A Life on the Narrow Road
An Introduction to Dr. Larry Crabb's Life Work
The world is often a complicated and broken place. In the midst of this reality, we are told to hold on to Christ, to find peace in Him. But life does not always go as planned, even when we are putting all of our faith in the Lord. Someone may pass away, past traumas simmer below the surface and threaten to rise, we get entangled in damaging relationships, jobs come and go, people leave. And all this despite our most fervent prayers.
Yet we are also surrounded by beauty and pictures of God’s love and grace. God has imbued Himself into all Creation. The touch of a child, a picturesque sunset, the beauty of a friend extending grace towards you, undeserved as it may be…these experiences point towards a God so much greater than we can ever hope to understand or comprehend.
How do we hold these two realities in tension? How can the world be a “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4) and yet also “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1)? This is where Dr. Larry Crabb has made his legacy. By examining what it means to live in the “in-between,” that ‘here-but-not-yet’ between the Cross and the Coming, Dr. Crabb provides a theological framework to see the world as it is – both the beautiful and the ugly – and to understand how to see God’s Larger Story in the midst of it all. Underlying this framework is an intense belief in the legitimacy and power of Scripture. At the center of his theology is a deep-seated understanding of community and a thirst to know more about what it means to relate and love like Christ.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
This leads us to become outward-focused, joining the community that Christ offers as a son or daughter of the Lord, relating with an energy that only the Spirit can provide. At Larger Story, we believe that these ideas are often glossed over, hidden in the midst of a watered-down cultural Christianity.
Life is not meant to be easy, but we would love to join you on your journey. If you are interested in seeking out answers to questions about God, yourself, the world, or how you relate, we hope that the deep ponderings of Dr. Crabb can provide some encouragement and rejuvenation – and possibly even a challenge – as you venture toward a life of service and worship to glorify the Lord in all you do.
Thank you for partnering with us as we all strive to live the Larger Story!
While there are many Christian authors who have risen to prominence in the past several decades, few have done so in a more interesting way than Larry Crabb. Originally a counselor, the movement of his work began in the world of psychology and therapy with spirituality at its center. It is thus impossible to remove him from the intellectual climate from which he emerged. Tracking his career over the decades, we can see how his thinking transformed from Christian-based psychology to a psychology-influenced but Scripture-based spirituality. Since he has written over twenty books, we thought it might be a good idea to give you a bit of a tour through his work and how it might be understood in relationship to his spiritual journey.
Below you will find a diverse set of works, each building on the last to culminate in a rich and relational theology that is the fulfillment of a lifetime of learning. They have been divided into sections, each section representing a general framework and thematic sequence in his works at the time.
Reframing the World of Psychology from a Christian Perspective
While explaining a Biblical model of counseling and psychology, Dr. Crabb moves away from a secularly defined version of humanity and psychology.
Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling
The first of all of Dr. Crabb’s works, it is the most intellectual in scope. Up to this point, most of the Christian psychological world was divided about how to incorporate Biblical truth into effective counseling. On one side of the spectrum lie the PhDs — those who have immersed themselves completely in the secular world of psychology. The foundational threads of Freud, Skinner, and Jung underlie their thinking. They may be Christians, but their Christianity does not affect their work. On the other side of the spectrum are the more conservative Biblical counselors. They argue that any issue a person may have can simply be solved by opening the Bible and praying more. Unhappy with this stark dichotomy, Dr. Crabb would set out to define what Biblical counseling might look like. He wanted to understand what Biblical counseling could be when it relied on the truth of Scripture without using it as a scapegoat or a crutch. At the same time, he was disillusioned by the secular psychological models of the time, and critiqued them thoroughly. By the end of the book, a picture of what Biblical counseling could be emerged.
Effective Biblical Counseling
In his second work, Dr. Crabb continued to build and structure the model of his counseling approach both philosophically and conceptually. The model he proposed is simple: identify problem feelings, identify goal-oriented problem behavior, identify problem thinking, change the assumptions within/clarify Biblical thinking, and secure a commitment. While clearly relying on the truth of Scripture, his model is also influenced by cognition and thought-process psychology. Written in the development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the influences of this school are clearly seen in his approach to changing the “problem thinking.” He still worked within the system, but was beginning to push outwards.
An Outward-Focused Approach to Faith
By this point in his career, Dr. Crabb had solidified himself as an author and a formidable force in the counseling world. His books began to take on more specific themes: everything from faith and the internal world to relationships. He continued to move further from general psychotherapy and towards a lay audience.
The Marriage Builder
Influenced deeply by his relationship with his wife, Dr. Crabb’s third book is completely oriented around what it means to be in the most permanent of voluntary relationships. For Dr. Crabb, marriage had ceased to hold the complete satisfaction the world had lead him to believe it would contain. Instead it was difficult, nothing like the overly-romanticized accounts in popular culture. Writing from this perspective, Dr. Crabb dives into what it means to serve another. Still heavily influenced by the concept of cognition and thought-processes, he also explores the central needs of humanity — namely love and meaning. Maslow anyone?
By the time this book was written, Dr. Crabb had made his opinion on counseling clear: while important, it should be a major role of the church in community and not necessarily left up to professionals. Effective counseling is often no more than a deep and meaningful relationship. Here Dr. Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender work off of the Biblical imperative to encourage others, and explore what that could mean to the church and its members. The beginnings of his theology on community and the church begin to emerge.
Hope When You’re Hurting
A basic tenant of living in our broken world is that we will experience hurt and pain. Further developing his ideas of relationship from Encouragement, Dr. Crabb focuses on what it means to connect to another, answering the central question: How can we be there for someone who is suffering? His priority is relating and seeing others at a deep level, not merely using the modern psychological pursuit of attempting to understand the human condition. The church plays a significant role in this work of relating, and if counseling is often just deep relating, then that work should be shifted to a more local level. The Trinity as a theme and foundational component of Dr. Crabb’s theology surfaces in Hope When You’re Hurting.
Returning to a more psychological and abstract topic, Dr. Crabb puts forth a model for understanding human psychological functioning that could increase dialog between the various sects of Biblical counseling. He starts at the point that all people are fallen image bearers, a concept that will reoccur countless times over the course of his work. If people are both fallen and image bearers, the complexity of brokenness and sin—as well as the pursuit of something greater—take center stage. Here we are introduced to Dr. Crabb’s thoughts on motivations and deep longings inherent in all humans—as well as how they push us to act and move in specific directions.
Who Are We?
In the previous section, Dr. Crabb began to move from conceptual ideas to a more practical and thematic overview of humans and how we interact. By Understanding People, the ideas of the church and its role in counseling, suffering, relationship and connection were at the forefront. The Biblical principles are highlighted in each of these themes, and movement away from mere psychological models is nearly complete. In this time period Dr. Crabb wrote his most well known work, diving into one of life’s biggest questions: Who am I?
While many of the books before focused on how you could love, see, and understand others better, Inside Out asks you to take a deep look inward. It very explicitly lays out a framework for the “unmet desires for heaven, tendencies toward self-protection, and accompanying relational sin.” The themes before come together in brutal focus, with the statement that we are fallen image bearers fleshed out fully. These longings, he argues, are not bad, but the strategies people use to try and meet them are flawed.
Men and Women
While some of Dr. Crabb’s ideas of gender were alluded to in The Marriage Builder, they are more fully explored here. While Inside Out thought about identity and who we are, Men and Women carries this a step further to ask who we are as gendered image bearers. How do our self-protective strategies play out between men and women?
What’s the Point?
The shift in feeling between Men and Women and Finding God is slight. The difference is in the question being asked. The first book in this period, Finding God, came after a painful loss for Dr. Crabb. By far the most personal of his works to date, it finds application in the deep faith that’s required to trust God in times of heartache and pain.
Based off the death of his brother, Dr. Crabb pulls no punches in his examination of suffering. Deeply personal yet universally applicable, Dr. Crabb comes to the conclusion that it is only through trust in God’s goodness towards us that we can get through times like these. We must believe that God is good, and while we don’t understand why these things are happening, we have to believe that God does.
The Silence of Adam
While less personal than Finding God, The Silence of Adam is equally focused on understanding how we are to interact with both a broken world and a good God. Building on the theme of gender, it seeks to understand a man’s commission in the world. Using the story of Adam and Eve, Dr, Crabb posits that a man’s role is to “move.” It is precisely in those moments when man doesn’t move that we see brokenness.
A Breaking Point
Connecting represents a steep turning point in the work of Dr. Crabb. After experiencing what he calls a mid-life crisis, his thinking on relationships and connecting reaches its climax in community. God Himself is a community, and we are to put Him at the center of ours. The final dregs of psychological thinking slough off as he moves away from cognition, thought-processes, and “right thinking” and towards good relating and God-centered relationships as the key to moving towards God.
Community moves to the center of Dr. Crabb’s theology. There is no way to always feel good or “think right,” but you can fight for community just like the Lord, where the Trinity is the mechanism through which relationality can be defined. Nearly all CBT-influenced thinking drifts away, and instead he highlights the importance of receiving a vision for another, understanding how they might move closer to Christ and joining them as they pursue that goal.
Becoming True Spiritual Community
Following the emphasis with which he declared community in Connecting, he now has to develop the network through which community could be built. The obvious answer is the church — and so begins an exploration of his rather complicated relationship with the church. Soul care, Dr. Crabb argues, is the church’s responsibility. He casts a vision for what the church could become — all the while making a strong statement that psychology is under the authority of Scripture.
Again we see the culmination of themes from throughout his life’s work. Suffering and pain are brought back to the forefront. Using Ruth, he argues against any sort of blessings-based or prosperity gospel. While pain and suffering and shattered dreams are a reality in our broken world, we have to learn what it means to find a satisfaction in God independent of our environment or situation. God should be the deepest longing in our hearts, and suffering can lead to a deeper experience of God and community with others.
One of the final themes in Dr. Crabb’s work that had yet to emerge was the concept of the New Covenant. When Christ died for our sins, the covenant of the Old Testament was replaced, and we were given new hearts. As Christians we are imbued with the Holy Spirit. While our flesh will never disappear, we are free to move and relate with the power of the Spirit, pursuing love and taking steps towards the bountiful grace Christ has offered.
A Little Bit Practical
If all the things that have been outlined in his other works are pondered deeply and have an impact, they should also be given a way to be acted upon. These books offer a framework not for why relationships (either with God or others) should be at the center, but instead how can we grow these relationships into true Christ-centered community. Using the theology he has built out in the past several books, Dr. Crabb offers a path to better relating.
If relationships and community are essential to God’s work in us, how do we begin to move towards one another in suffering and in joy? In this book, Dr. Crabb puts forth the concept of exploring another’s soul using the techniques of Thinking Beneath, Thinking Vision, Thinking Passion, Thinking Story, and Thinking Movement.
The PAPA Prayer
In a similar vein, if God is someone we have been given the gift of being in relationship with, how do we interact? The obvious answer is prayer; however, many use prayer as a way to ask God for things that they want, as a way to alleviate pain, or as a necessary but dry ecclesiastical tradition meant to be practiced and not felt. In reply to all these, Dr. Crabb creates a framework for relational prayer. It is a way of being with God, not of getting something from God.
In the final period of Dr. Crabb’s works, there is a distinct feeling of reflection. No longer are these ideas merely interesting or intellectually stimulating. They are the result of decades of life experiences and deep learning. The themes of church, suffering, relationships and community, gender, brokenness, and the Bible are looked at one final time.
66 Love Letters
Dr. Crabb’s “magnum opus,” it took five years to write and explores the entire Bible from the perspective of a conversation between him and God. Personal but also filled with insights into the Word, it speaks to Christianity in a modern context, asks the hard questions and finds that, maybe, there are answers within. Based on the idea that the Lord is speaking, and perhaps it is our job to listen.
This book looks at the idea of the church and its responsibility to care for souls. While it is not always successful at accomplishing this mission, that should not stop the church from pushing forward. Again, he casts a vision for the church, offering what the body of Christ could be capable of if pointed in the right direction. Dr. Crabb believes the church should be built on four pillars: spiritual theology, spiritual formation, spiritual community, and spiritual mission. These four make up the mission of the church.
A final quest to understand sex and gender in a culture that is confused on the subject, Dr. Crabb sets out to understand the differences between men and women without being reduced to or limited by stereotypes. He asks what it means to be fully alive as a man or woman made in God’s image.
A Different Kind of Happiness
Considering how many of Dr. Crabb’s works speak to pain and suffering, it makes sense that one of his final books would be about happiness. Here he moves away from common secular self-help wisdom and towards the belief that happiness possible in this life is not the happiness that comes from living a perfect life and always feeling good. No one this side of heaven will love perfectly, but our journey towards Christlikeness is characterized by learning to love others more deeply — without any expectation of return. Though it is difficult to see, true happiness lies in sacrificial love.
When God’s Ways Make No Sense
Dr. Crabb’s newest book seeks to answer one of the fundamental questions of the Christian life: How do Christians make sense of God amidst pain and confusion? It continues the path laid out in Shattered Dreams and argues for the “Unthwarted Sovereignty” of God. Dr. Crabb’s thesis lies on a few key points:
- God is free to do whatever He wishes, and is always active and up to something good
- Even the wrath of man — energized by the flesh, directed by hell’s wisdom, and approved by the world — will further God’s eternal purpose to reveal Himself above all else as worthy of praise.
- The sovereign God sees to it that nothing that happens in this world — nothing that lost or saved people can do — will thwart His purpose.