“Followers of Jesus are required to pursue truth wherever it leads them.”
I’ve been involved in the mental health field for nearly thirty years both as a practitioner and as a member of the scientific/research community. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve begun to recognize the extent to which an ongoing debate between factions of seminary professors, pastors and counselors influences attitudes about mental illness…and efforts to include persons with mental illness in the modern church.
Ed Stetzer serves as President of LifeWay research and is a highly influential speaker, teacher and author in Christian circles. Ed has written extensively on the mental health-related topics and shared a remarkable post this past week raising the issue of whether Christians struggling with mental illness look to Scripture, science or both.
In his post, Ed references articles written by Heath Lambert, Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors arguing that practitioners of Biblical Counseling are neither anti-science nor anti-medication. After quoting extensively from these articles, Ed strongly implies a hypothesis that the conceptualizations and attitudes demonstrated by many Biblical counseling practitioners have greatly influenced understanding of mental illness among pastors and lay Christians…
“Perhaps the perception that biblical counselors reject medicine and science is because of the rejection among some biblical counselors of, well, medicine and science.
So, I’m not sure the example of the rogue cashier is the right example. The beliefs that Dr. Lambert writes against are not fringe, because I’ve run into them on many occasions.”
In his commentary, Ed appears to support the view of “integrationists” in the church who see benefit to incorporating approaches from secular psychology (and psychiatry) in caring for those presenting to the church with mental health concerns…
But, yes, I believe we can take the healthy parts of psychology and psychiatry and use them in counseling. Furthmore, there may be physiological reality that require medical intervention. I’m concerned that many Christians appear to not see that– believing that prayer and Bible study alone can cure genuine mental illness (a view I don’t generally share, miraculous intervention an exception).
Readers interested in a deeper understanding of the differences between “Biblical” and “Nouthetic” counseling or the “Biblical” and “Integrationist” approaches to mental health treatment may feel free to click the links included here.
I find there’s an extraordinary (and tragic) disconnect between the pastors and seminarians in positions of influence within the church and faithful Christians working in the highest level of the medical/scientific community…a disconnect that may help to illustrate the lack of progress or indifference among church leaders to view families impacted by mental illness as an identified people group for evangelism, outreach or inclusion.
For six years, I served on the Program Committee and New Research Subcommittee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Our committee was responsible for reviewing ALL proposals for symposia, workshops case presentations and research for the world’s largest gathering of professionals interested in child and family mental health. I never heard of any of these people who exercise great influence among pastors or Christian counselors before seeking to understand the debates influencing attitudes toward persons with mental illness in the church…nor is it likely that any of those people ever heard of any of my colleagues seeking to unravel the mysteries of the brain and the role of neurobiology in the suffering of kids and families impacted by mental illness. Unfortunately, this disconnect is getting in the way of our ability as church to share the love of Christ with the largest population struggling with disability…persons with mental illness.
Looking at this debate from the perspective of a physician contributing to and familiar with the current research on mental illness, I’ve never come across any “settled” science that can’t be reconciled with the truth revealed to us through Scripture.
I’m certainly sympathetic to concerns that a secular worldview influences the way scientists may design or interpret their research…I’ve witnessed that firsthand. I can also see how approaches to mental health treatment grounded in theoretical foundations antithetical to the teachings of the Bible present an enormous problem when caring for vulnerable people. At the same time, I don’t see why pursuing the approach that Ed espouses in his post should be all that difficult for mature Christians…
“Yet, since all truth is God’s truth, there are parts of psychology and parts of psychiatry that we accept, parts we adapt, and parts we reject.”
Sadly, I can’t help but conclude that in our desire as church to avoid the influence of anti-Biblical worldviews foundational to some treatment orientations employed in the mental health community and worldviews held by the vast preponderance of mental health practitioners…we’ve forgotten to love the people experiencing mental illness and contributed to needless suffering by millions of Christ followers and their families.
I’d like to think that Key Ministry…and other like-minded ministries could facilitate conversations and dialogues that would advance the church in embracing kids and families impacted by mental illness while accepting and adapting the parts of psychiatry and psychology consistent with the absolute truth revealed to us through Scripture.
Revised October 8, 2014
Key Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!