11/07/2010 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Larry C. ~
In this 2nd part on the Dangers of Biblical Counseling, I want to examine the "biblical" brain-washing I received from multiple outlets of the fundamentalist/evangelical church world I found myself in following my experience with Ruth and Dr. Bob. What follows are a list of some of the main influences which conditioned my mind to only seek Biblical Counseling for the woman I met in the Spring of 1980 who would become my wife. I will tell her story in Part 3 of this series.
First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga,TN
After his attempted failed exorcism of my girlfriend Ruth, the distinguished Dr. Bob introduced me to the world of fundamentalist Presbyterianism. He recommended I check out the young adult Christian Coffee House operated by First Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the very conservative Presbyterian Church in America denomination) in downtown Chattanooga. I went and I loved it! I was befriended by church members and felt very welcomed. Most were attending our local state university and had plans for various professional careers. I found the young adults there were interested in evangelizing others for Christ too, but unlike my experience in my childhood blue-collar Baptist church, were OK sipping a glass of white wine while they did it! Whereas my Baptist church was made up of "squares," the folks at First Pres were "cool Christians" who didn't have many of the petty cultural hang-ups about dress, entertainment and other restrictions that the Baptists did.
Coming from a Baptist church where my pastor only had a High School diploma, attending "First Pres" was a major climb up the social ladder for me. At First church I listened to finely crafted sermons by its Senior Pastor, Ben Haden. And unlike the highly emotional and apocalyptic preaching I sat under at my childhood Baptist church, Haden's preaching was aimed at converting the upper-classes. His sermons, in a very subtle manner, communicated the same fundamentalist theology I had been taught in my Baptist church, but Ben's presentation was verbal finery: smooth, intellectual and reflective. He packed First Presbyterian's large sanctuary for three decades. He also had a nation-wide radio ministry and was an "asssociate evangelist" with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
I was also impressed when I read who made up The Board of Elders at First church. It was a Who's-Who of the most influential people of Chattanooga of the 1970s: medical doctors; lawyers; the heads of the major industries in our city and professors from the local university. In other words: the conclusion I had drawn earlier based on my Baptist church experience, that only poorly educated folks were fundamentalist, was shattered by what I encountered at First Pres. Through my attempt to help my girlfriend Ruth, I had stumbled upon the world of upper-class Presbyterian styled evangelicalism. A world I did not even know existed when I was an independent Baptist. Many of the members of my Baptist church worked on the factory assemble-lines in town. The members at First Presbyterian owned the factory!
I loved First Pres and it further reinforced in my mind that the Bible is all one needs to know to deal with life and its problems. I saw all these highly educated, sophisticated and successful people endorse the same fundamentalist theology and reverence for the Bible.
In the early 1970s you had within evangelicalism the beginnings of the "Christian Counseling", or "Biblical Counseling", movement. It was largely started by Jay Adams, the professor of Practical Theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He was gaining a following among evangelicals as he cranked out books proposing that believers ditch all forms of psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy and instead only use the Bible. Adams said that any believer, armed with a knowledge of the scriptures, could effectively "counsel" other Christians with emotional difficulties. Adams saw many emotional/mental health problems as evidence of moral conflict within a person. In other words, there was sin in their life and they needed to repent and get forgiven.
Gene Spriggs and The Vine House
Before she left town, Ruth had introduced me to Chattanooga's own Jesus People commune of the early 1970's: The Vine House. She attended their Bible studies and volunteered at their restaurant - The Yellow Deli - while she attended Tennessee Temple College.
The Vine House was started by a Prodigal Son of Chattanooga, Gene Spriggs. Gene had spent much of his twenties partying hard until he hit bottom and rededicated himself to the fundamentalist faith of his childhood. Spriggs had a degree in Psychology from The University of Tennessee and had worked in management and sales. Once he returned to his faith, he was effective in bridging the generation gap with his easy-going manner, long-hair and affable persona. He could talk the language of the kids on the street and also with the middle-age business professionals in the community who supported his efforts to establish a para-church ministry to convert the lost hippies hordes to Christ.
Gene emphasized God's love, grace and forgiveness in his messages. There was no judgment or condemnation. However, like First Presbyterian, lurking beneath all this positive talk about God's love, was the same fundamentalist message about the reality of hell-fire for those who do not accept Christ and the absolute authority of the Bible. If someone had a problem, they were to talk with their spiritual elders, pray and read and apply the Bible. The Vine House never sent any of their hippie burn-outs to area local counseling agencies for help.
Kay Arthur and Reach-Out Ranch
(now Precept Ministries International)
Since Kay Arthur was the original person I had talked to in trying to get help for my girlfriend Ruth, I started attending her weekly Bible studies at Reach-Out Ranch (now Precept International Ministries).
Kay made the Bible come alive. She taught me "the inductive bible study method," in which one simply tries to deduce form the actual text of scripture its meaning and application. It is the essential "devotional" approach to Bible study that evangelicals are good at. It totally ignores the deeper historical contextual issues in which a particular book of the Bible was written, and dismisses any questions about contradictions by scoffing at how a feeble and finite human being can dare to question God's very Word! Kay, in one of her many books, writes:
"When two or more truths that are clearly taught
in the Word seem to be in conflict, remember that
you as a human have a finite mind. . . Let God
say what He says without trying to correct or
explain Him. Remember, He's God -- you're man.
Simply humble your heart in faith and believe what
God says, even if you can't understand or reconcile
it at the moment." (How To Study The Bible, p. 62)
Kay very sweetly would inject into her messages some very over-the-top claims about the scriptures absolute sufficiency for any and all problems:
"The Bible tells us everything we need to know
about life" "How To Study Your Bible," p. 7.
"The Bible contains all the truth you will ever
need for any situation in life (2 Peter 1:3)"
"How to Study Your Bible," p. 62.
"The Bible is one revelation without contradiction"
"How To Study Your Bible," p. 73.
Kay is still a very classy, funny and a personable speaker. During the mid-1970s, I sat listening to her claims about the Bible and never once questioned what she was saying. Why should I? She had a Bible verse to support everything!
The Evangelical Christian Bookstore
During the 1973 - 1980 time period I was also visiting area evangelical Christian bookstores in order to get a better understanding of my re-discovered evangelical faith. I found from different authors that evangelical-fundamentalist Christianity has a dim view of the secular world of professional counseling and mental health. The basic claim made in these anti-psychotherapy-but-pro-Biblical-Counseling screeds was that there was no need for God's people to go to a "secular" psychotherapist because the pastor or dedicated lay-persons can minister better to the needs of an individual than some Christ-denying therapist. In the Martin and Deidre Bobgan book, How to Counsel From Scripture, they express this very sentiment:
"The Word of God... (is) sufficient to transform
the problems of living and can do so with no help
from psychological theories" (p. 8).
And this beauty:
"How strange that psychotherapists have been
elevated to the position of expertise in matters
of living. . . The church can certainly better
assume the responsibility of teaching individuals
how to live. . . The church has the Scriptures and
believers who can minister love in mercy and
truth. . . Ministers should not send members of
their flock elsewhere for counsel, nor should they
try to emulate psychological counselors" (p.7)
I said all this to say this: from 1973 when I converted back to my fundamentalist faith, to 1980 when I married my then Christian girlfriend, I had it pounded into my brain the same message from many evangelical ministers:
- That the Bible alone was all one needs to deal with problems of living: trust and follow what it tells you to do.
- Stay away from those "secular humanist" psychotherapists. The "Great Physicain" will heal every hurt if you will just bring our cares to "Him" and be patient.
- If one doesn't appear to be getting better, then God is perhaps testing you to see how "faithful" you will be in the face of adversity; or, God is purging the "dross" from one's life so He can use you for some greater service in the future!(How exciting! God has a special mission for me!) Just hang on and keep trusting and believing! God will eventually use your trial in order to "Glorify" Himself (which now sounds to me to be very narcissitic of God!)
In Part 3 of this rant, I will tell how all this "biblical" teaching and brain-washing that I received from First Presbyterian, Kay Arthur, The Vine House, anti-therapy evangelical writers, and many others from 1973 - 1980, set me up for making a huge mistake for which I am still paying for thirty years later.
See you next time!