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Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 21 January 2013 00:00

Maybe Christian counselors shouldn’t use the bible when they promote their counseling theory. Maybe they should just articulate their theory and leave the bible verses out.

Sound radical? An overreaction? Guilty as charged. But…consider with me that some of our most popular Christian models may be built on rather flimsy biblical data.

Some (simplistic) background thoughts

All Christian counselors recognize that the bible plays a unique role in counseling theory. Otherwise, they would just be “counselors.” But not all use the bible in the same way. Some view the bible as the primary (even sole) guide or resource for understanding human nature and recovery from every sort of relational and/or emotional struggle. These counselors would likely cite 2 Tim 3:15-16 as evidence that Scripture provides primary directives in our fight against sin and guide to suffering well. Others view the bible as a helpful foundation designed to remind us who God is, who we are, and a resource for comfort, encouragement, and rebuke. But, these counselors might also look to other resources as well—psychological research, physiology, medicine, communication theory, etc. They would not dismiss the value of the bible but would argue that God does not intend to make the bible the only answer guide for all the questions we might have. Thus, sources of human knowledge are important to the work of good Christian counseling. Now within this second camp, counselors vary widely as to how important either Scripture or human sources of knowledge function in their given practice. Some seem to emphasize (or neglect) one source more than the other.

The problem…

No matter where a counselor falls on the above continuum, it is far too easy to use the bible to baptize a particular viewpoint or theory. At one Christian counseling conference I heard a plenary speaker say something like this (not a quote but pretty near exact):

Men need respect. It is their airhose. Women need love. It is their airhose.

Along with this statement, the speaker bolstered points with personal stories and biblical passages indicating the women should be loved and men treated as having authority (submitted to). Here the speaker used bible passages to indicate that men are designed to operate optimally when respected and women designed to operate optimally when loved.

Is this true? It could be. I certainly think that this SEEMS to be true for most men and women. But, and this is the BIG BUT…does Scripture indeed teach this? Does Paul teach us that these are our basic needs in order to function well?

Close but way off

Love and respect cannot be our “airhose.” Habakkuk 3:16f would suggest that when everything has been taken away, it is possible to have joy in all things. Notice that Ephesians 5 is about what each are commanded to do…not about what each of us needs to receive. Christ is our “airhose” and nothing else. This speaker might be better served just teaching us about what actions tend to make for better marriages than to indicate that the Scriptures teach us we have these two needs.

So, the next time you pick up a cool book by a Christian counselor. Check out how they use the bible. As a support for a good theory (e.g., this verse teaches us…)? Or, as a source for understanding the problem of evil and the nature of our God who leads, guides, and saves us?

If you are interested in this topic, let me give you a couple of resources.

  • October 2011 print issue of Christianity Today covers the general misuse of the bible. It is not just counselors who do this. They list the example of a book with anti-aging techniques supposedly gleaned from the bible.
  • 2 chapters in Care for the Soul:Exploring the Intersection of Psychology & Theology (IVP, 2001). Chapters 12 and 13 both cover the issue of hermeneutics. Richard Schultz addresses how counselors misuse wisdom literature and chapter 13 (myself and my colleague Bryan Maier) give more general recommendations for good hermeneutic work.


[A version of this post was previously published at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comin 2011.] Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling and Psychologyand directs both the Masters of Arts in Counseling program and the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute

 

Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00

I made a presentation to the Christianity and Culture Study Group at the Evangelical Theological Society Conference on the topic of general revelation and Reformed theology; my title was, “Reformed Theology is Right about Romans 1 . . . well, except. . . .” I’m working on getting the piece published, so I won’t post the whole paper here.  I will give you some excerpts as a “teaser,” though — and would welcome any conversation or engagement. I’m even willing to send you a copy of the full paper if you ask for it — just email me at tmangum@biblical.edu. Fair enough?

Here are the basic points of my thesis:

  1. Romans 1 does reveal that the wrath of God is revealed against faithless humanity who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”; the “truth” revealed in view here is (commonly and rightly agreed to be) what theologians have called “general revelation” — creation and conscience. 
     
  2. This fact should be read as point of lament, even frustration, though — not as a point of a satisfied plan on God’s part that he orchestrated. 
     
  3. General revelation may be genuinely revelatory; and “common grace” may in fact be genuinely gracious; what is called “general revelation” may be a gracious provision to humanity on God’s part, genuinely designed to reach them (not just damn them or add to their culpability). 
     
  4. Traditional Reformed theology has rightly teased out implications of Romans insofar as concerns human depravity. However, Reformed theology may have neglected the gracious intentions of God toward undeserving, depraved humanity “in general,” and have not thought enough about what could happen if the potency of “general revelation” were combined with the eye-opening, mind-opening, and heart-opening supernatural work of the Spirit. 
     
  5. Romans 10’s “How can they hear without a preacher,” and “faith comes by hearing,” is followed by “But have they not heard?  Indeed they have — in fact, the voice/sound has gone out to all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” This is a quotation of Psalm 19’s description of “general revelation” . . .   Hmmm.  What are we to make of that?  (Evangelicals, Reformed interpreters particularly, have not made enough of it; their consideration typically stops at v. 17, and that’s a mistake.)

What on earth does this have to do with the conference theme, “Caring for Creation”?   Here’s how my paper ends:

“If Creation still serves as a divinely designed “lighthouse,” then we can, with Paul, genuinely lament and be appalled at the needless carnage left by foolish captains whose ships are now wrecked on the shoals and jagged rocks inevitably run into just beyond what the lighthouse constantly, faithfully warns against. But we — we maintain the lighthouse, even knowing the discouragingly vast number of ships still that will wind up as wreckage on the hazards that lie just past its beaming lights.  We continue to care for Creation, not because we know how many will heed its beacon, but in part because we hope some may; and because we know our God is sending forth its voice into all the earth, its words to the end of the world for a reason.”

So, what do you think?  Anything here pique your interest?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 16 January 2013 00:00

Every once in a while, evangelicals are blessed with good timing. Just one week after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the northeast coast, the Evangelical Theological Society hosted its annual meeting; this year’s theme: “Caring for Creation.”  I’d say the spectrum of views presented there was pretty good indication of where conservative evangelicals are generally on “environmental issues.”

On one end of the spectrum was Wayne Grudem, who gave a presentation entitled, “The Global Warming Hoax Makes You Pay More for Everything and Threatens Your Freedom: A Biblical Response to Global Warming Claims.” On the other end of the spectrum was plenary speaker Richard Bauckham of St. Andrew’s University. The “middle position” — of the Evangelical Theological Society we’re talking about — was plenary speaker Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who suggested that conscientious environment conservation is called for, but climate change claims are typically overblown, based on dubious science, and are often politically motivated.

A couple of observations are in order about all this:

The “middle/moderate position” of the Evangelical Theological Society would be considered an extreme “far-right position” in the general discussion in American society at large.  It is hard to say anything that tries to “characterize the conversation” that does not engage in sweeping generalizations. But the fact is telling that one of the Cornwall Institute’s most popular instructive videos is entitled, “Resisting the Green Dragon,” which itself forwards the thesis that most “environmental activism” is nothing more than “propaganda” and that such has infiltrated most all of our public schools, public policy discussions, and major media outlets. This suggests that the Cornwall Institute itself recognizes itself as a minority position in the discussion.

What is to be made of the fact that no scientists were invited to address the issues at a conference on “caring for creation”?  It is the Evangelical THEOLOGICAL Society, so not too much should be made of it. The speakers all spoke from a biblical and theological standpoint, and that’s to be expected. But they also all made reference to “scientific data.”  And several of the speakers noted that having some scientists weigh in would have been profitable — but of course the elephant in the room was that the scientific discussion has itself been politicized (echoing the debate over evolution and creation?). New Testament scholar, Douglas Moo, in the final panel discussion openly asserted that had the most credible, most commonly accepted scientific data been brought to bear on the discussion or simply accepted (which he recommended), the discussion would have shifted away from any assumption that climate change phenomena are simply a hoax to be dismissed. 

I am not a scientist, either; and I believe Moo’s point is well-taken.  It does not bode well for evangelicals to grow accustomed to just ignoring science or scientific evidence, or to foster the anti-intellectualism that was a by-product of the modernist-fundamentalist debates of the early-twentieth century.  Not to over-read the absence of scientific representation at the ETS Conference, but a couple of us did walk away with some questions and concerns about this. . . .

There are points of common ground surfaced that perhaps we all can agree on.  Even though the ETS handling of “environmental issues” may have been less than perfect — secular environmental organizations would surely have been completely unimpressed — several points of consensus did emerge even there.

     1.  Caring for the environment and not abusing the earth’s resources are part of the stewardship God continues to expect and require from us. 

     2.  The fact that the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population but consumes 20% of the earth’s resources used annually is not good; greater conservation measures are certainly called for.

      3.  Storms and natural disasters may or may not be a judgment from God. Not much of a point, much less a point of “consensus” is it? 

Anyway, it was commonly noticed that New Orleans makes an easy target for pretty simple-minded, “See there — God zapped them for their sin” suppositions, but we tend to be less quick to do so when the people whose houses are destroyed are police officers and firefighters, or when the people without power for a week are our friends and neighbors. We should probably be less quick in general to say anything that sounds like “rejoicing in destruction.”

In addition, point #2, above, does — or should — get us to thinking more seriously about all of this.  It is doubtless reductionist to suggest that consumers driving hummers caused Hurricane Katrina. On the other hand, it is not so silly to suppose that materialism and consumptionism have a negative effect on the environment that may bring nasty natural side effects. Also to be considered: God may be displeased as well. Trifling with Mother Nature is unwise — and that’s enough to motivate secular environmentalists into action.  Shouldn’t we as Christians be at least as concerned about not displeasing God with our treatment of His Creation?

That last point is one made by Christopher Wright in his lecture here at Biblical Seminary the week before. Part of the “mission” of a missional approach is intelligent environmental concern and caring for creation, he said.  Do you agree?  

What this entails exactly and to what extent is a topic worthy of fuller consideration.  What do you think?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

Written by Dave Dunbar Monday, 14 January 2013 00:00

My last post was a brief discussion of A Free People’s Suicide by Os Guinness. It is an appreciative analysis of the beginnings of the American experiment with freedom, but it is also a warning that liberty is not sustainable under current circumstances.

As I read the book, I could not help reflecting on the degree to which the present state of the church in America mirrors that of the broader culture. For freedom is not only a political issue—it is a gospel issue as well. Redemption is in part about freedom, whether we look at Israel’s exodus from Egypt, or the promise of return from exile, or the meaning of the atonement, or the ministry of the Spirit. And just as the founding fathers realized that freedom needed to be protected, so the early church (particularly the Apostle Paul) recognized that Christian freedom is always at risk of being distorted or morphing into something less than what God intends.

In the meeting of church and culture, influence goes both ways.  Sometimes this is good, and other times it is not. But if Guinness is correct that modern America has lost the founders’ robust understanding of liberty, might this also be true of the church? And might the future of the church as the “free people” of God be just as much at risk as the American republic? Is the crisis of the church in America today at least partly a crisis of freedom that stems from a distorted vision of Christian liberty?

I believe the answer to each of these questions is yes and that the current cultural understanding of freedom has adversely affected our understanding of the gospel. In particular the problem lies with too narrow an understanding of freedom. Guinness argues that many Americans today view freedom only in negative terms, as an absence of restraint, as freedom from. But the founding fathers understood that freedom from must be complemented by positive freedom, freedom for, freedom to live with excellence, integrity, and virtue.

It is in this narrowing of the idea of freedom that we see the unfortunate impact of the broader culture on the church’s understanding of the gospel. We have now raised up several generations of Christians who have been taught that gospel liberty is freedom from.  Jesus died to liberate us from the guilt and shame of our sins, from the righteous judgment of God, from the burden of the Law, and from “the power of cancelled sin” (to use Charles Wesley’s fine phrase).

All this is wonderful, glorious, and true.  But if we stop here, our vision of the gospel is truncated, and we miss the point and purpose of Christian freedom.  In Christ we are not merely free from, we are free for. Liberty is not only negative but positive. In the gospel we are free to be like Christ, to love God and to love our neighbor.

Martin Luther framed this beautifully in his classic treatise The Freedom of a Christian.  He wrote: “The Christian is the perfectly free lord of all subject to none. The Christian is the perfectly dutiful servant of all subject to all.” This is the paradox of true freedom:  it is not absolute but constrained by our duty to others. Negative freedom  is joined with positive freedom (love for the neighbor).

Many Christians are pretty well convinced on the issue of negative freedom.  We have left most of our legalisms behind. We feel less guilty about our weaknesses and transgressions. We are less concerned about judgment. But it seems to me that we are also more self-focused and more narcissistic than we used to be. The divorce rate in evangelical churches is as high as or higher than the surrounding culture.  Consumerism and consumer debt is just a much a problem. Addictions of various sorts are also no stranger to our churches.

It seems then that the common view of Christian freedom is not sustainable. Freedom understood only as freedom from ultimately turns inward (freedom for me) and collapses upon itself. Sustainable Christian freedom must be focused outward. It is the freedom to be what God intends us to be. It is the liberty to follow Jesus, to love our neighbors, and to be people known for justice and compassion.

Os Guinness believes the American people need to return to the foundational ideas of the republic. So must the church hear again the full message of gospel freedom.


Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary. He has been married to Sharon for 42 years. They have four grown children and six grand children. 


 

   

Written by Dave Dunbar Friday, 11 January 2013 00:00

A recent book by Os Guinness (A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future [IVP, 2012]) raises the significant question whether the great American experiment with freedom has a sustainable future. The title of the book suggests that the endurance of the republic is questionable, and this is what the author believes.

The problem for America, says Guinness, is not external threats but internal. The title of the book builds off a powerful quote from Abraham Lincoln:  “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.  As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” Freedom is sustainable, but only if those who are free give careful and continuing attention to the nature of freedom and those qualities that promote the health of a free society.

Guinness writes from a wide knowledge of classical authors and the writings of America’s founding fathers. He faults contemporary Americans for a lack of historical perspective and an inattention to the character and conditions which allow freedom to flourish. “Freedom can no more take a holiday from history than from gravity, and the plain fact is that it is harder to be free than not to be free, for freedom’s fire has not only to be lit once but must be kindled and rekindled all over again in each succeeding generation.”

One of the great omissions that Guinness finds in the current understanding of freedom is that Americans (both liberal and conservative) generally understand liberty as negative freedom, i.e. freedom from oppression, fear, constraint, tradition, etc.  Negative freedom is a fundamental component of what the Founders fought for, but it is a part, not the whole. Negative freedom must be balanced by positive freedom, which is not merely freedom from but freedom for.  Negative freedom alone ultimately degenerates and becomes bondage for individuals or societies. So unlimited freedom to indulge any and every type of behavior leads to a culture of addictions, and unlimited freedom to buy leads to a culture of debt.

But the founders understood that freedom is not absolute.   Freedom must be ordered; hence, the Constitution and the balance of powers.  But structure alone will not preserve freedom.  To structure must be added character or virtue, both in the private citizen and in the public leader. As Benjamin Franklin formulated it:  “No longer virtuous, no longer free; is a maxim as true with regard to a private person as a Commonwealth.” And John Adams wrote, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue. . . .” Liberty therefore is nurtured among people of character. Guinness states, “Freedom is not the permission to do what we like but the power to do what we should.”

A question then arises: what is the source of virtue? Guinness answers that the framers of the Constitution were clear also on this point:  virtue requires (some sort of) faith. This is true even for Deists like Franklin or Jefferson.  So these three--freedom, virtue, and faith--are intertwined and interdependent; together they form what Guinessn calls the golden triangle of liberty.

In America today a lack of understanding and appreciation for this interdependence puts the grand experiment at risk. We are naïve to assume that freedom will simply maintain itself by a kind of historical inertia. This book is a clear call to reinvigorate the public discussion of “first things” with careful attention to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.  Much is at stake. Guinness not only warns of decline, but charts a path toward renewal. May the call be heeded!
 

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.

   

Written by Susan Disston Thursday, 10 January 2013 00:00

January is often a time for new beginnings. If deepening your awareness of the need for justice in your community or around the globe is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, I recommend Bethany Hoang’s powerful booklet called Deepening the Soul for Justice (IVP, 2012). It’s published in a print edition and an e-book edition, the latter being particularly desirable if you want to ponder the message of this devotional text throughout the day.

The book starts with a gentle admonition to seek the God of justice first before taking on major tasks and projects to act against injustice. Bethany points her readers to Psalm 1. The psalm is a description of how to be rooted in God and drink deeply of God’s living water. The psalm shows how rooted lives are anchored in God’s purposes, and Bethany explains how spiritually grounded people are better able to discern their preparedness for difficult work. “For followers of Jesus, the difference between a pursuit of justice that brings transformation for real people suffering real violence and a pursuit of justice that amounts to little more than good intentions is simple—perhaps even simpler than we want it to be. The difference is found at our starting point, every single day.” (p. 7)

The purpose of Bethany’s devotional is to provide her readers with a prayer-bathed pathway that prepares the soul for fighting injustice or other kinds of difficult work. The pathway she proposes is a personal journey with God in prayer. The journey strikes me as being a loop, so that each point is revisited again and again as a rhythm of life. There are six points on the loop are:  Stop, See, Choose, Ask, Proclaim, and Remember.

Each point is a kind of Sabbath rest where seekers are invited to meet with God, to listen to God’s Word and listen for God’s Spirit, to be honest about the self before God, and to be reoriented to the truth. “As we open ourselves to understand justice as it originates in the character of God, and open ourselves to understand how God would call us to respond in faith each day of our lives, we will likely come across stories that will create an ideal in our minds as to what our justice action ‘should’ look like … But the Scripture teaches us that there is not one sole way to do justice or one unique role that is more important than the others.” (p. 24)

Bethany reminds her readers that the difficult work of fighting injustice is a daily choice toward hope, that it is asking God to act, and that it is praising God in all things.  It is also about telling the stories of what God has done. Combined, the six points provide the strength to continue around the loop again and again as justice is pursued. “Both the work of justice itself and the daily work of discerning our roles in God’s movement of justice require thoughtful rhythms that will serve to sustain us and form each of us individually and as a body into the very likeness of Christ.” (p. 9)

The booklet includes thoughtful study questions for individuals or groups. Bethany compelling demonstrates that Christians can find the strength of heart and depth of soul to do difficult work. Deepening the Soul for Justice is available from IVP.


Susan Disston is assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

   

Written by Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 09 January 2013 00:00

On Friday, December 14, a gunman walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of them children ages 6-7. All day long, I heard the emerging details of horror over the news. Then, that night, our family attended our 6-year-old son’s school Christmas concert, and watched children, many of them ages 6-7, sing worship songs to God who was born to us as a little baby boy.

In one single day, I was confronted both with news of unspeakable horror, and with news of great joy and hope--both involving little children. Both news was true. This world is wonderful and beautiful, filled with amazing joy and grace, but this world is also terribly and horribly broken, filled with incredible suffering and sorrow. Perhaps none could tell us better than the children. The gospel message of Christ declares both sets of news are, indeed, true.

I was thankful for the Christmas concert, because it enabled me to see this atrocity and all the other atrocities that go on in our fallen world through the lens of the Advent. Our world and our hearts were so lost in darkness that God himself needed to come and save us into his light. All the great Christmas hymns say so:

  • 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...

There have been a few things I’ve been meditating on since the shooting. The conversation about gun control and right to bear arms that comes up in times like this is an important one to have for us as a society. But for this post’s purposes, I’ve focused on some other things.

One has to do with my own participation in the fallenness of this world, and the need for my own redemption. The first reaction I had to the news from Connecticut was one of revulsion: “What kind of a sick, demented person would do this?” But that is too easy. It is a way of depersonalizing this evil as something “out there,” apart from me.

But if we are truly honest, if we have been attentive to the signs that crop up again and again in our lives, we have to admit that the seeds of death and horror live within our hearts too. I’m thinking of the anger, the frustration, the feeling that you’re the victim, the self-centeredness. You may know that you are a sinner in theory, but from time to time the doctrine of depravity actually comes to life, in our angry words of retaliation, in the boasting, in the put-downs, in the complaints of “Why me?”, and in the unnecessarily angry yelling at the kids.

These dark forces don’t always come out full-blown, thank God, but we know they’re there, lurking in the shadows of our own hearts. So the gunman is in a way a reflection of our flesh. It’s terrifying to admit that, but it’s what the Bible teaches, and it accords with our own experience. We are wonderful and beautiful in many ways, but we’re also broken and capable of so much fallenness. We need a redemption that is much deeper than a tighter hug for our children. We are in need of confession and repentance for our own fallenness. As the saints of old have prayed, “Forgive us my sins and the sins of my people.” 

Two has to do with how this shooting is, tragically, not all that extraordinary. This particular mass shooting was especially a shocker because the victims were young children. But we forget that mass horrors against children occur everyday all around the world.

We think of the civil wars in Congo and Syria. We think of suicide bombings in Iraq. We think of casualties of war in Afghanistan. Closer to home, we think of young people’s lives, many of them small children, lost to violence in our inner city neighborhoods. Some have wondered why the loss of the lives in Connecticut have provoked more outpouring of emotion and support than the losses experienced in other places.

The Newtown shooting was an evil that should not have been, but so are the acts of violence committed against children everyday all around the world (or even close by in our own cities) that too often go unnoticed and unmarked by many of us. Evil should never become banal; tragically, it has, except for a few stories here and there that capture our attention for different reasons.

May the Newtown shooting awaken God’s people to the horrors of our world, break our hearts, and give us fuel for petitioning the Lord persistently for justice and shalom to finally reign, instead of going back to business as usual. The message of the Advent is one of God who came to war against the evil going on everyday in our world, not one of inoculating us with a sentimental message of peace, peace, when there is no peace.

Three, God is not immune from violence. More accurately, he willingly condescended to share in our suffering at the hands of violence. We remember the slaughter of the innocents at the hands of a power-hungry King Herod. We remember the torture of the Messiah at the hands of soldiers. We remember the cross where God experienced a violent death and the violent loss of a loved One.

But we also cannot forget the empty tomb and the Spirit that the risen Christ has given his Church so we may struggle against the kingdom of darkness. We cannot forget the new world coming where death will have died its final death.

The Advent reminds us of all this and much more. There is a deep mystery to the message that God became flesh and blood so that it can be broken and it can be shed for the sake of rescuing us from this world of violence.

So seeing those children sing songs of worship to the baby Savior, that night after a day of darkness, gave me reason to be thankful in the midst of our brokenness; to strengthen my resolve in the struggle against the darkness in the world and in my heart; and to worship the God who came down to a world such as this. We don’t need to turn away from the horrors that inhabit our world and our hearts. Instead, we go to the Star of the Advent, and receive healing, hope, and courage. We are sent back into our violent world to be his light until his return.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission.

   

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