In September, I wrote about a controversy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary involving the Christian psychology of Eric Johnson and the Biblical counseling of Heath Lambert. According to Johnson, his version of Christian psychology is no longer compatible with how SBTS wants counseling taught at the school. Thus, he had to step down from his position. It is not clear if he was fired or negotiated a settlement of some kind.
Reviving Eric Johnson’s Position Revisited
At the time, a petition was constructed to register discontent with Johnson’s ouster. Now, an update has been posted to the petition with a broader aim. The petition to SBTS now asks:
Given the obvious harm that these consequences would cause both to the standing and reputation of Southern Seminary, the following are recommended steps that should be taken and questions to be asked next week as the Board of Trustees visit Southern Seminary:
- Offer immunity and anonymity to any and all professors who would be willing to speak with the trustees regarding this situation. Many of them know far more than we do but are terrified of speaking out for fear of ending up like Professor Johnson. Allow them to simply affirm, deny, or elaborate upon anything said in this letter without the fear of disciplinary actions.
- Reconsider the silencing effects that the removal of tenure in 2014 has had up the seminary’s faculty, as they have been afraid to speak up for their terminated colleague, Professor Johnson. Please take steps to reinstate tenure. Tenure ensures the continuity of an institution’s identity, maintains the financial security for faculty families, and establishes boundaries that prevent the president from wrongfully firing professors. Before the removal of tenure in 2014, professors could be justifiably removed for moral or doctrinal transgression. There is no added benefit to the new faculty contract policy aside from the consolidation of power within the office of the president. The reason alumni are writing this letter is because all the faculty and staff members who contacted us were afraid that they would lose their job by speaking out.
- Southern Seminary’s counseling program is very important in the life of Southern Baptist Churches, as it is on the front lines of pastoral and congregational soul care. Is it in the best interest of the churches that Southern Seminary serves to train up future pastors in a monologuing counseling department? Should pastors not study under both biblical counselors and Christian psychologists as they learn how to care for the complex needs of their churches?
- Ask President Mohler directly whether any ACBC-affiliate (church, person, organization) was involved in his termination of Johnson. If Mohler refuses to provide a direct “yes” or “no” answer, ask him whether or not his reluctance to speak about the termination is the result of a non-disclosure agreement. It is imperative that the truth come out so that the Seminary can move on and begin a healing and reunifying process.
- Based upon the findings of the above mentioned investigations, if it is found that there was any improper conduct that led to the termination of Professor Johnson, we recommend that the Board of Trustees extend a public apology to Johnson and offer to reinstate him in his original position at Southern Seminary.
This Story Is About More Than Eric Johnson and Heath Lambert
Johnson’s personnel matter is wrapped up in a broader issue. Will Southern Baptist pastors be exposed to one narrow approach to counseling or will they have access to training and teaching which takes psychological insights into account? Why this matters to a broad audience is that many people go to their pastors for counseling or for recommendations for counseling. It would be tragic and potentially dangerous for pastors to refer only to Biblical counselors.
Note to the folks at SBTS, mental illness is real and the Bible doesn’t say much about it. Recently, I featured representatives of Biblical counseling and Christian psychology in a discussion about a case. It was clear to me that the Biblical counseling approach left important components out. Furthermore, there are many problems in living which Scripture doesn’t address.