I am in the middle of one of my long blog series. Today there is a significant change in what I am addressing, however. So far, I have essentially been saying “mental illnesses are real, you should not be afraid to seek medical help,” from today I will be arguing for the other side of the same coin, “the Bible has a lot to say that is relevant for those with mental illnesses, and can help all of us live a more mentally healthy life.”
There are some who advocate strongly for a purely biological view of mental illnesses and essentially wash their hands of church members after referring them for expert help. Others feel that the only valid form of counseling is done by secular professionals outside the church and put their trust in that. A third group are probably quite annoyed with me so far: they would say that the Bible is entirely sufficient on its own to treat all conditions that are called mental illnesses.
I say that all three groups are wrong.
One thing I should be clear about, however, is that I am not really advocating what some would call an “integrationalist” approach. I am not convinced that what is always needed is a form of counseling that combines secular and biblical approaches, although I am sure that is helpful at times.
Rather, I am saying, Church, be the Church and offer help that comes from the Bible and at the same time encourage people to get the complementary help they can only get from mental health professionals.
If you have access to trained professionals who are also Christians, wonderful. If you feel called to develop and offer an “integrated approach,” fantastic. But the needs are too great for us to wait till there are enough double-trained people. And the problems are too acute for us to assume that a church member can easily be trained in a Christian context to the level that secular counselors and psychiatrists are.
Why can’t we work together with secular services, each playing to our strengths? I do hope over time some genuinely integrated approaches will emerge. Lets not be so proud as to assume that we can convert our people, or even our pastors into psychiatrists overnight, nor should we even try. Often people with very limited knowledge of mental illness can do a lot of harm if they stray from the one area where we have a good authority base. What is that area? Well it is the Bible, and everything it has to say.
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I don’t follow the usual advice which is to make your blog very focused on a specific subject and grow a “niche” brand. I haven’t tended to do that, but I have often focused on a subject for an extended period before moving on to another one. (If you want to read about another subject than perhaps search my site in the sidebar for what I’ve said before or look at the menu above.)
If I was to develop a “tight brand” in my case, I suppose I would be a British Christian, doctor, psychiatrist, medical researcher, church leader, author, long-time blogger, twitter enthusiast, evangelical, debator, champion of conservative theology, believer in hell, and penal substitution, moderate calvinist, charismatic, soft complementarian, enjoyer of modern worship, advocate of churches that are multicultural and unafraid to grow (in some cases very large), cheerleader for both multi-site churches, and traditional church plants, multi-faith dialoguer, sci-fi and action moviegoer, and Formula One fan.
As I was saying, today marks a bit of a change of course, but don’t miss the fact that everything else I have written so far on mental health has been an important foundation on which we are now going to build.
There are two equal and opposite errors we fall into. One is to assume that psychiatrists and therapists have nothing to offer the believer. The second assumes that the Bible has nothing to offer the mentally ill. Both these assumptions are really untrue and can paralyze us and prevent us from caring pastorally for the many that suffer with mental illnesses. Frankly you don’t even have to actually have a diagnosed mental illness to struggle with sorrow, anxiety, and lack of hope. It is the Bible that holds out the ultimate answer to all these ubiquitous problems facing mankind, even though our experience of them is often intensified by genuinely biological factors.
And so, I have previously clearly argued that Christians can and do get depressed, that we should seek medical help, medication, and even secular counseling at times. In summary we must adopt a “Four Pillar” approach to mental health. I am now going to focus the rest of the series on what the Bible has to say to help all of us be more mentally healthy. I look forward to sharing more of all this in the coming weeks.