The Theology of Experience: The Deceptive Support of Psychiatric Medications

Today we post the second of two articles by Dr. “Ab” Abercrombie of the Biblical Counseling Institute.

In a recent blog on the CCEF website, faculty member and author Dr. Ed Welch asks an important question for all biblical counselors: Can We Be Positive About Psychiatric Medications?” (Welch, 2012). In answering this critical question, one would assume the author’s first reference would be Scripture. Regrettably it is not. Secondly, one would assume a review of scientific research. But again, this does not exist.

To answering this question requires a biblical and theological position that is confident and sure in its formulation. This position must be built from Scripture, supported with empirical data that should confirm the truth God’s Word reveals. Good science cannot prove the Scriptures wrong!

Unfortunately, Welch does not begin with a scriptural exposition. In fact, the article doesn’t reference a single passage anywhere. Further, the author does not offer scientific findings to support his answer, even in a primary position. Instead Welch shapes his conclusion on the subjective experience of others and the wisdom of his personal observations.

Experiential theology is dangerous indeed. It allows one to define God, and therefore God’s Word, according to what is observable, emotional, and loosely measurable. “If I see it, touch it, feel it, or judge it as correct and beneficial…then it must be so.” From here it is an easy leap to the belief that what one experiences must be what God intended.

In keeping with this, Welch states that the choice to use and/or advocate the use of psychiatric medication is a matter of “wisdom.” He goes on to say “wisdom about these kinds of decisions can take different forms in different situations.” In other words, wisdom is adjustable according to the circumstance to which one is responding.

Welch goes on to deny the relevance of Scripture on the matter stating: “A divine directive would be nice: ‘do this or take this and everything will be fine.’” In this sarcastic statement he discounts the instructions in Scripture concerning the sources of depression, anxiety, madness, etc. and disregards the spiritual remedies so readily outlined in God’s Word for overcoming such ailments. The absence of Scripture’s direct reference to “medication” is not an endorsement of the world’s remedy and ignore the biblical wisdom that speaks clearly of another way.

In collecting wisdom, Welch suggests: “We confess our neediness, consider relevant biblical teaching, seek the counsel of others, make the hard decisions, learn from what helps, avoid those things that hurt, and know God-with-us.” Certainly we all must seek biblical teaching, know our neediness, and rest with God’s presence. But it suggests none of this will be clear and definitive, leaving the biblical counselor to “learn from what helps” (experience), “avoid what hurts” (observation), and “make the hard decisions” (self-determination).

In this experiential presentation of “wisdom,” Welch cites two cases from which he draws two conclusions. One man taking Ritalin found the drug to be “helpful.” His wife also noticed a “difference.” Since he considers the man to be “biblical, thoughtful, and insightful,” Welch rendered the report credible without further evidence or exploration. And what was Welch’s conclusion about the use of a stimulant medication in this case: “That’s great!”  As a result: “Biblical counseling can be positive about psychiatric medications.”

Welch then offers another experience of a man he believed to be “overmedicated” with a negative response. He then suggests that our conclusions should be based on the group we are dealing with. If there is a positive outcome (even small) we endorse. If however we observe a negative result, we must withhold our support. But: “If medication is helping, even a little, here is what we should say: ‘That’s great.’”

This entire article is strikingly lacking in biblical and/or theological references. There is not one passage of Scripture noted, nor even a reference to a biblical story, character, framework, or truth…for or against medication.

This is how psychology is practiced. Diagnosis and outcome are dependent upon subjective observation, report, and treatment response. Welch places great reliance upon the report of others and upon his own capacity to judge what truly is in the heart of the counselee along with the spiritual and physiological responses taking place.

Welch seems to have forgotten the instructions of Scripture pertaining to wisdom, discernment, and spiritual assessment:

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (Jas 1:5-6).

One has the sense Welch is filled with doubt. Endowed with the wisdom of the world he seems to vacillate and avoid a strong biblical position on the matter. He has included sources of wisdom not in keeping with this instruction, thereby confusing and confounding the conclusions reached. Like so many others writing on this issue, Welch is tossed to and fro by the winds of secular humanism, which never provides a definitive answer because every experience is relevant.

Of the world’s wisdom, James wrote: “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jas 3:15). James continues: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17).

The observational and experiential wisdom of Welch is defiled by worldly emotion and discernment and is far from pure. Peace and stability has not been its outcome. Does it not seem hypocritical to claim biblical adherence while looking for alternative justifications to partake of an aberrant source of relief?

Finally, Welch concludes he must be positive about psychiatric medication with at least two groups:

  • Psychotic people and their families. With this group Welch argues the success of medication in treating hallucinations, delusions, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. Yet again he cites no scientific evidence or biblical principle to support his stance. Then he adds: “Medication is not always successful with these symptoms, but so what.” So what! Is that really the best a scholar and counselor can offer? He then encourages family members to take such an individual to a psychiatrist and “take the medications” recommended.

I cannot argue against the short-term use of medication when there is an immediate risk of death (suicide, homicide, inability to sustain life). Even the demonic in the tombs was “chained” so he would not harm himself (Mark 5:1-5). But recognize in Scripture that eventually the chains could no longer bind the disturbed man as the “chains had been torn apart by him…” (v 3).

Chemical restraint is at best temporary…just like the chains and shackles that bound the demonic. But the cure came when the “lunatic” (Matt 17:15) encountered Jesus.

And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ”Why could we not drive it out?”  And He said to them, ”Because of the littleness of your faith…”(Matt. 17:18-20).

Our faith, as disciples and Biblicists, must not be little. When our faith in the power of Christ and the revelation of His Word falters, we venture our reliance on temporary restraint and worldly relief over true transformation. And even if one submits to the short-term restraint of self-destructive behavior, he/she must be in pursuit of the true spiritual need, rightly assessing the battle at hand.

  • Those who feel unsure, guilty or ashamed because either they are taking medication or their children are taking medication. Welch encourages this group to cast off their shame and keep taking their medication if it is helping “even a little.” Then in a stroke of arrogance and condescension, the author blames “comments from biblical counseling” for making these individuals “feel worse,” without citing a single example.

Is it remotely possible that some of these individuals feel guilty because they are guilty? How can Welch give permission to embrace the medical treatment and ignore the conflict it stirs in the heart? Is it not possible he/she has a heart condition that is stirred and conflicted when Scripture is referenced? Could it be that the individual knows he/she is in discord with Christ and relying upon a substituted and inferior remedy?

I agree and do not strive to make one feel guilty about using medication…but if they do, I seek to understand the source of their discomfort rather than simply assume they have no reason to feel guilty and ashamed. And again, the fact that one is helped “even a little” by taking the medication does not validate its appropriateness.

Very often the help one seeks is not necessarily the help one needs. By supporting chemical remedies the biblical counselor might well become a stumbling block in the work of the Holy Spirit who may be convicting, correcting, or disciplining  the believer, or drawing the unsaved to redemption.

Welch’s encouragement to parents who feel guilty for giving medication to their children is even worse. He rebukes parents for their discomfort and assumes the parent medicating his/her child has already “worked harder at your parenting than ten other parents combined.” What a dangerous assumption to make, especially when writing to the masses. Even within the intimacy of counseling and having a more complete knowledge of family dynamics, spiritual realities, and parental limitations, such a blanket release of responsibility is alarming.

Many parents will read Welch’s proclamation and conclude their idea of working harder has been sufficient…now it is acceptable to medicate. There are many more ingredients in this soup than meets the observational eye of Welch.

Welch then completes his administration of guilt free parenting by suggesting parents not compare themselves to parents with a successful child who “sits quietly, gets all A’s, does homework etc. With regard to successful outcomes with children he concludes: “Parenting probably had little to do with any of that!”

With that statement Welch conveys his truest adherence…the genetic and physiological basis of suffering. It is preordained and unaffected by biblical living, scriptural parenting, and the pursuit of sanctification. The remedy is shaped by the problem: since this must be a physical problem it requires a physical remedy. Therefore scriptural truth and the working of the Holy Spirit are insufficient…in his experience.

Scripture does not support Welch’s positive position on drugs. Science has repeatedly failed to prove the existence of the biochemical imbalances which are claimed and treated by the medical profession. But Psychology and Humanism finds any and every experience relevant, valid, pragmatically useful, and justified. There are no absolute truths about anything.

In his devotion to human wisdom, experience, observation, and discernment Welch sees himself as an expert in making relevant whatever works, to whatever degree…according to the opinion of man.

W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie is the Founder and Director of The Biblical Counseling Institute which offers training in biblical care, counseling, evangelism, and discipleship throughout the U.S. For information regarding his background and ministry, visit the BCI website:

Psychotropic Medications: In Search of a Biblical Context

We generally do not engage others who are blogging as there is no end to the controversies in which we could involve ourselves. We also rarely post guest bloggers. Today we make an exception to both general policies to bring you an important article from our friend “Ab” Abercrombie.

In recent weeks, an article appearing on the Internet has caused great stir in the biblical counseling community, and in the Body of Christ at large. There has been much debate through the years regarding psychology, psychiatry, and medication, as they relate to and interface with biblical truth. This latest addition is no different except it advances opinion and position without biblical consideration.

The article “Listening to Prozac…and to the Scriptures: A Primer on Psychoactive Medications” is written by Dr. Michael Emlet (M.Div., M.D.), a faculty member of the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). As a medical doctor and theologian, Dr. Emlet should be considered an expert in this matter. However, a thorough review of the article reveals a position, which is unbiblical in its foundation.

The article begins with reference to two different case studies; one benefiting from medication; another showing no gain and feeling a conviction to live medication free. The author speaks to the conundrum of these diverse situations and suggests, rightfully, that medication has become commonplace in the Christian community and counselors must increase our knowledge of pharmacology. But Dr. Emlet also states “we need a biblically-based philosophy to guide the use or non-use of medications” (Emlet, p 1).

Amen…I thought. Then I read the rest of the article.

Chemical Imbalances?

Over the next few pages Emlet provides useful information regarding the classes and categories of psychoactive medications, their applied usage, drug names for identification, and possible side effects. This is helpful information for any counselor unfamiliar with such drugs and is useful in understanding how the counselee views him/herself, and how he/she has been “diagnosed” and treated by the medical community.

From here the veracity of the article gets muddy. Dr. Emlet goes forward with a lengthy discussion of how these drugs are supposed to affect the brain and eventual life of the patient. He asks the questions we all want answered: “How do they work?” and “Are they treating ‘chemical imbalances’”? (Emlet, p 14).

Unfortunately the answers never come. Instead the reader is provided a treatise on how the brain works and speculation to the possible effects of psychoactive drugs on the brain. Based upon his research, Dr. Emlet’s conclusions are less than inspiring:

Are we treating true chemical imbalances?

“We don’t really know—maybe” (Emlet, p 15).

Are psychoactive drugs effective?

“…we do not know exactly how these medications work in humans” (Emlet p 14).

Thirty-five percent (35%) of individuals who are given a “placebo” drug, report improvement (Emlet p 15).

“So, at the end of the day, of those 100 patients who got the active drug, 30% did not respond, 35% may have responded by virtue of a standard placebo effect, and 35% may have responded due to the actual effects of the drug itself” (Emlet p 15).

“At this point there is no way to predict who will respond best to which treatment” (Emlet p 15).

Are drugs more effective than counseling?

“Individual studies have revealed that even in moderate to severe depression…counseling was equal to medication at four months of treatment” (Emlet pp 15-16).

In an earlier article entitled “Are Psychology and Psychiatry Medicine”, this author provided a review of other studies, which leaves the biblical counselor with even less confidence in the usefulness of such medications. Dr. Kenneth Kendler (2005), a psychiatrist and co-editor in chief of the journal Psychological Medicine said: “We have hunted for big simple neurochemical explanations for psychiatric disorders and have not found them” (p. 433).

In his book, Blaming the Brain (1988), Elliot Valenstein, professor emeritus of neuroscience wrote: “Although it is often stated with great confidence that depressed people have a serotonin or norepinephrine deficiency, the evidence actually contradicts these claims” (p. 292).

Stanford psychiatrist and researcher David Burns is quoted as saying: “I spent the first several years of my career doing full-time research on brain serotonin metabolism, but I never saw any convincing evidence that any psychiatric disorder, even depression, results from a deficiency of brain serotonin. In fact we cannot measure brain serotonin levels in living human beings so there is no way to test this theory” (as cited in Lacasse & Gomory, 2003, p. 385).

So even before the consideration of Scripture, which is an inverted approach, science has little to offer in support of its own theories. Yet, Dr. Emlet uses this frail information to move toward his eventual endorsement of psychotropic drugs in spite of the following glaring facts:

  • The usage of these drugs is a product of unproven theory.
  • We do not know how or if these drugs truly affect brain chemistry.
  • There are no medical tests available for assessing the need or measuring the effectiveness of these medications.
  • Only in testing “dead” tissue, can any projections be made about their “potential” benefit.
  • Prescription and use of these drugs are unlike any other medical process wherein a true ailment and remedy are discerned via definitive testing.
  • There is no true protocol…use is largely a process of trial and error.
  • There is no consistent response to these medications.
  • Benefit is irregular at best and highly influenced by a “placebo effect”…expecting the drug to help.

Thus far, this author is unconvinced. But for the “itching ears” (2 Tim 4:3), the prospect of relief is a sufficient theology.

Providing a Biblical Context…

Far worse than Dr. Emlet’s reliance upon faulty science, is his biblical justification for medication’s use. Rather than build his theology regarding medication from Scripture, Dr. Emlet seems to use Scripture (taken out of context) to support his theology.

His first position reads as follows: “It is a kingdom agenda to relieve our suffering; it is a kingdom agenda to redeem us through suffering” (Emlet p 16). In support of the first position, Emlet references Acts 10:38 as the “kingdom agenda to relieve our suffering.” But is this truly the meaning of the passage when read in correct context? Peter said:

“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

To extrapolate from this passage a “kingdom agenda” to relieve suffering is an interesting reach. In truth, this verse is embedded within the presentation of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Verse 38 is an historical truth, describing the works and wonders of Jesus Christ, sent from Heaven as the Messiah. In examining the context, the Word renders a very different conclusion:

Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)- you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:34-43).

Clearly the intent of Peter’s entire sermon, is to bring the listener to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, rests the “kingdom agenda” of redemption through forgiveness of sins.

While it is true that Jesus healed many throughout His ministry as Dr. Emlet references, the agenda of Heaven was never about earthly comfort but eternal life. A contextual understanding of Scripture illuminates God’s great draw and calling unto salvation. In each and every healing recorded in the Bible, there is a spiritual intent that overrides the physical outcome.

Remember the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2) and the Lord’s first proclamation: “Son, your sins are forgiven”(v 5). Then in order to counter the mumbling of the scribes: “…who can forgive sins but God alone” (v 7), Jesus told the paralyzed man to “…get up, pick up your pallet and go home” (v 11).

The recounting of such works in Acts 10 was to bear witness of the Kingdom’s presentation of the awaited Messiah. Jesus is come and salvation is near. Believe in Him and be saved…not relieved.

Do not forget Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). The “kingdom” is present, the Messiah has come, and salvation is within reach this is the Lord’s agenda.

Surely we recall the woman with the issue of blood who was healed by Jesus:

A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse – after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction (Mark 5:25-29).

For twelve years she suffered “at the hands of many physicians” and was “not helped at all.” But in her faith in the Messiah, she was “healed of her affliction” immediately. Jesus responded:

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).

Her faith, her belief in Jesus, made her well. But Christ spoke not only of her physical healing but her eternal salvation. Failure to acknowledge this truth is tantamount to biblical malpractice. Peter wrote:

“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet 2:24).

Clearly the healing is one of spiritual redemption not physical comfort. This is not to say that physical healing is never a part of God’s design, but more than not, it is used as an aspect of spiritual realignment.

Dr. Emlet’s second position is that it is a “kingdom agenda” to redeem us through suffering. In this point he references numerous passages, which speak to the fellowship of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Primary is the following:

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10).

Again the extraction of Scripture from full context conveys an incomplete message. After speaking of his heritage and position as a Jewish leader and his previous confidence in the flesh and the advantages of his position, Paul conveys his fuller message is as follows:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:7-11).

The suffering Paul addresses is the surrender of earthly status, comfort, and false assurance for the sustaining truth and benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is about being conformed to His likeness. In death of self there is eternal life; the resurrection from the dead.

Suffering is part of a fallen world. Suffering can be a product of the Christian walk. The endurance of suffering that is “unjust” brings the “favor of God” (1 Peter 2:19). And Scripture states:

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

Again the reference to suffering (tribulation) has to do with the sanctification of the believer, growing in perseverance, character, and hope. It is a tribulation, which grows out of godly living that hones and shapes the follower of Christ so our hearts remain ever hopeful. But according to Dr. Emlet, we perhaps should interrupt the Kingdom’s training by seeking the relief of the world.

Dr. Emlet ends his article with the following conclusion: “Medications are a gift of God’s grace…” Yet he warns they can “used idolatously.” In other words…”drugs good, humans bad.” God has given a gift of mercy and relief…if only we can receive and utilize the gift without sinning.

We don’t know if biochemical imbalances exist; we have no measurable evidence of an organic or biochemical process that impedes human function; we don’t know how these medications affect or influence the brain, and they carry severe side effects; some improve, others don’t; but 35% will get better if you give them sugar pills…So we are to conclude:

  • God gave us a gift of medication for a condition unknown and unproven.
  • The gift works sometimes, but not always.
  • The gift rarely produces significant improvement.
  • The gift harms some who take it.
  • We don’t know how the “gift” works, who should take it, when he/she should take it, or if it will help…but TAKE IT ANYWAY!
  • And remember to thank God who provided it for you and remain humble, or your partaking of the drug is sinful.

James wrote:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas 1:16-17).

Good and perfect…Does this description fit Dr. Emlet’s discussion of psychotropic medication? I think not. These good things and perfect gifts come down from “the Father of lights” in whom all things would be seen with clear discernment and find validation in His Word. Light exposes truth, but where is the truth in Emlet’s discussion of science or Scripture?

The Father of lights is One “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow…” There is enough “variation” and “shifting shadow” in this research to choke a horse. In fact it presents the worst of all manipulations; borrowing a truth of Scripture to validate a fabrication of the world. We must remember that a partial truth is in reality a total lie. The similarity between these medications and the description of “God’s gift” is strikingly lacking.


Dr. Emlet is indeed a respected scholar and teacher. His training and background are beyond reproach. These facts make his article especially damaging. One will look to his credentials and ascribe credibility. Those suffering for reasons unknown will potentially embrace his endorsement and loose scriptural validation as permission to pursue the relief of the world over the transformational capacity of Christ.

This author is not wiser than Dr. Emlet, nor do my credentials or resume’ compare. But it has been my attempt to direct the reader away from the conclusions of man toward the unyielding, unblemished, Word of God. Paul said to the church at Ephesus, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

The believer must build his/her judgment and theology from the entire Bible, not from points and verses that while true, are given in isolation apart from their fuller meaning. The “whole purpose of God” is not conveyed in the alleviation of earthly pain but in the redemption of the eternal soul.

Before we look to medical research; before we adhere to the teachings of preachers and biblical counselors (including this author); we must look to the Redeemer, consume His Word, and listen for His Spirit to teach, discern, lead, and provide. Remember in speaking of the Holy Spirit Jesus said:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (Jn 14:27).

The world does indeed offer a version of peace, but Jesus is clear that His peace is “not as the world gives.” We must be clear regarding which peace we seek.


Abercrombie, W.P., “Are Psychology and Psychiatry Medicine”, The Biblical Counseling Institute, 2007,

Emlet, M.R., “Listening to Prozac..and to the Scriptures: A Primer on Psychoactive Medications”, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, January 2012,

Kendler, K.S., “Toward a philosophical structure for psychiatry”, American Journal of Psychiatry 162: 433–440, 2005.

Lacasse, J.R., Gomory, T., “Is graduate social work education promoting a critical approach to mental health practice?” Journal of Social Work Education, 39: 383–408, 2003.

Valenstein, E., Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, Free Press, New York, 1988.

W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie is the Founder and Director of The Biblical Counseling Institute which offers training in biblical care, counseling, evangelism, and discipleship throughout the U.S. For information regarding his background and ministry, visit the BCI website: