Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology at SBTS (UPDATED with Apology from Heath Lambert)

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UPDATE: Heath Lambert issued a statement in response to the controversy over Eric Johnson, SBTS, and the conflict between biblical counseling and Christian psychology.

In sum, Lambert denies any pressure on SBTS to get Johnson fired. He does acknowledge that he spoke unkindly about Johnson in the video which is embedded in the original post below. Finally, Lambert continues to believe his view of Christian counseling is superior to Dr. Johnson’s.

The petition remains unchanged. Lambert contradicts the petition on the point about Johnson’s departure from SBTS. I think the ball is now in the hands of the petition writer to respond.

I am working on my response to Lambert’s 95 Theses.

(Original Post)

For as long as I can remember, there has been conflict between psychologists and theologians. Representing different ways of approaching knowledge, religion depends on revelation and scientifically informed psychology depends on research. For me as a psychology professor at a Christian college, the tension is just another day at work.

One way that tension shows up is in the practice and teaching of counseling. Some counselors insist that the Bible is all that should be used in counseling whereas other Christians believe that psychological research should inform selection of techniques. A skirmish in that conflict appears to be taking place at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

According to a petition gathering steam, Christian psychologist Eric Johnson was fired from his position as a professor at SBTS (see also this Twitter thread). The petition claims that Johnson was on the wrong side of an ideological dispute with Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. The petition begins:

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler, has decided to fire Dr. Eric Johnson after 17 years of ministry in Christian scholarship and soul-care. His termination was not due to differing Christian beliefs or failed morality but rather due to pressure from an outside organization, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), and its leader, Heath Lambert.

The petition is anonymous but I have gotten confirmation of some details from sources in a position to know. Although president of the seminary Albert Mohler has not yet responded to an inquiry, Johnson confirmed without explanation that he won’t be teaching at SBTS after this semester. It is also true that Lambert has had very negative things to say about Johnson’s work. For those who want all the inside baseball, watch this video of Lambert blasting Johnson’s work and theology.

My primary interest in this matter isn’t about a personnel matter at the seminary. Those details will probably remain private. Rather, I want to focus on the conflict between so-called biblical counselors and Christian psychology. While I don’t know what Mr. Lambert’s role was in Johnson’s situation, it does seem clear that Lambert sees himself as a reformer of counseling conducted by Christians.

In the spirit of the Reformation, Lambert recently released “95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling.” In this document, Lambert offers a challenge to “secular therapy” for the “purpose of debate.”

I plan to take Lambert up on his offer. While I agree with Lambert that the topic is timely and important, I disagree with his general approach. In future posts, I will outline why I believe that his key claims are incorrect and if followed to the letter could be harmful.

In the mean time, I wish Dr. Johnson well and hope that he finds a suitable location for his work.

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