I woke up on Saturday morning to discover that I was—as my grandfather used to say—in the soup. A controversy was swirling, and I was in the center. As I consider what is being said of me and my relationship with Eric Johnson I count three different issues.
1. The nature of the disagreement between myself and Dr. Johnson regarding counseling ministry.
2. The way in which I spoke about Dr. Johnson’s position on one occasion.
3. My involvement in Dr. Johnson’s employment status.
Let me address each of those in reverse order.
1. My involvement in Eric Johnson’s employment status
I’ll take the last one first because it is the easiest, and I can be very brief.
Al Mohler has more honor and integrity than any man I have ever worked for. It would never occur to me to try to force, cajole, or blackmail him into anything. If I tried, he would never be intimidated by it. Accusations that anything like that happened between us are dishonest.
The Bible commands that confrontations about sin be personal (Matt 18:15), be based on evidence (2 Cor 13:1), and that great care be taken in accusing ministers of the gospel (1 Tim 5:19) in order to protect Christian leaders from baseless accusations.
Anonymous and unsubstantiated claims on social media constitute slander, and should find zero support among those who claim to know Jesus Christ.
2. The way in which I spoke about Eric Johnson’s counseling position on one occasion
This one will take some more time.
A year and a half ago I spoke at a biblical counseling conference and addressed the theological nature of counseling ministry, and how important it is for counselors to watch their life and doctrine closely. I wanted to make the point that our efforts at counseling care are only as good as our passion to take the Word of God into our own hearts and be changed by it.
In my talk, I sought to show how quick we are to see the flaws of a Christian psychology approach but slow to see our own failure to take the word of God seriously. In order to make a strong point of this, I read excerpts from a Christian psychology book that I suspected might induce listeners to congratulate themselves about their own theological superiority. My intention was to get people feeling superior about their own theological commitments, and then turn the tables on them by showing that we should not feel superior to those with whom we disagree, but must watch our own life and teaching.
The Christian psychologist I chose to interact with was, as is now obvious, Eric Johnson.
It was not my intention to skewer Dr. Johnson. I did not want people to think about him at all. I wanted them to think about themselves, their own sin, and their own need to cherish the Bible. Because I did not want Dr. Johnson to be the issue I did not name him.
Believing the author was anonymous I engaged in a much tougher and much less careful critique of him than I would have in a different environment. My intention was to get a room full of biblical counselors feeling really good about themselves and then indict them. My rhetorical strategy was the same one Nathan used with David. I was trying to say, “You are the man!” You cannot tell this from watching a clip of the talk, but dozens of people in the room who heard it in its entirety stuck around for an hour and a half to tell me how humbled they were by the reminder to watch their own life and doctrine.
Because I did not attach Dr. Johnson’s name to my quotation of him, I believed myself to have freedom that I did not have. This last weekend has proven that to be one of the most foolish misjudgments I have ever made in my ministry.
I should have known better than that. I should have considered that in a digital world with livestream, Google searches, and social media there is no anonymity, and so I am culpable for my foolishness.
That misjudgment brought people into the room that I never intended to be there. My foolishness brought people into the room that did not share the same presuppositions as the folks who registered for the conference. My miscalculation brought Dr. Johnson, his friends, and his students into the room. Perhaps it brought you into the room.
That foolish miscalculation led me to believe I was in a cone of silence. The cone of silence did not exist, but in the belief that it did, I said things that were harsh, unloving, and unkind. I sinned against my brother in Christ and against those who love him.
Soon after my talk that night I received a letter from Dr. Johnson’s elders. They rebuked me in very strong terms for the language I used against their friend. They were right to point out my sin. After receiving that letter, Dr. Johnson and I met together with a faithful brother in Christ where I confessed my sin to him, and he forgave me. I also responded with a letter of repentance to Eric’s elders on March 10 of last year. That was a year and a half ago. Since that time, Dr. Johnson and I have exchanged notes and shared two meals together, and I hope more are on the way.
In the midst of this, I also expressed a desire to repent publicly for the way I spoke, but in my meeting with Eric and the third party we agreed that this would be unwise. Since my quotation of Dr. Johnson was anonymous it was thought that only a few people knew about it, and that naming him in a statement of public repentance would only make things worse. We all agreed that we had sufficiently addressed the matter, and that it had been laid to rest.
In light of the last few days that calculation is now moot.
And so now I want to address anyone who was shocked and offended by the unkind and unloving way I spoke about Dr. Johnson. What I did was sinful, and I have no excuse. I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
One of the most humbling things about this for me is that I lead an organization that is focused on caring for hurting people. One of my responsibilities in that role is to host a podcast called Truth in Love. Now you all know just how much I have to learn about how to care for people and how much I need to grow in grace to speak the truth in love.
Please pray for me.
3. The nature of the disagreement between myself and Dr. Johnson regarding counseling ministry.
None of this means that the disagreements between biblical counseling and Christian psychology are non-existent or unimportant. In fact, I think these issues are some of the most important facing the church today. I think nothing less than our faithfulness to the Word of God and Jesus Christ is at stake. Biblical counselors and Christian psychologists have staked out important ground on these issues. Dr. Johnson is on the record critiquing my position, and I am on the record critiquing his.
If you want a summary of the biblical counseling position you can check that out here.
If you want an assessment of Christian Psychology which was reviewed by scholars all along the counseling continuum, including Christian psychologists, you can read that here.
The importance of these issues leads to another problem with the way I spoke about Dr. Johnson that night. I believe the centrality of Christ is really on the line with whether or not we believe God has given us sufficient resources to help troubled people. But my sin took the focus off of Christ, and placed it on me where it should never be. I am so ashamed of that.
But I really believe what I teach about these things. I know that Jesus Christ has forgiven me, and I pray that now you will too.