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Who is the Ken Ham of the Biblical Counseling Movement?

Responding to Critiques of Biblical Counseling

Science and psychology often contradict. One can embrace science while being suspicious of psychology.

Feb 16, 2014

David Murray has some stimulating thoughts on his website interacting with my blog post last week about Ken Ham’s debate with Bill Nye and the relationship between biblical creationists debates with evolutionists and the counseling wars. In my post I argued, as did Ken Ham at the Creation Museum debate, that the real issue is not about the facts in creation, but about the interpretation of those facts based on worldview.

I likened this to the debates Christians have had about counseling and argued that the eye of the tornado in counseling is also about presuppositions and worldview, not about a denial of any facts. Murray quoted me saying,

I know of no single biblical counselor who rejects the observations of secular psychiatry.Biblical counselors embrace the same facts as secular counselors, integrationists, and Christian psychologists. Biblical counselors are not distinct from these other approaches in their embrace of the facts but in their approach to and understanding of these facts.

Murray thinks that statement is true in principle, but wonders where it shows up in practical examples. The point of his article is to ask where the Ken Ham of the biblical counseling movement is. He gets to the heart of his issue when he poses the question:

If our worldview is so sure and strong, why can’t we more frequently recognize, praise, and use findings, advances, practices, and even meds that secular scientists and psychologists have discovered and have used to help others?

A Lack of Sophistication?

An interrogative critique like this one cuts to the quick. The suggestion is that biblical counselors talk a good game about worldview and the common grace available to practitioners of secular psychology, but come up short in adding practice to principle. It suggests that our biblical worldview isn’t as strong as we suppose if we cannot muster the courage of our convictions to praise and use the findings of “secular scientists and psychologists.”

This question, however, conflates two things that are not equivalent, namely secular science and psychology. Science and psychology are often two separate things. It is possible to embrace the former while being suspicious about the latter.

Not Everything in Psychology is Equally Scientific

The biblical counseling movement has extended high value to science over the years by refusing to lump everything into the category of “science.” When I teach on this topic at Southern Seminary I take weeks to demonstrate the various disciplines that come underneath the very large umbrella category of psychology. Psychology is a meta-label referring to dozens of different disciplines. Neuropsychology, psychometrics, learning theory, developmentalism, forensics, Freudian psychoanalysis, and literally scores more are all examples different kinds of categories that fall under the huge banner of psychology.

It is failure of critical thinking and worldview analysis to treat all of these issues in an equivalent manner. Neuropsychology, when it emphasizes the structure of the brain, is objective science. It is not the same thing as Freud’s subjective—and unbiblical!—opinion about what constitutes human suffering.  Even though both topics are addressed in psychology textbooks it cheapens the word science to equate them.

Because psychology is such a massive collage of disciplines we must understand that not all of those disciplines are created equal, scientifically speaking. The term “science” is stretched to the breaking point if we say that everything psychologists do is scientific.

This is the exact distinction Ken Ham made in his debate with Bill Nye. His argument was that integrity in the debate means an admission that not every issue on the table is equally and objectively scientific. His distinction between observational science and historical science is the same one I am making here with regard to psychology.

So when David Murray asks who the Ken Ham of the biblical counseling movement is, my response is, “All of them!” Any Christian who is committed to the Bible, to helping people, who puts their thinking cap on and evaluates the findings of the different disciplines in psychology according to a sophisticated biblical worldview is a biblical counselor who is doing the equivalent of what Ken Ham does.

But there is more to say.

The “Ken Ham” of Biblical Counseling

Murray’s blog indicates views common to those outside the biblical counseling movement who look in on us. There is a belief—sometimes clearly articulated, sometimes suggested—that biblical counselors lack sophistication. That if we knew what everybody else knew we wouldn’t be so nervous about or opposed to science. There has been a constant appeal to sharpen our thinking, quit being so biblicistic, embrace science, and to quit being so narrow.

That is where the exhortation to produce a “Ken Ham” comes from. Murray thinks that biblical counselors do not demonstrate the level of erudition that Ham did in last week’s debate. I am shocked at that.

David Murray is a delightful man. He and I have corresponded and shared a delightful meal together. He is a gifted thinker, writer, and professor who is godly, gracious, and kind. I am thankful for our budding friendship. When I read his blog post, however, I realized that we are not looking at the same facts.

When Murray asks where the Ken Ham of biblical counseling is I think of numerous people. Here are a few:

Dr. Laura Hendrickson, a physician and board-certified psychiatrist who is a certified biblical counselor with ACBC. She has devoted decades to a complex understanding of the problems people have informed by Scripture. She wrote a beautiful and brilliant chapter in Counseling the Hard Cases where she demonstrated a thoroughly biblical analysis of dissociative identity disorder.

Dr. Charlie Hodges, a practicing physician and committed biblical counselor certified with ACBC. He has given his distinguished career to understanding the physical and spiritual dynamics involved in people who come for counseling help. He has written an incredibly helpful and very sophisticated book examining bi-polar disorder from a biblical perspective called Good Mood, Bad Mood.

Dr. David Powlison, the executive director of CCEF and a certified counselor with ACBC. He has a Ph.D. in the history of science and medicine from University of Pennsylvania. He has devoted his life to a sophisticated application of the biblical worldview to counseling problems that have a secular psychological label. One of the dozens of places he has done this is in a fascinating article about Body Dysphormic Disorder where he evaluates a the secular data about this problem and demonstrates how the Bible brings a richer perspective than psychology.

Dr. Dan Gannon, another physician and counselor with ACBC. Dr. Gannon spends his ministry traveling the country explaining the medical issues involved in counseling to folks pursuing counseling certification with ACBC.

Dr. Garrett Higbee, a doctor of psychology who left his clinical practice to do biblical counseling after experiencing the repeated disappointments of using psychology to help people in any meaningful way. He has now devoted his life to the biblical counseling movement and the local church. He has demonstrated how the Bible crashes through the confusion of secular psychology about bi-polar disorder in a chapter in Counseling the Hard Cases.

Dr. Jeremy Pierre, a Ph.D. in biblical counseling who has written a brilliant dissertation showing the workings of the human heart more expertly than anyone in the decades-long history of CBT.

Dr. Jay Adams, the founder of the biblical counseling movement and the person chiefly responsible for the awakening of Christians to the reality that we must not check our biblical worldview at the door of secular psychology. He has provided thorough biblical analysis of everything from Rogerianism to the biogenic theory of mood disorders.

I haven’t even gotten started yet! I’ve not talked about Drs. Jim Halla, Bob Smith, and Dan Wickert—all three physicians and ACBC counselors with more medical knowledge and counseling experience than David Murray and I combined. I haven’t talked about Martha Peace, an ACBC counselor trained in psychiatry. I haven’t talk about Dr. Richard Ganz who abandoned his years-long practice of psychology to devote his life to demonstrating the sufficiency of Scripture. I’ve not yet mentioned Julie Ganshow, an ACBC counselor with thousands of hours in counseling who could sit with David Murray—as she sat with me at lunch one day—and demonstrate the absolute failure of secularists to understand addiction. ACBC counselor, Mark Shaw, could do the same thing.

There are thousands—thousands—of more examples out there. They are in print. You can find them. I honestly have no idea what to make of Murray’s question in the face of such overwhelming examples of sophistication.

Unscientific. Really?

I don’t think the problem is that there is no Ken Ham in the biblical counseling movement. There are many. I think the problem is a failure of those outside the movement to demonstrate the worldview sophistication that the biblical counseling movement has with regard to secular psychology.

I wish Christians would quit saying that biblical counselors reject “science.” Biblical counselors don’t reject science any more than biblical creationists do. Biblical counselors take a critical look at psychology without assuming that because a topic is treated in a psychology textbook that means it is scientific in an objective sense.

When Christians outside our movement observe biblical counselors engaged in that task and accuse them of failing to embrace science it makes me wish they were more like Ken Ham.