In Christ on Paxil

Christian (or biblical) counseling is a topic that deserves more attention at places like Old Life that are lean sap and well-stocked seeking discernment. It strikes me that biblical counseling is another example of worldview, pietistic thinking that requires a biblical answer for each and every human problem. It also appears to suffer from a pietistic piety that runs roughshod over the regular ministry of pastors and elders who are ordained for the purpose of providing counsel, instruction, and exhortation — and they don’t even charge a fee for it.

Another part of the challenge of Christian counseling is the attempt to turn a human woe into a spiritual opportunity. I don’t mean to drive too great a wedge between the human and the spiritual sides of human existence, but since we do go to non-Christian physicians for help with ulcers and tumors, why do we need to go to Christian counselors for help with psychological problems or even broken relationships? What would be so awful if a person trained in certain areas of human existence wound up having a fund of knowledge about problems that Christians share with non-Christians? Are these problems the result of sin and the fall? Of course. Isn’t cancer or appendicitis also the result of sin and the fall? Of course. So why only go to Christians for help with the non-material parts of human misery? Why, I remember a time not too long ago when Christians thought treating depression with drugs was sinful. It is as if regeneration has powers that extend well beyond forgiveness, or as if sanctification leads to well-adjusted believers who will out perform non-believers in most areas of life — including happiness and well-adjustedness.

The Christian Curmudgeon reminded me of the dilemmas surrounding Christian counseling with his own reflections on depression. He writes:

Cowper’s depressions began when he was young. At his best, he was probably holding it at bay. He had at least four major depressive episodes in his life. On occasion he intended, though he failed, to end his own life. He died in despair, believing himself reprobate. His last poem, The Castaway, expresses his hopelessness with regard not just to this world but the world to come.

John Newton, with whom Cowper lived for a season and with whom he collaborated in the production of a book of hymns, testified that he did not doubt Cowper’s salvation. More recently, John Piper has given a similar assessment.

Despite the tragic course and sad end of his life, his hymns are given an important place in evangelical Christian hymnody. Six are included Trinity Hymnal. Just yesterday I sang with God’s people Jesus, Where’er Thy People Meet. Moreover, he is an object of sympathy, even of admiration, because of his affliction. He is sometimes held before depressed Christians, if not as an encouragement (how could a man with his end encourage) at least as a fellow sufferer.

Contrast that with Nevin. Several years ago, I wrote a review of a fine modern biography of this German Reformed theologian. It was not published by the media outlet to which it was initially submitted. (Happily it was published in Modern Reformation.) One of the reasons I was given for the review not being used was that it was not desired to call attention to him. And one of the reasons for not doing so was that he had been suicidal.

What? We sing despairing, suicidal Cowper but we suppress Nevin? I wonder why? Well, Nevin was not a poet, and he did not have a friend like John Newton. But, I think there is more. Cowper was a friend of Calvinist experientialism and Nevin was not. Nevin wrote The Anxious Bench while Cowper wrote O, For a Closer Walk with God.

Of course, the Curmudgeon’s point has less to do with Christian counseling than with experimental Calvinism. But he does point to another facet of the echo chamber affect that afflicts evangelicalism and its Reformed friends. And this affliction extends to Christian counseling. Even when we know that pastors and elders are supposed to be delivering pastoral oversight, which includes counseling of a basic kind, and even though we gladly receive the care of non-Christian specialists when it comes to a variety of human ailments, we generally refuse to subject Christian counseling to tough questions. The reason is that their models of human flourishing appear to point to a form of Christian piety that fits the conversionist ideal of a spiritual reorientation that radically changes a person’s entire being — from psychological make-up and worldview to plumbing.

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182 Comments

  1. Posted October 9, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I was speaking humorously. I agree: the info’s public.

  2. Don Frank
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Darryl,

    This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church. Nevertheless do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she fear her husband.
    Eph 5:32-33 (ASV)

  3. Don Frank
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Darryl,

    For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church. Nevertheless do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she fear her husband. Eph 5:31-33 (ASV)

  4. Don Frank
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Zrim,

    You may want to take a logic course to see how faulty your reasoning is. Just because the implication of something like social gospel is concern for all of creation does not mean that if you have concern for all creation you agree with the social gospel. I could say the same thing about love for neighbor using that reasoning.

    As to redemption of creation, Scripture is pretty clear about the meaning. The creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

  5. Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Don, so now that you’ve had your biblicist moment, what does this mean? Not trying to be snarky but I really don’t know what point you’re trying to make.

  6. Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Don, social gospel doesn’t just fall out of the clear blue. It has to start somewhere on earth. So I still wonder what you think it is, how it originates and what the principled difference is between it and Reformed worldviewism. But what you have said is that the gospel is for all of creation. I think that’s pretty different from saying creation is very good as is and as such, while it deserves concern, doesn’t need the gospel. I think social gospel flows from the former and a classic Reformed piety that is brutally world-affirming flows from the latter.

    But I speak philosopher-logician about as fluently as I speak culturalist-pietist.

  7. Don Frank
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Darryl,

    You often cite the cessation of marriage as proof of discontinuity between the temporal and eternal. This passage demonstrates the telos and continuity of marriage as Christ and His Church. Likewise, in Christ, creation and the cultural mandate have been given their true orientation.

  8. Don Frank
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Zrim,

    The social gospel does not recognize Christ whereas, in truth, Christ is the alpha and omega of all things.

  9. Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    Don, thanks. But that seems like a pretty big stretch. Does this mean that Christ is the fulfillment of plumbing? You talk about activities in this world as bearing on the structures and realities of the world to come. I don’t see the end of marriage between men and women and its fulfillment in the union of Christ and his body as much of a metaphor for redeeming plumbing or painting.

  10. Posted October 11, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Don, sorry but that just seems a little too contrived and Pollyanna. The progressives I know talk about Jesus all the time.

  11. Don Frank
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Zrim,

    Ok, but what I meant is Christ as mediator, not example.

  12. Posted October 11, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Don, if social gospelers are about example instead of mediation then why would Reformed worldviewers, who are presusmably as much about mediation as they are example, want to speak like social gospelers? At best, it’s pretty confusing. At worst, there seems to be a shared notion about how redemption bears directly and obviously on creation. And to the social gospelers credit, he at least has the forthrightness to show his cards because he understands his program is opposed to classic Protestantism. The Reformed worldviewer seems to languish in no-man’s-land.

  13. Don Frank
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Darryl,

    Yes, in the sense that all things, according to Col 1, were created for Him. Dominion, like marrige, will be unburdened in eternity.

  14. Don Frank
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Zrim,

    This may sound really ignorant, but can you give me examples of people who you categorize as “Reformed worldviewers”. I’m not sure that that is what I am.

  15. Posted October 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Don, sorry, it may seem dodgy but naming names seems uncouth to me. But since the larger balance of the Reformed world these days seems given to worldviewism, take your pick. Think NYC and Grand Rapids.

  16. Posted October 12, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    Don, will we have cars running on fossil fuel without poisonous emissions? All things, really?

  17. WenatcheeTheHatchet
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    If the “social gospel” does not recognize Christ someone should tell the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission folks they aren’t motivated by their belief in Christ. Pervasive use of “social gospel” as a pejorative term is a little simplistic in its presentation about the history of Christians who have been motivated to promote social change. Whether or not those are groups that would be considered acceptable by Reformed criteria doesn’t mean they constitue the “social gospel” as is usually meant by theological and political conservatives.

  18. Hugh McCann
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    dgh: Seen this? ~ http://sovereignlogos.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/ed-welch-can-my-body-make-me-sin/

    Having lost heart in NANC-world, I thank you, Darryl for this post!

  19. Hugh McCann
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    DGH asks, ‘why do we need to go to Christian counselors for help with psychological problems or even broken relationships?’
    Ans: We needn’t. We need gospel care from gospel ministers.

    And, ‘What would be so awful if a person trained in certain areas of human existence wound up having a fund of knowledge about problems that Christians share with non-Christians?’
    Ans: The awfulness is in the unbelieving counselor’s anthropology, diagnosis, & prognosis. The remedy is worse than the affliction. Unlike ‘ulcers, tumors, cancer, or appendicitis,’ non-physical issues need spiritual cure.

    And, ‘why only go to Christians for help with the non-material parts of human misery?
    You got it: Because ‘we know that pastors and elders are supposed to be delivering pastoral oversight, which includes counseling of a basic kind…’

  20. Don Frank
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Darryl and Zrim,

    Sorry to address both of you with one post, but it does seem that it is only the 3 of us that are keeping this thread going.

    So, to Zrim, I can safely say that my thinking has definitely not been directly influenced by the thinkers you are referring to, though it is hard to say how the thinkers I have relied on (e.g., Hunter, Cavanaugh, Millbank, etc.) have been influenced by them (probably not NYC, but maybe GR). Darryl probably knows better than I do about that.

    In my formative years, I was most heavily influenced by Jonathan Edwards (towards the end, delving a bit into, though not totally comfortable with his metaphysical perspective), followed by Calvin. I actively consumed Horton for a while (it was through Horton’s MR that I found out about Ken Myers MHA), but began to sense (from a biblical perspective) real problems (i.e., questions without answers) with his sharp law/gospel dichotomy. Guys like Nevin, Sadler, a 19th century Anglican theologian, and Leithart began to make more sense with regard to the gaps I was sensing in Horton, and at the same time, I was being introduced to guys like Hunter, Millbank, etc. from listening to MHA.

    One of the key things that MHA has drilled into my head is McLuhan’s assertion that the medium is the message. Of course McLuhan applied that assertion primarily to media, but I started seeing more and more how it applies to humanity and creation (finite and creaturely, but with Christ as mediator) as the medium and God as the message and messenger.

    Ok, so I know this is a crass way of putting it and it probably sounds like I’m going off the rails, but I’m honestly trying to convey the essence of the difference (as I see it) between our perspectives. The impression I get whenever I read Horton and his cohorts is that creation, then the church is a type of courtroom in which humanity (first in Adam, then in Christ) needs to be justified before it can enter into eternal life.

    Under my medium/message analogy, I see God expressing Himself through humanity and creation, and all of history progressing along a single track to the now temporal and ultimately eternal pursuit of that purpose. I think a quote from Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension (p. 54), Kindle Edition says it best.

    We begin with Calvin’s concept of the world as a place of communion, the “trysting place” between God and humanity. Creation is revealed to be a space overflowing with the fatherhood of God, the mediation of Christ, and the tending of the Spirit. It is only when this is established that a correct understanding of Christ’s ascent, our incorporation into him, and ascent in the Eucharist can be grasped properly.

    Creation, as the sphere of koinonia, is the ground and grammar of an ascent that is not away from materiality but a deepened experience of communion within it. This issues forth in a concept of creation that is anything but static and impersonal. Instead, Calvin’s theological vision is a dynamic interplay of God, creation, and humanity, where the creation-call on humanity and the delight and communication of God hold center stage. From the proleptic thrust of Calvin’s doctrine of creation, to his projective concept of the imago as “toward” (ad), to Adam’s dynamic koinonia existence and then the forceful inversion of sin and the metaphor of falling (the Fall), Calvin is anything but amorphous. Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains.

    I know that this quote probably raises more questions for you than it answers, and it certainly doesn’t explain how all of this will work out over time. It also reflects a huge divergence from Horton (and I suspect from NYC and GR) with regard to the courtroom analogy.

    I also appreciate how this perspective comes to the same conclusion as 2k, though from a different angle, with regard to how we as Christians are to interact with creation. We do so as Hunter suggests, with faithful presence, not from a perspective of power and control — and this, I think, is the true definition of dominion.

    So Darryl, I, like you, have no idea what eternity without sin will look like, but I’m convinced it will involve creation.

  21. Don Frank
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    WenatcheeTheHatchet,

    I may have misinterpreted Zrim’s term “social gospel” as the liberal understanding opposed by Machen.

  22. Posted October 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Don, I trust you are honestly trying to convey the differences as you see them. But I think you’re also right that this is confusing, at least to me. I am not sure what you mean when you say: “The impression I get whenever I read Horton and his cohorts is that creation, then the church is a type of courtroom in which humanity (first in Adam, then in Christ) needs to be justified before it can enter into eternal life.” I know that Horton, like all confessional Prots, favors the courtroom analogy when it comes to justification (as opposed to other less-than-forensic theories of the atonement), but I fail to see how this bears on the discussion. How is creation or the church a type of courtroom? I thought the Protestant notion of the church was more familial than legal?

    As far as social gospel, I really think it’s a matter of a set of principles, not merely “what Machen opposed.” If we have a mechanical definition then we really don’t get anywhere. Take legalism, for example. When I say that word to the typical P&R he thinks something almost exclusively about substance use. If he doesn’t understand that legalism is a set of principles that can be variously applied, as opposed to a very narrow idea of what P&Rs oppose like rules against substance use, then he won’t be able to conceive of something like educational or political legalism but only substance use legalism. The upshot is something like the PRC churches who have recently institutionalized educational legalism by requiring all officers to send their children to denominational schools on pain of discipline, all the while thinking they’ve escaped legalism because they don’t have temperance rules like those silly Baptists. It’s the same here with social gospel: forget “what Machen opposed.” If you think that the gospel bears directly upon creation and has obvious implications for the cares of this world then that is at least the leading edge of social gospel and I’m not sure how one avoids it. And just because you invoke Machen approvingly doesn’t mean you’ve really avoided what fundamentally afflicted his adversaries.

  23. Posted October 13, 2011 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    Don, if you think that my understanding of salvation does not involve creation, then have you not seen the post about epistemological self-consciousness?

    You wrote:

    I see God expressing Himself through humanity and creation, and all of history progressing along a single track to the now temporal and ultimately eternal pursuit of that purpose.

    Where exactly are sin and the fall in that construction, or the redemptive work of Christ who forensically had to pay the penalty for sin? Maybe the reason for the church as courtroom is the reality of sin and that you don’t get to glory without the cross.

  24. Don Frank
    Posted October 13, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Darryl,

    Actually, I have and wanted to respond to it, but do not have the time to take keep up with two posts at the same time. I will bow out of this post and take up in that one.

    As to sin and the fall, Canlis does address that. Justification is absolutely essential, but it must, accoridng to Canlis be seen in the context of communion, not the courtroom.

  25. Don Frank
    Posted October 13, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Zrim,

    I have read a lot of Horton and listened to a lot of WHI. The theme of courtroom runs throughout. If the context is courtroom, it must dissolve, unless eternity is to take place there.

  26. Posted October 13, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Don, I have as well. But somehow I must have missed the church-as-courtroom stuff. I do understand the church-as-mother or family, which, like our natural bonds, will also dissolve when eternity dawns and the church militant becomes the church triumphant.

  27. Posted October 14, 2011 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    Don, how can law and forgiveness, innocence and guilt, be seen in a context other than a forensic one? You’re really starting to scare me (kidding, mainly).

  28. Don Frank
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Darryl,

    I was being brief. I meant that the ultimate context for creation and humanity is communion. The courtroom context is a sub-context that provides for our reconciliation and a restoration of communion.

  29. Lily
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    MM –

    My wise-acre responses are:

    1) Sooo… if Eve hadn’t accepted the apple and eaten it, she would have been anti-intellectual? ;)

    2) 6″ brushes work well when not dealing with specific philosophers and since all philosophers look pretty much alike to me and we ain’t dissecting specific men’s work – wha’cha complainin’ about? ;)

    Perhaps part of our misunderstanding is the matter of distinguishing between apologetics and the gospel? If I understand things correctly, the theology of the cross is the gospel (see – 1 Cor 1) whereas apologetics would address philosophical arguments. My argument would be with philosophy drawing/setting it’s own limits apart from God-given limits and failing to submit to God’s limits on us – hence an aversion to mysticism and other such ilk (eg: excessive systemizing aka atomizing).

    Re: your response to 131

    Elementary, dear Watson! It does apply to theology too – how many times are theologians guilty of going beyond the text and trying to reveal the hidden things of God because they cannot accept that some things will remain a mystery until Christ’s return? As for your question… what is the difference between theology and apologetics (philosophy)? I believe you know the answer to that and understand it would not be good to conflate or confuse the two.

  30. Lily
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Doc –

    Re: w–v–

    What/who is this name that shall not be named?

    Re: defense of systematic thought

    I wouldn’t be a good Lutheran if I didn’t remind you of the dangers of over-systematizing (eg: atomizing and/or straining gnats while swallowing camels). ;)

  31. Posted October 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Lily, it begins with world and ends with view. Put them together and you have Jahweh.

  32. Lily
    Posted October 15, 2011 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    Very funny, Dr. Hart.

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