree with.

The Bobgan’s rationale for including this overview of secular psychology is given in three statements which appear on page 140:

Crabb’s doctrine of man with two unconscious needs motivating all behaviour is psychologically based. And his doctrine of change, with unconscious beliefs and strategies for meeting the needs, is also grounded in psychological ideas. Because Crabb’s model borrows significantly from humanistic psychology, it is necessary to consider its basic tenets. 3

As was discussed in the preceding parts of this essay, these assertions are false. Crabb’s doctrines of man and of change are grounded in the Bible and his model does not "borrow" from humanistic psychology, so the entire section is irrelevant to any objective critique of his work. The casual reader, however, comes to the end of this section feeling that the Bobgans have delivered a powerful blow to Crabb’s teaching, when all in fact that has been delivered is seven and a half pages of irrelevant information which stir up the reader’s emotions against secular psychology and unjustly against Crabb. (There are also numerous false statements and logical fallacies within the individual paragraphs of this section of chapter 10, but I will not deal with them just yet).

All lies proceed from the father of lies. They do not become true just because they pass through the hands of born again Christians. In its disregard for Crabb’s own careful choice of words, chapter 10 partakes more of the lie than the truth. Only unthinking prejudice could have entrapped obviously earnest Christians such as the Bobgans into writing it.


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1 Crabb (1987) p. 15-16

2 Bobgan (1989) p. 162

3 Bobgan (1989) p. 140

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