Archive for April 4th, 2007

WatchdawggieIssue: The role of counseling, psychotherapy (including psychiatric drugs), and addiction recovery programs in the Christian church

CRN/Slice Take: I have to say that I am not completely sure where they stand today, but there was more evidence of where they stood before Slice came down.

This article by Paul Tautges of CRN gives some indication of the disdain for psychological drugs and Christian counselors who use more resources than just the Bible in their counseling.

This was the conviction of the early Christians. They had the godly audacity to believe that man can become complete in Christ without the help of psychologists, psychiatrists, or mood-altering drugs.

He goes on to lay out three precepts from which counseling should come:

  • God’s Word is sufficient to deal with every problem man faces.

In our day, pastors are intimidated by the mental health “professionals,” but the early Christians believed that there is nothing man experiences that God does not directly or indirectly address in His Word. They believed the Scriptures are sufficient to teach us doctrine—truth with a capital T. They believed the Word confronts us when we get off the right path and shows us how to get back on. And they believed the Scriptures train us to live godly lives so that we can mature and become equipped to serve God.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

  • Man is responsible for his own actions.

In our day, blame shifting has almost become a virtue, but the early Christians had the courage to lay fault at the right doorstep. We read of people like the 56-year old man who is presently suing four major fast food chains because of health problems caused by his obesity. Of course, he is not responsible for putting his hand to his mouth. It is the restaurants’ fault! In our world this man is consoled. In biblical times he would have received a sermon on gluttony. How refreshing it is when the light of Truth pierces so sharply through the thick cloud of man’s deception.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

  • The Holy Spirit is the “Agent of Change.”

In our day, men pay good money to be told they are hopelessly victimized by their past or their DNA, but the early Christians freely dispensed the hope found in the Gospel and were confident of the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. As we take our eyes off ourselves and put them on Christ we are changed into His image by the Spirit of God.

But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

These core beliefs naturally led the early Christians to practice what is referred to as nouthetic counseling. The nouthetic approach to counseling grows out of two NT words: noutheses and noutheteo. The words mean to warn, to admonish, or to exhort. They always imply an aspect of confrontation so as to effect change. Jay Adams says this approach to helping people contains three basic elements. [iv] First, it presupposes a need for change; that there is something in the life that God wants changed. Second, problems are solved by verbal means; that is, the stress is placed on ‘What’—what is wrong? And what needs to be done about it? The Word spoken in encouragement, admonishment, or rebuke renews the mind, which leads to transformation of life. Third, the purpose for counseling is always that the counselee benefit by seeking to change that in his life which hurts him.

When this kind of ministry is examined in the New Testament, three principles become obvious.

  • Pastors are required to counsel and equip others to be counselors.

[...]

  • Every believer is expected to be a counselor.

[...]

  • The local church is the intended and ideal place for counseling.

From the old Slice, there were several articles (for which I don’t have all the links since Ingrid threw her tizzy, took her ball and went home) which denigrated both public 12-Step programs and the scripture-based Celebrate Recovery program developed by Pastor John Baker at Saddleback. There were also links to sites which had articles on the evils of Myers-Briggs personality tests, Ritalin and anti-depressant drugs. Since Slice 2.0 came back, I’ve not seen anything on these subjects.

My Take: [I do need to insert some information about potential conflict of interest for myself in writing this response. I work for a pharmaceutical company that has a Neuroscience division, though my work is in leadership development and project management for the Human Resources function.]

There are a number of inherent dangers of seeking counseling from a professional who is not an active practicing Christian. I wholeheartedly agree. There are also a number of family/personal problems than can be and should be dealt with by the church – with pastors and small group leaders as obvious ‘first steps’. I would even say that this is the first – and often only – place one would need to go.

However.

Psychiatric Drugs:

There are a number of serious psychological illnesses which cannot be simply counseled away. Yes, I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer in healing anything and everything. I also believe that we have been given scientific and medical “discoveries” (which I enclose in quotes, since God knew they were there thousands of years before we “discovered” them) with which to give immediate treatment for acute conditions and chronic ailments whose need may – with healing – go away.

I would guess that Pastor Tautges, were he having a heart attack, would appreciate both prayer and CPR be applied. Or, if he were diagnosed with diabetes, he would trust the Holy Spirit to work through prayer, but he wouldn’t neglect his insulin dosages.

In the same way, there are serious chemically-caused illnesses which can be treated and/or cured with psychiatric drugs in combination with counseling from a Christian professional. Without pharmaceutical treatment, these people would be a danger to both themselves and others. Schizophrenia, dimentia, bipolar disorder, certain addictions and clinical depression (as opposed to situational depression) all would fall into this category. These are not things to mess around with sans Christian professional assistance – which brings us to:

Christian Psychiatry

Cries of “oxymoron” (which are just moronic) aside, Christian psychiatry/psychotherapy can be helpful, beneficial AND godly. The Bible carries a wealth of information on dealing with personal and interpersonal problems, and it is not sinful to use sources which pull these together, written by Christian psychologists/psychiatrists (like, for instance, The Search for Significance by Robert McGee).

I agree that it is also important to ONLY use Christian counselors, recommended by your pastor, who can separate un-Biblical psychological techniques from scriptural or neutral ones. For instance, Myers-Briggs personality types can be useful in helping a person learn to interact with other people – based on their personalities. This is not un-Biblical, because it is simply recognition of natural phenomena that have always existed – in the same way that Newton’s recognition of the Law of Gravity was not Biblical or un-Biblical; he just recognized a natural pattern and labeled it!

With that said, parts of Pastor Tautges ‘three precepts’ are simplistic, at best.

Yes, the God’s Word is sufficient for our daily problems. It tells us how to deal with them from a spiritual standpoint. However, in terms of specifics, it is not what it does not claim to be. In the same way that you will not find instructions on how to perform open-heart surgery in the Bible, it will not tell you how to tell the difference between a disobedient child who just won’t sit still and a child with ADHD who may need non-intuitive and/or medicinal assistance.

Yes, man is responsible for his own actions. However, there are some genetic pre-conditions (such as those proven for alcoholism), which make dealing with specific types of sins much more difficult than for the average Joe (not you, though, Joe M. – you’re above average! -C ). The fault, guilt and consequences all belong to that individual – BY ALL MEANS – but to only say to them “go and sin no more…” is the equivalent of saying “peace be filled” to the starving man (more on this below).

Yes, the Holy Spirit is the agent of change. Once again, like with other CRN writers, the implication seems to be that the Holy Spirit must only act by fiat (from nothing) and not with the aid of something outside of direct application of scripture. There are a number of issues one may have had in growing up, in relationships and such, which professional Christian counselors may be able – with the aid of the Holy Spirit – to root out and help the person deal with in a scriptural manner – whether it be forgiveness for past wrongs, patterns of behavior which lead to temptation and sin, etc.

12-Step Programs

I have known a fairly large number of folks in the recovery community, and I have actually found that people who have been through this type of recovery are often the ones most receptive to the message of the gospel. They already have had to admit that they are the cause of their problems and that they, by themselves, cannot overcome them. The language of that community – the “higher power” – can be VERY dangerous, because it opens up anyone/anything to be that “higher power”. I try to use that for good by engaging them on a discussion on who/what their “higher power” is, and lead that into a discussion of Christ as the perfect “higher power” who does far more than free us from addiction and its consequences.

But that is for people who are in or have been through 12-Step Programs.

For people with addictive behaviors (alcohol, drugs, sexual addiction, overeating, relationship addiction, co-dependency, etc.) who need this type of healing – I recommend the Celebrate Recovery program developed at Saddleback, which is available at churches nation (and world) wide (there are 10 chapters in and around Indianapolis, including one at my church). This program is Biblically-based and helps people living in addictive cycles to find God-honoring ways to break these cycles. It does not mess around with “higher powers” or have to tap-dance around issues of faith like some 12-Step chapters do.

In summary, I may not be that far off from where Slice 2.0 sits on this issue, though I am sure that the old “amen chorus” of Slice 1.0 would have my head on a platter…

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Some of our friends who “live on the borders of distrust” and believe that now is “a glorious time to be in the internet wars” would tell us that “the only cure for AIDS is death.” They also would tell us that it is a waste of time to attempt to feed people who are hungry. They also might tell us that “we will always have the poor with us.” Well, to them I offer this short missive by a guy named Isaiah. He lived a long time ago in a world far far away from our own. It would seem that God (using this man Isaiah) is very concerned about these same things. Could God be emerging????? P.S. you can find this passage here

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

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