Don Matzat

Book Notes


Don Matzat follows the teachings of psychiatrist Victor Frankl more than those of the Bible (see last item). In trying to be relevant in today's professing church, Matzat gives the wrong diagnosis for man's problem. Instead of sin and hell, and the need for forgiveness and heaven, he proposes a "need" for "identity" and "meaning" (pp. 11, 26-27). In the process, Matzat confuses the issues and gives (humanistic) psychology credit it does not deserve (p. 10).

-  Matzat's basic position regarding psychology is weak, even though in many places he seriously challenges its teachings. Matzat focuses on "identity crisis" as a fundamental problem of man (pp. 11, 27, 38) and upon psychology as offering some value in solving this problem (e.g., he invokes the "All Truth is God's Truth" defense of the psychological integrationists) (pp. 29-30). Matzat professes to believe that those who promote the integration of psychology and Scripture demonstrate a lack of understanding of either Biblical content or the essence of the Christian faith (pp. 10, 28), but he is "not against psychology as a legitimate discipline studying the cause and effect of human behavior" (p. 10). This seriously weakens both his position and his credibility.

-  Matzat places great emphasis on, and is terribly confused about, so-called human "needs":

"Humanistic psychology defines many human needs, but at closer examination, it is merely dealing with symptoms which require the mere application of a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding. We are told, for example, that man needs to find himself. Why is this true? How did man get lost in the first place? We are told that man's most basic need is to feel good about himself. Why? Why doesn't he naturally feel good about himself? [He does.] Man needs to find meaning in life. Why? Man needs a positive self-image. Why? Why does he have to develop one? Why doesn't he have one? [He does.]" (p. 33) [The Bible says man is lost, not that he needs to find himself, feel good about himself, or find meaning in life. We are alienated from God and have the need for forgiveness and justification.]

Matzat does not refute these assumed needs of man and show that the whole emphasis is wrong. Instead, rather than distinguishing between perceived needs (desires) and Biblically defined needs (cf. Mt. 6:25-33), he accepts these needs as legitimate. In fact, some of what he says about "needs" sounds suspiciously like "Christian" psychologist Larry Crabb's need theology (pp. 25- 27, 32-33).

-  One's supposed need for "identity" and meaning in life is a basic theme of Christ-Esteem (pp. 19, 27, etc.). Accepting "identity" as a fundamental need of man, Matzat even describes his own "identity crisis" as a new pastor (p. 38). The emphasized phrase, "modern man is looking for himself" (p. 66), reveals the deficiency in Matzat's reasoning. Modern man (and man in all time periods) is alienated from God by his sin, not from self, as Matzat seems to be saying. This is a crucial distinction. Man needs reconciliation with God, not with self. "Identity" is not the basic need of man! Nevertheless, in an apparent attempt to "Christianize" the concept, Matzat extensively presents Christ as the answer to this presumed "identity" need; i.e., he makes "identity" the main result of a relationship with Christ!:

"It is my purpose to demonstrate that a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ more than adequately solves the identity crisis of this generation and brings meaning and fulfillment of life [p. 11] ... in addition to being our righteousness, Jesus Christ is also our identity, our life, our fulfillment, our pride, our hope, our peace, our joy, and our ultimate worth [p. 31] ... our new identity and life is determined by the historical redeeming work of Jesus Christ [p. 75] ... The New Testament directive to find our identity and life in Christ Jesus is not a simplistic solution. It is profound" (p. 192). (Emphases added.)

-  Matzat also focuses on the humanistic concept of "self-image," giving credit to so-called psychological truth:

"Our self-image is very important. It has been said that the teaching regarding self-image is the most important psychological discovery of this century. If we don't have a self-image, we cannot answer the question 'Who am I?' We have no way of making an accurate identification. The person who does not know himself or cannot find himself does not possess a self-image" (p. 60). (Emphases added.)

This concept of self-image is totally cultural-bound. Can you imagine a Chinese slave laborer 400 years ago being concerned about his self-image? The above quote sounds more like pop psychologist James Dobson or self-love advocate Josh McDowell than the "Lutheran scholar" Matzat claims to be.

-  Matzat wants to emphasize Jesus Christ, which is wonderful, but at some points he caters to the current self-focus of the world and the church. For example, his confession of Biblical truth even takes on a self-centered focus:

"Standing firmly and confidently upon the truth of God's Word and focusing upon our identity in Christ Jesus in the heavenly places, we also confess, 'I agree. I am forgiven and righteous in Christ. I am seated in the heavenly places! I am more than a conqueror. I can do all things through Christ Jesus. I believe your Word and promise" (p. 146). (Emphasis added.)

Note the repetition of the first person pronoun "I". But salvation is His work, an act of sheer grace, having nothing to do with the "worth" or merit of the recipient.

-  Some of Matzat's sources are theologically questionable to say the least (even when the content of a particular quote is not necessarily objectionable.) These sources include Universalist Paul Tournier (pp. 42, 65), neo-orthodox Soren Kierkegaard (p. 43), blasphemous, liberal German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer [who denied the physical resurrection of Christ] (pp. 195, 197, 203), mystic Watchman Nee (pp. 47, 51, 101), and psychiatrist Victor Frankl [see next item] (pp. 9, 15, 19-20, 73-74, 136). (In the endnotes to Chapter 8, Matzat even recommends one book by psycho-spiritist/occultist and anti-Christian Carl Jung, and another by self-love theorist William James.) The danger here is that those who respect Matzat may naively (though wrongly) assume that the men he quotes are theologically sound. He, therefore, has a responsibility to take great care in his use of quotations.

-  It appears that of all the unbiblical sources used by Matzat, Victor Frankl is the one with which Matzat is most enamored. An Austrian Jew and survivor of four Nazi death camps, Frankl was (died 9/98) a psychiatrist and author of 32 books who developed a psychotherapeutic type of “treatment” called logotherapy. Frankl places much emphasis on man's search for "meaning" (as does Matzat), particularly under conditions of intense suffering (The Unheard Cry For Meaning, 1978). Generally, Frankl sees man as a free, self-determined agent who uniquely determines the meaning of his own individual life, having the potential for either great good or great evil. His system sees man not responsible before God, but only as responsible to himself; there is no place for absolute standards of value, as determined by God, to distinguish between good and evil. Instead, "clients" are urged to formally establish a personal set of spiritual and ethical values gleaned from their past experiences. The logotherapist assists the patient to find meaning in his life, in essence a man-centered, relativistic "salvation" system, less retrospective and introspective than psychoanalysis, focusing instead on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. Obviously, logotherapy can offer nothing of value to the Bible-believing Christian.

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 2/2002