Why Christians can’t trust psychology

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We consist of a body and a soul, and belong with both, as we confess in LD 1, to our faithful savior Jesus Christ. When we have trouble with our body we go to a doctor; but when we have trouble with our soul, where do we go? Do we go to a psychiatrist, a counsellor, or to our elder? Recently Rolf Koens[i] sent the office bearers in his congregation the following missive titled “Why Christians can’t trust psychology”, after a book by that name. The last segment about Christian counselling service was added later after I queried him about this.
JN

Why Christians can’t trust psychology

I recently had the privilege of hearing a sermon on LD 41: about the 7th commandment. It explained that sexuality is a powerful and valuable gift, given for a specific purpose in a specific context but that if this purpose and context is denied or forgotten—which is what our sinful nature is inclined to do—the gift is devalued. The sermon also pointed out that we possess the ‘tools’ with which we are (!) able to combat and overcome this sinful inclination. These tools are God’s directives and prescriptions which can be followed and obeyed by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Recently I talked to a brother who would strongly disagree with this last claim: he believes that God’s Word is simply not sufficient for ALL our ‘emotional’ needs. This is what he said:

“If your car breaks down you don’t get in touch with your ward elder to get it sorted…and if you experience emotional problems (such as, in this case, marital problems due to sins against the 7th commandment) you should not turn to him either: go see a ‘professional’: a psychologist or counselor”.

I have reason to believe that this is not an isolated view within ‘our circles’. The author of a book I recently read seems to agree. According to him many office bearers, while not articulating their thoughts quite so bluntly as the brother mentioned above did, hold the view that their role is very limited. The author said that we have handed over territory that should be reclaimed.

We‘re about to start a new ‘season’ of home visits as shepherds who care for their sheep so it’s a good time to ask ourselves whether we truly believe and apply (!) the words of 2 Tim. 3: 16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The book I mentioned earlier is, I believe, a ‘must-read’ in the preparation for this task; it really reinforced my confidence in the ‘toolbox’ we bring along to every home visit. The book is titled Why Christians can’t trust psychology and is written by Ed Bulkley. This is NOT one of those ‘forget-about-chemo-a-Christian-should-pray-over-cancer-instead’ type of quackery!

The author starts by explaining that every trained psychologist has been immersed in its fundamental presupposition that man is basically good; that for this reason even Christians who have studied psychology are likely to look at Christian teachings through the lens of this psychological presupposition rather than the other way ‘round. He goes on to show the disastrous consequences of this thinking and to demonstrate that psychology is neither scientific nor effective. He also demonstrates that it is impossible to integrate psychology and the Bible and quotes William Kirk Kilpatrick, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Boston College:

“Whatever reconciliation I managed to effect between psychology and religion, however, was always at the expense of Christianity. The Christian view of life that had once powerfully pervaded my thinking was continually crumbling at the edges, leaving a smaller and smaller centre…true Christianity does not mix well with psychology. When you try to mix them you often end up with a watered down Christianity instead of a Christianized psychology. But the process is subtle and is rarely noticed.

He finally offers a ‘Biblical alternative to psychology’: a counseling ‘method’ that closely follows 2 Tim 3: 16-17. We find a good summary on page 277:

“It is astonishing that Christian psychologists are claiming that psychology has something to offer that the Bible does not provide. Pastor John MacArthur, author of The Truth War, whose church was sued for biblically counseling a young man who went on to commit suicide (although he was also under psychiatric (!) care), writes about the trial:

‘Most surprising to me were the so-called Christian psychologists and   psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs. These men were actually arguing before a secular court that God’s word is not an adequate resource for counseling people about their spiritual problems! What is truly appalling is the number of evangelicals who are willing to take such “professionals’” word for it.’”

… and also on page 275:

“A primary goal, therefore, in biblical counseling is sharing the ‘blessed hope’, Jesus Christ (Titus 2: 13). What a contrast this is to ‘integrated counseling systems’ that try to provide hope for clients through innovative techniques of psychotherapies! While psychology points abuse victims to their past, biblical counseling points them to present and future victory in Christ. In contrast to ‘inner child’ theories, biblical counseling seeks to move counselees toward maturity in Christ. Instead of leading people through ’12 steps of recovery’, biblical counseling teaches how to follow in Christ’s steps. The central truth, the primary focus, the philosophical foundation, the reality of hope, the power for change, and the goals of biblical counseling are all found in Jesus Christ.

This is what the author says about separate organisations such as a Christian counselling service:

“The local church is able to invest time and care on individual believers as no parachurch can.  The term ‘parachurch’ is revealing.  ‘Para’ means ‘beside’; connected with the word ‘church’ it stands for a group that comes alongside the church to help it fulfil ITS (!) function … God has chosen the church alone to bring His children into ‘the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’.  A parachurch counselling clinic that is not under the direct supervision and authority of the local church simply cannot produce the kind of result described in Eph. 4: 11-13.”

He also explains that since elders (including pastors) are in the first place responsible for those who need ‘counselling’, they (should) know those in their ward more intimately that any counsellor from a ‘parachurch’ organization ever will and have all the ‘tools’ they need for biblical ‘counselling’: they have the ‘manual’, the Bible, and should simply apply it!

So it seems to be an ‘open and shut case’ really: IF the job-description of a Christian counsellor is identical to that of an elder, why should elders ‘outsource’ their work?

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[i] Rolf Koens is an elder in the Free Reformed Church of Mt Nasura, Western Australia.