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Threats to Biblical Counseling

Truth in Love 228

Stand firm on the authority of God's Word and its sufficiency to deal with the problems that people face.

Oct 14, 2019

This week on the podcast, we are going to deal with several different threats to biblical counseling. In the world that we live in, it’s very common that we would endure threats when we’re trying to propagate truth. The Word of God makes clear that we’re going to struggle consistently with defending the truth. In biblical counseling, I think it’s important that we assess periodically what some of those threats look like. Now, of course, we’re not doing this as our distinct position where we don’t propagate positively what the Bible says about soul care—that certainly our primary goal and duty—but I think it’s incumbent upon us as well to make sure that we’re consistently looking out for the vain philosophies and empty deceptions that Paul warns about in Colossians. I want to devote a little bit of time to consider some of those in broad strokes.

The Threat of Secularism

The first thing we have to be aware of when we think about secular psychology, its propagation, and its continued growth, is the secularism that’s promoted. Jay Adams made very clear early on in the biblical counseling movement some of the dangers of humanistic leanings relative to psychology, the Rogerian perspective in particular. When we think about some of the ideas and ideologies, I think it’s important that we still have an ear to the ground relative to the humanism that influences us. Secularism is important here as well. What we see in the 1970s is a distinct transition into what’s known as biological psychiatry. With that transition, psychogenic assumptions were developed, meaning that there are distinct psychological problems. Also, biogenic assumptions were developed, meaning that there are distinctly biological problems.

I think that unnecessarily divides man in a way that the Bible never divides man. It forces man to have some sort of dualism in his nature if we understand it that way. We have to be cautious when we think about those assumptions as being primary causes for problems that people face. When we deduce or reduce these issues that we’re describing in secular psychology to something that’s driven by psychological issues or biological issues, we divorce man unnecessarily from spiritual remedy that can aid in help when a person is facing very deep and dark issues, even issues that are physiologically driven. We have to be cautious and careful.

This redefines anthropology, the way that we understand man. In secularism we see this consistent drift of how we understand man, and the biggest thing that we should defend against in all of these philosophies that we see coming from secular psychology is to be very cautious about how we see man from a biblical perspective. We must guard against—even in biblical counseling—drifting in the wrong direction, drifting toward a secular understanding of explaining man. What will happen if we drift in that direction is we will be satisfied with earthly remedies to assuage the problems that we have. Then the Bible becomes unnecessary, or a side note, or a footnote, in the ways that we help people.

We want to look Scripturally to see how to deal with these varied problems that we have on earth, looking forward to the beautiful redemption that is to be found in Christ, where he will redeem us—body and soul—in fullness. Click To Tweet

For us in biblical counseling, we want to look Scripturally at people to understand them in wholeness and in fullness. We want to look Scripturally to see how to deal with these varied problems that we have on earth, looking forward to the beautiful redemption that is to be found in Christ, where he will redeem us—body and soul—in fullness. So, we have to be cautious about secularism.

The Threat of Humanism

The second thing we must guard against is humanism. Humanism is just simply faith and hope in mankind—in our wisdom, in our abilities, in what we believe to be our own goodness. Carl Rogers is most famous for propagating in humanistic psychology that the way we become a person is simply by allowing our own goodness to shine through. We divorce ourselves from any authoritarian structures, and we flourish as we trust more in ourselves and hope more in ourselves. Humanism is definitely influential in the church today in so many different ways. Humanism comes up in the church when we talk about self-actualization or self-esteem, this movement where we empower the self.

The danger here is quite clear, and I think the church is beginning to understand the dangers of this. It’s hindered our discipleship. It’s forced us to appeal to the flesh of people as opposed to looking specifically at how we grow someone spiritually. Humanism is a direct affront to the gospel of Jesus. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says very clearly, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We see that denial is part and parcel of the gospel. It’s a necessary aspect of the gospel. Humanism is to allow self to flourish and put confidence in the flesh.

Paul actually mentions in Philippians 3:3 that we are to put no confidence in the flesh, and this is what it means to walk as a Christian. This is a part of why Christianity seems like such a paradox in the world we live in, because it is contrary to the ways that our culture thinks. We see secular psychology promoting humanism constantly in self-help books that crop up in bookstores, and even in Christian bookstores. We need to be very cautious because if we drift in the direction of humanism, our counseling will take the shape of utilizing the Scriptures to empower the self. That’s a dangerous self-made religion that Paul would tell us is powerless to overcome any indulgence of the flesh.

If we can’t accomplish overcoming indulgences of the flesh by the power of the Spirit, then it’s not really biblical counseling. So, we have to be cautious about that threat.

The Threat of Scientism

The third threat is a bit more tender. The third threat to be cautious about is scientism. Scientism can be described as not exact science, but scientific language that’s used to propagate a philosophy. An example of this is the myth of the chemical cure. We’ve heard for years and years in our culture that if you have depression, or if you’re diagnosed with depression, then you have some sort of chemical imbalance. Let me be cautious here and just say if you’re on medication, this is not a request that you come off medication. Psychotropic medication is something that if you’re on, you should stay on and consult your doctor. I want to give that as a caveat.

However, what we have believed, because of the scientism propagated by pharmaceutical industries, by secular psychology, and by psychiatry, is myth of the chemical cure. As if when we experience depression, there is a direct correlation with something going on in our neurology. We have to be cautious about this because even the secular world has made statements very clearly denying the idea of the chemical cure. Now, I’m talking about that in broad terms because the chemical imbalance theory has been propagated in two major fashions.

One way is relative to depression that often carries with it the monoamine hypothesis, which is a way of describing the serotonin theory of deficiency. Where serotonin is low, it was propagated and theorized that one would be depressed. The other way deals with dopamine, and theorizes that when dopamine increased in a person’s brain, it would lead to schizophrenic symptoms. That’s the idea of the chemical imbalance theory. When we talk about the chemical cure, it’s interesting because secularists even, especially recently since the DSM-5, have been writing profusely against this idea of the chemical cure.

Most people don’t realize that in 1984 (I think I was 5 years old in 1984, which is amazing because I’m 40 now), the National Institute of Mental Health made a very clear statement on this idea of the monoamine hypothesis or the serotonin theory related to depression. And this is the statement, “Elevations or decrements in the functioning of serotonergic [that’s the serotonin system that we have in our body] systems per se are not likely to be associated with depression.” We could rattle off several more comments about this, I’ll let you hear a few.

Steven Stahl in Essential Psychopharmacology in 2000, said “There is no clear and convincing evidence that monoamine deficiency [which is talking about the idea of the chemical cure relative to depression] accounts for depression. That is, there is no ‘real’ monoamine deficit.” Now, these guys are not religious fanatics like me or maybe like some of you, these are guys who’ve given their lives to study psychology and psychiatry.

Stephen Hyman said, “There is no compelling evidence that a lesion in the dopamine system is a primary cause of schizophrenia.” Kenneth Kendler in Psychological Medicine in 2005 said, “We have hunted for big, simple neurochemical explanations for psychiatric disorders and have not found them.”

Maybe the most shocking is by man named Ronald Pies, Professor Emeritus at Tufts University in Boston. He’s been the editor for the Psychiatric Times for quite a while. In July 11, 2011, he said, “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” And he’s recently written articles that say the same thing. Well, I find that interesting because in the common language today this idea of the chemical imbalance still exists very prevalently.

Now, the reason I say that is not to condemn anyone who feels like they’ve been diagnosed with some sort of chemical imbalance or who believes those types of theories. I think it’s important for us in biblical counseling to make clear what we mean when we talk about these types of chemical theories. There are mysteries relative to the human being, but there are also things that we have to be very aware of from the secular world. They’re describing even their own theories as not meeting scientific-quality research. Yet, the common language and what often we fear most in biblical counseling, is that there’s going to be some sort of biomarker found that describes some of these problems that we’re experiencing.

Even if there are biological causes for some of the problems that people face, that’s never divorced from a spiritual responsibility on how we respond to issues of life. The threat comes in when we succumb to some of the ideas that the seculars may propound. It makes sense that they would try and explain human problems from that perspective because their philosophical disposition is that religion is not true. There is no higher being and so we have to explain the problems of man within the natural world. It’s important that we back up from that, we hold firm to what the Bible says and its sufficiency about the problems of man, and we focus upon Christ as being the redemption of all of our problems—both body and soul.

We have to be cautious and careful related to the propagation of scientism, which is readily available. If you write in and have some questions, I can send you a bibliography of books from seculars that describe these types of problems and these types of issues.

The Threat of Theological Education

One more threat to biblical counseling is theological education. You say, “Why theological education?” Well, I think one of the threats to biblical counseling historically has been that in our institutions of theology, those that teach and train pastors and church leaders do not teach true pastoral theology.

In the 1920s through 1940s, it became most prevalent to see pastoral care and counseling propagated through Departments of the Psychology of Religion. The church became sort of a business, and the pastor would run the business as a professional, like a CEO. Pastoral theology began to take that shape and so we began to look in that professional direction. The pastor became the professional preacher, and he was managing the office and the business of the church, and now his shepherding duties take a backseat. What we begin to see happen is specializations in all these different areas of education and counseling begin to pop up. In the 1930s and 40s especially, we see very distinctly psychology become the primary authority that began to teach and to train those who would educate and those who would counsel, even in the church.

And so you see the splitting of the way we teach and train pastors, where we teach them—praise the Lord for this—we teach them about Greek and Hebrew, we teach them about studying the New Testament the Old Testament, we teach them how to preach, we teach them a little bit about the function of the church, but we have failed in many ways in the last 90 years to teach them true pastoral theology.

We have failed to teach true pastoral theology that instructs pastors on how to interact not just in corporate preaching of the Word, but then also in personal ministry of the Word. The story that I hear most often from guys who leave seminary education and go out into the ministry, is what a deficit they feel in counseling ministry. They feel inadequate to minister to people who have these problems, and so they feel pressured to consistently defer and refer their flock to secular therapists.

One of my goals, that maybe you can pray with me, is that we see in theological education a movement once again—a revival if you will—of pastors being taught how the church should care for the souls of people. The church has been given the distinct responsibility, led by the pastor who’s the undershepherd of Jesus, to minister personally the Word of God to those who are hurting, to not buy into the secularism and the humanism and the scientism that comes from secular psychology. Deferring people and their problems outside of the church may be unintentionally ostracizing people who have these types of problems away from the church. My prayer is that once again we would see pastors trained to minister the Word in two fashions—corporately preaching the Word with conviction, believing in its authority and sufficiency to deal with the problems of people, but then also privately as a shepherd, diligently day-by-day ministering the Word to those who are broken.

I think it's important that we once again return back to biblical counseling standing firm on the beauty of the authority of God's Word and its sufficiency to deal with the problems that people face in everyday life. Click To Tweet

Theological education plays a major role in that because where a pastor chooses to go to school will often shape the way that he thinks. It will shape the way that he pastors when he moves out into churches. This is a critical area at which we should pay attention and be very concerned.

Now, there are other threats that I think we should consistently be aware of, which we don’t have time to talk about today. But I think these four areas give us some specifics on how we should focus, how that should force us to cling to the Scriptures to make sure that we’re not drifting in the way that we see anthropology and people, we’re not drifting to look towards some other philosophy as an authority over man. God has described who we are as beings. He created us and in creating us he’s described who we are, what our needs are the most, and how we repair those things when they’re broken. I think it’s important that we once again return back to biblical counseling standing firm on the beauty of the authority of God’s Word and its sufficiency to deal with the problems that people face in everyday life.