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Myths About Biblical Counseling and Medication

Truth in Love 121

Biblical counselors do believe medicine and the body are critical in our care of individuals.

Oct 13, 2017

Myths About Biblical Counseling and Medication, on this edition of Truth and Love. I’m Heath Lambert and you’re listening to truth and love. A podcast of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors where we seek to provide biblical solutions for the problems that people face. In exactly one week from today, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors will host our forty-first annual conference on biblical counseling. This year, uh, that conference is going to be in Jacksonville Florida, at The First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. And The theme of our conference is faithfully Protestant: Biblical Counseling and the Reformation.

In celebration of that conference, and of the Five-Hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I wrote a document called “Ninety-five Theses For An Authentically Christian Commitment To Counseling.” And that document is a summary of the commitments that biblical counselors have about the bible about counseling practice, about secular psychology, about the body and the soul. It’s a summary of all those commitments in one place. I wanted to try to condense some of the most essential arguments about biblical counseling and place them in one location so that people could have a handy summary of what biblical counselors actually believe and what they don’t believe.

Essentially what the theses argue is that the bible is sufficient for counseling, the revolution of God in the scripture, about Jesus, about who we are, about who the spirit is, about the power that’s available to us to live life in a broken world. All of those resources as they are reviewed in scripture is what Christians need to do counseling. When Christians have made that argument though, there have been a number of arguments that have been made in return.

And one of those arguments that have been made in return has to do with medicine and medical science. The charge that biblical counselors have responded to again and again is that we disregard medicine and the body. So I want to talk about that myth on the podcast today. I want to be very clear to you that this is not the first time I have responded to this myth. I have responded to it in print, online and in books. I’ve spoken about it many times, and I’m not the only biblical counselor who’s done that. Biblical counselors have a veritable Cottage industry of responding to this myth.

Biblical Counselors do believe medicine and the body is important in our care of individuals. We don’t believe that it’s important for biblical counselors to be medical professionals or even to give medical advice when doing counseling. And that reality is summarized in the thirty-third thesis of the ninety-five theses. And what I wrote is that it is not necessary that the Bible comprehensively address biological issues and medical care to be authoritative and sufficient for counseling conversations. The point of that thesis is to make very clear that what is on the table in a counseling conversation is very different than the information that’s on the table in the consultation with a medical professional. As a matter a fact, there is no counselor, no counseling practitioner, biblical integrationist, Christian psychologist (or secular) — there isn’t a counseling practitioner that believes that medical expertise is at the heart and soul of counseling. And the reason that I know that is because the vast majority of counseling practitioners all across the country, all across the world, the vast majority of state-licensed secular therapist, give counseling advice and work without a medical expertise of their own but they work with medical professionals as they care for the counseling need of individuals, understanding of course that a person who comes for counseling is going to need medical care but it’s not going to be the job of that counselor to offer that medical care in the counseling room.

And here is what I want to say: Biblical counseling is exactly the same as those other approaches to counseling. We believe medical care is going to be appropriate and important so much of the time when we’re offering counseling care, it’s just not the job of the counselor to offer that kind of care in counseling. What we are doing as counselors is offering wisdom about life. We’re giving advice about life. What makes biblical counseling different than every other approach to counseling is not that we somehow reject that the body is important, unlike everybody else, that’s simply not true. What is different about biblical counselors and every other approach to counseling, is that biblical counselors believe the foundation of our wisdom is God’s word, is God’s wisdom, and not the wisdom of man. We believe the wisdom God gives us in scripture is sufficient to minister to people with their counseling related problems, and we don’t need to supplement that with the secular wisdom of man in secular therapy. But we do believe medical care is important. Just because counseling isn’t about medical interventions doesn’t mean medical care is not important. In fact, when you fast forward through the ninety-five theses I wrote and you get to thesis number eighty-two, I start to unpack this very clearly.

The eighty-second thesis says, “It’s a misunderstanding of the essential nature of human beings for Christians to view individuals as an exclusively physical substance and to assume all problems are medical problems.” What I’m saying there is, counselors need to not forget the spiritual. One of the concerns when people lob this myth, “Well you biblical counselors, you don’t care about medicine.” One of the places that comes from is a concern I have that people are being reductionistic in their approach to counseling care, and they’re viewing people only as a physical substance. But this thesis reminds us that the Bible teaches that people aren’t just a physical being; they’re a spiritual being. And we should not, therefore, treat all problems like they are medical problems. The eighty-third thesis says, “It’s a misunderstanding of the essential nature of human beings, made with a body and a soul, for Christians to present physical interventions as a solution to spiritual problems.” So the point that I’m making here is that it is wrong for people to medicate spiritual problems.

Let’s take a spiritual problem, like anxiety. Jesus says that anxiety is a sin. Now, when you understand what the Bible teaches, about the fact that we are a body and a soul, we will, of course, understand that that spiritual problem of anxiety is going to manifest itself in physical demonstrations. So we are not shocked that there are physical manifestations of spiritual problems. But Jesus Christ thinks anxiety is, at the root, a spiritual problem, and you can’t ultimately fix the spiritual with the medical. So it’s not to say there’s never any kind of medical intervention that would be necessary for somebody who say, for example, is having a panic attack and they would need to go to the Emergency room. But it is to say that when we offer medical care we’re not getting to the heart of it. We have to offer spiritual care for spiritual problems.

The eighty-fourth thesis says, “It’s a misunderstanding of the essential nature of human beings with a body and a soul for Christians to minimize the importance of medical treatment in their care for troubled people.” So here I am providing what I believe is the biblical balance we need to not forget the spiritual, but the Bible also endorses the medical treatment on its teaching on the sanctity of the human body. And so because it is biblical to honor the body, it is biblical to offer medical treatment outside of the counseling room. It’s just not what we do in counseling. So biblical counselors are biblical when we do what every other counselor does and send people out for good medical care, in addition to receiving their counseling care.

The eighty-fifth thesis says, “Because many counseling problems occur in the intersection of physical and spiritual issues counselors must exhort humility and avoid unduly dogmatic assumptions about the source of some problems in living.” The exhortation here is to be humble. The interaction between our bodies and our souls is complex, and we should not assume that we know everything there is to know about the bible on this issue, that we know everything there is to know about medical care on this issue, or that we know everything there is to know about an individual’s problem. And we should be very very humble, and we pursue evidence and be quick to hear and slow to speak, and listen to what medical doctors are saying, and listen to what the counselee is saying, and listen to what the bible is saying, and be very humble as we develop our conclusions.

The eighty-sixth thesis says, “Because life in a fallen world always leads to death, even obvious physical problems should not be treated as fundamentally medical issues, but instead as opportunities for drawing near to God in faith.” We need to remember that the spiritual outlasts the physical. The most important work we can do in this life is not medical care. And the reason that’s true is because every medical professional fails, the death rate is one-hundred percent. What we need to be concerned about, mostly, is the hearts and souls of mankind. Because when every single medical intervention fails, as it always will, the Bible promises us that the inner man is being renewed day by day even as the outer man wastes away. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about medical care, doesn’t mean there’s not a time for chemotherapy and insulin and that kind of thing. But it does mean that in a world where we cannot outrun death, what we must do in the counseling room is help to strengthen the inner man so that people grow in grace and they are ready to meet God when every counseling intervention fails.

And then finally the eighty-seventh thesis says, “Because the bible does not include the kind of information necessary to create comprehensive expertise in medical science counselors should avoid using their counseling conversations to engage in the practice of medicine.” This is very simple and straightforward point. And it’s the point that counselors don’t practice medicine. And I remember a time several years ago when I was teaching on this issue at Southern Seminary, where I serve as a professor, and we had a student in the class who was a pre-med student at another institution and was sitting in on my class for other reasons. And at the beginning of one of the classes I made the point about how important medical care is, and how important the body is, and then I went on to teach the class about how to offer counseling care. And towards the end of the class this student, who was a medical student at another institution, raised her hand and she said, “Hey, you know you said at the very beginning of the class that you thought it was so important to offer care for the body, you thought medical care was so important. And now for all this time, you haven’t mentioned medical care, but you’ve only talked about biblical principles for counseling. And I wonder why that is?” And my response to her was, “well because I’m not medical doctor, this is not a medical school, and we are not training medical practitioners, we’re training counseling practitioners.” And I think counselors most honor science, and most honor medical science in particular when we leave the practice of it up to people who are trained and licensed to do it. Counselors don’t offer medical care. No counselor does, not biblical counselor, not a Christian psychologist, and not a secular counselor. And in fact that is not undermining that importance of medical care, it underlines the importance of medical care. We honor the bodies of people when we send them to experts who know how to take care of them. And we honor their spirits, and we honor their problems in living, and we honor God’s Word when in counseling that is what we give.