Dale Johnson: This week I am thrilled to have with me Tim Pasma. He is a pastor at LaRue Baptist Church and has been—my goodness, Tim—for over 30 years.
Tim Pasma: Yeah, 36.
Dale Johnson: He has six children. He’s married to Becca and they have 14 grandchildren. That’s quite envious.
Tim Pasma: It’s a lot of fun.
Dale Johnson: I’m sure. He is an ACBC board member. He’s been a certified member with ACBC for quite some time. I’m so grateful for this brother and his wisdom, and the spirit that he brings in relationship. I just love hanging out with our brother, Tim Pasma.
Today, Tim, we’re going to talk about a very important subject. When I talk about some of the issues that are constantly facing biblical counseling, they really boil down to, broadly, three. Sufficiency of Scripture—We will always fight that battle. It’ll be something that we’re constantly talking about over and over and over again. Every generation will have its own way of trying to redefine it and so on. The second thing is ecclesiology, the way we think about the church, who God’s people are and our mission, what we’ve been called to do. That’s constantly under attack from the evil one. The third thing—and really this is a major presentation in the world in which we live—is anthropology, the way that we think about people. I think one of the greatest detriments of modern psychology is the way in which it has redefined man. It has redefined, really, the rules of engagement in how we think about man, and we cannot give them that first premise. We have to regain what a biblical understanding of man is. So, I want to start out with that very question. Why is this such an important topic, this issue of anthropology? Why is this doctrine of man something worth clinging to and clarifying?
Tim Pasma: Well, I would say because anthropology tells us what composes a man. What’s his composition? What motivates him? How does the environment affect him? What makes him tick? What’s a properly functioning human being? So every counseling system works with an anthropology. You know, you might have a secular counselor or a secular theorist who has never opened a Bible, but he is operating with an anthropology. He’s answering the question, what’s the composition of man? What motivates him? How important is the environment? All those things. They’re asking the same questions, but they’re getting the answers from different sources.
You were talking about how this is all changed and part of it, I think, is because, I don’t know, the age of the Enlightenment when we all had to be scientific about something, right? So what happened is, these psychologists out there have masqueraded as science, if you will, and they are saying, let’s use the scientific method, which is, the only way you can make truth claims is if you can observe something, form a hypothesis, test it, and if you get the same result with the same conditions, you can say that’s a truth claim, but they always start out with those naturalistic presuppositions. So when they start out, you’re not even taking into consideration things like what the Bible calls soul, mind, heart, redemption, sin.
Dale Johnson: Well, that gets to the point that I wanted to ask you because you mentioned this a little bit. You go read a secular textbook—For example, if you go back and read Freud, he’s not laying out a section that says anthropology. If you go read Rogers, he’s not necessarily laying out a section that describes clearly, definitionally, who he thinks man is. He does that interwoven in his theory and how he understands people. So, some people say, well surely these secular theories don’t have a doctrine of man. Well, absolutely they do. So Tim, help us to understand how they arrived at that, or how theorists come up with these ideas of anthropology.
Tim Pasma: I think part of it is, you know, they’re trying to form something on the basis of observation. To understand man, you need revelation. Observation isn’t going to get to those categories like heart, soul, mind or sin, or even God, right? Those things are ruled out immediately. So, they’ll say, well we’ve come to these conclusions by observation, but actually, when you talk about Freud and Rogers and so forth, they all have their particular presuppositions about what man is and they form their doctrine around those. We have a revelation that tells us about what makes man tick. I mean, I think about Stephen Paddock, the shooter who opened up on a concert crowd in Las Vegas in 2017, killing 58 people and wounding over 400. Well, today they would say, well if we could only get his brain and examine it and put it under the microscope, take the scientific approach, well then we’ll get answers, but it’s ignoring categories like, he was born warped, like all of us are, and rebellious, a captive to sin, practicing evil by habitual thoughts and practices, needing grace for change. You’re not going to get that from anybody else.
Dale Johnson: Well, so what they’re doing essentially is, they’re presenting a view of what they believe is wrong with him or any person, and they’re also presenting what I would term as under the category of Salvation. They’re presenting a means of repair. How do we fix this guy? So they are presenting very clearly, in those types of very religious terms, a view of the problem with man and a view of how man is repaired. But some people would say something like, well, surely by observation we can understand man—I mean, he’s just a neutral player in all of this—as if we can understand man without God. What do you say to that? This is a massive question. It has implications in the way in which we practice counseling. So, is man neutral? Can we really understand him without understanding God?
Tim Pasma: You know, some people think, okay, let’s keep the God-language out, and then that way we’ll be neutral and be able to come to some scientific conclusions. Well, the problem with that is, in the God-created world, you cannot understand anything apart from God. I mean, how do we understand man? Is he man created in the image of God, or is he just man as the highest animal? Wherever you start there, you will end up proposing things and, like you say, repair. It depends. So, is man made in the image of God? Is man a creature who is dependent on God? Man is not autonomous if we understand Scripture correctly. He’s dependent on God for his being. He’s dependent on God for knowing. I mean, all of reality has to be understood with the perspective of God’s revelation. Man is revelation-dependent. He cannot understand the world apart from the revelation of God. Look at Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were created. They had no idea what their purpose was until God told them, right? He told them, that tree, don’t touch it, and that tree over there, that’s okay. You can eat of all the other trees, but not that one. Well, looking at the trees, they wouldn’t have understood that. So, man is revelation-dependent and if you consider him autonomous and neutral, well, you’re just going to skewer everything, because in the God-created world, you have to understand everything theologically.
Dale Johnson: Don’t for a second, listener, think that we’re talking about some sort of lofty idea about man. Listen, this is upstream from what you want to do, which is the practice of counseling. So if you think about the practice of counseling, you cannot help but to swim in the stream somehow and some way. So biblically, if we are convicted Christians and we believe the Bible is true, it matters the way that we practice. It has to be consistent with what God has revealed to be true about man. So, we have to ask the question and distinguish ourselves from the way that the seculars’ think, what is it that constitutes man from a biblical perspective?
Tim Pasma: Absolutely. If we don’t understand that, we’re not going to be good counselors. If we really believe the Bible is God’s revelation, it reveals things to us that we would not know without that Revelation. So we need that in order to understand what constitutes a human being, what makes him tick. All those things have to be understood from the point of Revelation.
Dale Johnson: That’s right. So when we talk about the constitution of man, we’re getting at what you’ve talked about already, which is that man has a heart, man has an immaterial part of his being that’s responsible to God. You talked about the issue of the image of God in man and that’s a part of what God is repairing. I mean, those are critical things that cannot be crossed over when we distinguish biblical anthropology.
Now, we’re talking about some of the things that you’ve delivered in a breakout session here, and what I want to get is, you talk in that breakout session about the “oughts” of life. Sometimes people are opposed to–Well, we should not impose some sort of moral disposition upon people because that leads to all sorts of senses of guilt and that sort of thing, but these “oughts” in life are really important because these are the things that are expected from us by our Creator, by the One who designed us. So what is important about these issues of the “oughts” that we have in life?
Tim Pasma: Well, we do have to do understand human beings. If we’re going to understand them correctly, we have to understand human beings as—here’s what I’m driving at: What ought a human being be like? Now, people who would suggest, don’t load people with “oughts” because that produces guilt feelings or whatever, they’re also operating with “oughts” because they have a view of what a man should be. You can be the most secular theorist and you’re operating with, this is what I think is flourishing. This is what I think is normal. So you can’t understand man without the “oughts.” That is to say, what should he do? How should he think? We’ve got to get that down. Where do you find those things? You find them in Scripture, the sufficient Scriptures.
So, what ought a man be like? What’s a flourishing, normal human being? Well, we can look at Adam, the little bit that we have, and see him pre-fall, right? We can see there. But primarily we can look to Jesus who is the perfect human being. What was he like? That tells us something about the “oughts” and you’re taking people somewhere. You can be the most secular psychologist or counselor out there and you’re taking your counselees somewhere. Well, how do you know where to take them? We want them to be like Christ. What’s interesting is that in Colossians, you know, it talks about the fact that salvation—in Colossians 3:9-10—it talks about, part of salvation is restoring the image of the Creator in human beings. This is what it really means to be a true human, to be repaired—I love that term that you used—to be repaired and renewed and become like Jesus. Part of our salvation is to make us truly human.
Dale Johnson: Tim, this is brilliant because this is the way I talk about it quite a bit. It’s that Jesus is normal. Now, I don’t mean to take away from His divinity. Certainly, He is the God-man, as the Scripture tells us, but He is quintessentially what God intended humanity to be, a reflection of His character. We are made in the image of God and Jesus did that well. As Paul tells us in Colossians 1, He is the image of the invisible God and He does what the Father commanded Him to do. In fact, He doesn’t do anything that the Father doesn’t tell Him to do. So, that is a beautiful picture and that’s not negotiable, right? So when we talk about counseling and what we ought to do, that’s not negotiable. God has laid out exactly what is pleasing in His sight, the beauty of Christ, and who He is. Seculars have such a difficult time describing normal. They don’t know what normal is and so they’re chasing after all these things that simply try to make a person feel better, but we, in the Scriptures, have a picture of what’s normal, and I think that’s a really critical point.
So can we understand man outside of or without finding him within the story of redemption? I think this is an important question for all of us as it relates to counseling. So, how do we understand man in relation to the story of redemption?
Tim Pasma: Okay, we have to understand man in terms of the story of redemption because you look at what happened in the garden. When you read what happened in the garden, what happens? You see man becomes a being who’s alienated. He’s alienated from God. He’s alienated from other human beings, right? What does Adam do when he’s confronted about his sin? He throws his wife under the bus and says, Lord, it’s her. It’s her fault. She blames the serpent. So there’s alienation between human beings. There’s alienation within human beings, right? We all have this conflict. Then there’s alienation from creation itself. So man is an alienated being. Well, what’s the answer to that? The answer to that is redemption. We’re in Christ. The curse is removed. In Christ, we’re reconciled to the God from whom we were alienated, right? So unless you understand man from that perspective, you’re going to miss it. You’re going to miss solutions. You’re going to miss understanding him. You cannot understand man apart from the category of sin and the curse. It’s impossible.
Dale Johnson: Now, I wish that I could somehow express to all the listeners the magnitude of what we’re saying as sort of like a presuppositional, beginning point for all of us. We have to understand this because in our counseling practices, we have a tendency to drift away from what God has clearly stated is so important about man. Let me ask, just based on your last point, to the listeners, does the Bible not present your experiences within that story of redemption better than any other explanation of life?
Tim Pasma: Absolutely.
Dale Johnson: Of course it does. So when we think of our experiences in life, it corresponds to the biblical reality of what we experience: the devastation, the difficulty, the unwieldiness of our own heart, and how we in our own power can’t control it. We need something other than our self, and God in such a kind and gracious way has provided that in the sacrifice of Christ. What redemption and peace we have in Him–not just in Him. The Bible says He is our peace and that’s what we’re longing for truthfully. That’s what settles the heart of man.
Tim, this has been helpful to resize this idea of man and make sure that we’re always revisiting the truth of Scripture relative to man. This is a battle we’ll constantly fight, but we need to be ready for and vigilant for, and return to the Scriptures to understand who man is, how he operates, and what he ought to be doing in life. That should guide and shape the way that we counsel biblically.