December 2, 2020

A Rant on Christians and Psychology

A Rant on Christians and Psychology

In the side bar of Recommended Readings at the Internet Monk site is an article from Christianity Today entitled, “Has Christian Psychology Lost Its Place at Southern Seminary?” which reports on the firing from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) of Dr. Eric Johnson.  Additional summaries may also be found at The Wartburg Watch here and here .

A number of observers blamed the firing on Heath Lambert, an assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern and the executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), which calls itself the “oldest and largest biblical counseling organization in the world.”  There is belief that Lambert leveraged the ACBC against Southern, threatening to withhold students from its program if Johnson were to continue to teach. (Southern is one of five Reformed seminaries listed among the ACBC’s certified training centers.)  In a clip posted on YouTube , Lambert reads from Johnson’s work and calls his philosophy “dangerous,” “slander,” “corrupt,” and a “mockery of God’s Word.”

Al Mohler, president of SBTS, and Lambert both deny the charge, and Lambert issued an apology to Johnson.  Mohler has not made it clear why Johnson was fired and it appears he is not going to clarify the reasons any time soon.  All well and good, I don’t give a fig for internal SBTS politics, and since Mohler did away with tenure, apparently he can do whatever he wants.  But it is obvious that Mohler substantially agrees with Lambert that the only model of pastoral counseling that should be emphasized is the “sufficiency of Scripture to address all counseling concerns”. The seminary renamed its “pastoral counseling” and “Christian counseling” degrees as “biblical counseling.”

Why?  Why this stubborn and unreasonable unwillingness to avail oneself of any and all information that might aid in someone’s wellbeing?  It is not like Dr. Johnson is undervaluing or denigrating biblical insight.  As he says (from the CT article):

Biblical counseling and integration, in very different ways, often (though not necessarily!) have tended to assume the modern separation of theology from psychology (and psychotherapy and counseling). The aim of this book (God and Soul Care) is a synthesis of all relevant biblical, theological, psychological, and philosophical forms of knowledge about human beings with the goal of understanding human beings as comprehensively as possible, that is, as much like God as we can.

Does that sound like “dangerous,” “slander,” “corrupt,” and a “mockery of God’s Word” (Lamberts characterization of Johnson’s philosophy) to you?  What is dangerous is the idea that only Bible verses are “sufficient” for counseling Christians and there is no value for knowledge gained through “secular” means.  But when “secular” means knowledge gained through the trial-and-error process of the scientific method then what we have a problem with is dealing with reality, not ignoring the Bible.

The reason for this rant is that the “biblical counseling only” method leads to Christians feeling guilty for the inability to “overcome” legitimate medical conditions.  I know whereof I speak because this directly affects a family member.  Several times this family member has stopped taking prescribed medicines because well-meaning Christians have outright told them it’s a lack of faith that God can heal them.  Now “biblical counselors” like Lambert have put out fig-leaf warnings that they shouldn’t engage in the practice of medicine; see Thesis #87 here , for example.  But that doesn’t stop their disciples from following the “biblical method” to its logical conclusion.

This goes to the heart of the science-faith or science-bible divide that I write about here at Imonk.  And in a very personal way, hence the “rant” aspect of today’s post.  The biblical-counseling-only crowd are always stressing that the bible is “authoritative and sufficient”.    Authoritative and sufficient for what, though?  For how to relate to God and others?  Fine.  As the final arbiter of subjects unimagined and unimaginable to the ancient writers?  No.  That would make the Bible a magic book and asserting the Bible is a magic book is to disrespect the actual inspiration. Such an interpretive framework ends up damaging to people as well as misleading them.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee; (Isaiah 26:3) is a wonderful promise from scripture.  But what if you can’t “stay” your mind on anything because your brain synapses are misfiring and random intrusive thoughts are flitting through unbidden and unstoppable?  Is that your “fault”, are you sinful?  The ancients had no conception of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, so how could you give “biblical” counseling to someone suffering from a physiological malfunction?  You can’t, and 9 times out of 10 you just make them feel even worse.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6) is a verse of great comfort to someone doubting God will save them.  But what if a person is convinced they’ve “blasphemed the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 12:31) or committed the sin of Hebrews 6:4-8; you can’t repent even if you want to.  Go ahead, try and reason with them.  Try to convince them they haven’t blasphemed the Holy Ghost, put your “biblical counseling” skills to work and see how far that gets you.  It doesn’t get you very far with someone who CANNOT prevent their brain from obsessive thoughts by their own willpower.

Or, maybe, you should just close that bible and put it down, leave the church service or prayer meeting and seek the help of someone experienced and trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and can prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to calm those misfiring synapses and enable you or your loved one to get some rest and relief.  Just sayin’.

So here’s a handy little rule of thumb for your basic Science vs. Bible conflicts.  If your “scientist” is asserting things that science can’t speak to: i.e. “science proves that God doesn’t exist” or “science proves miracles don’t happen”, then you can assert the authority and sufficiency of scripture to answer them.  But if the situation at hand involves measurable, quantifiable, observable, questions of the material physical universe i.e. reality; then go with the person who has experience in taking the measurements and quantifying the results and put a higher value on their judgment in the matter.  mmmK?  \rant off


  1. Bravo!

    Heath Lambert is in the SAME category as people who deny their children medical care and simply pray for them until the children die, often in agony; and the SAME category as people who refuse blood transfusions and perish from the resulting blood loss during an emergency; and the SAME category as parents who will not listen to their pediatricians and refuse to have their children vaccinated against potentially deadly childhood diseases . . . .

    if anything, the agony of a person who is deeply depressed and suffering from anxiety is as severe as someone in a ‘panic’ mode where their blood pressure and heart rate is affected and they become nauseated . . . . . the medical relationship to psychological and psychiatric problems has been established so much so that a really good counselor who takes patients will work WITH medical doctors if those patients need to be seen and evaluated for prescriptions. Of course, a psychiatrist has the authority to prescribe, being both a medical doctor and a psychiatrist.

    I hate to think of the unnecessary suffering that awaits people who trust in these quacks. Nothing wrong with a pastor being pastoral, but counseling is a certified profession, not some theological theory about the ‘sufficiency of Scripture’ and if some untrained and poorly informed ‘bible counselor’ takes people off of needed prescriptive medications, then their blood will be on his hands, and I imagine their families could sue for mal-practice. ‘Getting right with God’ is what these quacks need to do themselves and they can start with some humility and a re-introduction to the fruit of the Holy Spirit . . . . . this ‘control’ over suffering people by religious fundamentalists is a form of abuse and I am sad to hear that anyone in the SBC would permit this abuse and call it ‘Christian’. If one of these quacks is into ‘exorcism’, then let them call a pro: an RC priest who is properly trained as an exorcist to screen out medical and psychiatric causes for behaviors and refer those cases to the proper help . . . . . I don’t think Lambert is in their league, no

  2. Theology based models for psychiatric cures are nothing but witch-doctoring. Lambert and all others who use them rather than a clinically and medically based approach are certainly hurting those who come to them for help. Psychiatric illness is a human affliction, not a Christian one.

    Having said that, my own experience as a patient with certified counselors and clinical models has been less than desired. For every one counselor that I could work with, there were four I couldn’t; and just when I had found one that I could work with, my insurance situation changed, and that one was no longer in-network, making them impossible for me to afford. In addition, on a couple of occasions, my counselors suggested medication for mild but chronic depression as part of the therapeutic approach. They contacted my primary care physician, and I started taking the med (several were tried), but after a short while, I started having suicidal thoughts when I had had none before taking the med! This has made me personally extremely hesitant to take prescription medication as part of my psychological treatment. I recognize that for many people with extreme psychiatric illness, such meds are a lifesaver. But I also know that medical science is in the infancy of dealing with psychiatric illness, and there is a significant failure rate in the clinical approaches that currently exist.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Theology based models for psychiatric cures are nothing but witch-doctoring.


    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Agree Strongly. On both aspects. The issue is that the current model lets counselors assume the status of medical professionals. With recent traumatic family events I had some good conversations with my own psychologist – who remarked that he doesn’t like to refer people t recommend people to non-PhD psychologists. To some that sounds elitist, but in fact, it is an acknowledgement that treating people as a psychologist should be akin to treating them medically. Not that there are no bad doctors (medically), but it improves the overall standard of care.

  3. Thus brought to my mind an article written by T. David Gordon, formerly of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, in which he savagely critiqued the notion that the Bible is self-sufficient in speaking to all matters of human life. He was nearly run out of the Reformed movement on a rail for it – in fact, the magazine it originally appeared in scrubbed it from its archives.

    “Where the big change has occurred in my own thinking has been with regard to the disastrous consequences of the common misunderstanding of the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. We appear to have lost the historic Protestant understanding of the importance of Natural Revelation, and have tended to function as though such revelation were not necessary. If anything has changed, then, it is that I would now argue with equal zeal for the insufficiency of scripture in other than religious or covenantal areas. I would want to argue now that scripture is not a sufficient guide to many aspects of life, other than in the sense of providing religious direction and motivation to all of life.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      He was nearly run out of the Reformed movement on a rail for it – in fact, the magazine it originally appeared in scrubbed it from its archives.

      As of today, It Never Existed, Comrades.
      As of today, He Never Existed, Comrades.
      doubleplusungood ref doubleplusunperson,
      doubleplusungood ref doubleplusunarticle.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > the Bible is self-sufficient in speaking to all matters of human life

      Which is a notion so patently absurd the response should be to laugh-out-loud when it is encountered.

  4. This is just another example of FUNDAMENTALISM gone wild IMO.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    What is dangerous is the idea that only Bible verses are “sufficient” for counseling Christians and there is no value for knowledge gained through “secular” means.

    Substitute “Koran” for “Bible” and you have today’s “Islamic Medicine” of the Taliban and other “Al’lah’s Shadows Upon the Earth”. I remember reading about it a couple years ago. Diagnosis by Koranic Bibliomantic Divination and treatment by beating them with rods while reciting the Koran to drive out the Jinn that is possessing them.

    (And 800 years ago, Islamic medical knowledge was the most advanced in the world. Guess that was too “secular”…)

    Go ahead, try and reason with them. Try to convince them they haven’t blasphemed the Holy Ghost, put your “biblical counseling” skills to work and see how far that gets you. It doesn’t get you very far with someone who CANNOT prevent their brain from obsessive thoughts by their own willpower.

    “Reason” with a True Believer?
    Already anticipated you, Geology Man.
    Those “obsessive thoughts” are obviously DEMON POSSESSION!
    Or WITCHCRAFT!!!!!!!!

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Yep, been there, done that, have the T-shirt. Don’t want to tell you how many times said family member had “the demons cast out” to no effect only to have the family member accused of “secret sin” or whatnot. If I’m around now I will rudely put an immediate stop to the amatuer exorcism.

    • HUG,

      Islamic medical knowledge didn’t come from nowhere. Yes, Arabic people are great adapters, but they have to have something to adapt… Their medical knowledge came from Jewish physicians and physicians of the Byzantine empire that the Muslims encountered (and little by little conquered). Under the Turks – who insisted that the peoples they conquered look to their own religious groups for spiritual and physical care (including quasi-governmental organization under the Turkish iron fist) – that knowledge dissipated. With the rise of Wahhabism, the best Islamic physicians have been those educated in the West.


  6. Burro [Mule] says

    I have zero problem with the Bible being ‘sufficient’ for human flourishing. None. Where I draw the line, though, is the use of the historical-grammatical straightjacket as a means of ‘taming’ the Bible and maintaining priestly control over it, and more importantly, He who speaks through it.

    Once you disencumber the Bible from the “exegetes”, who basically crave power and little else, I have found that it functions somewhat like a spinal column in the human body, relating everything to everything else and negotiating communication between diverse elements of the human project that would have ordinarily been at loggerheads.

    ‘How does this differ from making the Bible say what you want it to, Mule? We need the objectivity of exegesis to tether the narrative!’ I leave answering this question as an exercise to the reader.

  7. I’m glad my car’s mechanic and my IT guy don’t think the Bible is sufficient for all of life’s problems.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Exactly. Isn’t it odd that these guys are entirely content to listen to “secular” sources – even trust them with their lives – UNTILL it touches one of their hot-button issues?

  8. It’s taken 4 years for me to crawl out of the depression I was in for years—thankfully my husband was supportive and could afford it. Went to a Christian counselor, and she rarely, repeat rarely, used the Bible or referenced it. I know what the Bible says and doesn’t say. I needed ‘secular’ wisdom. So much based in family dynamics (albeit Christian) that were just so skewed. I am of course, considered the rebel in my family—and I’m ok with that. I did not need meds, but I know many do, which is fine.

    There was/is no pastor I know of in my whole life who could’ve walked me through this process. It’s hard, ugly, discouraging, but soooo worth the struggle and work that it takes.

    To be free is incredible, and it frees me to worship the Lord as never before. Not locked into the ‘evangelical’ mindset that was so foisted on me. My mom still doesn’t like how I’ve changed…oh well. Live as pleasing to the Lord, and not as pleasing to men. (Ummm, loose translation)

    The church/pastors etc., are doing everyone a huge disservice—we are fearfully and wonderfully made…so complex, and God has given people over the years the ability to learn, research, study the human psyche…there are no pat answers, cuz we’re all different. Hello?

    My reading meditation this AM was Luke 6:36…be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.


  9. Another topic where I don’t engage anymore and am so glad and happy to be #done so I can just turn around and walk away and not be exposed to this week after week after week after week after

  10. Iain Lovejoy says

    A healthy diet, plenty of sleep and regular exercise are good for and necessary for a healthy body and can indeed help fend off many physical ailments. We do not however decide on that basis that no other medical treatment is necessary and prescribe them for a broken leg.
    A healthy spiritual life and religion is likewise good for and arguably necessary for a truly healthy mind, and may in some cases help fend off and deal with mental dysfunction. Doesn’t mean however you can cure depression with the Bible.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > A healthy diet, plenty of sleep and regular exercise are good for and necessary for a healthy body

      Note: we know that from entirely extra-biblical sources.

  11. I heard a very wise priestmonk – with degrees in psychology and drug addiction counseling – say in an interview that the Sacrament of Confession pertains to and deals with one’s own sin, but in order to thoroughly address others’ sins toward you, you need to see a qualified psychologist/psychiatrist. I don’t know any Orthodox priest who would offer any different advice than that. Fr Stephen has also written very insightfully about this.


  12. Susan Dumbrell says

    I am fortunate that I have an active Christian life within the little bush church I attend and a Clinical Psychologist, who is a Christian and never the two cross paths.
    He is pleased I have found a spiritual home but never intrudes with his views on this aspect of my life.
    He never questions the meds my GP prescribes.
    All three of these are separate and so they should be.

  13. “Why? Why this stubborn and unreasonable unwillingness to avail oneself of any and all information that might aid in someone’s wellbeing?”

    Over the last several decades so many so called Christian leaders have been on a crusade against science, reason, and higher learning education. Because apparently those things force them to reevaluate their world view and cause a loss of credibility with the people they are trying to control.

    This is just one of the many sad outcomes that have degraded the lives of the people who listen to them.

  14. That Other Jean says

    This topic seems to be rippling through the Christian blogosphere this week. Warren Throckmorton, a Psych professor at Grove City College, and also a counselor, wrote a series of posts this week concerning a case he treated of a boy with an odd fear (?) anxiety (?) reaction to being in his classroom. After explaining his own treatment, he invited two Christian-oriented counselors to comment on how they would have treated the boy, then posted his reactions. It’s definitely a series worth reading.