The Sufficiency of Scripture
There is a great debate raging in Christian counseling circles over the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. While most Christian counselors profess belief in the inspiration of the Bible, many seem reluctant to trust the Scripture to speak authoritatively to their counseling profession.
Some prefer to view themselves as Christians who do counseling. Their approach and technique is essentially secular. They have little desire to make their counseling distinctively Christian. This may be because of the nature of their training or the setting in which they do their counseling. In addition, many Christians work for secular organizations that prefer to keep religion out of the counseling process.
Others feel very free to share their personal testimony and beliefs as part of their self-disclosure to their clients. But beyond this, they are reluctant to present their clients with a distinctively Christian view of their personal attitudes and behaviors.
Many Christian counselors today actively encourage the integration of psychology and theology as being essential to a more adequate approach to counseling that is genuinely Christian in nature. Some, like Dr Mark McMinn of Wheaton College, are also calling for a better understanding of the whole development of the spiritual life as a further aspect of effective integration. McMinn’s book Psychology, Theology and Spirituality1 has certainly broken new and important ground in this regard.
Then there are those of us who prefer to position ourselves as “biblical counselors.” We strongly believe that theology (biblical truth) is the final determinant of the counseling process. We have often called for a more biblical and theological assessment of the validity or non-validity of psychological theories, practices, and techniques. No one has made this more clear than Jay Adams in his many works, including Competent to Counsel and More Than Redemption.2
Unfortunately, the posturing that took place in the early days of the Christian counseling movement tended to pit various proponents at such odds with one another that those on opposite sides of the debate often wrote one another off entirely. A person does not have to read many books on Christian counseling to discover that those who preferred a stronger biblical position were often viewed as less than credible in their approach to counseling.3
Complicating matters even further is the widespread and diverse nature of the current Christian counseling enterprise. A recent article in Christianity Today included a chart entitled “The Roots and Shoots of Christian Psychology,” which touched off a storm of criticism in the Letters to the Editor column in the subsequent issue.4 Almost half of the individuals whose names appeared in various categories on the chart wrote back to object to where and how they were included in the chart.
Ironically, the “Roots and Shoots” chart had secular psychology as the roots to the Christian psychology tree! The chart included some people who were grossly misplaced. But most telling of all were the omissions – such as Jay Adams, Tim LaHaye, Bill Gothard, biblical counselors in general, or Liberty University, which has the largest fully accredited counseling training program of any evangelical institution in the world!
WHY THE SUFFICIENCY DEBATE?
Psychology and theology have never been comfortable bedfellows. Their basic philosophical presuppositions are almost diametrically opposed to each other. Psychology rests upon a secular (humanistic or naturalistic) view of man’s problems and the solution to those problems, and theology rests upon a biblical view of man and his problems. The basic anthropology (view of man) of psychology and theology is at opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum.
In many ways, John MacArthur and Wayne Mack are correct when they refer to “Christian psychology” as an “oxymoron” and secular psychology as a “pseudo-science.”5 At the heart of the sufficiency debate are the claims of Scripture versus the claims of psychology. Both presume to speak to the fundamental human condition and to suggest a cure for the inner conflicts in the souls of men. The way a person differentiates between psychological and biblical analysis determines the assessment that person makes of people, their problems, and the solutions to those problems.
The term psychology literally means “the study of the soul.” Prior to Sigmund Freud’s influence, psychology was largely viewed as a spiritual discipline. But Freud recast and redefined psychology in secular terms of human behavior.
Concepts like right, wrong, morality, immorality, obedience, and disobedience were soon replaced by terms like repression, regression, and ego formation. Psychologists began probing the unconscious mind instead of conscious behavior. Patients began to be analyzed and categorized, while biblical analyses and categories were discarded as irrelevant at best and incorrect at worst.
The “war” was on! Non-Christian secular psychologists virtually declared war on religion. Freud labeled it a form of neurosis, calling himself “a completely godless Jew” and a “hopeless pagan.”6 In many ways, Freud became the Father of the Great Psychological Excuse.
The psychologizing of modern culture is now a reality. As a result, the victim motif is so entrenched in our national thinking that the most blatant crimes are often excused by blaming the bad behavior on the failure of the parents, friends, society, and even religion to meet the perpetrator’s inner personal needs. Individual behavior is viewed as incidental. Society is asked to focus on the consequences rather than the causes of its ills. Welfare has replaced human responsibility. We are told that we need more abortion clinics, more condom distribution, and more aid to dependent children. But we dare not raise the “politically incorrect” cry for repentance, abstinence, or morality.
THE EVANGELICAL LOVE AFFAIR WITH PSYCHOLOGY
Despite the glaring contradictions between secular psychology and biblical theology, the evangelical church has had a thirty year love affair with psychology. MacArthur observed that “evangelicalism is infatuated with psychotherapy. Emotional and psychological disorders supposedly requiring prolonged analysis have become almost fashionable.”7
Why has this shift occurred? First, we must blame the modern church itself. Alien and anti-Christian ideologies have come and gone for centuries. But today’s church is almost devoid of a clear-cut theology of any kind. Sermons are punctuated with a conglomeration of conflicting ideas regarding the very nature and task of the church itself. Christians in search of solutions for their problems have brought them into a theologically illiterate church that has accepted those insights unwittingly and uncritically.
Second, we must recognize the failure of the twenty-first-century church to make the Scripture relevant to the needs of individuals and families. It was not uncommon twenty to thirty years ago for people to attend church regularly but never hear a biblically relevant message on such issues as dating, marriage, family, divorce, singleness, or even personal spiritual growth. A number of popular Christian speakers and writers (such as Clyde Narramore, Henry Brandt, Tim LaHaye, Bill Gothard, and James Dobson) noticed this v
acuum and began ministering to those in need. Soon terms like “Christian counselor” or “Christian psychologist” began to appear and found acceptability within Christian circles. Christianity Today recently observed that “popularizers such as authors James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and Larry Crabb convinced a whole generation of evangelicals that God cared about their psyches as well as their souls, opening the door for a marriage between theology and therapeutic thought.”8
As a result, the church became involved in a debate over methodology in counseling. Jay Adams called for theologically trained counselors to fill the vacuum. Larry Crabb replied that it would take more than theology to fix damaged psyches and argued for better psychological training. Paul Meier and Frank Minirth began popularizing Christian psychiatry. Eventually, addiction recovery models became popular in evangelical circles. More and more Christians began seeking professional licensure in order to guarantee third-party insurance payments for their counseling services. The Christian counseling movement exploded, with clinics popping up everywhere: Rapha, Alpha Care, Minirth-Meier, and so on. Christian call-in programs came to fill the radio dial. Myriad books have been written. Counseling advice became available everywhere.
But with this explosion came some nagging questions that remained unresolved:
– Were theology and psychology really compatible?
– Did psychological labels really help people understand their struggles or merely excuse them?
– Was all this counseling really helping change people?
– How could psychologically trained counselors receive adequate biblical and theological training?
– Without biblical and theological training, how could Christian psychological counselors adequately deal with issues such as marriage, divorce, or child-rearing?
In response to those questions, Dr Gary Collins, a leader in the Christian counseling movement, has admitted, “There are a number of people who have graduate school training in psychology, but Sunday school training in theology!”9
We recently received a letter from a graduate student, who explained that he had to “set aside” his “previous training” at an evangelical institution to focus on the issues of conversion and character formation with a counselee who simply needed to “come to Christ.” “That was one issue,” he said, “no one ever dealt with in all my counseling training!”
From the time the Christian counseling movement began on up through today, the basic issues in the sufficiency debate have remained the same: If the Bible is really sufficient to meet man’s needs, why do we need psychology? If psychology is sufficient, why do we need God or the Bible? Even so-called “integrationist” approaches – which profess to combine both the Bible and psychology – have not fully answered these basic questions.
Several key issues are still at stake in this debate:
1. How can secular training be viewed as adequate for counseling and theological training viewed as inadequate?
2. Can Sunday school “theology” adequately prepare Christian professionals to make intelligent theological judgments?
3. Why should Christian counselors abandon the Bible when many secularists actually applaud the Bible?
4. Are we not undermining our evangelical belief in biblical inerrancy by denying the sufficiency of Scripture counseling?
5. How can we properly evaluate the challenges of multiculturalism and political correctness without a proper theological basis?
6. How does a person reconcile his own theology with competing theologies and remain consistent in his or her counseling?
7. Why should Christian counselors not offer to pray with their clients when many Christian doctors are now actively following this practice in the medical field?
THE DICHOTOMY BETWEEN BELIEF AND PRACTICE
What has happened to the modern Christian professional? Whether in the counseling professions, the practice of medicine, or in research, ministry, or education, many Christian professionals have adopted the modern mindset of the world in which they live and have been trained. Theologian John Murray rightly observed that we need to “beware of the controlling framework of modern thinking lest its patterns and presuppositions become our own, and then, before we know it, we are carried away by a current of thought and attitudes that makes the sufficiency and finality of Scripture not only extraneous but akin to our way of thinking.”10
An interesting dichotomy has arisen in the church today. During the 1970s a very successful organization developed under the leadership of James Montgomery Boice and several others: the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. This organization produced a cohesive, scholarly, and distilled document that cogently states the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Shortly after the final document was issued, it became evident that evangelicals could not relax in their defense of the Bible because the battle soon shifted its focus to the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Today there is a dichotomy in the church on two levels. First, we have a church that professes to believe the Bible is inerrant, but it is not sufficient for matters of faith and life. It is not difficult to find evidence of this dichotomy. Survey, for example, the extracurricular offerings in many churches. On Sunday morning these churches uphold the Bible and its message of salvation through faith in Christ, but during the rest of the week there is a smorgasbord of self-help groups that meet to aid the Christian in his struggles with anything from worry to homosexuality. If you attend any of these self-help groups, you will discover that many offer advice that does not even come close to being biblical in nature. There is a dichotomy between the pulpit and the self-help groups, seminars, and classrooms within our own local churches.
Second, we have a church that professes to believe in an inerrant Bible that is sufficient for justification, but not for sanctification. Sid Galloway, who works closely with counselors in hospital settings, gave an example of this at a recent counseling convention. He reported about a conversation he had with one of his co-workers about the issue of biblical sufficiency. At one point Sid said, “I know you believe the Bible is sufficient for justification, but do you believe it is sufficient for sanctification?” After some discussion, the co-worker admitted that he did not believe that the Bible was sufficient for sanctification.
This dilemma is not true for all psychologists who are Christians. Psychologist Chris Thurman writes:
Obviously…God helps us by providing truth in the form of His Word, the Bible. We don’t have to wonder what the most important truths (true truth) in life are because God divinely inspired mortal man to write them down for our enlightenment and application. In a world where so much nonsense is passed off as wisdom, we don’t have to be confused or in the dark about what truth is. If people need the truth to be set free, the Bible is God’s way of giving us the truths we must believe for true freedom in life.11
The focus among evangelicals has shifted from inerrancy to sufficiency, and this shift has created a dichotomy with profound effects. The logical implication of this dichotomy is the concept that the Bible is sufficient to gain passage into heaven, but it is insufficient to deal with life on this earth.
THE PSYCHOLOGIZING OF EVANGELICALISM
How has the evangelical community arrived at this point? There
are a number of factors that have contributed to the current dilemma. It is not the purpose of this book to trace the historical development of our present crisis; however, there is one issue that is essential to consider. It is the issue of scientific methodology, which has been extremely beneficial to the human community. There is no one alive today who would voluntarily wish to return to the prescientific era. The technology available to us in the medical sciences alone is cause for us to rejoice that the Lord has allowed us to live in this day and age. But many have endeavored to adapt scientific methodology to the social sciences, bringing about an unfortunate side effect. These individuals have given psychology the aura of the exactness of biology, chemistry, and the other hard sciences. This supposed credibility has too often translated debatable findings into truth. Phenomenological observations have become laws. “It seems to be true that…” has become “it is true that…” Unfortunately, many times it has been Christians who have been more prone to “deify” these findings, and not the secular community.
It is not uncommon today to hear Christians substantiating the concepts of psychology. Many Christians accept these concepts without any comprehension of whether they are biblically valid. For example, it is quite common to hear a Christian say, “I am a recovering alcoholic,” or “I am co-dependent.” They accept these conditions as having the same credibility as the substitutionary atonement of Christ. In doing so, these Christians embrace symptoms as conditions and end up locking themselves into living with these symptoms for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, they never learn to deal with the root problem of their symptoms, which is sin.
IS INTEGRATION DESIRABLE?
One popular writer has advocated “spoiling the Egyptians.”12 By this he means that Christians should take from the social sciences whatever “truth” has been discovered and bring it into their schema of Christian counseling. No doubt this writer intended to simply use this figure of speech in an allegorical sense. However, the allegory fails to do justice to the clear meaning of the biblical text from which the concept is taken. In the biblical text (Exodus 12:35–36), this spoiling of the Egyptians was clearly a matter of borrowing material things, not socio-cultural concepts. In fact, when the Israelites did borrow such concepts they built a golden calf and an idol, and God punished them for it.
Several years ago, apologist and theologian Cornelius Van Til astutely anticipating the sufficiency debate, drew from the Scripture an illustration that is consistent with sound biblical exegesis and warned against turning to the world for any basis of knowledge. He wrote:
To illustrate our attitude to modern science and its methodology we call to mind the story of Solomon and the Phoenicians. Solomon wished to build a temple to the covenant God. Did he ask those who were not of the covenant to make a blueprint for him? No, he got his blueprint from God. …But was there nothing useful to do for those who were not of the covenant? Not at all. The Phoenicians were even recognized as being far more skillful than the covenant people in fashioning and trimming the timbers… Solomon used the Phoenicians as his servants, not his architects. Something similar to this should be our attitude to science. We gladly recognize the detail work of many scientists (yes, even social scientists) as being highly valuable… But we cannot use modern science and their methods as the architects of our structures of Christian interpretation.13
When Van Til speaks of Christian interpretation, he is not talking about the interpretation of Scripture, though his premise also applies there, but rather about the Christian interpretation of life. All the sciences, especially the social sciences, are very much involved in the interpretation of life. When Carl Rogers worked with a client from the viewpoint that the client had within him the answer(s) to his problems, he was interpreting life. When Maslow set before us the goal of self-actualizing, he was interpreting life. When Aaron Beck and a host of other cognitive-behavioral therapists saw the change of cognitive structure and structured behavioural change as the key solution to life problems, they were interpreting life.
Van Til’s position becomes poignant when we begin to realize that the adoption and adaption of the non-Christian conceptions of life, whether derived philosophically or through scientific methodology, is placing this interpretation of life on the same level as revelation.14 Yet Scripture indicates that it alone is capable of making the person of God adequate (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Only the Bible can fully equip a Christian and enable him to perform every good work (that includes conducting one’s life and profession within acceptable limits – the limits of Christlike character).
As we were doing research for this chapter, we observed an interesting phenomenon. When the church was dealing with the issues of inerrancy and authority, a number of Christian writers who took an integrationist stance wrote convincingly that the Scriptures take precedence over all scientific data. There are dozens of volumes available on the inerrancy debate. But ever since the church’s focus shifted from inerrancy to sufficiency, very little has been written in support of Scripture’s preeminence. A literature review of the last ten years yielded several articles by John MacArthur, which were variations on his book Our Sufficiency in Christ (1991). Other resources included How to Help People Change by Jay Adams (1986); The Sufficiency of Scripture by Noel Weeks (1988); Psychology, Theology and Spirituality by Mark McMinn (1996); and Self-Help or Self- Destruction? by Chris Thurman (1996). There have been numerous articles on integration, but we expected to find many articles on sufficiency, and the discovery that so little had been written heightened our determination to produce this book.
THE ISSUE AT STAKE
It is important in this discussion to understand that the essence of this issue is not a particular school of counseling, nor a particular view of the Christian life, nor a particular theological perspective. The crux of the issue is this: When I put on my professional suit, has it been tailored by the pattern of Scripture? Does Scripture determine the parameters of my discipline? Regardless of what the evidence of my research may suggest, am I willing to subject my interpretation of that evidence to the parameters of Scripture?
In his book The Sufficiency of Scripture, Noel Weeks discusses two contemporary issues in the light of Scripture: homosexuality and divorce. He indicates that the reason the Bible is not seen to be sufficient with respect to these issues is that it is often assumed “that the writers of Scripture did not have the advantage of the knowledge of our day.”15 After some lengthy discussion of the implications of this premise, Weeks draws the following conclusion:
If we believe that people are not responsible for their actions and that people cannot be changed, then we will not have any real incentive for trying to help such cases. If we believe that God does not act in this world, then we will believe that people cannot be changed… If there is no hope for change, then there is no hope for marriages in difficulty or for homosexuals.16
The Christian interpretation of life is what is at stake. Is Scripture sufficient to interpret life? For example, is S
cripture sufficient to understand the behaviors we call schizophrenia or homosexuality? Can the Bible help a Christian to change his behavior so that he becomes both an obedient Christian and a socially acceptable individual? Is Scripture sufficient to provide a framework out of which the biochemist or the geneticist can work? Is God’s Word sufficient to provide a structure for the use of the knowledge that is learned within each given science?
In an endeavor to answer these questions, we approached a variety of Christian professionals and asked each of them to write on the sufficiency of Scripture for the parameters of their disciplines. You might readily expect the representatives of some of these disciplines to affirm such a proposition – for example, pastors Dr Benton or Dr Dobson. However, there are many men in evangelical ministry today who do not practice the sufficiency of Scripture for the parameters of their disciplines. Some of the contributors, such as biochemist Dr Madtes and biologist Dr Hyndman, may surprise you. Our intent in selecting these various authors was to drive home the reality that regardless of our vocation, Scripture must be the superior guide. In addition, we selected a larger number of contributors in the social sciences than in other areas because this is the field in which there is the greatest confusion and compromise among Christians. Writers like Jay Adams, Paul Vitz, William Kirkpatrick, and Ed Bulkley have addressed the problem with a broad stroke; we hope this more focused contribution will provide more substantive answers specifically related to the sufficiency debate.
Some people may suggest that our view of sufficiency invalidates any use of scientific methodology in the social setting. A careful reading of the essays, however, will show this is not true. We invite both groups of critics to enter this debate so that the role of the Scriptures in relation to human behavior and healing can be clearly and effectively articulated. With the exploding numbers of Christians who counsel – biblical counselors and Christian counselors – and the growing sophistication of these disciplines both in terms of professional associations and state licensure, it is imperative that counselors address the matter of the Scripture’s sufficiency. The same imperative exists for other professions. For example, the biochemical researcher faces various ethical issues in his or her work. How can those issues be adequately addressed without a sufficient word from God on such matters?
Ultimately, we believe in the sufficiency and the subjecting of all humanly derived knowledge to the scrutiny of the Scriptures. We unhesitatingly call upon Christians involved in the counseling fields to reclaim their biblical heritage and to construct their theory and practice of counseling in the light of biblical truth. Fads and theories come and go, but the Word of God abides forever. God does not call us to be trendy, but truthful. Not fashionable, but faithful. His Word promises to provide us “everything pertaining to life” (2 Peter 1:3). Either it does, or it doesn’t. Either it is totally sufficient or utterly insufficient.
Although there is a wide diversity in the professions represented by the contributors to this book, there is an exceptional common thread that binds these authors and their professions together. Each writer has professed a commitment to the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Scriptures. At the same time, you will notice that not all the contributors have equally worked out the implications of their commitment. You may even find yourself questioning a specific contributor’s commitment to sufficiency. However, we do not find such a criticism to be a threat to the premise of this book. Rather, we welcome the challenges that will help each of us to better refine the implications of our commitment to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. And we trust that you will welcome the useful insights of those Christian writers who may still be struggling with a commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. We ourselves warmly acknowledge the scholarship, the Christian commitment, the genuine care, and the effectiveness of those Christian professionals who have not come to a full appreciation of the sufficiency of God’s Word. We recognize that many sincere believers are struggling with this issue, and our hope is that this work will help people on both sides of the debate to see more clearly exactly what role Scripture plays in our lives.
1 Mark R. McMinn, Psychology, Theology and Spirituality in Christian Counseling (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996). McMinn is to be commended for the spirit and tone of this volume as well as its practical application to specific counseling cases.
2 See Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970); The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1973); More Than Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1979); The Use of Scripture in Counseling (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975).
3 See, for example, Larry Crabb, Understanding People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), pp. 54–58, 129. Crabb refers to biblical counseling as “a nonthinking and simplistic understanding of life and its problems… (filled with) superficial adjustments while psychotherapists, with or without biblical foundation… do a better job than the church of restoring troubled people to more effective functioning.”
4 “Roots and Shoots of Christian Psychology,” Christianity Today, 40:10 (Sept. 16, 1996), p. 77. The chart appears within the longer article “Hurting Helpers” by Steve Rabey (pp. 76–80, 108–10).
5 John MacArthur, Jr., and Wayne A. Mack, Introduction to Biblical Counseling (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994), pp. 10–12.
6 See Heinrich Meng and Ernst Freud, eds., Psychoanalysis and Faith (New York: Basic Books, 1963), pp. 63, 110.
7 John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991), p. 20.
8 Steve Rabey, “Hurting Helpers,” Christianity Today, 40:10 (Sept. 16, 1996), p. 78.
9 Gary Collins as quoted in Christianity Today, 40:10 (Sept.16, 1996), p. 80.
10 John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), p. 22.
11 Chris Thurman, Self-Help or Self-Destruction? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), p. 167.
12 Larry Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), pp. 47–52. Crabb suggests a model for Christian counseling that combines nouthetic confrontation with paraklitic comfort and exhortation (pp. 147–48).
13 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1976), p.67.
14 See Mark McMinn, Psychology, Theology and Spirituality, p. 25. Writing as a representative of the American Association of Christian Counselors, McMinn reflects on the struggle of Christian counselors on the issue of sufficiency, though he does not us
e this term. McMinn acknowledges that “a Christianized form of therapy can be built on flawed, misleading and damaging worldview assumptions.” Nevertheless, he later admits on page 34, “Most of us do not want to replace our theoretical commitments to behavioral, cognitive, psychodynamic, family systems, and other forms of therapy.”
15 Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988), p. 167.
16 ibid., p. 182.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.