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.


182 thoughts on “In Christ on Paxil

  1. Reason #836 why DGH is a hero of mine.

    I think Jeremiah 17:9 is a powerfully rhetorical question that ought to upbraid the nouthetizer at least as much as the psychologist.


  2. Thanks for writing this.

    As someone who worked in the mental health field for several years and, who is now a pastor, I want to suggest that the relationship between faith and psychology is more complicated than this brief post suggests. This is fine. We don’t expect blog posts to be dissertations, but I would like to point to one of the areas that makes this so complicated:

    You write “… 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?” Here is the difference: There is a pretty clear consensus regarding what constitutes good physical health in terms of dealing with ulcers and tumors. There is less consensus about what constitutes mental health and the difference is often driven by the core faith commitments of the counselor. Is there genuine guilt or only guilt feelings? Is the cure for guilt “getting over it” or finding forgiveness in a merciful Savior? If you are having marriage problems, does it matter that your psychologist has been divorced three times and thinks that you should leave your relationship as soon as it stops making you happy (this is not a hypothetical situation but is of a psychologist I knew personally)? It would probably not be hard to find mental health professions who think that men like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Apostle Paul should be locked up – or at least heavily medicated. When some practitioners of a field think of a man as a hero while others think of the same man as insane we are clearly in an area that is governed by more than expertise in a field of human existence.

    So, yes, Christians should be open to receiving mental health care from non-Christians. But we should also ask more about our counselor’s worldview and reasoning process than we would of a surgeon who is operating on a broken bone. One way to approach this is to talk with our pastor or one of our Elders about the process we are going through.

    Best wishes,



  3. Counseling may simply be a pastor giving specific biblical counseling to a troubled soul. He knows the Bible and he knows his sheep, two great advantages. Beyond that, I’m not sure counseling is any more efficacious than having supportive friends and families. Yes, counselors trained as such may have some helpful nuggets, but I’m unconvinced there is one correct school of psychotherapy.

    I’m not sure it gets much better than the song by Blind Willie Davis:

    Won’t somebody tell me, answer if you can!
    Want somebody tell me, what is the soul of a man
    I’m going to ask the question, answer if you can
    If anybody here can tell me, what is the soul of a man?
    I’ve traveled in different countries, I’ve traveled foreign lands
    I’ve found nobody to tell me, what is the soul of a man
    I saw a crowd stand talking, I came up right on time
    Were hearing the doctor and the lawyer, say a man ain’t nothing but his mind
    I read the bible often, I tries to read it right
    As far as I can understand, a man is more than his mind


  4. Christian counseling for a soul belongs in a completely different category than receiving medical, financial, or other such temporal counsel. It doesn’t matter what creed my doctor or tax preparer hold as long as they are competent in their field. Whereas, creed makes an enormous difference when it comes to so-called biblical counseling. And even then, these so-called biblical counselors are not necessarily competent theologians in their creed. The professional psychological biblical counseling far to often seems to be a confused theology at best and unbiblical theology at worst. I know a “counselor” who is a Plymouth Brethren and he offers a strange mix of psychology, pop Christianity counseling, and prays in tongues with his clients during his sessions. I would assert that the care of eternal souls belongs to competent pastors and as fellow Christians we could do more to help bear one another’s burdens.


  5. David, I know it sounds good to say that we should ask about our temporal counselor’s worldview. But I get the sense that what this line of inquiry will have to end up in is expecting our counselor to see everything the way we do before pressing on, which will actually be impossible when you think about it. But do we even do that for our eternal counselors, which is to say pastors and elders? I don’t inquire about their worldview but confession, which I gather you think are synonymous. So if I don’t require worldview from my pastor then why from my therapist? I mean, when someone close to me was suicidal I took her to the local Christian psychiatrist, but I didn’t think it immediately relevant what the doc’s worldview was but only that she was well trained and equipped to handle mental illness (clearly she was). Same for my pastor: if he confesses the Reformed faith he’s well equipped to handle my soul, even if his worldview isn’t mine.

    But if “core faith commitments” actually drive things the way you suggest then does that mean I as a Reformed believer shouldn’t take counsel from a Baptist/Roman Catholic/Charismatic counselor who is otherwise well equipped to handle my mental health? Sorry, but that seems as odd as saying I should be suspicious about these folks teaching my kids the three R’s.


  6. Zirm, so if my loosely Catholic “counselor who is otherwise well equipped to handle my mental health” tells me to divorce my wife due to our relationship having a poor affect on my mental health, do I divorce my wife? Do I ask the advice of my pastor or other Christians regarding this matter?


  7. Zrim,

    I’m thinking you may not have thought this subject through. 1) If someone with serious problems, like being suicidal, is in need of counseling, they are very vulnerable and there are serious ramifications on what kind of counseling they receive. 2) World views (eg: liberal views that are incompatible with Christianity) and the type of counseling (eg: Jung vs. cognitive behavioral) do matter when teaching a person to deal with or cope with their mental health issues. 3) There is a difference between a psychiatrist who is a medical doctor who can diagnose and prescribe medications and a psychologist who is limited to counseling. 4) The mental health issues may have an organic source that is caused by the person’s physical health (eg: thyroid problems can cause depression). 5) I’m thinking you can add to this list as you consider the topic further.

    About 3 months ago, I met a woman with the same chronic health problems I have. Four years ago she jumped off a building trying to commit suicide because of the health problems and instead of killing herself, she broke her back. This woman was raised Roman Catholic, fell away as an adult, and since her attempt to kill herself, has been counseled by a woman who is a Unitarian with a PhD in Psychology. The materials this patient has been given to read are pseudo Christian and the seminars she regularly attends are led by new-agey speakers. The patient believes she is being given Christian guidance and support when in fact it is Christless. She is still so fragile mentally that even trying to broach the subject is threatening to her because she is bonded to her therapist and the false system she is being taught and the Deism she clings to is her lifeline. At this point in time, all I can do is pray for her.

    Zrim, you are a healthy man, well grounded in the Reformed faith. You are in a position to go to any counselor you wish with almost zilch danger to being misled in your faith in Christ. I would hazard to say that most people who are truly in need serious psychological counseling are not in your boat. I would also question letting “just anyone” teach my kids the 3 R’s. World views matter and young minds are impressionable. A lot more goes on in the classroom than strict adherence to temporal facts and how they are interpreted does matter. As does peer pressure. IMO, the consequences of what a person is taught matters as much as the differences of sitting under Joel Osteen as a teacher versus Michael Horton as a teacher.


  8. Blind Willie Davis? Or did you mean Blind Willie Johnson? Either way the song truly is a wonderful song but I haven’t heard Blind Willie Davis before. Might have to fix that.


  9. I’ve got all of Willie Johnson and Willie McTell. The former did Gospel blues almost exclusively and the latter did mostly secular music. There IS, apparently, a Blind Willie Davis, though, who did some recordings of a cuople of standard hymns. Until you did that typo I didn’t know of him. Yeah, there are a lot of Blind Willie musicians in both blues and gospel, aren’t there?


  10. Dr. Hart raises some important questions here about the biblical counseling movement. While I am no expert on the biblical counseling movement, it seems to me that it has morphed into something today that it was not when it originally got started. Jay Adams — regarded by some as the “father” of the biblical counseling movement — began espousing “nouthetic counseling” in reaction against the emphasis on referring all “mental health” problems to a professional secular psychologist and psychiatrist, when often such problems are rooted in spiritual issues that a competent pastor (or even an ordinary, mature, non-ordained believer) is better equiped to minister to. (This “always refer” position was usually taught to seminarians and is still being taught in many seminaries today; Adam’s groundbreaking book “Competent To Counsel” was written in large part to show that the Scriptures fully equip the church to minister to the spiritual maladies of believers that often get misclassified as “mental health issues.”)

    Adams teaches that biblical (“nouthetic”) counseling is basically discipleship, and discipleship is a function of the church, not of secular mental health professionals. So, while the biblical counseling movement today may have adopted a parachurch and professionalist approach to counseling, the original impetus of the biblical counseling movement was to return the responsibility for spiritual and pastoral counseling to the church. Adams also (in good Van-Tillian fashion) showed how the various schools of secular psychology were rooted in anti-Christian (often secular evolutionary) views of the human person that implicitly deny that man is created in the image of God or has an immortal soul. Furthermore, Adams and his school never denied that mental health problems rooted in physiological or biochemical (i.e., medical) issues should be treated by a competent physician or even a psychiatrist. On the other hand, the “mental health problems” that lack any physiological or biochemical basis are very often spiritual issues that can be addressed by a competent pastor in the process of discipleship and sanctification within the fellowship of the church. While I don’t agree with Adams in every particular, I think he and the movement he helped to start have much to teach us in the church.


  11. I can’t help but agree with D. G Hart’s comment about the problems of worldview pietism in Christian/biblical counseling. As Steve Hays over at Triablogue put it, a biblical counselor is probably only going to be as good as the exegetical competence of the biblical counselor. Put that way, are we so sure we’ve got a better alternative to social sciences? On some things, certainly, but not everything.

    I’ve also seen first and second hand how biblical counseling has made some bad family situations worse. This wasn’t intentional but the trouble was if a family, for instance, has a conflict and there’s an even split of Reformed, Pentecostal, and Eastern Orthodox adherents in the somewhat big family, a biblical counselor has not only the family dynamic problems to address but also the reality that there’s a morass of wildly different doctrines and professions within the family that may or may not exacerbate the situation.

    There’s a point where a more secular approach that ignores doctrinal concerns may seem “less” Christian but is more effective by focusing on the actual relational problems and not getting sidetracked by which group constitues the “real” believers. After all, these family members may be stuck living together whether they want to or not.

    If partisans from any of the three traditions conflate doctrinal differences with the personal conflicts that pietistic impulse actually defeats what the goal of the counseling “should” be as normal people wound understand counseling. Yes, a pastor can decide that, say, the Pentecostals or Orthodox are not really true Christians from a doctrinal standpoint, but wouldn’t that lead a counseling pastor to make some judgments that would make him less than competent to mediate a family conflict in which such drastic confessional differences are part of the family conflict he is asked to help address?


  12. WTH:

    BWM didn’t do his spirituals with a lot of conviction, though I do like “Cross the River Jordan” and “Hide Me in Thy Bosom.” Of course, BWJ broadcasts conviction with every syllable and chord. Are you familiar with Charley Patton’s “You’re Going to Need Somebody When You Go to Die?” Very forensic and powerful, but I can’t find the lyrics anywhere. Do you happen to know what they are? I do know the mid-song sermon, but “I will _______, King Jesus is His Name. I’ve got a lawyer to ______”?

    I’ll try to come back to the topic at hand later, but your post is helpful in bringing up the need to distinguish the many different reasons a person may need counseling.


  13. Romanov, if your pastor and other Christians are Pat Robertson you run the risk of getting the same advice. But if were your elder I would tell you that whatever else your counselor is saying, you are not permitted to divorce. Does s/he have a plan B? If not, get a second opinion.

    Lily, suffice it to say that you don’t have to tell me that suicidal people are vulnerable or that mental health is complicated. But I still don’t see how that means I haven’t sufficiently thought it through. The main question for me when it comes to temporal categories—mental or physical health, education, statecraft—is whether someone is fit to dispense them and not so much the state of those receiving. So while I appreciate the stellar spiritual diagnosis, I wouldn’t make this turn on my alleged health. The fact that one is impressionable or vulnerable is precisely why one must find a fit doctor, be s/he Mormon or Reformed.


  14. Actually I DO have a bunch of Charley Patton recordings and his vocals are often tough to work out. In that song he drops a few words here and there for guitar commentary.

    “I’ve got a lawyer to go my bond” is what he says for the lawyer lines. The melody and text are so close to Blind Willie Johnson’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” we’re probably looking at regional variations on a common folk tune. Elijah Wald makes a case that if anything Patton’s take is probably indebted to Johnson’s recording, which is often considered the definitive take on that song (though take 2 is more popular than the first take). Funny that you’re asking about a bunch of recordings where I happen to own all of them. I guess it’s handy that in my teens I decided to get into pre-WW2 blues. But since I lent those albums to my brother-in-law I can’t go back and dig up the production notes about any of them right now.


  15. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book on depression. Another example of Christian piety whihc fits the conversionist ideal?


  16. Zrim,

    I apologize for personalizing my comments. I think we are in agreement on the need for competent counselors in all areas of temporal life. I was attempting to question some particulars in your comment:

    “I don’t inquire about their worldview but confession” combined with “if “core faith commitments” actually drive things the way you suggest then does that mean I as a Reformed believer shouldn’t take counsel from a Baptist/Roman Catholic/Charismatic counselor who is otherwise well equipped to handle my mental health? Sorry, but that seems as odd as saying I should be suspicious about these folks teaching my kids the three R’s.”

    Those phrases stood out to me and this is where I wondered whether you had thought through the ramifications. I agree with David’s assessment and still think healthy, well catechized believers may not always understand the dangers to our weaker/weakest members when it comes to mental health and counseling.

    A non-liturgical, non-sacramental, non-confessional counselor who doesn’t see the Eucharist as central to the Divine Service. A counselor who has a theology of glory versus a theology of the cross. A pietistic oriented counselor who places the counselee on a path of never-ending works and makes it all about him. Each counselor is going to give different counsel based on their world view, and give the counselee different books to read, different seminars to attend, and offer different views of God to the struggling soul because of the differences in theologies in their worldview. Not to mention the myriad of schools of thought in psychology, politics, and humanities that reside within their world view too. And… a vulnerable Christian will seek to submit to their counsel because the counselor is the expert and the counselee wants help and to change… they are normally not in a position to critique the counsel the receive very well. These are the types of things that raise my concern.

    Sometimes, I can’t help wondering how much we have abdicated our responsibilities to the tyranny of the experts and the specialists. We send struggling saints to professional blind men leading other blind men and wonder why the counselee’s faith becomes misplaced or even more distorted. It seems to me that, generally speaking, the church body often does not want to be inconvenienced by bearing one another’s burdens when it comes to mental health issues. We more often than not pawn people off to the experts instead of being advocates – our brother’s keeper – while they are in distress. We seem to want to be left out of the mess and would like to wish them well from afar.

    Bereaved families are sent to support groups. Suicidal persons are sent to support groups. Divorced people are sent to support groups. Support groups that are a gumbo of different beliefs and world views. I’m not saying support groups have no value, but things have become so compartmentalized that we no longer seem to think we should have to help much or support people through the difficult or messy phases in their lives in the context of a confessional church body. We seem to send them off to the specialists and expect them to return when they are well.

    I hope you get the drift of my concerns? These are the kinds of things that I wondered if you had thought through. While it is good to know our limitations in helping others, IMO, most of us, myself included, are guilty of using a multitude of excuses for pawning our weakest members off onto the specialists and fail at being the mensches we could be. Perhaps, we have drunk deeply from the spirit of the age that demands specialists for everything. And if a specialist is truly needed, perhaps it would be good if we understood how to be advocates for the weakest among us so they do not fall prey to unbiblical counselors or those with incompatible world views (not implying you did or ever would). And again, I hope you understand my drift… these are the kinds of things that come to my mind and based on what I’ve seen in the past, not only confessions, but world views matter.


  17. “Funny that you’re asking about a bunch of recordings where I happen to own all of them.”

    Well, I have a gift somewhat like Mark Driscoll’s except I see blues collections, not blue indiscretions. And, BTW, that’s a nice assortment of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson you have there.


  18. Lily, I certainly appreciate your point about expertologists. Like Ken Meyers says, we need more generalists. And I do think our therapeutic age has over-realized the function of mental health to the point of spiritualizing it. I also think religionists have followed suit and the upshot is a sort of therapeutic deism (or maybe deistic therapy).

    That said, I’m also not ready to say that folks who need real psychological help should look to their spiritual communities, since it seems to me that to do so is to still presume a provisional and eternal confusion of sorts. So what I think is in order is a more grounded and realistic perspective on mental health all around. The mind isn’t the soul, and so to be mentally ill/healthy doesn’t mean one is spiritually ill/healthy. It does seem to me that to confuse the mind with the soul is also what lies behind the over-realization of education as well.


  19. MM, hah, I wish I had those two but, alas, not yet. I did dig up some Lonnie Johnson recordings with Ellington and Armstrong, though. 🙂 On a completely different musical wavelength, very much looking forward to Hilary Hahn’s recording of the Charles Ives violin sonatas.

    I actually attended Mars Hill for about 9 years and remember when Driscoll was, by his own account, a de facto cessationist. This was roughly from about 1999-2001 as best I can recall. Of course a lot has changed in ten years.


  20. Lily,

    Something positive can be said about experts: some of our problems remain private and confidential. For instance, I don’t think that other Christians need to know if another believer has blood in his stool. And likewise, sometimes talking to an expert about marriage problems (that are not directly the result of sin) can spare the disappointment that may come with realizing that that healthy couple is really tearing each other apart behind closed doors. As a fan in In Treatment, I’m not prepared to say that psychotherapists are experts about much. But the simple fact of listening to so many different people and observing how they behave may lead to wisdom about what mistakes to avoid.


  21. WTH:
    If you’re still interested in early recorded blues and folk, you might enjoy Lead Belly’s Last Sessions. It’s just Lead Belly, Alan Lomax, and a microphone in Lead Belly’s living room. Lead Belly sings in the holler style and his 12 string technique is hardly intricate, but somehow a very endearing personality greets you in his music. (OK, so he killed a man, still…) The real upside of these recordings are the conversations, as Lead Belly describes the origins of certain songs, his adventures with Blind Lemon, and his prescient admonition against multi-tasking (“Relax Your Mind Blues”). He says stuff like “it wasn’t written down or nothin’, it was just a real song…”


  22. Zrim: in your comment to Romanov & Lily you state when it comes to temporal categories—mental or physical health, education, statecraft

    I wonder if you are cutting too-wide a field for “temporal categories”? I would agree with education (for most part) and statecraft in “temporal,” but wonder about mental and physical health. Particularly as it is raised in this post. Since mankind was created as a psycho-somatic entity, in fact a pyscho-somatic unity (Dr. Gaffin uses this nifty phrase), we might not want to so quickly throw physical and mental health into the temporal category. There is a biblical understanding that would run counter to new age or other rebellious models of human nature. When issues of health intersect with or overlap with issues of discipleship and faithfulness to God, then the advice of biblically faithful people ought to be sought just as much as seeking out a good orthoped, endocrinologist or surgeon. Seeking marriage counseling is not the same thing as seeking a divorce lawyer. (I have the scars to show the difference). A “counselor’s” view of marriage, human nature, etc will have an impact on how a couple in trouble is addressed.

    We all – well, I myself certainly – crave definite boundaries and love it when everything can be seen as a black & white issue. But it’s a dog-gone gray and messy world out there. I think the goal is to stand in definite spot – I am confessionally Reformed – from there I try to deal with that gray and messy world from my biblical convictions.




  23. Lily said; “Sometimes, I can’t help wondering how much we have abdicated our responsibilities to the tyranny of the experts and the specialists. We send struggling saints to professional blind men leading other blind men and wonder why the counselee’s faith becomes misplaced or even more distorted. It seems to me that, generally speaking, the church body often does not want to be inconvenienced by bearing one another’s burdens when it comes to mental health issues. We more often than not pawn people off to the experts instead of being advocates – our brother’s keeper – while they are in distress. We seem to want to be left out of the mess and would like to wish them well from afar.”

    I really want to comment on this but am very reluctant to due to past experience with being “open” with others but then being burned because of my “openess.” Suffice it to say that the church is often not good with those who are struggling with their sins, addictions or other uncomfortable “mental health” issues and cannot seem to return to a functioning normal life easily (ability to maintain long term relationships in a healthy way, ability to be productive and consistent in a work and vocational environment, continuing to go to Church without having to worry about feelings of complete unworthiness even though the hearing of the Law and the Gospel and the partaking of the sacraments is what you really need when feeling this way). One really does not want to be a burden to others either- the only thing others can really do is point them to the Christ whom God imputed his sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to them. Only God can do something about it but others can be an encouragement, and, when need be, this may involve exhorting them with the harsh law and a call to repentance. This always has to be done in a spirit of reconciliation, reminding them what Christ has done for them over and over again. When to call on the Law and when to call on the Gospel is not easy to determine with some struggling souls. What you never want to do is put someone into despair about their souls-especially if they believe the gospel.

    Since rehabs are founded and based on being spiritual programs one wonders if they should really be supported by the state. At one facility, I refused to write an essay to the governor telling them how important rehabs are to people struggling with addictive behaviors and got kicked out because of my refusal to do so (the government was threatening to decrease the amount of money for patients accepted into the program so we were forced to write these notes). Even though the rehabs proclaim a spiritual program it is not the gospel they are proclaiming. 12-step programs confuse the Gospel- they do seem to help people overcome their addictions though. So, this is a tough call. They do not let you argue the Gospel at rehabs (unless they are explicitly Christian rehabs- who happen to get funded by the state and insurance programs too) but they do encourage new age spirituality. Some people really do get help in overcoming their addictions with this finding the power within stuff- at least that is what they say. I have also found that at explicity Christian rehabs they do not proclaim the gospel accurately either. You get a lot of mixture of Law and Gospel at those Christian rehabs.

    I guess my main point is that I don’t think churches handle situations like the above mentioned very well. It could be thay many churches are really not proclaiming the gospel accurately and therefore avoid uncomfortable situations for the congregants. Although I do realize I may be biased in this matter and trying to justify a problem I might have and blame my problem on others. But as you read the scriptures, especially the gospels, one wonders why people Jesus seemed to be comfortable with are not gracing the halls of most churches.


  24. When issues of health intersect with or overlap with issues of discipleship and faithfulness to God, then the advice of biblically faithful people ought to be sought just as much as seeking out a good orthoped, endocrinologist or surgeon.

    Cris D., I’d point out that in my response to Romanov I suggested that in addition to a church member receiving marital counseling there is also necessarily elder input. So I agree with you that saved creatures straddle both spheres and thus require two different kinds of counselors. But I do think it’s important to point out that what a marriage counselor (religious or not) and an elder dispense as counsel are different. I mean, even Christian counselors will admit that their role is different from an elder’s—and good elders should know that they aren’t marriage counselors. And for everyone to know that difference seems to require a basic distinction between the provisional and eternal.

    Maybe you still think I’m cutting too-wide a field for temporal categories, but I suppose I’m puzzled as to how mental/physical health are more eternal than provisional while vice versa for education and statecraft. I mean, if our marriages and families will be dissolved in the new heaven and new earth…


  25. Seems as though illnesses like bipolar disorder, which involves chemical imbalances in the brain, would be best left to the professionals and NOT the church. I can definitely see though where going to a non-Christian marriage counselor might be unwise. my 2 cents.


  26. Zrim, Doc, and Cris,

    All – good points and love the designation “deistic therapy.” That label well describes what the woman I mentioned earlier is receiving in her counseling.


    I appreciate your input and pray things will be resolved. This is a rock and a hard spot. As I understand things, the church must focus on what is primary – providing Word and Sacrament for all. As DGH well points out, there is a need for privacy in these situations just as our tradition’s confession and absolution does. As I think about things further, sliding into the Evangelical church’s pattern of moralistic therapeutic deism with all of the small support groups for everyone’s ills could be easy. I wish there were good solutions to the needs I see around me and wish my health would allow me to be actively involved.


  27. Now this is quite a topic…

    DGH — “marriage problems (that are not directly the result of sin) ” … Isn’t marriage between two fallen individuals? How then can sin, at least on some level, not be involved if there is a relational problem, even if the cause isn’t immediately traceable to sin? Relationships ultimately are at the mercy of individuals and their directional (moral) choices… love they wife as thyself.

    Now, I don’t think a Christian counselor necessarily has a corner on the insights needed to help someone… given the state of today’s Christianity, maybe even less than secular counselors. So much of counseling is applying common wisdom which, too often, is in short supply, be it a Christian or non-Christian counselor. As an example, I think one of the best books for parents to read on raising children is by a non-Christian (Children The Challenge by Rudolf Dreikurs). A lot of wisdom in that book, yet I find it incomplete due to the lack of taking sin into account.

    The designation “Christian” counseling is indeed problematic in that to help someone in a personal or relational struggle does not necessarily nor usually involve a redemptive component. Yet the added insight that comes from accepting a biblical view of fallen man made in the image of God is inseparable from wise counsel offered to a fallen human. I would also be cautious of defining counseling or psychological problems in such a way as to draw bright lines between our fallenness and the actual problems we struggle with.

    I think Lily makes some good points. And overall, I am sympathetic to Darryl’s post, especially this point; “we generally refuse to subject Christian counseling to tough questions.” Indeed.


  28. Lily,

    I don’t think churches should be providing small support groups for particular problems. They should stick to what they are supposed to be doing and take that responsiblity more seriously-especially in regards to accurate doctrine and teaching on the role of the sacraments. I have found that church discipline also poses all sorts of problems because only certain obvious sin usually get disciplined. But that is something pastors of local churches, their governmental synod structures and the congregants have to work out amongst themselves.

    I too watched In Treatment and found it to be a program worth watching. There was no reference to redemption and the gospel but the insight and graceful manner in which the therapist did his job on the show was a sight to behold. He was firm and yet gentle and accepting of his clients at the same time. He often had to put his foot down and would not accept certain behaviours in his clients. Also, it was always made known that the therapist was a jar of clay too and was dealing with complex issues in his own psyche. We may have hangups in our mental makeup which are making it difficult to trust the gospel. This may effect our behaviour too in ways we really do not understand. So, who knows what the answers are. You try to do the best with what you know and with the cards you have been dealt- trusting God to provide the insight and help when you need it.


  29. Does the Bible give us everything we can know in this world about the embodied, soulish being that is man? Or, are there things we can learn about this being from observation (psychology), whether casual or studied, and are there perhaps things we can draw from such observation that may help to understand and perhaps help the this worldly life of such a creature? And, the same questions with regard to science/medicine.


  30. This is a very interesting post and subsequent discussion, and it crosses many very personal issues for me. Without too much kimono opening, I’ll simply say that I am diagnosed Bipolar (Type II), and have made some solid progress since my diagnosis a decade ago. I’ll simply offer some insight from my own experience:

    1) Probably the most important point: Good help is hard to find in either biblical counseling or clinical practices. There’s plenty of quacks on all sides, but both have value if the affected person can find an adequately qualified, skilled, and sympathetic practitioner.

    2) The nexus of the parts that comprise the human person is incredibly complex, and tightly integrated. There are very few instances where serious maladies of the brain that don’t result in spiritual ones. Often this means a very integrated approach from more than one source, as I have found there is no one ‘silver bullet’ to address my own struggles.

    3) Regarding the Physiological component of mental illness: The brain is an organ, as much as the kidneys, heart, skin, and lungs are. It is unreasonable to expect that imbalances in the gray matter will not cause mental and emotional side-effects. Medications can be helpful, but they aren’t a panacea, and in some cases they can do damage. A qualified psychiatric evaluation can be very helpful, but be very wary of doctors that are quick to prescribe, because some of the best treatments aren’t tied to medications. However if after qualified advice, the patient decides to take meds, they need to be dilligent with dosages in order to observe if they are working or not, and this can take up to a couple of months to restore normal brain function. It is best to look at psychotropic medications as one would at medications such as insulin for diabetes, it addresses physiological malfunctions only, recovery and managment of mental illness takes hard work and dedication to a path of healing and the meds can only prop up the physiological side of this, they cannot change developmental, psychological, or spiritual disfunction.

    4) Regarding Counseling: There can be a wide variety of approaches that can work. Personnally I have found that cognitave behavior (Cog B)therapy has been the most helpful as it helps to develop an understanding of the underlying causes of the mental illness, helping the patient to understand their triggers and how to avert them and employ more healthy behaviors and thought processes. In this respect, the biblical counsellors I visited were wholly unhelpful as they jumped to decidedly spiritual cures to common problems that all men face. That doesn’t mean there aren’t biblical counselors out there who can help in these areas, but I certainly didn’t encounter any. The process of Cog B isn’t unlike physical therapy after a traumatic injury, you are addressing problem areas with practical exercises that help bring the affected areas into proper function. In my case this meant learning to manage the manic upswings by being aware of my triggers and avoiding them, while engaging in more relaxing activities such as reading, writing, surfing, fishing, prayer etc. that helped normalize my self-destructive urges. In the case of depressive episodes it involved acknowledging the condition, normalizing my sleep patterns and engaging in similar activities that I would to avert mania in an effort to avoid self-medicating through excessive drinking or illicit drug use.

    5) Spiritual Development/Discipleship: While the challenges that mental illness presents can be unique, the spiritual needs of the person suffering from an illness aren’t. We sin, and shouldn’t be able to use our impairments as an excuse, and a good pastor, or biblical counselor should have a gracious way of not letting the mentally ill off the hook. Church membership, and especially tending to the ordinary means of grace have a power that nothing else does, as it opens up the suffering soul to the reality of God’s work and will that transcends their current situations. Being grounded in a thriving (even if imperfect) spiritual community is probably the most important part of this equation. This can create accountability for the mentally ill to ensure that they are tending to the other areas that I listed above. Personal worship and prayer may be a struggle, as even those without these problems will attest, but the ministry of the church can be the most life-giving treatment to those afflicted with mental illness, as it offers hope in the world to come where such problems no longer exist, and strength to face any of the issues that they might face as a result of their struggles knowing that God’s power is perfected in weakness.

    Personally, I am grateful for my illness, as it has taught me humility, and to cherish God’s grace as my only hope in this life and in the life to come. And I find great comfort in the fact that many brothers and sisters before me, and alongside me struggle in similar ways and find strength in times of need. In all, mental illness is a tool in God’s hand for the Christian to work his grace in their lives, and as such they should carry no stigma in the church. Good churches get this, and hopefully more will as these issues can’t just disappear with bible reading and prayer.


  31. Zrim:

    Hey it probably comes down to a toe-may-toe / toe-mah-toe distinction. I wonder how an elder giving advice, answering question on spousal interactions and child-rearing, you know, “family visits” or elder visitation isn’t a valid expression of “counseling”?

    While it’s true the marriage and family relationships don’t survive into the Resurrection that doesn’t mean we consign them to a sphere other than the christian’s walk and discipleship. Don;t Paul’s epistles (the Haustafeln of Ephesians & Colossians in particular) have much to say about the believer’s household?

    But like I said, I’m guessing it’s a poe-tay-toe / poe – tah – toe thing for you and me. Cue Samwise lecturing Smeagol/Gollum on “what’s taters, Master?”


  32. OK, I’ll jump in Mr. Christian Curmudgeon…

    The CC: Does the Bible give us everything we can know in this world about the embodied, soulish being that is man?

    No, in that its purpose is not to teach specifically, let alone everything, about depression or anxiety. Yet, it does provide insight into man’s struggles, his fears, as well as his complex sinful responses and means of ineffectively coping with an uncertain world, failure, and alienation… all of which enter into the understanding of depression and anxiety.

    Or, are there things we can learn about this being from observation (psychology), whether casual or studied, and are there perhaps things we can draw from such observation that may help to understand and perhaps help the this worldly life of such a creature?

    Most certainly. Common wisdom goes a long way.

    And, the same questions with regard to science/medicine.

    The Bible is much less helpful here, and thus these are much more of the common kingdom disciplines, as the truths and cures of science/medicine, unlike psychology, can be verified through experimentation with quantifiable data. And in this regard, I would say that good psychology is much less a result of good science and more reflective of wisdom.

    I remember reading a book, Comparative Theories of Counseling (or some such title). One study in that book tracked “cure” rates (defined as showing some verifiable improvement) of individuals counseled from various psychological schools of thought. Also included were those who simply took the direction of “self-help” books as well as other resources (friends, church). The result was that they all showed about the same “cure” rate (approx. 67%). Why would that be?


  33. Thanks DJ, the humility is a work in progress as my wife can attest. My kids are still young enough to think I am cooler than Lightning McQueen, but not by much. Let’s just say I won’t have a book on humility coming out anytime soon, which will keep me from Gospel Coalition mega-stardom and the benjamins therein.


  34. In an article published by Modern Reformation magazine entitled “Hi, I’m a Sinner” the anonymous author writes the following: “I have a disease. I was born with it. I will die with it. In fact, I will die of it. An autopsy that could see everything about me would prove it to be the underlying cause of my death. While not all realize this and fewer acknowledge it, I have this malady in common with all of humanity. In my case it has been treated by divine intervention (human, too, at points), but it has never been eradicated. In fact, the most obvious manifestations of symptoms have occurred since it was treated early in my life.

    This is one of the mysteries of this disease. It can be radically treated. For those who receive it, the treatment is always successful. But the disease does not go away. It is always there. At times I would swear the disease is just as powerful and destructive as it would be had it not been treated. But I am assured that this is not the case, and I try to believe that.

    At times I feel pretty optimistic. Right now is one of those times. But I am not sanguine. The disease is still there. I could suffer a serious relapse at anytime. My memories of previous relapses are too vivid, and my knowledge of the the way the disease works is too clear for me to think I am done with it…..Despair is the worst thing that can happen with this disease. Despair can be deadly. Sometimes, when an outbreak of the disease would not be fatal, the despair is…….

    The author then goes on to explain that the disease manifested itself most obviously, in his particular case, with drinking alcohol in excess. Something which became almost impossibe for him to control and stop. He goes on and writes: “Professionals have told me that these things, which could manifest themselves whether I was drinking or not, are in fact, “character flaws” or “alcoholic thinking and behaving.” It turns out that alcoholics are self-centered, selfish,self-absorbed, prone to self-pity, often resentful, wanting control of people and circumstances, and frquently manipulative. But they are this way with or without drinking. Evidently, drinking does not cause these ugly traits; it exacerbates them. In my case , alcoholic drinking occured until I was approaching the end of the sixth decade of my life.”…..He then goes on somemore: I have known lots of people with the same character flaws who do not abuse alcohol or other substances. In fact, though there are often fewer destructive effects, it seems to me that these things are pretty much universal.

    He then explains that he does not call himself an alcoholic: “When I say I have a disease, I mean disease in the metaphorical sense as the Bible does. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer. 17:10). Surely this spiritual disease has physical consequences, and since it affects the whole person, it may have physical components, such as genetic predispositions. But this is not the way the vast majority of addiction specialists use the term. They teach that it is a physical disease that medical science may someday cure, though it has not done so yet.

    But the most important reason I do not call myself an alcoholic is because there is a divinely revealed diagnosis of the problem. This disease I have is sin. I was born with it, I am living with it, and I will never in this age be free of it. It affects every part of my being, every relationship in my life, everything I think, say and do.

    I hate this disease. I wish to God I could be free of it. But sometimes I seem to love it and even enjoy it……This inborn and incurable disease is first treated by God, not by attacking the disease’s controlling power, but by addressing its condemning power. This is where the Christian gospel differs from the standard treatment of addictions. It is true that people are powerless over the disease and that they cannot change themselves. But the next word to the person in despair is not “God could and would if he were sought.”

    “When I was at my lowest I found a ray of light first in this: “When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions (Ps. 65:3). Would others forgive? Maybe, maybe not. How genuine was my desire to change? I was pretty sure I was about as sincere as I have ever been, but others, with reason, had their doubts. What I knew was that someone else (the psalmist) knew the experience of being overwhelmed by sin yet believed God would provide atonement. And by his using “my” and “our,” he held out the same hope to others.”

    In his concluding remarks he makes the following observations:

    1) “Justification always goes before sanctification. Your sins must be forgiven and you must be declared righteous by faith apart from anything at all that you do or try to do before you can begin to develop a holy character or engage in holy conduct.”

    2) “The necessary revovation of the heart and reformation of life cannot progress apart from regular massive doses of the gospel. God does radically treat sin when we come to faith….but this radical treatment does not eradicate the problem. And nothing save forgiveness can deal with daily struggle….even the successful struggle, does not get me God’s favor. Nothing but the forgiveness of sins received by faith in Jesus and his atoning death can get God to smile at me and like me.”

    3) “Yes, I knew and believed all this before a recent crisis. Why then did I crash and burn? Looked at in one way, these articles of my faith explain it. The problem is permanent and its symptoms recurrent. Looked at in another way, to borrow words from a secular group that offers understanding and help to those with alcoholic problems, “it works if you work it.” What they mean is that if you follow the program, you are much less likely to experience what they call a “relapse.” In these terms I was not really believing and practicing my faith. That just about guaranteed some kind of crash and burn scenario.”

    So, how is this all relevant to the biblical counseling movement? The bottom line is that the church really is the only one with a solution to the sin problem but it is often not giving the proper remedy to the problem. I think people go to biblical counseling with the hope that they can find there what they are not finding in church (the Gospel) Until the church starts dispensing massive doses of the gospel people will look elsewhere to try to solve their main problems.


  35. Jed says: the humility is a work in progress as my wife can attest. My kids are still young enough to think I am cooler than Lightning McQueen, but not by much. Let’s just say I won’t have a book on humility coming out anytime soon, which will keep me from Gospel Coalition mega-stardom and the benjamins therein.

    My kids are older now and no longer think I am “cooler than lightening McQuenn.” That is a great line though. I wish I could get those days back but unfortunately they are long gone. I have a hard time getting them to listen to my rants about the Gospel these days. I am surprised they still even talk to me. It is a joy to me just to spend time with them now- I am fortunate that at least I can still do that on occasion.


  36. Chris, I’m not sure how elder visitation isn’t a valid expression form of counseling either. And my point about natural familial relationships not carrying over into the new age wasn’t to suggest them irrelevant to the believer’s pilgrimage in this one. It was to simply say that if they don’t survive then they must be just as temporal as any other provisional quest (e.g. education and politics). Sure, family is the highest temporal institution, but temporal still isn’t eternal and Jesus did say that if we want to follow him we must hate our families. Wouldn’t Luke 14:26 make a great cross-stitch?


  37. Jed,

    I found your post to be extremely compelling. Thanks for sharing.

    I must add though, that this subject especially reveals the danger of disregarding the organic connection between the Church and the State, the soul and the body, redemption and creation, etc.


  38. Jed, so is there a coincidence between being bi-polar and two-kingdom? (kidding)

    I am sorry to learn of your “condition.” Having lived with and loved two people who suffer from bi-polar disorder, I appreciate your input. Boy is life complicated.


  39. Dr. Hart.

    Thanks for posting this and thanks to all for the insightful comments (especially helpful was Jed’s). I find the two kingdom approach so refreshing precisely because of views like this. One of my friends was really struggling with being a Christian and pursuing a career in psychology. I found that struggle to be an unnecessary one precisely because I find it odd that a common field of study has to be deemed “Christian” or be blacklisted, which I believe many people do with psychology. Thanks for the post.


  40. Upon reading dgh’s “It strikes me that biblical counseling is another example of worldview, pietistic thinking that requires a biblical answer for each and every human problem.” I began doing a little thought experiment to see if a long-term dilemma of mine may have a solution after all.

    First let me set up the dilemma. I have wanted to believe that nouthetic counseling or something very much like it is the only correct way of counseling. For the other side of the dilemma, let me explain some of my relevant experiences. I taught Bible studies to incarcerated juveniles. I spent years working with adults who had psychiatric issues substantial enough to preclude their independent living. Then I worked with – and lived with – younger kids who were in the state “system” because their parents were unfit.

    All of the children and adults in these population groups were receiving counseling. It struck me – as I reference from the lyrics above – that the soul of man is no simple thing, and not only “cures” but even progress can be elusive in the counseling context. More to the point, I tried to envision nouthetic counseling on these kinds of clients. It just made no sense. I could imagine a suburban professional discontent with his marriage as a subject of nouthetic counseling, but the idea of nouthetic counseling for an angry, impulsive, explosive boy who was abused by his crack-whore mother’s boyfriend just seemed a bit surreal. Same for the adult who was keenly aware of the location of every object in his room, including objects neatly arranged inside boxes in the back of his closet (move any object one inch and he would be very upset).

    It’s not that these people have no need of counseling, but maybe their counseling does not have to be as ultimate at nouthetic counseling to be legitimate. Perhaps, rather than conceiving counseling narrowly as that which redeems and sanctifies, there is room for a kind of counseling that is just designed to enhance functionality. It may be designed to make a little progress toward controlling impulses so that violent crimes can be avoided. It may be designed to help someone focus enough to graduate high school or hold a job. In short, maybe there is a quite legitimate “common kingdom” way of counseling that can be quite distant from nouthetic counseling yet be valid. It is not a trivial thing to relieve suffering and enhance the operation of the common kingdom. In such counseling christians do not have a monopoly, but would be highly dependent on observation of human behavior as they hone their counseling skills and counseling theory.

    Dilemma solved?


  41. DGH,

    Thanks, and I’ll give a hearty word-up to the complications of life. We all catch it somehow. As to the connection between bipolar disorder and 2k, I don’t want to drag the whole system down by saying that you have to be insane to buy in, but there is probably a personal affinity to the 2k model. Life’s waters are muddy enough, why muddy up the clear role of the church according to scripture? At an intuitive level, it made sense from the get-go.


  42. Don,

    Thanks for the kind words, but I am not sure I can follow you here:

    I must add though, that this subject especially reveals the danger of disregarding the organic connection between the Church and the State, the soul and the body, redemption and creation, etc.

    I see it almost completely opposite than this. With regard to the church and the secular sphere it takes almost entirely different domains of knowledge, emotional intelligence, and even transparency to function in each sphere. The church addresses spiritual conditions, doctors prescribe pills and treat physical maladies. There may be legitimate crossover, but in my blended treatment and recovery I had to separate the issues to keep from going insane. Brain malfunction, while related to spiritual malady is different, and the treatments for both are different. The medical field is reasonable equipped for the former, and not so much the latter, and the church vice versa.

    Yes the soul and body are bound together, but this is really biblical and borne out in some detail in our own confessional standards. There are some ways that the church can tend to physical needs, as in diaconal ministry, and prayer, and even at times sound advice, but the moment my pastor takes it upon himself to perform an appendectomy on me is the moment I start looking for the nearest Lutheran church, since they seem to have a better grasp on 2k than most in the Reformed camp.

    Creation and redemption, well I’ll leave that alone since that is a 500 mile rabbit trail, but while we can say there is some measure of continuity there, I don’t think Scripture has clearly revealed the boundary markers. But we still end up having to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. In spite of this, I think God has made it abundantly clear what he has called his church to, and beyond those mandates we can draw no strict conclusion. I happen to be of the opinion that that ambiguity pervades life under the sun, and that is why we must employ wisdom, in fear of God, where there are no commands, but often that isn’t cut and dry and situationally bound.

    So in brief, I think there is value in bifurcating the various aspects of mental illness into its constituent parts, both symptoms and causes. The church is well equipped to deal with the spiritual components, or at least should be. The secular sphere, i.e. the medical, therapeutic, and counseling fields are better equipped to deal with some of the more physiological, emotional/psychological, and practical aspects of such illnesses – and I’d probably lump qualified biblical counselors into this secular sphere, since they really aren’t involved (typically) with the ministry of the church. There might be overlap, but in my experience they are really quite different, that is why I don’t ask my doctors to figure out why I am sensing distance from God.


  43. Michael Mann,

    I hope you don’t mind me horning in on your last comment to DGH. I don’t have a out and out problem with nouthetic counseling per se, and from what I understand they are doing a much better job with integrating some of the medical sides of mental illness, but I don’t think it is without it’s limitations either. Like I said, I don’t think there is an either-or dilemma to the field of counseling or therapy of most any stripe. Some methods are better than others, and some practitioners in less reliable methods may have a better skill set and track record than those in a more reliable field. For the patient, the issue is much more utilitarian, which treatment works best for them, and that really does vary.

    There has been a lot of cross-disciplinary work done between sociology and mental health fields, and the fact is mental illness is on the rise at alarming rates. Some of that might be skewed to the fact that the mental health field is overly quick to diagnose, and some “diseases” might simply be diagnosing idiosyncrasies of sinful human nature. However, discounting this skew even by say 50% wouldn’t account for the current rise of mental health issues. Much of the problems, as sociologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists are learning has much to do with the human mind was never intended to flourish under the pressures of life in modern societies, where the proliferation of choices, and the speed of life doesn’t bode well for the mind (among other uniquely modern problems). The church can’t “fix” this issue since we exist in this cultural matrix, and there may be some mental issues that have spiritual effects, but not spiritual causes. Just ask the incoming college freshman who not only must deal with the pressures of study, but the nearly endless career fields that he might be training for, and he must make that choice with not only his parents wishes in mind, but societal pressure, and trying to figure out how that squares with his own inclinations. In the past these sorts of scenarios never existed, the college freshman, even 50 years ago was more likely to stay within a career field that his father had, and before the industrial revolution it was most likely that he simply carried on with the family work, that had stretched back generations. This is only one example of myriads of complexities of modern life.

    I think that pastors and church leaders, even when well intentioned, do their congregants a disservice if they place themselves in the position of determining what kind of treatment is best for their flock. To be certain they should be involved in accountability (varying case by case), and a clear understanding of how his pastoral ministry can help the mentally ill grow as Christians, and even in some cases helping the mentally ill to seek better treatment when the current methods are destroying spiritual vitality, or advocating sinful practices as these cases do happen (like a therapist instructing a believer struggling with homosexuality that he should simply accept his identity and even act upon it). Just like it isn’t the role of the pastor to cure lukemia, he can’t be held responsible for the cure of mental illness, just simple, thoughtful, biblically mandated spiritual care. In some cases he may never be able to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, but he can help the person in question with a spiritual perspective that allows him or her to face their challenges head-on. It’s okay to be depressed, we aren’t home yet; it’s okay to be a broken person, we are sinners. The pastor’s tools are spiritual, geared to addressing the spiritual condition.

    Even nouthetic counseling, properly administered as I understand, lies outside the purview of typical pastoral ministry. It may be one of the few fields that does bridge churchly and worldly concerns, but still it isn’t exactly “ministry” in any confessional sense. I see a lot of good developments in the nouthetic field of counseling, and I am interested to see how it develops over the years. So long as those inclined to this field, or even prefer it don’t bind the consciences of those who suffer with mental illness unduly. All truth is God’s truth, and the big-bad field of modern psychology isn’t always as bad as it seems and can be useful for a lot of folks. It too has limits, which I why I have found a multi-faceted approach to be best, and I have seen this in many cases with people I have known, not just myself.


  44. “Isn’t marriage between two fallen individuals? How then can sin, at least on some level, not be involved if there is a relational problem, even if the cause isn’t immediately traceable to sin?”

    Sure, but the problem comes – from my limited observation – in trying to diagnose the sin, and often in being a bit too quick to do so. If you want to see an extreme example of this, look over at the various SGM blogs. I don’t think that scripture gives a warrant for assuming that we can always accurately diagnose sins in other people lives to the degree that nouethic or biblical counselling seems to require. Not everything can be worked out by simply taking the antithesis as a first principle.

    Similarly, while all sin is sin, some sins seem to lead to more civic harm than others. A man who makes his work, rather than the bottle, his idol, is probably less likely to physically abuse his kids. So while I’m aware of the dangers of an addiction being ‘moved around’ by secular counselling (and don’t accept that that is all a competent counsellor does), surely there is some value in it even if it did just that.


  45. Jed,

    I really appreciate your depth of thought in addressing the questions surrounding counseling and mental health and your openness about your experiences. Your comments helped me sort out my objections to secular counseling giving “deistic therapy” and reinforced the good things I have heard about cognitive behavioral therapy. Personally, I would still be cautious about the so-called biblical counselors since their theology/worldview would most likely not be compatible with sacramental, confessional Lutheranism. And for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, the biblical counselors are a mix that makes me uncomfortable. Best I can figure is that their lack of seminary training in theology and their Evangelicalism is behind my discomfort.

    From what I’ve read about the nouethic type of counseling, I would want to be very cautious with them since they seem to want to tie sin to things far more often than I am comfortable with. It reminds me of the lack of wisdom in disciplining a fussy child who is merely tired or hungry and simply needs to be fed, comforted, and taken home so they can have a nap. Just as the fussy child’s behavior is physical in origin, it appears the endocrine system that supplies numerous kinds of hormones, that the body needs to function well, can have a similar effect – causing depression, anxiety, a lack of sense of well-being with God, and so forth. It’s physical in origin and cruel to accuse someone of sin and discipline them for something they cannot control whereas, if I understand things rightly, the cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person manage their symptoms? Anywho, it sure seems to take a Solomon type wisdom to understand and provide care for struggling souls.

    In recent years, we have had two LCMS pastors come forward and be open about their mental health struggles, treatment, and how supportive their congregations have been with them. They went to a Lutheran organization called Doxology that provides treatment for pastors and trains pastors to be better equipped in giving pastoral care to their parishioners. Hank Sankbeil, who wrote “Sanctification, Christ in Action” is one of the primary leaders in this organization. I am thankful to see them addressing pastoral mental health needs and training pastors to address mental health issues in a wholistic way.

    Again, thanks.


  46. Jed –
    “I don’t have a out and out problem with nouthetic counseling per se, and from what I understand they are doing a much better job with integrating some of the medical sides of mental illness, but I don’t think it is without its limitations either.. . .Even nouthetic counseling, properly administered as I understand, lies outside the purview of typical pastoral ministry. It may be one of the few fields that does bridge churchly and worldly concerns, but still it isn’t exactly “ministry” in any confessional sense.”

    I think dgh is right in drawing a parallel between at least some nouthetic counseling advocates and those who want to swallow up everything – including the common kingdom distinction – in worldview. For several years I shared a Presbytery with a nouthetic counseling minister who asked virtually every pastoral candidate “is biblical counsel sufficient for [fill-in-the-blank with a serious psychiatric condition]?” It seemed that the proper answer was, yes, it is always sufficient and preferable. To be clear, that was just one man but I’ve seen that kind of attitude in others as well.

    A question a little ahead of my thought process is another point you suggest here. Isn’t this quasi-pastoral work out of someone who is not a pastor? I think I understand the history: in an age which “secular” counselors received people in office buildings, why not put biblical counselors in office buildings? But does biblical counsel “work” independent of ordained ministers and the overall ministry of the church? I wonder how well it comes off if we analyze like we do other parachurch ministries.

    BTW, I am not saying nouthetic counseling is without value. But, to the extent that its advocates are like godzillas pushing over all the other buildings in the city, there’s a problem.

    BTW2, I realize that nouthetic counseling may very much emphasize church attendance, etc. But still, IF it is all it is cracked up to be, should non-officers (ministers, elders) even be doing it?

    I haven’t closely followed the development of nouthetic counseling in recent years, so these are real questions.


  47. At the risk of confusing everyone: I’m a child psychiatrist whose main job description is to prescribe medication, as a consultant to clnicians/therapists in a public health setting. I believe one of my basic functions is to figure out whether a medication can be helpful, and to give my opinion about that to the child and parent. Also if medication may not be helpful, I can point to what should be happening in their counseling, though I do not do the counseling myself. I also from time to time have to (gently, sometimes not so) say something like “That is not a medication issue” – actually I’ll pretty much say it like that (wink).
    In a public health setting, we are not so free to speak about spiritual concerns unless it is brought up first. However there is still a chance to do so especially to those who are upfront about their spiritual commitments. If I were consulting myself, I’m not sure I would want my psychiatrist counseling me about Christian things but I surely would want him telling me that a spiritual solution could certainly be part of it. This of course is a dilemma to a serious Christian but I’m not one at this point who believes, for example, that the Gospel needs to be said at every session I have.
    Dealing with families, also, I believe that parents/guardians are the shepherds of their child’s spiritual life so I’m more likely to speak (separately?) with parents about that then the child… teenagers of course always being that in-between class of person.

    And I’ll publicly ask for Dr. Hart’s prayers as I will be attending the CCEF conference this monrh in Louisville (smile). I’m sympathetic to nouthetic counseling but I believe its approach would have always encouraged collaboration with a physician, even a psychiatrist.


  48. Lily, speaking of Lutherans and Solomon type wisdom to understand and provide care for struggling souls, have you picked up “Lars and the Real Girl” yet? It should be required viewing of all nouethic counselors.


  49. 1) I’m not sure I would want my psychiatrist counseling me about Christian things but I surely would want him telling me that a spiritual solution could certainly be part of it. 2) Dealing with families, also, I believe that parents/guardians are the shepherds of their child’s spiritual life so I’m more likely to speak (separately?) with parents about that then the child… teenagers of course always being that in-between class of person.

    1) Thank you.
    2) Thank you.


  50. Zrim – nope, haven’t seen the flick, but it does look like one of those “must see” movies for warm fuzzies. It looks a great plot to showcase the role/value of family, friends, and neighbors in our lives?

    In a similar vein of thought, I have been following Rod Dreher’s posts that chronicle his sister’s death and his planned return to his hometown because of the community’s warmth and support of each other. There is much to be said for the role/value of the support of family, friends, and neighbors in ordinary life – even more so, I would believe, with mental health issues. In my thinking, it’s all the more reason to be motivated to be actively supportive (eg: an advocate or our brother’s keeper) during each other’s rough times (along with the movie’s counselor if needed). Anywho, those are the thoughts that struck me while watching the movie preview I found online.

    If you are interested, you can find Rod’s latest post here:

    From what I’ve read, when people are stricken with crises like mental illness, cancer, grief from a loss, or etc., it’s those who have the support of their family, friends, and community that recover quicker and thrive, or able to live well in the midst of adversity or a chronic illness. It’s those who do not have these temporal blessings that seem to fall through the cracks and do poorly. Our American individualism seems to belie our needs as social creatures.

    P.S. Cranach’s blog had a great common sense post for cultivating/protecting mental health today, too:

    Yeah, I’m rambly this morning. Lots of good stuff to read. 😉


  51. Jed,

    Of course, I knew you would disagree, but your explanation proves that while you can and must distinguish the realms, they are not disconnected — as you have shown, they work together. Both ministers of the Word and ministers of the State serve God in their particular realms, but if you pretend that they are not organically connected, you have to ignore reality. They both work together, each having its own realm of responsibility, but subject to the same authority, same source of life, same telos — Christ. You may as well try to separate Christ’s humanity from His deity. This is indeed a mystery, and why it is so complicated.


  52. Don, I realize you are very selective in your dialogues so I won’t ask, but maybe you can tell Jed what “organically” connected means. We use that word a lot, but it’s more poetic than it is precise.


  53. Don, I tend to think that you’re not distinguishing between people and spheres. Yes, body and soul are organically connected, and the spheres intersect with those creatures. But how that means creation and redemption are organically connected is befuddling. In my 2k mind, the spheres are sovereign and overlap, but one is not the antecedent of the other.

    I find that those who are given to organic connection of the spheres instead of overlap are also given to thinking that cult drives culture, such that the state of the world is the result of the state of the church. But the church isn’t the cornerstone of society. The family is.


  54. Michael,

    By “organically connected” I mean simply two or more parts working together as a whole. For example, Jesus is both man and God — both “parts” work together to comprise the whole God-man. Its a mystery how this can be true, but if you are to study theology, you need to accept the lack of precision and marvel at the mystery because the Bible is more often poetic than precise.


  55. Zrim,

    I used the word “redemption” as short hand for new kingdom or new creation. The new kingdom does not replace creation but leavens it. And Christ is the King and cornerstone of both spheres, right? The fact that the society does not presently bow to the Kingship of Christ does not change that truth.


  56. Frank, it’s certainly true that Christ is king over both spheres, though he does rule each differently. But when it is said that both spheres are organically connected I hear Constantine and Christendom. So where 1kers see organic connection 2kers see necessary distinction. I understand 2k’s critics think this an unnecessary bifurcation, but on top of the historical problems of Constantianism, you guys have the added burden of showing from the NT where there any grounds for making the ways of the world and those of the Spirit cohere. I mean, the antithesis and animosity between the two is all over the place. What do those who see organic connection everywhere think “My kingdom is not of this world” means?


  57. Don,

    Look, I don’t think you should be putting so much stock in my experience which hardly correlates to a universal commentary on reality. There certainly have been epochs in history where secular and sacred realms were organically bound, namely Eden, and Israel. However, that is where the organic unity of these spheres are unbound, at least until the return of Christ.

    My account wasn’t really meant to say much of anything by way of 2k, but I can see why you want to take it there, but we really need to derive conclusions on these matters on a theological basis, not so much on a existential one.

    The connection of the secular and sacred realms that you speak of in my case is far less than you make it, and to say otherwise is to decide you are a better interpreter of my experiences than I am, with almost no knowledge of the road I have walked beyond the quick blurbs here. I am not saying that to duck out of a 2k debate here, but simply to help you understand that my experiences aren’t really the best battleground to decide the debate.

    The only connection between the secular and sacred realms with respect to my experiences with bipolar disorder has to do with the fact that I am a dual citizen, split between the polarities that all believers exist in. The secular help I received has gone a long way towards assisting me to live life in this world. The sacred guidance helped me understand my own struggles in a way that gave me deeper insight in the knowledge of God, connection to his people, and growing perspective and hope for the life to come. So without trying to clobber you with my very subjective experience, I found the treatment for my illness with respect to these two spheres to be very different, and the only common denominator between the spiritual and sacred realms is that I have had to live in the tension of straddling these two very different worlds. God’s rule in my life as I live between two worlds has also come in ways that I can also perceive the difference; in the world he governs through his providential, and almost imperceptible hand as he teaches me wisdom (something very akin to understanding Natural Law – but that’s another discussion entirely), and in the church he speaks directly and with certitude through Word and Sacrament and the spiritual ministry of the church.

    So, if we want to address the nexus between medicine, counseling, therapy, et. al. and the spiritual life, and how that plays into the 2k debates, then I’m game. But, I really don’t think my own experience proves much either way on anything but an anecdotal or illustrative level.


  58. Don,

    I may be missing what you are saying, but from a Lutheran point of view, it sounds like what you call “the organic connection between the Church and the State, the soul and the body, redemption and creation, etc.” might be better described by what we would call the hiddenness of God or the masks of God working through our vocations. Dr. Gene Veith has written a good article that was published in Modern Reformation magazine which explains it much better than I ever could. Anywho, it may be worth considering.


    “The doctrine of vocation is the theology of the Christian life. It solves the much-vexed problems of the relationship between faith and works, Christ and culture, how Christians are to live in the world. Less theoretically, vocation is the key to strong marriages and successful parenting. It contains the Christian perspective on politics and government. It shows the value, as well as the limits, of the secular world. And it shows Christians the meaning of their lives.”

    Another snip:

    “More broadly, in terms Reformed folk can relate to, vocation is part of God’s providence. God is intimately involved in the governance of his creation in its every detail, and his activity in human labor is a manifestation of how he exercises his providential care.”


  59. Zrim,

    But I do believe in 2 kingdoms, one temporal and one eternal, but both ruled by Christ as the means and end to His glory. How do you define the 2 kingdoms?


  60. Don, I think it’s reasonable to say that ever since Augustine everyone believes in two kingdoms. But after that it becomes a question of their respective natures and how they relate to one another, and the answers diverge among those who see an organic connection (theonomists and neo-Kuyperians) and those who see a necessary distinction (2kers). In addition to the kingdom of man being temporal and the kingdom of God being eternal, the former is ruled by law while the latter by gospel. How temporal/law and eternal/gospel can be organically connected is bizarre and is why 2kers suspect that the notion is a variant of law-gospel confusion.


  61. Don,

    I appreciate tnat, but I wasn’t fishing for an apology. I certainly didn’t take any offense to your prior comments, so no hard feelings amigo. All I was trying to communicate was the need to move the 2k debate to more objective ground, since it would be hard to draw any solid conclusions off of one man’s experience.

    That said, I’d like to see how you are drawing such an organic connection between the church and the state, since I am more inclined to see a radical disjunction between the two. Separated by a a iron wall about two meters thick, coatec with teflon, and slathered in four inches of axle grease on either side.


  62. Since this post is reaching the end of its useful life (Darryl has already published 2 new posts), I will try to address Lily, Zrim and Jed in my response.

    As background, besides being steeped in the reformed tradition and doctrine, I have been heavily influenced by the thinking and journals of Ken Myers and his Mars Hill Audio Journals beginning, I think, in 1992. Some may know that Ken is my brother-in-law, so please don’t take this as an advertisement for his work, though I would be thrilled if you subscribed. (I was a Mars Hill subscriber before I knew that he had a sister and that she attended the same church as I did.)

    Anyway, Ken’s work is all about evaluating and appreciating the culture (music, art, literature, political theory) from a Christian perspective. As a result of listening to his journals for years, my reformed way of thinking underwent a radical transformation. Though still thoroughly reformed, I began to see how, once I fully acknowledged my destitute position as the result of my sinfulness, and the awesome grace of God in dying for my justification, God actually takes delight in me as I delight in the good things of His creation and engage it (both people and things) with greater dependence on God, humility,love, and thankfulness.

    Please don’t hear this as triumphalism (I am too painfully aware of the remaining sin), or evangelical sappiness, or arrogance (I am probably not saying anything new to most of you.) But it deeply affected me and led me in a new direction which is what I believe Gerhardus Vos was saying in the following quote, which I have posted before:

    Now, this new creation, in the objective, universal sense, is not something completed by a single act all at once, but is a history with its own law of organic development. It could not be otherwise, inasmuch as at every point it proceeds on the basis of and in contact with the natural development of this world and of the human race, and, the latter being in the form of history, the former must necessarily assume that form likewise. It is simply owing to our habit of unduly separating revelation from this comprehensive background of the total redeeming work of God, that we fail to appreciate its historic, progressive nature. We conceive of it as a series of communications of abstract truth forming a body by itself, and are at a loss to see why this truth should be parcelled out to man little by little and not given in its completeness at once. As soon as we realize that revelation is at almost every point interwoven with and conditioned by the redeeming activity of God in its wider sense, and together with the latter connected with the natural development of the present world, its historic character becomes perfectly intelligible and ceases to cause surprise.”

    So, to Lily, I agree with Gene Veith about vocation — it is the reformed understanding. I would add though that our vocations are not only for us to show the love and care of God to others but for us to show our delight and love of God and His delight in flowing forth into His creation.

    To Zrim and Jed, this is how I see the organic connection between the temporal and eternal.


  63. Don, I’m not sure how one can read something like Meyers’ “Christianity, Culture and Common Grace” and come away with the notion that creation and redemption are organically connected. Isn’t that presupposition how we end up making everything “kingdom work”? But if Meyers is so influential for you he doesn’t sound all that wild about it:

    Some Christians today use the word “kingdom” like a magic adjective that sanctifies any noun it touches. We read of “kingdom ethics,” “kingdom theology,” “kingdom values,” “kingdom justice,” “kingdom love,” “kingdom caring,” “kingdom priorities,” and “kingdom relationships.” All of these terms might well be referring to some good thing. But the glib transformation of a noun into an adjective is almost always an alert that jargon has replaced thinking, and one gets the impression that “kingdom” is being used incantationally, as what New Testament scholar R.T. France calls a “hurray-word.” S.H. Travis has written this warning: “Indeed, the current danger in some quarters is that a few mentions of the word ‘kingdom’ in any theological document will be enough to guarantee that it be received with uncritical enthusiasm.’”

    And in the interest of necessary distinction over against organic connection, Meyers cites Calvin:

    “…we must here set forth a distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call ‘earthly things’ those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call ‘heavenly things’ the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.”


  64. Don,

    Re: “Gene Veith about vocation — it is the reformed understanding. I would add though that our vocations are not only for us to show the love and care of God to others but for us to show our delight and love of God and His delight in flowing forth into His creation.”

    As long as this “delight and love” is not akin to a current popular teaching of “hedonism,” I don’t think Lutherans would disagree. Although we would necessarily say that we show our delight and love of God through love and service to our neighbor. We place emphasis on the fact that God does not need our good works whereas our neighbor does need our good works, and that we love our neighbors freely, not under threats or by compulsion, but with a free and merry heart. We simply love and serve God through loving and serving our neighbor.

    And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)

    P.S. What a treat to be related to Ken Myers! His thought provoking work at Mars Hill Audio is impressive. Natch, it’s never 100% agreement since there are interviewees (eg: Dallas Willard) that offer things incompatible to confessional Lutheranism.


  65. Lily & Don – “delight” in vocations

    I don’t know, we can’t all be professional thinkers, musicians, or youth pastors. Some of us have to simply count the number of heads we have to support and go get a job. As for myself, I have a comfortable job, but let’s just say I delight in it significantly less than I do Sunday worship. And if, as they say, I were to win the lottery I wouldn’t be there six months from now.

    Yes, we approach our jobs Christianly. We work unto God, not merely unto man. We thank God for providing. Now you say we also must “delight” in our jobs? You have not adequately accounted for the post-Fall nature of work: it’s painful toil, hindered by thorns and thistles. Thus, a man spends his day sawing hog torsos. A woman inputs data under the watchful eye of her ogling supervisor. Cleaning public toilets, roofing in the Summer heat – you get the idea – isn’t the job itself burden enough? Must we also demand “delight”? And if someone doesn’t delight, should he question his spiritual estate? “Delight” is a lofty word but, in this context, it can be a heavy burden.


  66. Michael,

    DING DING DING! Thanks for mixing in the perspective we observe in Ecclesiastes: life in a fallen world is fraught with futility and toil. Or as Jeff Buckley says (in the words of Leonard Cohen)… “love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallaleuia.”

    Sure we can delight in anything we do in service to God, but not all of us have jobs that are delightful in and of themselves. Not everyone gets to be batman, I know since my application to be the Dark Knight seems to have been lost in the shuffle of the dreams of 7 year old boys throughout the world. So I guess waiting tables will have to do for this vigilante at heart.


  67. Hmmm…. MM. I’m surprised you didn’t take issue with the free and merry heart also. 😉

    I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t baptized in pickle juice (goofing for fun here), so I have delighted (had great pleasure) in my station and vocations that have consisted of making meals, changing diapers, weeding gardens, balancing the company books, editing papers, creating marketing materials, driving kids to sports events, and other such mundane things. I have also not delighted in my station and vocation at other times. So… I’m thinking both are true and since I’m a confessing Lutheran, I don’t worry about my emotions.

    Jed, please re-apply for the Dark Knight position. We need you. 😉


  68. P. S. Should I remind you how delightful it can be to hug and kiss your kids, not the mention the bedroom delights with a spouse? Perhaps you really should think over this dismal Eeyore view of all the different vocations you hold? (yeah… you deserve being given a really hard time on this subject!)


  69. Solomon seems to have had a hard time living out the perspective he had in Ecclesiastes. He could have passed for a Christian hedonist today. Or, he clearly saw the futility but did not live up to the “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” I wonder if he wrote that before or after his numerous female dallyings or his propensity for setting up worship shrines to pagan deities? Perhaps he did that to impress the foreign woman he was not supposed to fratenize with. He was the original Dos Equis man- he and Freiderich Neitszche.


  70. Jed, I loved the “slathered in four inches of axel grease on either side.” Nice!!! I have heard and read many neo-Cals imply, and even directly state, that it is through our vocations that we help bring in the Kingdom of God to earth and as a means of cooperating with God for our progressive sanctification. Why do we always want to find ways for ourselves to enter into the realm of the means of grace?

    When I read Vos’s quote I was not sure what he meant by “new creation.” Was that the new heavens and earth that come along with Christ’s 2nd advent or the “new creation” Christ won at the cross? Amills, Postmills and Premills all have different understandings of the new creation and how it comes about ie., whether quickly or gradually.


  71. Don, what Zrim said. Plus, have you read Ken’s All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes? It’s very two-kingdom because he is following Meredith Kline on the distinction between cult and culture.


  72. Darryl, did you put Zrim up to digging up a 20 year old article that he wrote, 🙂 and while you have referred to Ken’s 1989 book before, suffice it to say that his views have evolved. I think you will agree with me if you went to his web site and found something more recent that he has produced.

    Zrim, perhaps you have read Milbank on this subject. Leithart has compiled a summary of the first part of Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Political Profiles) at


  73. Michael,

    Did you miss the other conclusions of Ecclesiastes that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, for it is the gift of God; or that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion.

    Now, go and obey God 🙂


  74. Don,

    You have been a good sport- through all my nonsense anyways. This really is a good site to learn from and get good and thoughtful responses at. Sometimes I come close to crossing the line of what is appropriate or not. Thanks for not taking offense.


  75. Lily:
    You are bright, creative, and probably quite resourceful. As for me, life is good. Adding those two things together doth not a command make.

    An observation is not a command. I’m not sure your “organic connection” of the two kingdoms commitment will allow you to grasp why the Larger Catechism tells us to “delight” in the Lord’s Day but merely be “content” with our estate.


  76. Don, I didn’t respond enough to your Ecclesiastes comment. You more than I am aware of the unique literature that is Ecclesiastes. Do you believe that “there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live?” Do you see the author delighting in his days on the earth? If you are constructing a command to delight in our vocations, you’re going to need a surer footing than a quote from Ecclesiastes.

    What an intriguing book! Personally, I think the message of Ecclesiastes is not far from Paul’s words that “those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.” If so, Ecclesiastes is telling us pleasure is not ultimate, but enjoy it nonetheless. Wisdom is not ultimate, but seek it nonetheless. Work is not ultimate, but enjoy it nonetheless. Know that all these things are all provisional, and if this world is provisional, a space is opened for us to seek what is eternal. Then, knowing what is eternal (or one could say, that which is redemptive) we may enjoy, in proper measure, that which is fleeting, and, in itself, vain.

    But, of course, I could be wrong.


  77. Don, I don’t know if Meyers’ views have evolved to align with yours. Being kin, maybe you know something I don’t. But if they have then I’ll stick with paleo-Meyers.

    And just to add to Mike’s latest remark concerning Paul, consider Jesus’ own words on the cost of being a disciple, namely that one must hate his own mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own life. I really can’t think of a more poignant or provocative way of casting the temporal order against the eternal: the highest temporal institution (family) and the highest temporal good (life) are to be, as it were, hated if they get in the way of eternity. Yet, the fifth and the sixth commandments still stand as well. You talk of mystery, but what escapes me is how the organic connection theory can make sense of such a paradox. The 2k you eschew has a way of understanding there is a time for everything.


  78. MM, I’m glad you have a good life. I do wonder if:

    1) Reading the Song of Solomon twice for every excursion into Ecclesiastes might be good medicine.

    2) Bourbon. This may be the missing link in enjoyment of vocations according to Walter Percy and perhaps a cure for the inner Eeyore?

    What better organic connections for our vocations than the Song of Solomon and bourbon? Perhaps the Reformed need more Lutheran friends to remind them of these things? LOL. Lutherans do seem to be more earthy oriented connections. Hence our belief in the Real Presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist solves many things. 😉


  79. Lily, you’re hilarious.

    As a blues fan, I pretty much have to drink whiskey, but I also can’t help but notice that Women + Whiskey got some of the blues greats in a lot of trouble. That combo produced great songs, mind you, but there were some unintended consequences like drinking poisoned whiskey(Robert Johnson)and getting one’s neck slashed(Lead Belly, for one).

    But I like your kind of counseling. I think you’d develop a client base rather quickly with that appproach.


  80. Zrim,

    It escapes you because you are not even trying to catch it. Take up and read Milbank for example. In the same way you gave up your charismatic perspective when you began to read DGH and others like him, just maybe you’ll experience a third baptism in the Spirit — or is it the fourth since your first prepared you for the second, and DGH already ushered in your third.:)


  81. MM,

    If a Spirit inspired observation leading to a statement preceded by the word “should” does not indicate an imperative, maybe there is a new 2k way of viewing Scripture as well as creation that I need to understand.

    Have you considered the possibility that your view disregards the cosmic nature of God’s salvation; and assumes that salvation is limited to individuals collectively referred to as the Church. This type of thinking is inevitable since the enlightenment has bequeathed us with an individualistic perspective of the world, as well as many truly beneficial outcomes.


  82. Lily, I think the Reformed could stand to learn a lot from the Lutherans about earthiness and organic connections. But I’m bound to protest your consubstantiation and am not persuaded that it solves temporal problems. I’ll take the Reformed doctrine of the real presence to aid eternal disconnections and Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine” to patch over temporal rough spots.

    Don, I never had a charismatic perspective to give up (though I was tempted by Rome once before coming to Geneva the way one might be tempted by a worldy wise woman; but pentecostalism is only tempting the way a bar fly is). And, thanks, but I’m good with one baptism.


  83. Don –

    Really, you’re going to interpret Ecclesiastes like you do Deuteronomy? And, again, it’s a tough argument to say Ecclesiastes is about how we should delight in our vocations. As Astro would say, “rotsa ruck” with that argument.

    I’m individualistic? I’m happy with the wisdom of my forbears and the larger church in the Larger Catechism’s exposition of the 5th and 10th commandments. “Delight” in the Lord’s Day and be “content” with our callings. You’re the one who’s veered off into a private interpretation.

    You also said:
    “Have you considered the possibility that your view disregards the cosmic nature of God’s salvation; and assumes that salvation is limited to individuals collectively referred to as the Church.”

    I say Astro, you say cosmic. You’ll have to let me catch up with “cosmic,” since I’m still back on “organic.” Rather than divine my assumptions, can you state your position on how to describe who is saved? And then relate it to this discussion?

    PS. Like Yeazel says, thanks for hanging in there. The conversation here is direct but not meant to be personal.


  84. Zrim,

    Ok, but if you would like to be challenged a bit, read Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Political Profiles).”

    What do you have to lose?


  85. Have you considered the possibility that your view disregards the cosmic nature of God’s salvation; and assumes that salvation is limited to individuals collectively referred to as the Church. This type of thinking is inevitable since the enlightenment has bequeathed us with an individualistic perspective of the world, as well as many truly beneficial outcomes.

    Don, it isn’t unusual for worldviewers to think of salvation expansively instead of narrowly. Certainly there will be a new heavens and a new earth, but have you considered how the expansive view means that Jesus lived and died for more than the imago Dei (like fish and education)? But all of inanimate creation moans for the sons of God to be revealed because it knows that there is an order to things. God has made a covenant with his people alone, not them and their stuff or hobbies or interests or pets. Speaking of Pentecostalism, this is where Reformed worldviewism and it have something in common: both don’t seem very content with salvation narrowly conceived or with waiting for final consummation. It’s the cross-as-kickoff syndrome or what others have called an immanentize the eschaton.


  86. Zrim,

    I wish I could get it through ya’ll’s heads that the LCMS and many other Lutheran denominations do not believe in consubstantiation. As for the difference in beliefs about the Real Presence, I wish I hadn’t been careless and made an inside joke about it, and for that I apologize. Can we steer clear of the differences here since neither one of us is going to budge a nano on this subject?

    Ah… John – you’re a keeper. 😉


  87. Zrim,

    So you are saying that because we alone are created in God’s image, that therefore, Jesus died only to redeem people, not His creation.

    But even Wikipedia acknowledges that for humans to have a conscious recognition of having been made in the image of God means that they are aware of being that part of the creation through whom God’s plans and purposes best can be expressed and actualized. It appears that you want to separate humanity from the realm in which they were made to express the imago Dei.

    You are affirming John Millbank’s summary of the modern (he would say erroneous) assumption that because the order of the world we live in is not ordained and established directly by God (it is a product of human labor and experimentation), it is contingent (i.e.,not natural and ordained by divine authority.) Therefore, according to modern belief, it is secular, and the realm of human manufacture is a secular realm.

    Millbank says that the other assumption which underlies this erroneous modern belief is that human making has a purely instrumental purpose. We make things in order to achieve ends of efficiency and self-preservation. We build houses simply in order to keep out the elements,airplanes and automobiles for faster travel. We make things only as means to achieve the ends of efficiency, self-preservation, or comfort. The realm of the made is not thus a realm of a human striving after God, but an arena of instrumental reason and egotistical pursuit of self-interest. Thus, again, the realm of the made is secular.

    Milbank challenges this equation of the made and the secular, but he does it first by
    conceding that the realm of the “made” is contingent and not natural. Our social
    order, our technological achievements, did not drop from heaven. They are
    products of human labor and experiment. But in Christian theology, this creative
    effort of man is a human “cooperation” with the creative work of God. Milbank
    acknowledges that humans do not create ex nihilo, and he admits that history is the
    outworking of what is already in the mind of God. But he also insists that human
    creativity is truly creative, not merely an organization of matter, but a real making of
    new things. Seeds do “create” new plants, humans produce new humans, humans
    build bridges, roads, etc. In Van Tillian terms, he is combating a univocal, zero-sum
    understanding of creation, that would assume that if God is creative, we cannot be.
    Rather, he insists (very explicitly) on analogy: because God is creative, so are we.

    This is one of the fundamental aspects of the imago Dei that cannot be realized apart from God’s creation. The new heavens and earth then are new because sin and death have been defeated, not through an escape from creation into some immaterial world. Yes there will be discontinuity, like the fact that there will not be marriage, but this is no argument that there will not be significant continuity.


  88. MM,

    I thought we got past organic. Let me know when you’re ready for cosmic.

    I’m not sure how to answer your quesiton about defining my position on how to describe who is saved? Were you talking to me when you said you wrote that post without proper focus. If so, I’ll wait for clarification. In the meantime, perhaps my post to Zrim may be relevant in understanding where I’m coming from.

    I must admit, though, your question reminds me of a former pastor whose subscriptionist church I was once a member of. Because my understanding of the WCF did not conform exactly to his predisposed, narrow interpretation, he asked me if I still believe the Gospel, after telling me he thought that I would probably be happier in another church. He was right about being happier in another church.


  89. Don, I’m not saying that broader creation has no part in redemption so much as the unique aspect of creation, the imago Dei, has a privileged and unique place in that program, which is to say that as goes the imago Dei so goes the wider creation.

    I affirm that the order of the world we live in is indeed ordained and established directly by God, so I’m not sure how I’m affirming Millbank’s summary of the modern assumption otherwise. And while I agree that humans do not create ex nihilo yet truly create, I think the Creator-creature distinction is important to maintain. For example, I don’t have any problem saying my wife and I uniquely made our children, but it still was a matter of mining the materials God alone created ex nihilo. So in some sense we re-created our kids, but that just doesn’t roll of the tongue right since they didn’t exist pre-conception.

    And I do affirm both dis/continuity in the new creation. But my sense is that where worldviewism emphasizes continuity, 2k emphasizes discontinuity, as in no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no mind has conceived what God is preparing for those who love him.


  90. Zrim,

    The key word in the statement “the order of the world we live in is not ordained and established directly by God” is “directly’. I should have italicized it. In other words, the order is established indirectly through man. By “order”, he does not mean things like trees and rivers, but rather things like roads and buildings, and working from 9 to 5.


  91. Don, you realize that by saying creation needs to be redeemed, you are guilty of Manicheanism — namely, that the world and creation are sinful and therefore need grace for salvation?


  92. Darryl,

    Redeemed in the sense that God’s curse is removed as Isaac Watt’s hymn “Joy to the World” proclaims:

    No more let sins and sorrows grow,
    Nor thorns infest the ground;
    He comes to make His blessings flow
    Far as the curse is found

    I love the Christmas season. Its the only time the “secular” world acknowledges Christ, though it tries hard not to.


  93. Don, concerning your Ecclesiastes proof text for a command to delight in work, I can only find “So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.” (3:22). Note, other “better” passages “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” (4:6) and “better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” (4:3) and So I guess you can also tell me to obey the commands to be quiet and retroactively cease existence. OK, a little jest there, but I’m just going to say that, though I am glad you find enthusiasm for your work, we may not command others to match your enthusiasm on the basis of Ecclesiastes.

    But I really sense proof-texting or the lack thereof is not going to resolve things for you. I don’t have a solid sense of where you’re coming from. It’s like there’s an immense experience in the background or some perspective that is just alien to me. No offense, I’m just at a loss for how to constructively dialogue with you. So I’ll just bow out of our dialogue for now.


  94. MM,

    No sweat. Its time to move on anyway. And for the record, I often find my work to be very frustrating. So, I think I will follow Lily’s advice to read Song of Solomon and drink wine, instead of bourbon. I can’t handle the hard stuff.


  95. Thanks Zrim, I love joking around. If you would like an accurate explanation of what Lutherans believe, The Book of Concord explains what we believe, confess, and teach about the Lord’s Supper. Hermann Sasse’s book, “This Is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar,” is the gold standard for more depth in understanding. I think Sasse addresses the difference between consubstantiation and what we believe. If you choose to accept this mission, I can only suppose we won’t hear from you for a few months and who knows… Sasse may convince you that we’re absolutely, positively, terrifically spot on and you MUST convert!!! 😉

    Yeah… I couldn’t resist that last line. Waaaaay too much temptation for this sinner. ;P


  96. Zrim,

    You can also consult Lloyd Cadle over at the Riddleblog- I do remember him getting all up in arms about you Reformed types misunderstanding the Lutheran doctrine of the “Sacrament of the Altar” and the accusation of consubstantiation. If I recall, he pointed me to the Wisconsin Synod Web site which had an essay on the very topic- probably not as indepth as Sasse’s book. The following is a pretty indepth discussion of the Lutheran view of the Supper from October 22, 2009:


  97. Don, so you and Millbank think it’s erroneous to say that roads and buildings were established indirectly through man? It seems to me that the word that might serve better here is “im/’mediately.” But even so, how is it erroneous to say that? I watch a work crew–not Jesus–around the corner level land and raise up another Walmart (because heaven knows we need more of those) and they rip up and replace roads in my neighborhood. Man was the mediate instrument God used to establish roads and buildings. So I wonder if it’s another weakness in worldviewism to not grasp im/mediacy. It certainly isn’t grasped in Pentecostalism.

    As for creation needing to be redeemed, I’ll see Manicheanism and raise medieval Romanism.


  98. Zrim,

    Sorry about the confusion. He and I would say that the assumption is correct, i.e., that the world order is contingent in that it is the outcome of man’s labor, etc. but the conclusion is erroneous, i.e., based on the above assumption that therefore, according to modern belief, the world order is secular, and the realm of human manufacture is a secular realm.

    Regarding your other points, I will gladly take a whack at the same straw men that you do. But if you really want to wrestle with the view of DGH and those like him, you need to deal with the real issues raised by men like John Millbank, WIlliam Cavanaugh and others whose arguments are far more compelling, at least to me — and I am knowledgeable about both. If you are content with where you are, by all means, stay there.


  99. Don, I am familiar with the arguments of Millbank and Cavanaugh and I appreciate their critiques of modernity and secularism. But I don’t follow their proposals for overcoming the problem. Plus, I read Augustine (not to mention Paul) in such a way that living with a tension between Christ’s rule as redeemer and his Lordship as creator is what God’s people are called to do, especially now that Jerusalem (and the holy land) is over.

    So what do you find so compelling about Millbank et al? And do you already have your mind made up when reading them?


  100. Don, you seem to be working with a worldviewist’s definition of “secular” that means something akin to “godless” or “anti-religious.” But Christian secularists take the classic Latin understanding, which is to say “seclorum,” which actually means “an age or generation” and conveys a specific period of time that is particularly provisional in nature and temporary and not at all devoid of religious belief. Worldviewers are prone to mistaking Christian secularists for legal secularists, for whom “secular” does tend to mean something irreligious. But for a more exhaustive treatment of the differences I’d recommend the host’s “A Secular Faith,” if you haven’t already picked it up.

    So, what you’re saying is that until I agree with you I’ve not really engaged the real issues? Sheesh, what is it with you worldviewers?


  101. Darryl,

    My mind was not made up while reading them, in fact my reading of them came well after my understandiing of the modern 2k notion. I was simply convinced that Millbank, et. al. sufficiently demonstrated the novelty and modernity of the 2k assumption that we can separate the world neatly into sacred and secular realms, and that this is a new idea with dubious political and metaphysical origins (some of which I have expressed in previous posts.)

    I appreciate your disagreement with their proposal, but my concern is that a bar the doors confessionalist approach will result in a very small and curmudgeonly tent, exacerbation of the tension, and irrelevancy of the church.


  102. Zrim,

    I am familiar with the book and the views expressed. The disagreement is not over the understanding of secular as temporal or provisional, or that it is religious. It is all of these. And, you don’t have to agree with me to engage with guys like Millbank — I’m just saying that there are some convincing arguments that challenge some of the basic assumptions upon which the modern 2k notion is built.


  103. Don, you’re losing me on just what bothers you in 2k. But now it seems it’s the alleged compartmentilization of it all. I think you may have missed that 2k isn’t quite as dualistic as that. In fact, it’s more triadalist. In “God of Promise,” after briefly sketching out the narrative of Cain in his “stay of execution that allows Cain to build a city,” Horton explains that:

    …we begin the story with one creation, one covenant, one people, one mandate, one city. Then after the fall, there is a covenant of creation (with its cultural mandate still in effect for all people, with the law of that covenant universally inscribed on the conscience) and a covenant of grace (with its gospel publicly announced to transgressors), a City of Man (secular but even in its rejection of God, upheld by God’s gracious hand for the time being) and a City of God (holy but even in its acceptance by God, sharing in the common curse of a fallen world). Just as the failure to distinguish law covenant from promise covenant leads to manifold confusions in our understanding of salvation, tremendous problems arise when we fail to distinguish adequately between God’s general care for the secular order and his special concern for the redemption of his people.

    Religious fundamentalism tends to see the world simply divided up into believers and unbelievers. The former are blessed, loved by God, holy, and doers of the right, while the latter are cursed, hated by God, unholy, and doers of evil. Sometimes this is taken to quite an extreme: believers are good people, and their moral, political, and doctrinal causes are always right, always justified, and can never be questioned. Unless the culture is controlled by their agenda, it is simply godless and unworthy of the believers’ support. This perspective ignores the fact that according to Scripture, all of us—believers and unbelievers alike—are simultaneously under a common curse and common grace.

    Religious liberalism tends to see the world simply as one blessed community. Ignoring biblical distinctions between those inside and those outside of the covenant community, this approach cannot take the common curse seriously because it cannot take sin seriously…everything is holy.

    …[But] the human race is not divided at the present time between those who are blessed and those who are cursed. That time is coming, of course, but in this present age, believers and unbelievers alike share in the pains of childbirth, the burdens of labor, the temporal effects of their own sins, and the eventual surrender of their decaying bodies to death…there is in this present age a category for that which is neither holy nor unholy but simply common.


  104. Thanks, DJ, but you might recant after Lily has plied you with bourbon and the Song of Solomon.

    Seriously, I appreciate many of your posts as well.


  105. Zrim,

    The cultural mandate, which Horton acknowledges as existing before the fall, is not eliminated by the covenant of grace, but rather fulfilled by Christ in heaven as the head of all Creation and on earth by His body, the Church. This “common” category that you/Horton define leads to the all-sovereign nation-state becoming the head and keeper of the common good and repository of sacred values that demands sacrifice on its behalf. The longing for genuine communion that Christians recognize at the heart of any truly common life is transferred onto the nation-state. Civic virtue and the goods of common life do not simply disappear; as Augustine saw, the earthly city flourishes by producing a distorted image of the heavenly city.

    Your thinking subjugates the sovereignty of God to the sovereignty of the state. The Church thus becomes a private, voluntary institution that can no longer challenge that authority. Instead, it sets up its own little private realm ruled by the confessions and those who jealously guard it as the precise and unquestionable rule over its voluntary citizens, much to the delight of the sovereign nation-state, soon to be swallowed up by the global nation-state.


  106. Don, it isn’t clear to me how contending for the common category “leads to the all-sovereign nation-state becoming the head and keeper of the common good and repository of sacred values that demands sacrifice on its behalf.”

    But it sounds like you have trouble with civil authority having more power than one is used to in the great white west. Again, not uncommon for worldviewers. But what to do with the command to “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” What one has to ask himself is what sort of theology informs a statement like Paul’s that seems less unconcerned with the limits of government than for the civil obedience of believers. I know, you’re all for civil obedience. But I can never quite understand why worldviewers want to play the big government fear card when all it’s really good for is nurturing something less than obedience and submission. I just can’t see worldviewers speaking the way Paul does by demanding such unflinching obedience to a civil magistrate that conceived of himself as head and keeper of the common good and repository of sacred values that demands sacrifice on its behalf.


  107. Don, where exactly in the Bible were God’s people big, agreeable, and relevant? Sure, if you want the British empire and the Church of England, or the glories of Rome, I can see how 2k throws a wrench into the works. But God has a history of working through the ordinary and out of the way.


  108. Don, I believe you have expressed favorable views about Leithart and his book on Constantine. So what exactly is the problem with the nation-state? Didn’t Constantine contribute a little bit to that problem? What’s that, you say, he was a Christian? Well, what happens if his son isn’t? That’s why we have governments that don’t rest so much power in one person and don’t have religious tests for holding office. It really is possible to try to put together a government that is not bound by theology. It works for computers and baseball teams.


  109. Darryl and Zrim,

    Let’s start over. Did God abandon His commitment to the cultural mandate when He instituted His covenant of grace? Does the cultural mandate only apply to all people as they exist in this “secular” and temporal city of man who share in the common lot of “pains of childbirth, the burdens of labor, the temporal effects of their own sins, and the eventual surrender of their decaying bodies to death.”

    Don’t such things as a beautiful piece of music, art, or architecture have any place in the city of God?

    God has not neatly divided His Kingdom this way. Of course He has given certain responsiblilities to the civil authority (those are clearly stated in Scripture) but this is not equivalent to establishing a separate “secular” realm over everything that is not covered by Scripture. Wisdom is regulated by natural law as much as it is by divine law. Without natural law, how would we know how to worship God in the beauty of holiness (Scripture doesn’t give a formuala for this). Does holiness only relate to our hearts and minds and not our bodies. How do we express love, wisdom, community, etc. if not through our bodies. How do you propose to perform this neat divide of God’s rule.

    Just because something is not decided by Scripture it is still subject to natural law. Both must work together in God’s Kingdom. The only problem with Creation is Satan, death, and sin — not the cultural mandate or natural law.

    In the end, I have no fear of the government. My only fear is to view the ordering of God’s creation as though it can be somehow separated from God’s Kingdom as a provisional thing that will have no place in eternity. That is utter hogwash.


  110. Don, what I hear you suggesting is that the great commission includes the cultural mandate. But I don’t see how “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” correlates with “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Not any more than how law correlates with gospel.

    And neither does the church, if something like Belgic 29 which follows the order of Matthew 28:19 is any measure: “The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.” If the cultural mandate is included in the great commission then wouldn’t we expect to read something about officers subduing the earth and having dominion over it? So 2k doesn’t think that the cultural mandate is defunct at all. It still stands as plain as it always has. It just has nothing to do with the great commission.


  111. Don, the cultural mandate is not the same as natural law. What needs to be addressed is the relation between the cult. mand. and the covenant of works. If the cult. mand. is part of the CofW, and Christ fulfilled the latter, then he also fulfilled the cult. mand. You don’t need, btw, some kind of postmill understanding of cultural development to affirm the goodness of vocations and also to see that our works in culture and society, don’t matter for the world to come. Luther affirmed vocation and was one of the most otherworldly Protestants this world has known.

    As for worshiping God in the beauty of holiness, you’ve entered a world where the Regulative Principle rules. Reformed Protestants don’t do beauty in worship because the Bible gives no guidelines for beauty in worship. We do simplicity in worship even if we surround ourselves with beauty in personal life. Again, that distinction between the holy and common that you and I have discussed before regarding the Sabbath — building bridges on Monday is good but building them on Sundays is a no no — keeps running up against your denial of such distinctions.


  112. Zrim,

    Nice evasion. Christ declared His authority over heaven and earth before giving the commission. Christ is man (as well as God). The mandate is fulfilled in seed form. The seed must grow to be the largest tree. (Take a look at the Kingdom parables of Jesus, again.)

    The gospel is not just for our hearts and minds — its for all of creation, bodies and souls.


  113. Darryl,

    I never said it was. You want to take Kline’s path and associate the CM with the CW. Kline necessarily leads to dualism which is not supported by Scripture. Just because we don’t build bridges on Sunday doesn’t mean that bridges are not good.

    I think you like Wendell Berry. What Christian philosophers if any do you read?


  114. Don, if the gospel is for all of creation then I think there are a lot of apology letters to be written to the Protestant Liberals. I wonder what you think social gospel is? If you’re like every other worldviewer I know, maybe you think there is a good kind and a bad kind and the bad kind is whatever isn’t your kind. But I understand it to be categorically erroneous no matter whose kind.

    But I also find your categorizing curious. The heart is the culmination of mind, will and affect, so how can we distinguish between “hearts and minds”? And I agree that the gospel is for body and soul, but only those bodies and souls made in the image of God, which excludes dogs and cats and fish and trees. Ok, maybe for dogs, but definitely not cats.


  115. Don,

    And you don’t seem to acknowledge that the cultural mandate becomes a bit of a problem after the fall. I never said building bridges was bad. Why is it if you don’t say they are redeemed, then the fallback is they are bad? Do you know that fundies also live in such a dichotomous universe? Something may be good but not saved. Unfortunately, there are lots of writers who fall into that category, such as Michael Oakeshott and Roger Scruton, from whom I profit. I also think David Simon, the creator of the Wire, has his philosophical moments.


  116. Lily, until then it’s fun to tease them:

    And if Don’s right then this panda could use the peace that passesth understanding deep down in the depths of his heart (where? Down in the depths of his heart!):


  117. Just found this on a PCA congregation’s website:

    “Jane Doe” (real name omitted)
    Pastor of Mercy & Counseling
    What do you do at Grace?
    Counseling for individuals, couples and families
    Oversee development of projects such as Grace in Action and support other systems of care
    Help teach or facilitate classes through GSOD
    I am a Nationally Board Certified Counselor (NBCC) and will be completing my North Carolina professional licensure (LPC) in 2010
    …I completed a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Masters of Community Counseling from Western Carolina University after moving to North Carolina.

    What’s relevant to this post is having a staff “Pastor” with special training specifically to do counseling with no preaching from that Pastor. The gender does make it more interesting insofar as having this specific role in the church was deemed important enough to endure the criticism they surely knew would ensue.


  118. Darryl,

    I’ll check them out. I just don’t see the need to save creation. It was good when God made it, and it never sinned, but was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. Thus it waits for the revealing of the sons of God. Then, the cultural mandate won’t be a problem at all.


  119. Zrim,

    Labels are not arguments. But I do agree that dogs are better than cats, though we recently took in a stray cat whom our two dogs are only beginning to tolerate.


  120. Don, not to be too repetitive, but if you are going to argue for continuity from the cultural mandate, through the history of redemption, to glorification, isn’t procreation and marriage a big wrench to break down the continuity machine. I mean, the cultural mandate was about procreation and being fruitful. Since that won’t be happening in glory, isn’t there going to be some gap between what we know now and what we’ll be like then?


  121. Don, I take it you don’t care for the implication of social gospel. But I don’t see how that isn’t the result of saying the gospel is for all of creation (instead of being much more qualified and saying it’s for that particular aspect if his creation, the imago Dei). And if you “don’t see a need to save creation and that it was good when God made it and never sinned” then what does it mean to say that it is a target of redemption? Didn’t Jesus say it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick?


  122. Jeff,

    I thought the info was significant to understand the situation. Plus I didn’t go through a file cabinet to get that information – they posted it all online, so presumably they want millions of people to be able to see it. I just didn’t want to make this about a particular person, so I omitted her name. Subjectively, I don’t like picking on women unless they’re attorneys. That’s just me.

    So, maybe I played it wrong but that was my thinking.


  123. 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)


  124. 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)


  125. 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.


  126. 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.


  127. 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.


  128. 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.


  129. Zrim,

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


  130. 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.


  131. 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.


  132. Darryl,

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


  133. 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.


  134. 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.


  135. 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.


  136. 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…’


  137. 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.


  138. WenatcheeTheHatchet,

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


  139. 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.


  140. 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.


  141. 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.


  142. 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.


  143. 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.


  144. 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.


  145. 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.


  146. 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). 😉


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