Nashville Statement Question: Are GLBT Christians Saved?

Nashville logoSince the Nashville Statement was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a focus of criticism has been Article 10 which states:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

The president of the Council is Denny Burk. About Article 10, Burk wrote:

That is why Article 10 of The Nashville Statement is as important as any other article before you today… We are not arguing today about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We are not spinning our wheels about adiaphora or some issue of moral indifference. We are declaring what it means to be a male or female image-bearer. We are defining the nature of the marriage covenant and of the sexual holiness and virtue. To get these questions wrong is to walk away from Jesus not to him. There is no more central concern than that.
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.

Some observers have interpreted Article 10 as a claim that GLBT Christians and those who affirm them are not Christians at all. Saying that those who reject the Nashville Statement are “rejecting Christianity altogether” appears to be a strong statement about salvation and so it isn’t completely clear what the CBMW authors and signers have in mind.
Over the past week, I asked several Nashville Statement authors and signers how they understood Article 10. Most said the article wasn’t a statement about salvation. However, the CBMW and leaders involved in the group (e.g., Denny Burk) haven’t answered direct requests for an interpretation.

Differences of Opinion Among Signers

One signer, radio host and minister Michael Brown, said God is the “ultimate judge” of who is saved and who isn’t. However, he added that, in his view, the article is pertinent to the topic of salvation. In response to my question about the meaning of Article X, Brown told me

God alone is the ultimate judge of who is saved and lost, but yes, I believe this is equivalent to a couple living in adultery. The Word says those who practice adultery will not inherit God’s kingdom, and therefore it is heretical to state they will (1 Cor 6:9-10).
But definitions are important here.
If by “gay Christians” you mean practicing homosexuals, I would say they cannot follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time. (Again, God is their ultimate judge and He knows whether they are in ignorance or rebellion.) If you mean people who struggle with SSA but seek to honor the Lord, of course they can struggle while following Jesus. They are champions with whom we stand strong.
Can I say that someone is not saved if they affirm homosexual practice? Certainly, I cannot say that.
Can I say they are embracing heresy? That they are no longer evangelical? That they are endangering their souls and the souls of others? Absolutely.
This has been my position all along, so it was easy for me to sign on here.

Brown seems to hedge a bit but leans toward doubting the profession of salvation by a GLBT Christian. On the other hand, signer and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior believes Article 10 refers to orthodoxy and not salvation. She said:

I see an important and crucial distinction between the word “faithfulness” (the word used in the statement) and the word “faith.”  A departure from “Christian faithfulness and witness” is not the same as a departure from “the Christian faith.”  I was surprised and dismayed that some people seem to see those two words as having the same meaning.

This is an important question. If the Nashville Statement authors and signers intend to limit salvation to those who affirm the statement, then Romans 10:13 will need to be reworded.

Those who call on the name of the Lord and affirm the Nashville Statement on GLBT issues shall be saved.

Nashville Statement signers, what do you think Article 10 means?

If you signed the statement, please leave a comment. What do you think Article 10 is all about? If you didn’t sign it, what is your impression of it?

Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology: Tim Allchin Reacts to McConnell and Throckmorton

photo-1472162314594-eca3c3d90df1_opt
In this final article in the Biblical Counseling v. Christian psychology series, Biblical counselor Tim Allchin provides his reactions to A.J. McConnell and me. I will have some additional remarks at the conclusion of this post.

Allchin: Thank you for letting me take part in this series.  I enjoyed the interaction and perspectives and the shared heart we have for helping this young man thrive (click here for the case of school refusal).  I also appreciated the fact that we could disagree without choosing to divert the conversation into name-calling or mockery.  Too many of these conversations have carried the tonality that was often found in the comments section but the main articles modeled a better way of interaction.  I hope biblical counselors and Christian psychologist and secular counselors can learn from each other and learn to discuss our differences with respect.  We will often disagree, but Christian counselors must be committed to conversations that are full of grace and truth.
Regarding the case study, I agree with Dr. Allen Frances when he states that “accurate diagnosis in kids is really tough and time consuming. Misdiagnosis in kids is really easy and can be done in 10 minutes. Accurate diagnosis in kids leads to helpful interventions that can greatly improve future life. Misdiagnosis in kids often leads to harmful medication and haunting stigma.”  All three counselors clearly care about the child and want him to be treated carefully and bring different perspectives to the table.

Two questions I would raise in response to the critiques of biblical counseling and the case study mentioned:

What is the best way to view anxiety?  Is anxiety a cognitive, physiological or spiritual issue? It is all three.  Anxiety is not best viewed as purely a physiological disorder disconnected from any current or past thought process that have solidified one’s viewpoint of life.  This is confirmed by the fact that the evidenced based research confirms CBT is the most effective mental health treatment for anxiety disorders.  I agree with AJ’s statement, “a child with this condition, is experiencing a significant amount of fear that they do not know how to respond to appropriately.” Even adults don’t know how to respond to our fears on our own.   More than 500 times in scripture the condition of fear is address either in command or narrative.   Why is this such a strong theme?  Fear is part of our fallen condition which needs to be redeemed and transformed.  It is there from birth and in some ways will be there till we die, but hope for the anxious is not found in relaxation, medicine or distractions.  It is found in the cross, where Jesus died and where the new creation is consummated.  Our anchor in anxiety within a Christian counseling model should be Romans 8:38-39  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  If we have the hope of the world, why would we hide it?
Anxiety is clearly a spiritual condition as well if we are to take seriously the words of Jesus, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” “which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life,” “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”  In the case of PANDA’s (which is likely a small portion of overall anxiety cases), physiological feelings that mimic the physiological feelings of anxiety are not the same as cognitive and spiritual anxiety. Throckmorton writes, “Depression, panic disorders, eating disorders, etc., represent mind-body dysfunctions which require the help of science to understand and treat. I appreciate that Tim Allchin recommends good medical care, but in doing so it appears to me that he goes beyond the scope of the 95 Theses.” But Heath Lambert writes in Theses 84 “It is a misunderstanding of the essential nature of human beings—with a body and a soul—for Christians to minimize the importance of medical treatment in their care for troubled people (1 Tim 5:23).”  If any part of anxiety is a spiritual issue, then it is a heart issue. Again Lambert asserts in Theses 83,  “It is a misunderstanding of the essential nature of human beings—made with a body and a soul—for Christians to present physical interventions as solutions to spiritual problems.”  In reality, every counseling issue is also a spiritual heart issue (Proverbs 4:23).  With our heart, we choose to care for our God-given body (I Cor. 3:16-17).  With our heart, we choose to embrace new ways of thinking about our anxieties (I Peter 5:7-9).  We respond to physical pain, emotional trauma, and relational disappointment with a spiritual response, not just a physical one (James 1:2-4).  Certainly, we need a medical response to physiological issues, but thriving physiology is not sufficient to help people thrive.  They need to know, fear and love God to thrive.  This is an essential evangelical commitment that shouldn’t be placed aside, even in the counseling office.
Why does this matter?  Throckmorton writes “Techniques are judged by their utility in solving a problem.”  Biblical counselors would insist that anxieties are both physiological and spiritual in nature.  Just because you might be able to sever the physiological difficulties associated with anxiety does not mean that you have solved the spiritual struggle of anxiety.  It’s not that we would minimize the physiological care, but we would see it as inadequate and incomplete for holistic care. Second, we would view many physiological symptoms that accompany anxiety as able to be reduced through healthier thought patterns and physical care (sleep, exercise, nutrition and structure) in keeping with the pattern laid out in scripture.   The spirit of man is real, even if it can’t be measured and it needs to be treated.  Conversely, the spirit of man resides within a physical body that impacts how the spirit functions and it needs to be treated as well.  This dualist nature of man is routinely described within the commands and narratives of scripture and corresponds with good science in the contemporary culture.   It also corresponds how the Christian church has wrestled with these issues through the entirety of the history of the church.  I like how David Powlison brings a balance to this tension, “If you don’t seek to meet people’s physical needs, it’s heartless. But if you don’t give people the crucified, risen and returning Christ, it’s hopeless.”
Does biblical compliance help a young person thrive? 
Throckmorton’s critique of biblical counseling was that the “biblical counseling approach is wrong to put emphasis on lack of biblical compliance, especially with childhood mental health concerns. It is too easy to feel false guilt tied to the belief that mental and emotional problems stem from lack of biblical compliance. This focus can also distract a counselor from more pressing problems in a client’s life.”  I would ask in response,  “Is there ever a downside to someone who chooses biblical compliance as a way of life?”  For instance, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” “my ways are not burdensome,” and “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  How could a Christian counseling model not intentionally teach that biblical compliance is of utmost importance to thrive in life?
Biblical Counseling is careful lest we create “better functioning rebels” who behavior and symptoms improve but whose heart is no more tender towards the Lord.  I would argue that all of us in our natural state are rebels and offensive towards God.  This applies to everyone regardless of what diagnosis they face.  The cancer patient is a rebel towards God.  However, the Bible does not teach that cancer is a punishment for sin or that the cancer patient received cancer because of their sin.  Still, “no one is righteous, not one.” However, I absolutely agree that Jesus’s conversation were deeper than simply than a declaration of the sinfulness of humanity. They were full of questions that revealed grace, hope, judgment, doctrine, empathy and correction. They were the full orb of conversational dynamics that were flexible to meet the heart condition of those he encountered.  He was the “good shepherd” in every way.  His conversations sought to increase the faith of those he came in contact with.  Those who were seeking answers, terminally ill, spiritually tormented, downtrodden from life, trapped in sin, oppressed by systemic injustice, hard-hearted by traditions, similar heart conditions to those who would often seek counsel in any psychologists or biblical counselors office today.  Jesus had an agenda to seek to strengthen their faith and love for him.   This is at the core of Christianity.  Biblical compliance without heart change was offensive to Jesus. He referred to it as “whitewashing a tombstone.”
Finishing with a few things I learned:
Biblical counselors are always looking for creative ways to help people apply the principles of the Word of God to everyday situations.  Both psychologists gave some creative answers about how to help a young person thrive and to help his parents love him well.  I appreciated reading the creativity and much of that is adaptable in a biblical counseling context.
Christian psychologists and biblical counselors often speak about the same things in different language.  It required all of us to be patient to understand the perspectives that each brings to the table. I think we made a good attempt to do that and the christian counseling community would benefit if we all did that more.

I have appreciated the tone and content of this exchange involving Allchin and McConnell. I believe the series is a good model for how to discuss deep differences among counselors of various types.

My Response to Allchin

Regarding Allchin’s remarks, I am skeptical of the following claims:

Allchin: What is the best way to view anxiety?  Is anxiety a cognitive, physiological or spiritual issue? It is all three.

Sometimes it is all three and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes and for some people, anxiety comes as the result of faulty thinking and/or a lack of trust. At other times and for other people, anxiety is more like a faulty fire alarm. It just goes off with a full blown anxiety reaction without any spiritual or cognitive trigger. Effective counseling interventions reflect the assessment of different types of anxiety. While I might consider emphasizing patience in the case of anxiety as faulty fire alarm, I would not be inclined to use verses about one kind of fear as an intervention for another kind of fear. Lumping all experiences of anxiety together can lead to misapplications and ultimately unhelpful interventions.

Allchin:  Certainly, we need a medical response to physiological issues, but thriving physiology is not sufficient to help people thrive.  They need to know, fear and love God to thrive.  This is an essential evangelical commitment that shouldn’t be placed aside, even in the counseling office.

We don’t have a definition of thrive, but I am skeptical about this in a general sense. According to Christianity, we need to know God to be redeemed. If thriving is defined as being in a relationship with God, then only those in such a relationship can be described as thriving. However, non-believers prosper and can be well-adjusted and happy.
Another problem I have with this statement is the claim that evangelical commitments shouldn’t be placed aside in the counseling office. While that may be defensible when counseling Christians who seek it, I can’t see how this works with non-believers.

Allchin: Just because you might be able to sever the physiological difficulties associated with anxiety does not mean that you have solved the spiritual struggle of anxiety.  It’s not that we would minimize the physiological care, but we would see it as inadequate and incomplete for holistic care.

Allchin argues that a spiritual struggle must invariably occur with anxiety as a psychophysiological experience. I disagree. Anxiety might provoke a spiritual crisis but I believe anxiety can happen to any human, no matter how spiritually sound. For me, the care of the individual is what drives how holistic my interventions will be.
Allchin takes my disinterest in biblical compliance in the case of the school refusal as a sign that I minimize or disregard compliance with the Bible.

Allchin: I would ask in response,  “Is there ever a downside to someone who chooses biblical compliance as a way of life?”

I never argued that being compliant with the Bible isn’t a good thing. I did argue that we should not assume that non-compliance is behind the problems bring to counseling. Since I didn’t see any link between the school refusal symptoms and the boy’s religious life, why would I spend time focusing on something that wasn’t mission critical?
Allchin’s answer is that all people are sinners and so all people need an intervention at that level. While I agree that all people are fallible and subject to problems, I don’t think Christian counselors must address specific sin as a component of medical and psychological treatment.

Summary

Again, I appreciate the participation of Drs. Allchin and McConnell. The exchange has taught me a lot about Biblical counseling and helped me sharpen my perspectives.

Is the Nashville Statement Irenic?

Nashville logoWilliam Lane Craig said it is irenic but I think the answer may depend on which side of the line you are on.

Irenic – (adjective) aiming or aimed at peace. (noun) a part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects.

Written and promoted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Nashville Statement is a series of affirmations and denials which condemns affirmation of GLBT people. The statement has been criticized by gay affirming and traditional Christians alike on various grounds.
A recent signer touted by the CBMW is Christian apologist William Lane Craig. In a statement tweeted by the Council, Craig said:


Given the level of controversy over the statement, it is hard to understand how the Nashville Statement brings Christians together. In fact, it brought some Christians together while excluding others.
One purpose of the Nashville Statement, according to one of the authors Denny Burk, is to draw a line in the sand. Article 10 of the statement reads:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

About that article, Burk said:

Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.

Signer Peter Sprigg said this about the statement:

Anyone who cannot agree with the affirmations and denials in the Nashville Statement has essentially departed from biblical and historical Christian orthodoxy.

I don’t think the authors and signers mean the statement to be about peace.
Catholics have signed the evangelical statement. New signer William Lane Craig’s take on the deity and humanity of Christ has raised some eyebrows. Various views of the trinity are represented among the signers. Some signers believe Christians can lose their salvation and others don’t.* Apparently, these are now minor differences compared to differences regarding views of sexual orientation and gender identity.
So a bunch of Christians have gathered together on one side of the line and others have gathered on the other side of the line.  Those who are aware of the statement have come together against each other. In this view of irenic, I suppose you could say gays are an irenogenic force.
I say the Nashville Statement is irenic like Donald Trump is irenic. Polarizing might be a better word.

The Romans Statement is an Irenic Statement

To me, an irenic statement is the one found in Romans 10: 6-13.

6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

If GLBT people believe in Jesus, according to the Roman Statement, they will never be put to shame. It takes Jesus’ followers to do that. By now, there are over 17,000 of them (click on signers) irenically on their side of the line.
Whatever beliefs one holds, I hope we can work a little harder to discuss them a bit more irenically.

Do Gays Stay Saved?

Over the past week, I have asked several signers of the Nashville Statement if Article 10 means that gays are not saved (“an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness”). I would really like to know what the authors of the Nashville Statement believe about this. Romans 10 seems clear that the matter is pretty simple, but Article 10 raises questions about what kind of gospel is being affirmed by this statement. Very few signers have commented and so the ambiguity remains. I would like to hear from any signers about what you believe Article 10 to mean regarding redemption.
 
*I have talked to several who have different views on whether or not gays remain saved if they identify as gay.

Biblical Counseling and Sufficiency of the Bible

counseling image 2I am in the process of evaluating the 95 Theses published by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. The first post is here.  Today, I evaluate theses six through eleven. These statements seem to be key components of biblical counseling.

6. When people experience difficulties as they live in a fallen world, they require wisdom about life to help them face these problems (Prov 19:20).
7. The wisdom to confront life’s difficulties is most often communicated in conversations our culture refers to as counseling.
8. The issues of concern in counseling pertain to problems people face as they relate the difficulties in their life to the faith and practice described in Scripture.

I agree that counseling conversations often relate to common problems with work and family and that clients often want advice about them. I also agree that many problems in living are illustrated in Bible stories. In these situations, Christians could be well served by getting advice from someone who has studied the Bible thoroughly and has a knack for application. However, I don’t believe that all counseling problems involve requests for advice or guidance. Some relate to mental illness in self or others. I will say more about those counseling conversations below.
Furthermore, people today face problems never contemplated by people in the Bible. For instance, advice about what college to attend, what major to take, or what career to pursue, etc. are all specific issues which require specific, individualized conversations. The Bible doesn’t give any specific advice about how to choose a college or academic major.
Although clients may benefit from biblical principles about decision making, a conversation about the specific college and major still requires an individualized focus which could involve various career assessments and information about occupations not mentioned in the Bible.

9. Because counseling problems concern the very same issues that God writes about in his Word, it is essential to have a conversation about the contents of the Bible to solve counseling problems.

I may not understand the meaning of this statement, but on the surface, it seems inadequate and unrealistic. Frequently, counseling problems are similar to those described in the Bible, but often they are much different. We live in a different era and culture. There are daily demands which are radically different than anything reported in the Bible.

10. The subject matter of counseling conversations is the wisdom needed to deal with life’s problems, and so counseling is not a discipline that is fundamentally informed by science, but by the teaching found in God’s Word.

As I demonstrated in my article on school refusal, all conversations don’t require Bible knowledge in order to address the problems people bring to counseling. We could have talked about the Bible in my sessions with the school refusal family, but I can’t see how it would have addressed the main reason they came to see me. On the contrary, we discussed a solution which did not come from my study of the Bible but rather my study of family systems theory. I could have consulted the Bible for days and not come up with that.
Although the case of the boy with school refusal ended well, I now realize he might have had a medical problem which triggered separation anxiety. The problem I wrote about — PANDAS — was discovered by scientists at the NIMN, not theologians in the Bible. There are many other problems which afflict humans in the mind and mood which we have come to understand through science. Counselors, biblical or otherwise, ask for trouble when research is ignored.

11. When the Bible claims to address all the issues concerning life and godliness, it declares itself to be a sufficient and an authoritative resource to address everything essential for counseling conversations (2 Pet 1:3-4).

Actually, these verses don’t say that the Bible addresses “everything essential for counseling interventions.” I think Dr. Lambert and his supporters engage in eisegesis and not exegesis of these verses. Second Peter 1:3-4 reads:

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Through His divine power, we have the Bible (although the New Testament wasn’t fully together at this time), we have the Holy Spirit and the church. These resources provide sufficient moral teaching to let us know what God requires of us. Because of those divine resources, we can have a place in God’s Kingdom. This is Peter’s focus in the chapter.
However, the Bible does not promise to provide the best way to assess and treat medical and mental disorders. I can’t find that promise in 2 Peter or anywhere else. Those disorders are valid subjects of counseling conversations. Often with the involvement of several healthcare professionals, people find relief from these problems.
Peter promises that resources are available to live “a godly life” not a problem-free life. As a matter of experience, I have known many godly people who experience mental and emotional disorders. Godly Christians and non-Christians experience these conditions. Assertions to the contrary are contrary to reality.  I believe biblical counselors who hold to thesis eleven read into 2 Peter something that wasn’t intended.
The authority and sufficiency of Scripture for counseling is the key tenet of biblical counseling. There are numerous overlapping statements in the 95 Theses. I will pick up my critique of this theme in the next post.
To read all posts in the 95 Theses series, click here.
 

The National Anthem Controversy and the McCain-Flake Report on Paid Patriotism

Paid Patriotism
As a memory refresh, here is what President Trump said about athletes who take a knee during the playing of the national anthem before sporting events. Primarily he aimed this at professional football players. Watch:

In the clip above, Trump called on National Football League team owners to fire protesting players and asserted that owners should tell respond, “‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” when a player protests during the anthem.
These comments have ignited another firestorm with Trump at the center.
What gets lost in the battle between protest supporters and opponents is the fact that prior to 2009, players on the field for the anthem during primetime wasn’t routine (for more specifics on the history of the anthem and the NFL, see this article). In fact, since then and until recently, many pre-game ceremonies are purchased with tax payer funds. Based on a report by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, “paid patriotism” has benefited NFL teams at a hefty cost to tax payers. In fact, the Department of Defense has paid sports teams to put on patriotic displays in order to aid recruitment. From the report:

Dear Taxpayer,
In 2013, a roaring crowd cheered as the Atlanta Falcons welcomed ϴϬ National Guard members who unfurled an American flag across the Georgia Dome’s turf. Little did those fans—or millions of other Americans—know that the National Guard had actually paid the Atlanta Falcons for this display of patriotism as part of a $315,000 marketing contract.
This unfortunate story is not limited to professional football, but is repeated at other professional and college sporting events around the nation. In fact, these displays of paid patriotism are included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012.
Consider this: Honoring five Air Force Officers put $1,500 into the pockets of the L.A. Galaxy. In another example, taxpayers footed the $10,000 bill for an on-field swearing-in ceremony with the World Series finalist New York Mets. And the list goes on. By paying for such heartwarming displays like recognition of wounded warriors, surprise homecomings, and on-field enlistment ceremonies, these displays lost their luster. Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams’ authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform. This not only betrays the sentiment and trust of fans, but casts an unfortunate shadow over the genuine patriotic partnerships that do so much for our troops, such as the National Football League’s Salute to the Service campaign.
While many professional sporting teams do include patriotic events as a pure display of national pride, this report highlights far too many instances when that is simply not the case. When our offices first discovered this practice, we sought to better understand it from DOD and introduced an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to end these taxpayer funded salutes to the troops.
The United States Senate’s oversight has worked. DOD has banned paid patriotism and the NFL has called on all clubs to stop accepting payment for patriotic salutes.
However, more work remains. Despite our success curbing this inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, DOD still cannot fully account for the nature and extent of paid patriotism activities. In fact, more than a third of the contracts highlighted in this report were not included in DOD’s list; instead, our offices discovered the additional contracts through our own investigative work. In the end, two-thirds of the contracts found by our offices or reported by DOD contained some form of paid patriotism. Direct and persistent sunlight is the best way to ensure that such activities are not continued. What follows is not an exhaustive list of all DOD sports marketing contracts, but a selection of clear examples where taxpayers—not the teams—paid for patriotism and VIP perks. It is time to allow major sports teams’ legitimate tributes to our soldiers to shine with national pride rather than being cast under the pallor of marketing gimmicks paid for by American taxpayers.

No wonder some players feel the anthem is an appropriate vehicle to express their opinions. The DOD and NFL have been using those pre-game events to conduct business and put on a show. Now that athletes want to exercise their First Amendment rights with no cost to anyone, they are demonized for it.
In any case, requiring players to stand for the national anthem is a recent practice. One should not argue that the players who take a knee or do something other than stand are violating a time honored tradition.
Personally, I think peaceful protest is noble and should not be discouraged. In any case, America is not a totalitarian regime where ideological compliance with the rulers is required. For this reason, Donald Trump’s encouragement to NFL owners to fire protesting players is especially distressing.

The Village Church to Spin Off Video Venues into Autonomous Local Churches

Village Church
About an hour ago, The Village Church in Dallas-Fort Worth announced that they plan to spin off five campuses into autonomous churches.


Watch the video description on the church website (the longer sermon about multiplication is on the church’s Youtube page).
The plan includes:

  • Transition our remaining campuses into autonomous churches
  • Plant churches locally with the DFW Church Planting Network
  • Plant churches with Acts 29
  • Increase local and global missions involvement

According to the church, this plan has been part of the wishes of the elders for several years. The church leaders feel that now is the time to implement the plan. From the church website:

A few years ago, the elders shared their conviction that the Lord was leading us to transition our campuses into autonomous churches, beginning with the Denton campus, a conviction that had been developing for several years. There was not a specific timeline in place for the other campuses; instead, we would rely on the Holy Spirit and when it felt right to do so. We feel that the Lord has made the timing clear to us now and we plan to transition all the campuses within the next five years.
Establishing a timeline allows us to share it with the staff and the church at large so that we can all pray and plan together. We also believe that campus rolloffs will lead to better, more contextualized ministry for our campuses and our cities, and we want to get to that reality as soon as is sensible. It also gives an answer to succession, helping us to be proactive rather than reactive about it. And, of course, it is an outworking of our mission statement.

Will The Village Church Enable a Trend?

Mars Hill Church comes to mind as a church which went from one video pastor based church to a group of independent churches. Of course, that move happened because the mega church became unsustainable after the demise of Mark Driscoll’s work there. I have heard that Gateway Church may also move this direction. I hope the next wave of church evolution is away from a centralized mega church and to smaller, more intimate and accountable organizations.

After Being Fired, Former Gospel for Asia Employee Looks for Help

Pope KP2Tom Sluberski once was the web developer for Gospel for Asia. He has since left and become a vocal critic of GFA. In a GoFundMe page entry, he highlights the case of Michelle Alexander, 72, a former employee at GFA. In a video, Michelle tells a story of being fired after she invested over 12 years and her life’s savings in GFA.
Watch:

Michelle was given 30 days to get off the campus based on a “leadership decision.” She said she was not given a reason. The GoFundMe page begins:

Please help Michele, age 72, she had been with a ministry called Gospel for Asia for 12.5 years. Michele was planning on being at that ministry her whole life, in fact she gave the ministry her life savings. In June 2017 Michele was called into a meeting with HR and told she had 30 days to leave the campus and she was no longer part of the ministry. That was shocking to Michele, she had been recovering from a recent knee replacement surgey and leg surgery. Now she had to pack up and find somewhere new to live. The ministry even took it upon themselves to notify Michele’s supporters that she was leaving, even before they told Michele.

A request for comment or correction was requested from GFA with no reply.

Series: Evaluation of 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling

photo-1469072966130-c7db89307f88_opt
This week Tim Allchin, biblical counselor from Chicago, will help me complete the series I started on Biblical counseling v. Christian psychology (read the prior posts here).  This series was triggered by the news that Christian psychologist Eric Johnson was fired/taking early retirement from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. With Johnson’s departure, the seminary is committed completely to a biblical counseling model. One expression of that model can be found in a document written by Heath Lambert titled 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling.
With this post, I want to start a new series during which I will critique one or more of the theses from my vantage point as a mental health counselor and psychology professor.
I offer this series in keeping with the stated desire of Heath Lambert, the author of the theses and executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors:

And so I offer these theses for the purpose of debate. But they are also offered with a prayer. My prayer is that the spirit of the Reformers to recover the emphasis on divine grace in their day would be the commitment that Christians would have today regarding counseling.

Thus, I welcome the reaction of Dr. Lambert at any time during the series.

Counseling in Contemporary Culture

I will list one or more of the theses and then comment. There isn’t much to disagree with in the first three theses:

1. Christians in the twenty-first century live at a time when the counseling practice of many evangelical churches is marked by chaos and confusion regarding the nature of counseling.
2. Secular therapy has defined the nature and terms of counseling for more than a hundred years, and Christians responding to its influence have been confounded by it—not knowing whether to consume this secular therapy in an undiluted form, to combine it in some way with resources from the Christian tradition, or to reject it entirely in favor of an approach that relies exclusively on scriptural resources.
3. The confusion that exists on the part of Christians has been a distressing source of conflict among brothers and sisters in Christ who debate these issues, and has caused pain in the lives of troubled Christians who seek counseling care.

In don’t know how many are in “chaos” but I would agree that some Christians are confused about counseling. Generally, there is much we don’t know about mental health and brain based diseases and so it seems reasonable that Christians would also experience the confusion which goes along with that. Number two captures the broad historic responses to psychology by those in the church.

4. It is a matter of urgency that Christians coalesce around an understanding of counseling that is authentically Christian (Col 3:14).

Let me go out on a limb here and say that I doubt Christians will ever “coalesce” around any one understanding of anything. I disagree that it is a matter of urgency to come to one understanding. However, I do think it would be good if those who hold different views could discuss them rationally and on the merits. We can and should disagree agreeably without casting doubts on the spiritual commitment of ideological opponents.
Furthermore, the diversity of settings within which counseling is conducted make it unlikely that one view will ever win the day. Some Christians work in the public sector, others work in private settings such as the church. I don’t think we have a one-size-fits-all audience, so we won’t have just one approach to counseling.

5. A commitment to counseling that is authentically Christian requires believers in Christ to understand the nature of counseling, which resources must be used in counseling, and to possess growing skill in caring for people in need of counseling.

I don’t disagree, although I know that my definition of the nature of counseling and resources allowed is much broader than Lambert’s.
Again, I welcome Dr. Lambert’s reaction at any time. I don’t have a specific time table for the series and will post as time permits.
 
For more on Biblical counseling v. Christian psychology, see this series.
For all posts in the 95 Theses series, click here.

Christian Psychology v. Biblical Counseling: A. J. McConnell Reacts to Allchin and Throckmorton

Greek_uc_psi.svgI am in the middle of a series comparing and contrasting Christian psychology and Biblical counseling. Using a case of school refusal as a prompt, I have featured the conceptualizations of Biblical counselor Tim Allchin, and Christian psychologist A.J. McConnell as points of comparison to my description of how the case turned out. Today, A.J. McConnell sums up his views in this reaction to Allchin and me.  Next week, Dr. Allchin will provide a similar reaction to McConnell and me. After Allchin’s reaction, then I will wrap up the series.*

Overall, I have enjoyed reading the varying perspectives presented on this topic in both the responses by Dr. Tim Allchin and Dr. Warren Throckmorton as well as the comments provided by other readers in the comments section. Before I comment on Dr. Allchin’s and Dr. Throckmorton’s approaches, I wanted to briefly respond to a few of Dr. Throckmorton’s critiques on my conceptualization.
Dr. Throckmorton wrote:
“I have concerns about advocating techniques a client doesn’t ordinarily believe in or engage in as a technique….While there is research which links stress reduction with meditation, I believe Christian prayer should be a voluntary and spontaneous response to God rather than a prescribed technique of counseling.”
I agree with your statement and would never recommend or prescribe a technique that is contrary to a person’s belief system. If a Christian requests that I integrate Biblical principles with my knowledge of psychological interventions, I always first assess what spiritual disciplines they use in their daily life. This usually leads to a discussion on how they can use these disciplines as an adjunct with other interventions.
Dr. Throckmorton also stated:
“I must add that counseling is about much more than advice or guidance in moral decision making.”
I also agree with this statement. Not every issue brought into a counseling session is a moral issue. For example, I believe that an individual pursuing treatment for anxiety is looking for practical strategies they can use to stop having anxious thoughts and/or physical manifestations of anxiety. Similar to how a medical intervention can help anyone regardless of their religious beliefs, psychological science has provided several effective interventions that can help reduce anxiety or other mental health concerns.
My response to Dr. Allchin:
I enjoyed reading Tim Allchin’s conceptualization of the case example and respect his point of view. I found myself agreeing with many of Tim’s general interventions. Specifically, I agreed on the following points:

  1. I agree about medications not being the first option in this case. There are cognitive and behavioral interventions, for example, that can be used before even considering the need for medications. As Dr. Throckmorton discussed in his response about the role of PANDAS and separation anxiety, I would recommend the parents speak to the child’s pediatrician in order to rule out any underlying medical factors to this problem.
  1. I also agree that establishing a relationship with the child and family is vital for effective therapy. There are several research studies that indicate a strong therapeutic alliance is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, factor in effective outcomes in therapy. In other words, having a good relationship between a therapist and the child is just as important, and even more important, than the specific interventions used.
  1. I also agree with some of the examples of using a physical redirect as a replacement for anxious thoughts or behaviors. An example of a principle associated with behaviorism indicates that a behavior you are trying to extinguish needs to be replaced by an alternative behavior. Identifying alternative behaviors or physical redirects is a common strategy used by counselors.

In contrast, there are also areas in which I disagree with Allchin regarding this case. Here are a few examples:
Dr. Allchin wrote:
“What does the Bible say he needs to “put off” regarding fearful behaviors that lead to disobedience?”
Separation anxiety is a disorder and I do not believe that it comes from a spirit of disobedience towards God, the school, or the child’s parents. A child with this condition is experiencing a significant amount of fear that they do not know how to respond to appropriately.
Dr. Allchin also wrote:
“I would seek to help them identify emotions, behaviors, habits, beliefs, and heart motivations….. Biblical counselors seek to determine Action Steps that help a child function in a way that pleases God.”
Again, I perceive these quotes as indicating the problem is a “heart” issue rather than an issue of mental health. I did not get the sense in reading the case description that the child or family were exhibiting any oppositional, defiant, or other behaviors that would lead me to suspect any issues with their core belief system. Therefore, I would not focus on “heart motivations” or steps a child needs to do to “please God” in this situation.
On a side note:
I appreciate the role of Biblical counselors in our profession. They bring a unique perspective that is certainly applicable to many mental health concerns and they use the Bible as a strong resource to help others in need. However, Biblical counseling is not always appropriate for everyone. I would also make the same statement in regards to Christian Psychology and the western approach to Psychology in general. One reason why I chose psychology rather than becoming a pastor or a Biblical counselor is because I feel God called me to serve others as a psychologist. My role as a psychologist is not to convert people to Christianity. I’ll focus on that mission in my personal life. I work with many individuals that do not share my personal beliefs. My approach to everyone I work with, regardless of their religious views, is to respect them and not unnecessarily judge them for the choices and decisions they have made. I have worked with several individuals that have explicitly voiced their hatred towards the church, God/Jesus, and/or have expressed a belief in atheism. Their beliefs do not change how I approach them in counseling or treat them as a person when they are in my office. I feel that my professional role allows me to interact with a broader population. I enjoy the diversity and challenge when I meet people with other perspectives on life. It doesn’t compromise my faith or my relationship with Jesus. It helps me understand the world. I’m curious to how Biblical counselors would address these types of situations.
Response to Dr. Throckmorton’s conceptualization:
I am happy to hear that there was a successful resolution to this case example. The use of a paradoxical intervention was intriguing and one I may consider in the future if I encounter a similar situation. I have used paradoxical interventions in other situations involving working with families; however, this is not usually my first approach when addressing an issue of separation anxiety. My preference is a Cognitive-Behavioral approach given its strong research efficacy in treating this diagnosis. There is always a risk when using a paradoxical intervention that it will backfire and not have the intended outcomes that are desired by the therapist.
I appreciate Dr. Throckmorton’s willingness to review and consider new information in regards to this case example, as illustrated by the discussion of the role of PANDAS and its psychological impact on children. Personally, I have not researched any information on this topic but your post has reminded me of the importance of staying updated on scientific research findings in order to provide competent services to the individuals that we serve.
A quick note on other comments Throckmorton made about the 95 theses:
Similar to your opinion, I also disagree with Dr. Lambert’s theses statements #45 and #46 regarding the use of diagnostic labels in the DSM. These diagnoses are real conditions. Some are mentioned in the Bible. Other diagnoses are not. This does not make the DSM invalid. My specialty is in neurodevelopmental disabilities and I cannot recall symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder, for example, being discussed in the Bible.
I also take issue with Theses #72 and #73 regarding state licensure:

  1. The process of requiring a state license to counsel is not required by the Bible, is used by the state to enforce counseling practices founded on secular therapy, and is unnecessary for those wishing to grow in God’s wisdom to counsel.
  2. The only authentically Christian motivation for pursuing a state license to counsel is the missional desire of making Christ known to all people in all places, especially in those places where the authority of the state allows only licensed individuals to talk to troubled people.

These statements suggest that a professional counselor’s primary role is to convert others to the Christian faith. As Christians, we do not demand these expectations from Christians in other professions. We also do not expect other Christian professionals to not pursue a state license to practice medicine, nursing, law, accounting, teaching, etc. Most states require mental health professionals to obtain a license in order to practice. This provides a level of accountability and protects the public from harmful practices. Having a state license does not compromise a person’s faith. I find these statements to be judgmental and they place unnecessary guilt on an individual that has decided to pursue state licensure. If a Christian does not pursue a state license, it limits their ability to serve others. If this was the case, Christians would primarily only be able to provide counsel to others if they walked through a church door seeking help.

Thanks to Dr. McConnell for his participation in this series.
To read all posts in this series, click here.
*Even though I will wrap up this part of the series next week, I intend to start a new one featuring critique of Heath Lambert’s 95 theses.

Why We Need Science in Counseling: Another Look at a Case of School Refusal

photo-1474367658825-e5858839e99d_opt
Last week, I started a series comparing and contrasting biblical counseling and Christian psychology. I presented a case of school refusal and asked a biblical counselor and a Christian psychologist to comment. Today, I discuss how the case turned out and offer a few observations.
From the initial post, here is the case:

A mother and her second grade son attended the first session together. The father was at work. A meeting with them revealed that the youngster was afraid to remain in his school classroom. The boy attended a local public school and had never been afraid to go to school before. However, within the first month of school, his pattern was to enter school and remain in his classroom. After just a few minutes, he bolted from the room to the school office seemingly in terror and asked for his parents. This had been going on for about a month nearly every day. He remained in school on days his class attended field trips or out of class activities (e.g., library days). The parents had tried alternating morning rides to school and his father had carried him back into the classroom on multiple occasions only to have the same result. He bolted from the class looking for his parents.
On examination, the boy had male typical interests, played rough and tumble sports, was tall for his age, and was socially popular. He had never displayed separation anxiety beyond the norm prior to this year. In all respects except the fear of remaining in his classroom, the boy and his family (one older female sibling) seemed entirely normal and unremarkable from a mental health standpoint. The parents were leaders in their Christian church and the boy happily attended Sunday School and had professed a belief in Jesus as his Savior.

Monday, biblical counselor Tim Allchin addressed the case. Tuesday, Christian psychologist A.J. McConnell did the same. To get the most out of this post, you should read those posts before you read this one. Today, I will briefly react to Allchin, then to McConnell, and then I will describe what happened. Finally, I want to discuss why science must be a part of counseling work.

Tim Allchin and Biblical Counseling

Allchin advocated a multi-faceted assessment of emotions, thoughts, behavior, physical health and compliance with biblical morality. He said his interventions would also be multi-faceted depending on what he learned in the assessment process. With the exception of assessment of biblical compliance, this is similar to how many Christian counselors proceed.
To highlight my differences with the biblical counseling approach, I will list one of Allchin’s statements and then reply to it.

Allchin: “My working assumption would be that some sort of traumatic experience is likely the genesis of this behavior.

While a traumatic experience could be involved in such a case, I try not to conduct assessments with strong assumptions about cause. I worry about the effects of confirmation bias in such instances. Fear is indeed involved in school refusal but a traumatic experience is not of necessity at the root of the fear.

Allchin: “I would want the child and parent to know that even a child’s beliefs determine actions, resulting in feelings that either escalate or calm.

Sometimes people have fears for which there is no discernible cognitive or environmental trigger. They just arise. Sometimes beliefs and thoughts follow feelings. Biblical counselors and cognitive therapists may disagree with me, but if I have learned anything from social psychology, it is that the link between attitudes and behavior goes both ways. I have worked with clients who experience negative mood states and then try to make sense of them by catastrophic thinking. Their thoughts then push them into a downward spiral but sudden anxiety was the first step in that process.

Allchin: “…biblical counselors seek to determine Action Steps that help a child function in a way that pleases God:”

Because I don’t assume a link between biblical compliance and mental health, I didn’t do this. If a child is misbehaving in other ways, then I might focus more on situational compliance (e.g., following guidelines at home and school), but since the complaint of the parent and school is refusal to stay in class, I focused on that.

Allchin: “Additionally, I am going to have conversations about the following with a christian family is being counseled: What does the Bible say he needs to “put off” regarding fearful behaviors that lead to disobedience? (Repentance)” etc…

I did not do any of this. Again, since I do not believe mental health is of necessity tied to biblical compliance, I don’t have these conversations unless the client raises the matter. Most clients who organize their lives around their faith will bring these things up without prompting.
Overall, in my view, the biblical counseling approach is wrong to put emphasis on lack of biblical compliance, especially with childhood mental health concerns. It is too easy to feel false guilt tied to the belief that mental and emotional problems stem from lack of biblical compliance. This focus can also distract a counselor from more pressing problems in a client’s life.

A.J. McConnell and Christian Psychology

Dr. McConnell’s approach is quite comprehensive and reflects a broad training in assessment and psychotherapy. The only qualm I have about Greek_uc_psi.svgMcConnell’s religious techniques is one that I also have with biblical counseling and that is the use of spiritual disciplines as counseling techniques. While there is research which links stress reduction with meditation, I believe Christian prayer should be a voluntary and spontaneous response to God rather than a prescribed technique of counseling. Techniques are judged by their utility in solving a problem. If clients are anxious and they view prayer as a kind of incantation or method to achieve a change in mood, how will they judge prayer if their anxiety persists? If prayer is a means to express something to God, it can never fail. If it is a technique, then it can and does fail. I have concerns about advocating techniques a client doesn’t ordinarily believe in or engage in as a technique. I will have more to say about this aspect of biblical and Christian counseling in my series wrap up post.

How the School Refusal Case Turned Out

As both Allchin and McConnell recommended, I did a comprehensive assessment of the youth and family. I asked the teacher and parents to complete a Connors Rating Scale and also interviewed the father. My working hypothesis after the first couple of interviews was that the boy experienced separation anxiety and was particularly focused on his mother. The boy couldn’t articulate why he was worried about her, he just was. He even expressed his confidence that she was fine at home, but he still worried about her when he was at school. I found no evidence of bullying, trauma, or social stigma. In a way, the simplicity of the symptom made the assessment process more complicated.
Since my working hypothesis was that the boy was experiencing separation anxiety, I decided to try what probably seemed odd and counterproductive to the parents. Drawing from the family systems tradition, I told the mother that she should stay with the boy during the entire school day, including lunch. I secured cooperation from the school for mother and son to do his classwork in a private room at the school. The mother and son initially seemed relieved at the suggestion. School officials were glad that the boy would be at school.
That seemingly paradoxical move brought mother and son together for extended periods of time. My belief was that the technique might actually cause them to want distance. I also felt that the risk was low since I would probably learn in short order more about the problem if the technique didn’t work to promote going back to class.
It didn’t take long for both mother and son to want distance. By the second week, the boy asked to go to recess and lunch without mother. After about three weeks, the boy was back in the classroom with very few residual problems. Through the winter, the parents described occasional new and random fears (e.g., the dark, going to a new place) but these were overcome with some gentle coaxing or the promise of a small reward.
From my vantage point, the child’s religious life had little, if anything, to do with his sudden and unprecedented separation anxiety. Likewise, I couldn’t find much evidence that his thought processes or beliefs preceded his fears. Rather, it became clear that his fears came first and the emergence of them evoked efforts from his parents, his relatives, himself and eventually me to explain his fears. When I couldn’t find an antecedent event or thought pattern, I decided that a more behavioral intervention might help clarify the picture. As it turned out, the intervention achieved the result desired by everyone in the situation.

What Happened?

Reflecting on this case, I have come up with two very different theories about why this case turned out well. The first is very much tied to the intervention. In this theory, I think natural apprehension about the first day of school may have accidentally become associated with the classroom. When he went to class, he experienced an undefined worry which was reinforced by the relief of leaving the classroom. To reverse the accidental pairing of classroom and worry, I put the mother in the school situation which initially brought relief. As the days went by, the inevitable frustration and friction produced by near constant contact with his mom replaced his anxiety over separation from her. His worried thoughts became replaced with other thoughts that did not evoke anxiety. When he was able to leave her for a time, he felt relief which reinforced the separation. I also believe that the mother had her fill of him and whatever worries she had about his safety and well being at school were replaced with other preoccupations. I was surprised by how quickly things changed.
I did not get this strategy from my study of the Bible. I am not sure where I would go to look for it in the Bible.

Could School Refusal Have Resulted from Strep Throat?

Long after this case was resolved, I learned about another possible cause of sudden separation anxiety and impulsive behaviors – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS). The disorder results from the action of the antibodies created by the immune system to fight Streptococcus bacteria. The NIMH website provides a good description of the action involved:

The strep bacteria are very ancient organisms that survive in the human host by hiding from the immune system as long as possible. It hides itself by putting molecules on its cell wall so that it looks nearly identical to molecules found on the child’s heart, joints, skin, and brain tissues. This hiding is called “molecular mimicry” and allows the strep bacteria to evade detection for a long time.
However, the molecules on the strep bacteria are eventually recognized as foreign to the body and the child’s immune system reacts to them by producing antibodies. Because of the molecular mimicry by the bacteria, the immune system reacts not only to the strep molecules, but also to the human host molecules that were mimicked; antibodies system “attack” the mimicked molecules in the child’s own tissues.
Studies at the NIMH and elsewhere have shown that some cross-reactive “anti-brain” antibodies target the brain—causing OCD, tics, and the other neuropsychiatric symptoms of PANDAS.

As explained to me in 2009 by Susan Swedo, the scientist who identified PANDAS, the antibodies attack healthy brain cells and interfere with moods and emotions.

The science is clear now. We not only have a direct relationship between the anti-strep antibodies and the anti-neuronal antibodies, but also have demonstrated that the antibodies interact with receptors in the brain that could produce the symptoms observed.

Since learning about PANDAS, I have wondered if the school refusal case described in this series could have had the post-strep disorder. I didn’t ask about recent infections or strep throat as I would now. The sudden onset and then rather quick disappearance of separation anxiety and impulsive behavior fit the profile for other PANDAS kids I have known.
It should be obvious that I didn’t learn about PANDAS from the Bible. In future cases, knowing about PANDAS could alter my treatment strategies and solidify my conviction that a Bible based conversation about “perfect love casting out fear” might induce unwarranted guilt in a client with PANDAS.

Why We Need Science in Counseling

I understand why biblical and Christian counselors want to look to the Bible when they give advice to Christian clients. Although I don’t believe all good advice is in the Bible, I think the Bible as the rule of faith and practice, plays a vital role in developing sound advice.
Having said that, I must add that counseling is about much more than advice or guidance in moral decision making. Mental health professionals are called on to help treat mental and emotional disorders. According to Heath Lambert’s 95 Theses, these disorders are not the best descriptions of the problems people bring to counseling. Theses 45 and 46 state:

45. The Bible’s lack of technical and secular labels for counseling problems, such as those found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, does not disprove Scripture’s sufficiency and authority for counseling because God uses his own, superior language to describe people’s problems (Rom 1:24-32).
46. The lack of biblical language in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders demonstrates that the thinking of secular individuals is insufficient to grasp the true nature of people, the problems they bring to counseling, and the solutions necessary to bring about real and lasting change.

I will grant that DSM series has undergone numerous changes over the years. However, I don’t think mental disorders are simply linguistic inventions. Depression, panic disorders, eating disorders, etc., represent mind-body dysfunctions which require the help of science to understand and treat. I appreciate that Tim Allchin recommends good medical care, but in doing so it appears to me that he goes beyond the scope of the 95 Theses.  For instance, this statement seem to negate the importance of science:

10. The subject matter of counseling conversations is the wisdom needed to deal with life’s problems, and so counseling is not a discipline that is fundamentally informed by science, but by the teaching found in God’s Word.

Other statements in the 95 Theses document direct counselors to only use the Bible.

9. Because counseling problems concern the very same issues that God writes about in his Word, it is essential to have a conversation about the contents of the Bible to solve counseling problems.
11. When the Bible claims to address all the issues concerning life and godliness, it declares itself to be a sufficient and an authoritative resource to address everything essential for counseling conversations (2 Pet 1:3-4).
12. Christians must not separate the authority of Scripture for counseling from the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling because, if Scripture is to be a relevant authority, then it must be sufficient for the struggles people face as they live life in a fallen world (2 Pet 1:3-21).
13. The authority and sufficiency of Scripture for counseling means that counselors must counsel out of the conviction that the theological content of Scripture defines and directs the conversational content of counseling.
14. The Bible teaches that the person and work of Jesus Christ provide God’s sufficient power to solve every problem of humanity so, according to Scripture, he is the ultimate subject of every counseling conversation (Col 2:2-3).

In fact, it isn’t essential to have a conversation about the contents of the Bible to solve every counseling problem. Furthermore, I can think of situations where those kind of conversations have been counterproductive. I agree with A.J. McConnell when he wrote:

When Christians are told that Jesus and the Bible are all that is needed in counseling, this assumes that the person is in a mindset where they can accept Biblical advice and adequately apply it to their situation. In contrast, the nature of a disorder is that a person is suffering and they require counseling, medication, or a combination of both to become well.

Some Bible based conversations are so far off the mark that they evoke a false guilt which can be crippling. Some Bible based conversations lead bipolar people to go off their medication often leading to disastrous consequences. I feel sure that Tim Allchin and responsible biblical counselors don’t want to create those results but I am not convinced that biblical counselors who follow the 95 Theses closely would be able to avoid it. On that point, McConnell wrote:

Children and/or adults might feel unnecessary guilt from the church if they need to pursue professional assistance with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other medical professional to treat a disorder. Most Christians and churches do not shame an individual for pursuing medical interventions for diabetes, cancer, hypertension, etc. The same approach should be taken for mental illness in order to reduce this unnecessary guilt. Overall, I recommend finding a specialist that aligns with your beliefs (2 Corinthians 6:14).

I hope this series has helped to clarify the range of opinions among Christians who work in counseling. Tomorrow, I hope to wrap up the series with reactions from McConnell and Allchin. And you can have the last word in the comments section.
To see all posts in this series, click here.