Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology at SBTS (UPDATED with Apology from Heath Lambert)

UPDATE: Heath Lambert issued a statement in response to the controversy over Eric Johnson, SBTS, and the conflict between biblical counseling and Christian psychology.

In sum, Lambert denies any pressure on SBTS to get Johnson fired. He does acknowledge that he spoke unkindly about Johnson in the video which is embedded in the original post below. Finally, Lambert continues to believe his view of Christian counseling is superior to Dr. Johnson’s.

The petition remains unchanged. Lambert contradicts the petition on the point about Johnson’s departure from SBTS. I think the ball is now in the hands of the petition writer to respond.

I am working on my response to Lambert’s 95 Theses.

(Original Post)

For as long as I can remember, there has been conflict between psychologists and theologians. Representing different ways of approaching knowledge, religion depends on revelation and scientifically informed psychology depends on research. For me as a psychology professor at a Christian college, the tension is just another day at work.

One way that tension shows up is in the practice and teaching of counseling. Some counselors insist that the Bible is all that should be used in counseling whereas other Christians believe that psychological research should inform selection of techniques. A skirmish in that conflict appears to be taking place at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

According to a petition gathering steam, Christian psychologist Eric Johnson was fired from his position as a professor at SBTS (see also this Twitter thread). The petition claims that Johnson was on the wrong side of an ideological dispute with Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. The petition begins:

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler, has decided to fire Dr. Eric Johnson after 17 years of ministry in Christian scholarship and soul-care. His termination was not due to differing Christian beliefs or failed morality but rather due to pressure from an outside organization, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), and its leader, Heath Lambert.

The petition is anonymous but I have gotten confirmation of some details from sources in a position to know. Although president of the seminary Albert Mohler has not yet responded to an inquiry, Johnson confirmed without explanation that he won’t be teaching at SBTS after this semester. It is also true that Lambert has had very negative things to say about Johnson’s work. For those who want all the inside baseball, watch this video of Lambert blasting Johnson’s work and theology.


My primary interest in this matter isn’t about a personnel matter at the seminary. Those details will probably remain private. Rather, I want to focus on the conflict between so-called biblical counselors and Christian psychology. While I don’t know what Mr. Lambert’s role was in Johnson’s situation, it does seem clear that Lambert sees himself as a reformer of counseling conducted by Christians.

In the spirit of the Reformation, Lambert recently released “95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling.” In this document, Lambert offers a challenge to “secular therapy” for the “purpose of debate.”

I plan to take Lambert up on his offer. While I agree with Lambert that the topic is timely and important, I disagree with his general approach. In future posts, I will outline why I believe that his key claims are incorrect and if followed to the letter could be harmful.

In the mean time, I wish Dr. Johnson well and hope that he finds a suitable location for his work.

To read all posts in this series, click here.

Al Mohler and Exodus: Agree or disagree?

As noted last week, Southern Baptist Seminary’s President Rev. Albert Mohler recently told a reporter that evangelicals have “lied about the nature of homosexuality” and reinforced his sentiments at the recent Southern Baptist Convention conference. I think it is going to take awhile for Rev. Al Mohler’s words about evangelicals and homosexuality to sink in – even for those who say they agree with him.
In this Baptist Press article, Exodus International President, Alan Chambers, came to Rev. Mohler’s defense against critics who say Mohler is going soft on gays, saying

“I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, and I am eternally grateful for what I learned there — the truth that I learned and the biblical foundation that I have,” Chambers said. “But there was no way that I was ever going to tell anybody in my church growing up that I struggled with these things. I am very thankful to say that that has changed [in that church]…. But we’ve still all got to do better.”

Alan correctly identifies his church as a problem. Although he doesn’t say exactly why, he is clear that he could not be open about his situation in his church. Apparently, they would not have handled it in a loving, accepting way. Chambers then says, we need to do better. I agree and I think one great example of that is a recent post – of all places – on the Exodus blog.
In a June 21 post, Matthew Walker says:

I felt like killing myself as a teen not because of the church, but because of a very real spiritual enemy that was trying to destroy me anyway that he could.  His whispers and lies twisted the Bible into a condemnation of me, not of the sin that was overtaking me.

Sounds to me like this man attended a church like Alan’s. However, Walker seems to think that his church was just fine, even though he was bothered enough to consider suicide. Reading this article, I am confused. Is Walker’s narrative an illustration of the church getting it right, or is this the kind of church that kept Alan silent and struggling?
Walker’s entire article, to me, seems like an illustration of just the kind of approach that Mohler critiques. Mohler wants evangelicals to be honest about homosexuality. Instead Walker stereotypes gays as miserable, and in denial about why they are gay.

I was honest with myself about how homosexuality developed in my life.  Many gay men and women use the act of “coming out” as a great dismissal of the developmental history that shaped their gay identity.  Genetics becomes the great enabler that keeps many bound to a life of destruction.

According to Walker’s narrative, gays have been crafted by some kind of knowable “developmental history” which they repress via coming out. Genetic research is not scientific inquiry but a devious means of keeping gays in denial.
In 2007, Rev. Mohler wrote that evangelicals should be prepared to acknowledge that biological factors may operate in forming same-sex attraction. By taking seriously biological factors, is Mohler facing facts honestly as he calls evangelicals to do? Or is he improperly enabling gays as described by Exodus’ Mr. Walker?
I am glad that Rev. Mohler voiced his views about evangelicals and honesty when it comes to sexual orientation. I have been raising these issues for several years now, but it takes someone of Mohler’s stature to keep the conversation going. Despite Mohler’s influential position, his views are not universally accepted in SBC circles. Furthermore, it appears to me that even those who generally agree with Mohler need to work out, practically speaking, what that agreement means.