SGM and the Counseling Cliff

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illustration: Marion Bolognesi

By now, most church folk (and lots of others) have heard about the trouble facing CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries in regard to allegations that child sex abuse in the network of churches was covered up by pastors who allegedly counseled family members to avoid reporting to the police and forgive the abusers.

And now, they are resisting the lawsuit and investigation by citing the First Amendment.

Great.

Rather than a journalistic dig into the history of SGM, CJ, or whatever, or an impassioned plea on the issues of abuse and cover-up (which Rachel Held Evans did beautifully last week), I simply want to comment on the style of counseling that may lead to this kind of situation. And to show that, like the much-heralded national fiscal cliff, conservative evangelicals are quickly heading towards a counseling cliff. In fact, SGM may be the first of many higher-profile cases of pastoral counseling gone terribly wrong.

This lawsuit is not the only thing that has surfaced regarding SGM church counseling. Lots of folks have cited spiritual and emotional abuse, as well. And when one sees the close relationship between CJ, SGM, and Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and academic leader of the evangelical neo-reformed movement, along with support from folks like John Piper, it becomes clear that there is a lot at stake here. In particular, the exploding movement of “gospel-centered counseling” among neo-reformed churches is at stake.*

I have personal experience with this style of counseling at a church I served in 7 years ago. It was one of the primary reasons my wife and I finally decided to move on. One of the mainstays of this style is an antagonism toward “secular” counseling or “modern” psychology, leading church movements like SGM and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, for instance, to require members to only receive counseling from their pastors. And, sometimes, to seek that counsel from elders even in place of alerting the police.

Another mainstay is the emphasis on sin as the root of all emotional/psychological pain/difficulty. Medication for depression, for instance, is routinely frowned upon if not forbidden; and issues of abuse are oversimplified as sinners being sinners. In CJ’s famous words, we are all doing “better than we deserve,” and God’s holiness is such that abusers and the abused alike are equally deserving of an eternity of suffering in hell. Thus, God’s grace given to such undeserving people demands that victims must “forgive” abusers and get over their pain by simply submitting to the gospel and repenting – and, in the case of this lawsuit, this may even lead to “reconciling” children with abusers in person without involving authorities at all.

All this is obviously dangerous at best – crazy at worst.

During my journey as a pastor/church planter, I have come to the conclusion that pastors should not do “counseling” at all.

Evangelical seminaries may offer counseling courses and degrees**, but there needs to be a strong distinction in the church between spiritual advisement/discipleship and professional, clinical counseling. And that distinction needs to be made abundantly clear by church leadership. The pastor’s and leader’s job is to provide spiritual guidance and discipleship for faith and life, as well as administration for community, worship, and mission – but NOT to diagnose and treat serious issues of emotional/psychological pain (not to mention become sex therapists or professional marriage fixers). Far from preventing people from seeking “secular” counseling and consulting “modern” psychology, pastors must ENCOURAGE this in all cases in which it is needed or desired by a church member. I firmly believe that the Bible alone is not intended to offer the kind of invasive, specific therapy and solutions for these kinds of issues, but rather to provide a broader spiritual framework for facing them with courage and moving towards wholeness with all the other means that God has provided in his grace (like professional counseling).

In other words, throw out pastoral counseling altogether and replace it with simply spiritual guidance or discipleship. Which is what the church is supposed to be doing anyway. Counseling services are really a contemporary development of the cumbersome church institution that may be successfully jettisoned by a more streamlined – and healthy – missional approach to church.

And in matters of abuse – why the hell do I even have to say this? - alerting the authorities and cooperating with legal processes is not a last resort or even a next-best option but THE FIRST RESPONSE.

If we take all this seriously, maybe, just maybe, churches can make a u-turn before flying off the counseling cliff.

What do you think? Am I on to something here? Overreacting? 

*I want to stress that before trial, all the accusations against SGM are filed under “alleged.” Also, I know that there is a spectrum among those who subscribe to “gospel-centered counseling”, and I don’t want to broad stroke too much. Some gospel-centered folks are ok with professional counseling and clinical treatment. But some aren’t.

**I am all for professional counseling done from a Christian perspective – but only if it is legitimate professional counseling. For a beautiful example of people who are incorporating modern psychology into a Christian spiritual framework, and applying that to professional counseling, check out Dan Allender and The Seattle School.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.

  • http://www.terrymichaelnewell.com tmnewell

    As a pastoral counselor, what I think is that you’re on to something here and not overreacting. For a number of reasons, I left church and church-related positions that had a counseling component to the job description when I found it terribly difficult to manage the dual relationships that were inevitable in such positions.  Now, working in private practice, I use the training in counseling and psychological matters alongside my theological education, most of the time in that order. Although I’m not ready to completely “throw out the pastoral counseling label altogether,” I understand your point about this instance with CJ and SGM who shamelessly hide behind theological categories like “sin”, “forgiveness”, and “discipleship” passing off their “counseling” as divinely inspired since they have a position such as pastor.
     
    Lecturing last week to divinity school students about counseling survivors/victims of sexual abuse, it was refreshing to NOT hear statements about forgiving or reconciling with sexual predators which allowed us to discuss more pressing needs of victims’ confronting their own shame and powerlessness.  Approaches taken such as CJ and SGM seem to me to only perpetuate victims’ struggle to find strength and hope when it has been robbed from them.
     
    And, btw, good reference to Dan Allender.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @tmnewell thanks for this, good stuff.

  • BrianJonson

    YES!! YES!! THANK YOU

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @BrianJonson welcome :).

  • http://www.equalsharing.com equalsharing

    I hadn’t heard of the “Sovereign Grace” church or this scandal.  I would NEVER advise someone to not report abuse to the authorities.  Our justice system is imperfect but it’s so much better than in some places where there is no protection for the abused! I can’t imagine a situation where I would not report abuse if I knew of it.  In fact, I think we are bound by law to do so and have done so in the past.
     
    In regard to counseling in general, I agree with the author that there needs to be a distinction between “spiritual advisement/discipleship and professional, clinical counseling.”  I think we have a role in “counseling” that is short term and not “professional or clinical” but I’ll let that go for now. In any case, if something is complex at all, I always work toward referrals… but I do try to stay in the loop with the person and their counselor/therapist, with open two way communication, when that is possible. 
     
    There are two major challenges with my “referral” approach.
    1.  Sometimes there are barriers, usually financial, and sometimes “family system” secrecy (especially in regard to minors) that can make it almost impossible for someone to get consistent quality care.  (Referral still needs to happen though! Sometimes it’s just difficult!)
     
    2  The care that professionals provide is sometimes not intensive or “all inclusive” enough.  I’m not sure what the fix is for this, but sometimes people need to be seen almost daily or even be brought into inpatient settings more quickly, and that is so expensive, and there is sometimes a problem with good followup on the outside.  It’s my experience that professional counselors, because they are at a distance from their clients and the clients’ life situations (including family dynamics and big picture challenges). Sometimes there is a critical need for support IN the environment that the person lives in, whether it be a difficult family situation or poverty.
     
    The solution to these issues, I believe, is a close and open PARTNERSHIP between pastors and therapists, where there can be a dialog, a give and take etc. between the pastor “on the ground” and the professional “in the office, with of course, proper attention to needed permissions re: privacy laws.  When that can happen it’s great, but there seems to be, sadly and often, a lack of trust between the pastors and the therapists. 
     
    We pastors could be SO helpful with follow up and in terms of holding people accountable to whatever “program” they are in. I think that some sort of semi-professional certification program for pastors (those that would want it) would be good so we could get the respect and the supervision we need. There are, of course, other issues where there is a major world view divide between pastors and therapists that are WHOLLY secular… but fortunately there are professionals who DO respect spiritual leaders.
     
    Thanks for listening.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @equalsharing Thanks for highlighting some of the nuance here. I agree that there are challenges to this, but the way the open partnership that you’re describing is absolutely on point. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • http://www.amydmartin.com/ Amy M

    Finally found time to read this, its been taunting me through twitter all day!
     
    First of all, you’re not overreacting and you are absolutely on to something here. There seems to be an odd, general distrust of anything “secular” in such church cultures, and so that includes, unfortunately, outside-of-church counseling. Along with that a HUGE OVERCONFIDENCE in the ability to “minister” to people in the areas of psychology. Holy shit can this go wrong. I’ve seen it, experienced it. The issue is, that this type of work is exactly what you called it – invasive. And you don’t just let anyone inside, those are not great boundaries. However, (and I’ve been wanting to write about this) something about church culture not only allows, but encourages such wishy-washy boundaries by saying, “Yes! If people are in church, they are safe people, people of God – Share everything! Be vulnerable. Be broken! If you don’t, you’re not being very honest.”  Malarkey. Church involvement or office does not make people safe, in fact, with those kind of things “understood” it can make them the opposite of safe. It makes things more like some kind of weird cultural emotional incest. I once told my (secular) therapist, “Church has got to be the most violating thing I’ve ever experienced”. 
     
    Thanks for posting this. Really.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Holy shit, AMAZING COMMENT.

  • fortunaveritas

    “All this is obviously dangerous at best – crazy at worst.”
     
    I would contend that you’ve gotten yourself reversed here, but there’s also the issue where it’s both crazy and dangerous to go whole hog on something so delusional.
     
    I agree with the rest of your conclusions, there’s already enough hats that a pastor must wear and enough potential problems that can result from overburdening someone as it is without trying to make them play substitute for an entire discipline of science and medicine.
     
    Insisting that one’s medicine and science be Christian is a problematic standpoint though, as that just allows the tumorous rejection of science as something that is antithetical to God which gives rise to such malarkey as creation science and gospel-based “counseling” to continue to fester without being properly challenged.

  • http://www.waschurchgodsidea.com/ Marc Winter

    Pastoring in its essence is usurping the headship of Christ. I know this is unintentional, but it does not change the fact. As you know the word pastor only appears one time in the NT in Ephesians. All other NT instances refers other THE Good Shepherd Himself. In the OT, when refering to human shepherds, the news was not very good.Anyway, if you would like to talk more, drop me a line marc@waschurchgodsidea.Com

  • AnnaRebecca

    As a mental health professional and a Christian, THANK YOU.

  • ThankfulGuest

    You are most assuredly not overreacting. I say this as someone whose efforts to deal with her abuse were stymied for years thanks to this sort of spiritual counseling. These people were not trained, and even though they cared, they ended up forcing a fast forgiveness that made them (and my parents) feel better but left me hurting and alone. Your reasons are a great start. Here are a couple of others in case you’re interested. 1. Your minister, even if trained, is never impartial because he is the head of an entire community of which you are a part, a community he has to manage and, perhaps, even protect from the chaos you might go through as you heal.  2. As many who have been abused experience, the best counseling is from someone you have no personal connection to and, thus, no need to please/pacify. Again, this cannot happen with your minister since, by virtue of his position, he is normally someone you know well up to and including his family. This is great for discipleship but not for counseling.3. If you reach the point of not having endless memories, just seeing the minister might provoke them again given his role in the healing process. This forces you to leave your community! It makes zero sense.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      These are wonderful additional points. Thank you.

  • idahodave7

    As I read your article, it seems like you have set up something of a straw man and then proceeded to beat the stuffing out of it.  I’ve studied a lot of NANC and CCEF materials, and the emphasis in both is definitely not as un-nuanced/sin centric as you seem to portray it.  Also, how in the world do you propose defining “legitimate professional counseling?” Who decides what is sufficient? Would a CCEF certification be adequate, or would it have to be through a university and based on contemporary psychiatric thought and methodology to be legitimate?  As a friend of mine commented, it seems like you may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @idahodave7 Dave, I don’t think there’s a strawman here as I focused pretty directly on “gospel-centered counseling” as indicative of a larger counseling issue in the church. I briefly looked at the organizations you mentioned, and I still think there’s an ecclesiastical issue there. Not sure about the content of the counseling they are teaching, but if there is antagonism toward “contemporary psychiatric thought”, I think that’s a problem.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @idahodave7 Dave, I don’t think there’s a strawman here as I focused pretty directly on “gospel-centered counseling” as indicative of a larger counseling issue in the church. I briefly looked at the organizations you mentioned, and I still think there’s an ecclesiological issue there. Not sure about the content of the counseling they are teaching, but if there is antagonism toward “contemporary psychiatric thought”, I think that’s a problem.

      • idahodave7

        @zachhoag  @idahodave7
         I think antagonism can be a problem, but I also think caution is called for when “solutions” are not in concert with biblical wisdom and thought.  I don’t think secular counseling sees people  as embodied souls living in bodies that can be fragile and out of balance, having hearts that can easily desire what is not best for us, living in a world with a spiritual enemy who would kill and destroy, but that is governed by a just and merciful God who rules it all in ways we can’t always comprehend. I do respect CCEF’s model and it is one being embraced by many churches:
         
        “We are Christ-Centered. Therefore, we point people to a person, Christ, and not a program. He is wisdom from God, the inexpressible gift who delivers us from our sins and sufferings. He is the faith-nourishing foundation in whom the call to obedience finds its inner principle and power. People need the Savior, not a system of self-salvation.We believe in God’s common grace to all humanity and therefore we can learn from those who do not espouse a Christian or even a theistic worldview. For example, while the fundamental worldview of secular psychology runs counter to Christianity, there are descriptive riches to be found in the writings and teachings of those who have gained case wisdom through their research and care. These materials can enrich our care of those in need and can be useful to us as we continue to develop our biblically-based counseling method.We are aware that human behavior is inextricably tied to deeper motivational drives. Therefore, we emphasize the primacy of the heart, because all human acts arise from a worship core, either disordered or rightly ordered.We believe that we best image the triune God as we live and grow in community. Therefore, we embed personal change within God’s community—the church, with all its rich resources of corporate and interpersonal means of grace.We believe the Scriptures are rich in their understanding of who we are as human beings. Therefore, we use Scripture with a full commitment to its authority and sufficiency, convinced that from beginning to end, it reveals Christ and his powerful redeeming grace addressing the needs and struggles of the human condition.We believe that human beings are both spiritual and physical beings. Therefore, we recognize that people are physically-embodied by God’s design. A variety of bodily influences impact moral response. We take the whole person seriously, granting that there are ambiguities at the interface of soul and body. We seek to remain sensitive to physiological factors, as the context within which God calls a person to faith and obedience.We believe that people are socially-embedded by God’s design. Therefore, we recognize that a variety of socio-cultural influences and sufferings influence moral response. We take the person’s whole context seriously, granting that there are ambiguities at the interface between an individual and their environment. We seek to remain sensitive to social factors, as the context within which God calls a person to faith and obedience.We believe that the Incarnation of Jesus is not just the basis for care but also the model for how care is to be administered. Therefore, we seek to enter into a person’s story, listening well, expressing thoughtful love. Such incarnational patience recognizes that a particular season of intentional counseling plays one part within a life-long process of Christian growth.We believe that Jesus is our faithful Redeemer who enables us to persevere in the midst of our problems. Therefore, we understand that change is often slow and hard. Jesus promises no instant panacea. He abides in us as we abide in him. He gives grace to walk a long obedience in the same direction, learning wisdom.We believe that we at CCEF have not “arrived.” We have not fully and clearly expressed all that the Bible has to say about counseling ministry. Therefore, because Jesus tarries and we are not yet what we shall be, we humbly admit that we struggle to consistently apply all that we say we believe. We want to learn and grow in wisdom. We who counsel and teach counseling live in process, just like those we counsel and teach.”

      • idahodave7

        @zachhoag
         P.S. The illustration at the top of the post is really wonderful!

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  • deborahbeddoe

    Yes, yes, yes, and YES! My husband’s struggle with prescription drug addiction was covered again and again and pastoral counseling was worthless. What he needed was serious, medical, drug rehab, etc. Not just to be more disciplined and honest. And our first foray into a counselors office, when I was rightfully on the verge of absolute breakdown, constituted of a canned “forgiveness” lesson. My husband was a Christian leader who needed to step down and get well. The issue was not that I didn’t forgive him. On the contrary, I had excused too much in the name of forgiveness.
    THIS issue of Biblical or Gospel counseling is detrimental to real recovery for a huge number of people deep in issues that can’t be resolved by scripture memory. Yes, I believe the Bible is profitable for all things. But the Bible doesn’t give insulin injections, or chemo either. It isn’t the Bible that heals people. It’s God. And  He can use whatever means He wants to heal people.
    In some circles, I can’t even breathe the words “12 Steps” and yet I know that’s where my husband finally found freedom.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @deborahbeddoe That’s beautiful, thank you.

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  • revaaron

    I do not think you are overreacting, Zach.  As a pastor who happens to be a professional counselor, I am greatly concerned with this entire situation and many like it.  In my congregation and other pastoral settings, I am clear to set the boundary that I am offering pastoral/spiritual direction and NOT professional counseling, even though I am licensed to do so.  The fact is, I simply do not have the time to devote to professional pastoral counseling and I recognize my limitations.  This is why I do not necessarily agree that  we need to throw pastoral counseling out as a whole, but we instead need to be clear on what true pastoral counseling is.  The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (aapc.org) is a professional body that certifies and endorses professional pastoral counselors and this is one possible standard.  I do fully agree that there needs to be a “strong distinction in the church between spiritual advisement/discipleship and professional, clinical counseling.” as you state.  It is a complete tragedy that we need to remind pastors and church leaders that the safety of their congregation members comes first.  Lord have mercy.

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  • falfie4

    idahodave7I realize I’m a bit late to the game, but here’s my two cents.  I’m a master’s level professional counselor, pursuing licensure.  About half way through my program (professional licensure track at a seminary), a friend approached me with materials from CCEF.  I took it seriously and did lots of research.  And, I have serious concerns.  Have your read any of Jay Adams work?  It’s entirely sin-centric, and he is the founder of the nouthetic counseling movement (now called Biblical Counseling).  He even goes so far as to say that anyone who uses medication to treat depression is sinning.  I think CCEF now allows anti-depressant meds, in limited cases, but their overarching message is that all you need is scripture and prayer and your problems will go away. 

    Another example is from an article by Ed Welch: http://www.ccef.org/blog/secret-dealing-fear-and-anxiety.  It says the way to treat fear and anxiety is to humble yourself before God… and that’s it!  Really?!  That totally discounts the fact (backed by research) that often there are issues with biochemistry at play.  For example, chronic abuse in early childhood changes a person’s brain chemistry, and the neuro-pathways in the brain.  This means that a person has no control over their response to anxiety provoking situations, because their brain is wired a certain way.  The only way to control it is through a combination of medication and various research based therapeutic techniques designed to re-wire the brain (and even then, many people still need to be on meds for their entire lives).  Yes, prayer and scripture reading can be part of that (personally, I think they should be a BIG part of that), but simply humbling yourself before God isn’t going to do the trick.  This may sound like an extreme example, but even for the person with “general” anxiety, and no knowledge of a history of abuse, there may still be an issue with biochemistry.  It’s just irresponsible to claim that a person can be changed simply by repenting and trying to have more faith.   

    I have many more examples of how CCEF and others like them are irresponsible in their use of faith to “treat” serious psychological issues, if you are interested in hearing them.  But, please do some more research on both sides before defending this method alone as sufficient.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @falfie4 idahodave7 Thanks for this comment. I was hoping someone with more experience would be able to speak to these organizations. Sounds like more of the same sin-centric approach.

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  • Shannon

    No, Zach, I don’t think you are overreacting at all. In fact, you need to spread the word because there are people who are in extreme psychological pain. It may be wrong to say, but I wish many of these “you just need to forgive, stop sinning, trust Christ,” types would get a seriously bad bout of depression or anxiety. I have a feeling that their beliefs might change. I’m not very knowledgable about the church leaders mentioned in your post… I know they’re popular, but don’t know their theological beliefs. IF they are truly against “secular” psychiatry and advising their followers to forego seeing a medical doctor, they are contributing to much agony. I can site many stories of Christians who’ve struggled w/ mental illness: A woman I know who is totally committed to Christ and has been for years. Unfortunately, she suffered from postpartum depression. Why? Her hormones were screwed up. Well, 20 years later, she is still on a low dose of medication and probably will be for the rest of her life. The experience was so traumatic that it physically impacted her brain. I know of another man, actually a well known man, who experienced depression. Why? He was working too hard and succumbed to exhaustion. Another committed Christian was told not to go on medication, but to go and talk to her pastor. Years later she finally went on a low dose of an anti-depressant. She will always be prone to anxiety and depression due to her family history of mental illness, but now, she is lighter. As a secularly trained, former missionary, lifelong Christian therapist told me, “I thank God for these medicines.” I am NOT saying that spiritual issues never play a part in mental illness. But our brains are part of our miraculous physical bodies. They are filled with approximately 100 million neurons sending messages via 1,000 trillion synaptic connections. And we are to believe that they can’t get “sick”?  Frankly, these people who feel they are qualified to diagnose mental illness make me extremely angry. Perhaps their motives are pure and they believe that they are doing what is best, but they are wrong and their opinions are wreaking havoc on believers and non-believers alike.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Shannon Thanks, Shannon – this confirms a lot of what I’ve experienced, too.

  • Reader

    Zach – I appreciate your concerns here and share some of them myself.  I’m not sure biblical counseling has been fairly represented though. 
     First off, you point to the antagonism toward secular psychology and see that as a problem. It’s not fair to knock that over without giving the backbone for why they’re critical of it.  Biblical counseling looks at the worldviews beneath some of the secular theories and finds them at odds with Scripture.  Theories say something about who people are and how they change, people that are critical of secular psychology disagree with those foundations.  I don’t know if an automatic dismissal of that is fair.  Nuance right?
    Second, some of the views being criticized here are only true of a portion of biblical counseling.  While it’s true that some methods focus primarily in on sin, it’s not true for all of them and it’s definitely not true for present day CCEF.  
    Third, I’m not sure the hard line that you’ve drawn between discipleship and counseling exists.  Counseling is addressing the struggles of life.  Discipleship is focusing on knowing the character and actions of God.  As I read the Psalms I see the two blending together where the psalmist takes the struggles of life and in response to them rehearses the character of the Lord.  Christian maturity means learning how to bring the truths of the Lord down into the daily moments of life.  This is what counseling does.  If I’m anxious about every day things I think we’d all say that Scripture speaks to that, but who’s to say where that line is where Scripture isn’t enough and now I need a professional?  Does Scripture stop speaking now that it’s gotten too big?  My point is that I don’t think it’s as neat and clean as you’ve presented it.

    • falfie4

      @Reader Hi Reader-  First, please read my response to IdahoeDave below.  It addresses some of your concerns.  Second, with regards to biblical counseling’s criticism of secular psychology, I’m not sure you are the one who is being fair.  Take Person Centered Theory, for example.  Yes, Carl Rogers did state that humans possess all they need internally for healing and change.  This is humanism which, when taken at face value by some, is opposed to Scripture and a Biblical worldview (as we are inherently sinful and as Jeremiah states that our hearts are deceptive and beyond cure).  However, what if someone is a believer and has the Holy Spirit inside them?  Do they not posses all they need for healing and change through the Holy Spirit?  And, how does the fact that we are all made in the image of God play into this?  If non-believers don’t have the capacity for healing and change (i.e, goodness) inside them, then how do people like Brad Pitt and George Cloony know to raise so much awareness for injustice around the world (something I would argue is very Christ-like)?  To use your words, I’m not sure an automatic dismissal of that is fair.  Nuance, right?  And yet, that’s exactly what places like CCEF do.  And, at times this automatic dismissal of secular psychology is harmful, as in the example below.  
      I know CCEF has worked hard to clean up their image and present themselves as more relevant, but an in-depth reading of their materials shows they themselves draw a pretty hard line between what is acceptable and what is not in counseling/discipleship (as you state the author is doing).  Most of their methods do, in fact, rely on the basic assumption that all issues stem from sin and can be remedied by scripture alone.  At best, it’s insufficient.  At worst, it’s harmful.

      • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

        @falfie4 Thanks again, really appreciate your insight into CCEF.

      • Reader

        @falfie4    
        I don’t doubt that you’ve read some of their materials and drawn some of these conclusions from them.  However, just because a blog post or even a series of them comments on the nature of sin in a struggle doesn’t mean that their entire approach is based in sin.  
        One of the most distinctive marks of CCEF as opposed to NANC is the fuller description of humanity beyond sinner.  Mike Emlet talks about people as sinners, sufferers, and saints.  All three of these things play into how we understand struggles.  Yes, sin exists, but sometimes it’s predominantly suffering.    
        “All issues stem from sin and can be remedied by scripture alone” is not accurate at all.  Scripture is not a bandaid to be applied to the deep and complex struggles people face.  Rather, Scripture speaks meaningfully to all areas of human experience.  Meaningfully, not comprehensively.  Because of this we can look at any struggle through the lens of redemptive history and get a sense of how Scripture speaks.  Even there though, Scripture isn’t the remedy, Christ is the only one who changes hearts. And yes, behavioral change can certainly happen apart from Christ.  Common grace exists.  What CCEF points at is heart change, the vertical dimension in every action.  
        CCEF does not dismiss psychological methods.  Winston Smith has a great talk on the use of DBT at their Psychiatry conference a few years back where he engages the theory and comments on it from a biblical perspective.  Look up any of that conference’s material to get an honest sense of how they approach psychology.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Reader Thanks for the comment/pushback. I think was clear in the post that I’m playing from the particular (neo-reformed gospel-centered counseling) to the universal (pastors, stop counseling!), because if the problem has gotten this bad it may be time to change our terminology and technique altogether. Comments here and on Rachel Evans’s blog have been so helpful in confirming this conclusion. 
      I understand a biblical objection to some of the principals upon which secular counseling/psychology may be based. And I made it clear that *legitimate, professional, faith-based counseling* can be an awesome thing. However, maintaining antagonism toward the very real science of psychological and psychiatric work IS NOT ACCEPTABLE in my opinion. That is illegitimate. 
      So, if there are occasional problems in the principles, some of that can be addressed in discipleship and spiritual guidance. But the baby must not be thrown out with that bathwater. Counseling and professional help must be encouraged whenever desired and/or necessary.

      • Reader

        zachhoag 
        I agree with you that pastors often end up counseling situations that are beyond their scope of expertise and that in some case this can have serious ramifications.  I work as a professional biblical counselor in conjunction with various churches in the area.  In a sense, I’m the consultant they bring in when they encounter situations beyond their training.  What I’m saying is that we don’t have to send these problems out of the church.  It’s possible to do these things well within the church, to work in conjunction with physicians when appropriate.  What gets me about the critiques against folks who are critical of psychology and psychiatry is that a lot of what we’re saying is the same things being said at the academic level of those fields themselves.  Read Irvin Yalom’s books and you’ll hear the same critiques of his own field that you hear from folks like CCEF.  
        There’s a middle ground here.  I’m fighting for people to be a little more discerning about the pills they’re swallowing (both literally and figuratively) when it comes to psychology and psychiatry.  I’m not saying throw it all out, I’m saying understand what you’re being fed.

        • kate_fin22

          @ReaderzachhoagHi! I read that you are a professional biblical counselor. If you are not CCEF certified, may I ask what training(s) you have had? What kind of expertise do you have that they do not?  If you are not on a teaching position, in what capacity are you a “professional” biblical counselor? And by whom are you paid as a professional one?

  • Amy

    “And in matters of abuse – why the hell do I even have to say this? – alerting
    the authorities and cooperating with legal processes is not a last
    resort or even a next-best option but THE FIRST RESPONSE.”
    You shouldn’t have even had to say it.  But I’m glad you did, and I wish more pastors/parents/Christians-in-general would.  Thank you.

  • http://jenniferclarktinker.wordpress.com/ Jennifer Clark Tinker

    I haven’t read all the comments but I totally agree with your original post.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Jennifer Clark Tinker thanks Jen.

  • LukeLillard

    from a counseling student at an evangelical seminary, thank you so much for this crucial message.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      LukeLillard you’re welcome, bro.

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  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ tristaanogre

    There was a falling out in a congregation I know because someone within the church didn’t think it was appropriate that, when faced with a child abuse situation, the cops were called rather than the church dealing with it…
    …the people who made that suggestion have been since asked to leave… yeah… “reconciliation” doesn’t mean “suck up and deal”…

    Thanks, Zach…

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