By Dr. Chuck Hannaford
"The age in which we live is governed by the prince of this world who hates Jesus Christ. His great doctrine is self-realization." Oswald Chambers, Biblical Psychology
Radio, television, and self-help books are replete with "experts" touting superficial answers for the deep and complex problems of the heart. Answers that require no internal change certainly appeal to our human nature. Unfortunately, these messages have become the mantra of some popular Christian authors. The "name it and claim it" self-esteem gospel in many Christian self-help books, direct us to a cheap self-aggrandizing form of Christianity. This distorted brand of Christianity encourages us to look on the "bright side" of life without telling us there is no "bright side" without Jesus Christ.
Should evangelicals actively confront a contemporary psychology that denies sin? By definition, we must stand against the philosophical underpinnings of a psychology that reinforces the radical relativism that is permeating our culture including our Christian culture. It is conceptually naïve to assume that a psychology based on Secular Humanism (man is the measure of all things) can in any way be consistent with biblical truth. Yet, many pastors are welcoming this "Trojan Horse" into their congregations. Why are shepherds allowing their flocks to drink from a poisoned stream?
Contemporary psychology is more than "the study of the soul." It is a system of theories and techniques for the purpose of diagnosing and treating a myriad of emotional, relational, and mental problems within the context of federal and state jurisprudence. Its practitioners are steeped and examined in these methodologies, and most will choose one or the other over time as their principle area of expertise. Unfortunately, none of them includes the notion of sin as the cause of human suffering.
Psychology offers empirical and anecdotal information about how people think and behave when they experience developmental, medical, relational, and genetic anomalies. However, a psychology based on theoretical constructs denying or ignoring God, is inconsistent with a legitimate Christian faith. Confused? Apparently, Christians lack discernment in this area. We should demand that our counsel be biblical. A biblical or Christian psychology would only serve to increase our awareness of sin and desperate need for a Savior.
"Beware of preaching the gospel of temperament instead of the gospel of God Thank God He does alter the heart, and when His new life is in our hearts, we can work it out through our heads and express it in our lives." Oswald Chambers, Biblical Psychology
How does the church deal with the hurting, the depressed, and those dealing with severe emotional issues without a wholesale acceptance of philosophies antithetical to the Christian faith? Some in the church say that if we correct the sin issue, the resulting emotional illness will correct itself. Is it this simple? In many cases, it is not.
Since sin entered the world through Adam, it has permeated every aspect of our being including our physical bodies. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- (Romans 5:12, NASB).
Legitimate mental illness does exist in the church. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other maladies may have a physiological basis and/or relationship. Emotional problems may also be the result of unresolved or un-repented of sin. In many cases, these issues are seldom treated effectively with counseling alone. Some of these infirmities severely affect cognitive functioning and prevent the appropriation of truth.
While some pastors and Christian counselors oppose the use of medication in any situation, others do not. Medication should be prescribed in a responsible manner when indicated due to a true medical or psychological illness. For those enduring severe emotional and cognitive distortions, is it not merciful to use medication properly? Often, counseling can be augmented with its use and we desperately need more study and dialogue in this area.
"Some Christians believe there are marvelous things to learn from modern psychology, embracing psychological findings and theories with enthusiasm, while others approach secular psychology with great caution." Eric L. Johnson & Stanton L. Jones, Psychology and Christianity
Drugs should not be used to mask the symptoms of sin. Psychopharmacology cannot correct the heart or resolve life issues. However, to generically state that the use of medication is bad, or for the medical community to use it without accountability or accurate diagnosis, are different sides of the same coin. Radical support of either position is a dangerous form of reductionism. The Christian counselor, or psychologist, should have a working knowledge of neurophysiology how emotional and spiritual issues affect thinking and mood. The physician should consider the consequences of using a drug to deal with complex issues, or symptoms having spiritual and emotional dimensions, without assistance or accountability.
Human beings are not one-dimensional. The Bible teaches that we have a human spirit, a soul (mind, emotion, and will), and a body. None of these dimensions operates in isolation and all are affected by sin. We know that severe emotional stress can result in medical problems. Physical stress and lack of rest will influence us emotionally. Our spiritual condition affects all areas of life. Any counsel focusing in overly simplistic fashion on one of these areas without consideration of the whole person, ultimately does more harm than good.
Back to the question how does the church respond? An increasing number of churches are developing Biblical Counseling Ministries. In larger churches, these ministries act as an extension of the pastor and counsel those in the congregation with special needs. Smaller churches often develop relationships with professional counselors in the community or congregation. Seminaries are beginning to take Biblical Counseling seriously. However, we still need to engage professional Christian psychologists and counselors more enthusiastically, if we hope to move the field away from secularism toward biblical truth.
Many churches are implementing small groups with a strategic purpose. These groups provide a valuable ministry by reaching in to the congregation and reaching out to the community. Their purpose is to welcome people with specific needs depression, divorce recovery, marital problems, addictions, and many others. Professional Christian counselors are learning that referring counselees to these groups expedites healing and improves treatment efficacy.
We should applaud the efforts of these churches for implementing biblical counseling ministries and topic specific groups (strategic discipleship interventions) intended to meet the hurting at their point of need. These groups provide a valuable function, teaching participants to confront pain and crises in biblical fashion. They build a sense of community, relationship, and interdependence. These dynamics are sorely lacking in many of our churches today. As long as the content of these groups is doctrinally sound and Christ honoring, members grow in their faith, their value to the Kingdom, and their value to each other.
The church must become more judicious. Let us lovingly challenge well meaning professional Christian counselors to explain their approach. It has been said that good treatment follows good diagnosis. Man is a sinner and Jesus Christ is his only hope for healing and redemption. Whatever the cost, we must be advocates and supporters of Truth no matter our discipline. God is both the author and sustainer of Truth and His Word is the only authoritative source. A legitimate Biblical or Christian Psychology will defend His Truth against any philosophy, theory, or system that contradicts His nature, or the nature of man.
Source URL: http://www.worldviewweekend.com/news/article/confronting-contemporary-psychology-and-manLinks: