Why Not?

“Why not?”


“Because of what?”

Because I can’t.

“Can’t? You’re a Christian, you say?”

I certainly am.

“Then what do you think Paul meant in I Corinthians 10:13?

What did he say there?

“Simply this: ‘There is no trial that has overtaken you but such as is common to man. And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able to bear.'”

But you don’t understand . . .

“Do you think God does?”

Sure, but . . .

“Why the but?”

My case is different, you see.

“Thought it was ‘common’ and that you would have to bear nothing beyond the ability you have to bear it.”

Well . . .

“Moreover, in that verse he says that God will make a way out of it so that you will be able to bear it. It won’t go on forever.”

Oh! I guess you”re right. Tell me how.

“Thought you’d never ask . . .”

Relationships . . .

Jay AdamsSome teach that a counselor must first develop a good relationship with his counselee in order to successfully minister to them.  Fine, if it happens, but is it necessary to work at it? To counsel effectively? No.

Those who propagate the idea rarely, if ever, give Scriptural evidence for the view. And, just as seldom do they fail to explain what they mean by the term. After all, don’t we all know?   NO!

Let’s consider Jesus’ relationships for a moment. He often had a compassionate relationship to them—healing, feeding and teaching them, as poor sheep who had no shepherd. Then, there were the Pharisees and the Sadducees—to whom He spoke words of woe!

Toward the twelve He sustained a special relationship—spending quite a bit of time with them. Of the twelve, there were the three whom He allowed to accompany Him to the Mount of Transfiguration. And, of course, there was John—the one He especially loved! What different relationships all of these, and many others, were! Surely, with his counselees, a counselor’s relationship would vary greatly.

But that’s not bad—because it is impossible to treat everyone as his John the apostle!

Nor does he need to.  With most, Jesus had a brief encounter—nothing prolonged.  Yet, He was able to help them. Counselor, so can you.

Let’s Be Careful Out There

imagesA popular cop show in the eighties began each episode with the officers assembled in the briefing room where the Sargent would give out assignments for the day. At the end of each briefing the officer in charge would exhort his officers with the admonition, “Let’s be careful out there!”

Biblical counselors would do well to embrace that exhortation as well. Today’s biblical counselor is blessed with training opportunities and resources we could not have imagined 30 years ago. The first NANC conference I attended was held in a church Sunday School room. At the first February conference I attended in Lafayette I was one of 35 students. The books available to me that dealt with biblical counseling fit on less than two feet of bookshelf.

Today, thousands attend these conferences every year, the books I own on biblical counseling fill an entire wall, most people can find training in biblical counseling within one or two hours of driving time, dozens of theological seminaries now have courses in biblical counseling, and our Institute has hundreds of students studying under Dr. Adams on every continent around the world. We have much for which to be thankful as God’s people have come to embrace the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

With all these successes and opportunities for learning, however, we will quickly find ourselves disqualified and our ministries impotent if we do not embrace the words of Sargent Esterhaus to “be careful out there.” The august responsibility of the ministry of the Word to hurting people should fill us with a sober desire to minister the Word carefully, accurately, and skillfully. God’s Word is not magic. We do not simply tell counselees to “read God’s Word and He will bless you.” Before the counselor can minister the Word to his counselee he must first be a student and exegete of the Scriptures and become skilled at using them as God intended them to be used.

I was reminded of this again as I read a blog recently at a biblical counseling website. The author’s purpose was worthy—he was seeking to show how counselees can be encouraged in their suffering by understanding that our Lord Himself endured suffering. Sadly, his use of the Scriptures to make his point served only to confuse and, even worse, taught some very bad theology which, if understood rightly, would discourage a counselee about the ability of Christ to meet the need of the hour.

The author began by asserting, in spite of the clear teaching of Philippians 4:6, that anxiety is “not necessarily” sinful. He made his case by quoting a bizarre translation of Mark 14:33 (the Amplified Bible) and concluded that Jesus had a “panic attack” in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The author then moved to Hebrews 2:10 which he claimed teaches that Jesus’ sufferings were “part of His maturing and perfecting for our sake.” He later added that “as Jesus was perfected through various sufferings, including anxiety, so are we.”

The biblical counselor should be careful to understand that the word translated “perfect” here is used in the sense of “complete” as it is in Hebrew 10:14. Christ’s sufferings completed His task as the “Author of their salvation.” They did not serve to mature Him in a sanctifying process as they do for us. The idea of a Christ who is just like us and in need of “maturing” is, well, sub-orthodox.

The task of exegesis is of primary importance. Do not neglect it. Handle God’s Word with care and sobriety. From behind my podium in our briefing room here in our little corner of the internet I plead with my fellow counselors—let’s be careful out there!


Psychologically-Oriented Dentist!

Let me piggy-back on Donn’s last article by telling you a true story.

I had just moved to California, and I had a toothache. No longer able to get to my previous dentist in Georgia I began to hunt for a new one. So I called the first one—who turned out to be full of the current pop psychology. He informed me over the phone that on my first visit we would spend time getting acquainted, since I would be a new patient.

I protested, “But my tooth really hurts!”

“Yes, but we’ll get to that on the next visit,” was his answer.

Mine: “No we won’t. Sorry, I’ll find another dentist,” which I promptly did.

Just add this to Donn’s article as a footnote—a counselee wants help, not to get acquainted!

Building “Relationship”

During the latter part of the 19th century a handful of seminary professors took a summer sabbatical together to tour England and hear as many of the great English preachers as possible. During that summer these men were able to hear Henry Parry Liddon, Alexander Maclaren, J C Ryle, R W Dale, Robert S Candlish, and Alexander Whyte. After hearing each preacher the men would gather outside the church and discuss what they had heard.

They spent the final Sunday of their tour in London where, in the morning, they attended the City Temple and heard Joseph Parker preach. In the evening they crossed the Thames to Elephant and Castle where they heard C H Spurgeon preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. That morning in London they assembled on the front steps of the City Temple and all concurred with the first man to speak who proclaimed excitedly, “Joseph Parker is a wonderful preacher.” Upon exiting the Metropolitan Tabernacle that evening the entire group fell to their knees on the church steps as the same spokesman quietly said, “Jesus Christ is a wonderful Savior.”

Of course, Spurgeon was indeed a wonderful preacher—probably the greatest English speaking preacher in history. But Spurgeon understood that it was his responsibility to point his listeners to Christ and not allow himself to become the focus of attention. Sure, he used illustrations from his own life and had a delightful, self-deprecating sense of humor in the pulpit, but these were employed only to illustrate truth and were a means to the end of preaching Christ.

Biblical counselors would do well to take a similar stance in the counseling room. There has arisen a school of thought these days that teaches counselors to focus first on relationship building with counselees and to hold off offering any sort of directive counsel until the counselor has brought his counselee to the place where he is “ready to receive” instruction and help from his counselor.

Now, of course nouthetic counselors understand the importance of building involvement with counselees. In Competent to Counsel Jay Adams confronted the prevalent notion of the day that counselors should take a stoic, detached stance toward counselees. He pointed out that Paul counseled “with tears” (Acts 20:31) and “intense concern” (2 Cor. 11:29) (CTC pp. 52-54). But involvement or relationship building is never a prerequisite to biblical counseling, it is the result!

I recently heard a “biblical” counselor describe one of his cases in which a young woman had come to him seeking help with a problem. After several sessions of relationship building and “getting to know her” the woman finally asked her counselor, “Don’t you have any guidance for me?” The counselor replied, “Yes, I have some thoughts about your problem but I am not sure you are ready to hear them yet.”

Nouthetic counselors are horrified upon hearing such things. When believers come to us for help we believe in helping them—as quickly as possible. This woman had come seeking help in session one but the counselor had decided to assume the Holy Spirit’s role and decide himself whether or not she was ready to hear.

Another counselor once told me that many of his counseling cases go on for over a year and that he has counselees he has been working with for several years. As he waxed eloquent about the need for relationship building he informed me that often counseling is simply building a friendship with people. He was not as amused as I was when I asked him how much he charged people to be their friend (in his case it was $95 per session).

Consider this from a recent blog over at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website:

In counseling, I have found building relationships for the long-haul is key if any person, regardless of sexual orientation, is to experience true, biblical change. In the instances I have had the joy to observe, change in the area of sexuality has been slow, incremental, and at times painful; yet through all of it, our God is faithful and true.

For this author, “Relationships Are Key.” For the nouthetic counselor, the ministry of the Word is key and relationships, while important, are secondary—perhaps even tertiary. Counselees do not change as a result of a relationship with the counselor, they change because of a relationship to Christ and through obedience to His Word.

It is especially tragic to hear this author’s expectation that “true, biblical change” is “slow” and “incremental.” If change is dependent upon a relationship with the counselor perhaps that expectation is justified. Nouthetic counselors do not seek to wean counselees from their sin. Because counselees draw on the power of the Holy Spirit Who wields the Word of God as His sword we expect significant change from week to week and victory over sin in a relatively short period of time as old habits are put off and new ones are put on.

Picture a man working under the hood of his car in his driveway. Along comes a relationship guy who stops and engages the shade tree mechanic with questions about the car, the problem, his job, his family, his health, his lawn, his pets, his longings and desires. The relationship guy shares stories of his own struggles with dysfunctional automobiles and communicates how sorry he is that this car has broken down and that his friend has to deal with the problem. Finally, he promises to return later to check on his new mechanic friend and encourage him in his journey toward resolution.

The nouthetic guy, however, upon encountering this mechanic takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and crawls under the car.

“I see the problem,” he calls up to his neighbor. “The starter is not aligned properly. Raise it up a bit and I will put the bolt in from here.”

From under the car the nouthetic guy guides the socket onto the nut and holds it in place while the mechanic turns the wrench above until it is tight.

Now, which one has built involvement with his neighbor?

How Often Have You Thought You Were Finished . . .

when you weren’t? What I’m talking about is having counselees return for more counseling in four or five weeks after you dismissed them.

Well, if that’s a problem, let’s think about it for a bit. What could be the reasons for this, and what can be done to prevent it in the future?

There may, of course, be several reasons for this problem, some of which may be peculiar to your style of counseling. I want, however, to deal with those reasons that are more common. In particular, there are three.

  1. The new ways that you helped the counselee to put on did not become rooted and grounded before you dismissed him. Both he and you were interested in closing it out, so you did so without any way of first determining that the counselee was ready to leave. Apart from your continued coaching in the new ways, he reverted.
  2. Someone who is close to your counselee exerted pressure on him to fall back into his old patterns. You failed to check up on whether there were such persons within the counselee’s sphere of activity who might cause such problems, so you didn’t warn and equip him against their pernicious influence. Again, he also needed further grounding.
  3. You missed some item of importance when counseling that has now appeared on the scene for the first time. Either he failed to tell you about it. or you failed to unearth it (even if it were the former, you probably should have been able to pry it lose).

OK. Now what can be done in the future to guard against these all-too common counseling failures?

I suggest one thing that in most cases will do so—instituting the 6-week check-up. I am not going to attempt to go into it in detail, because there isn’t space here to do so. And because I’ve already spelled it out in great detail in a book entitled, Three Critical Stages of Counseling—the third being termination.

The largest portion of that section concerns the 6-week check-up. What this program involves is a six week period when the counselee is on his own giving himself his own homework which he brings for evaluation at the sixth week’s session. You can see how this—done well—can prevent such happenings as mentioned above. At any rate, you must learn some way of properly terminating sessions, I suggest that it be by a transition such as I have described in depth in the book.

Sufficient or Insufficient?

“What can we do to help you?”

That’s the way it may begin. Where it will go from there, no one but God can know beforehand.

I’m talking about a counseling session, of course.

Because it may take any number of possible turns from that moment on, it will be necessary for a biblical counselor to be able to handle each one—no matter what direction counseling takes.

You may have to deal with a husband’s resistance to help, a wife’s weeping, a son’s wild behavior, a . . .

You name it—and the seasoned Nouthetic Counselor has faced it.

Now, if you want to counsel effectively, so as to help rather than hurt people, you will need three basic things:

  1. Ability to exegete the Scriptures
  2. A thorough understanding of theology
  3. A biblical method of counseling.

If you are interested in training in Nouthetic Counseling, be sure that any program in which you enroll has at least those three elements.

Other things are very helpful, as well, but those three are absolutely essential.

There are a number of training programs out there; but not all are the same. In order to evaluate the training offered, it might be well to compare the offerings of any given training with that which you will find in the curriculum of INS.

If, in investigating programs that are available in your area, you discover that what they offer isn’t satisfactory, remember INS is here to help. Give us a call.


I Did It, But . . .

“I’ve never been one to say that it’s another person’s fault unless I can pin it on him.”

Well, few persons will ever admit such a thing unless they are confronted with irrefutable evidence of their guilt in counseling. But, that’s precisely what they think, whether or not they put it in such terms. Blame-shifting began in the Garden. When God approached Adam following his sin, He blamed his behavior on God and His wife: “The woman You gave me, she . . .” Sounded plausible to his ears, but God didn’t buy it. Then, when God confronted the woman, she also tried to shift the responsibility for the sin: “The serpent, he . . . “ God didn’t buy that either. When God approached the serpent, he didn’t try to shift the blame—there was no one left to use as his patsy!

Now, in counseling you will find that things haven’t radically changed since the first pair of people sinned; blame-shifting is one of the principal means for attempting to escape the consequences of one’s sin. If you aren’t looking for it, when you begin to hear counselees piously explain that “it was because of so-and-so that I did it,” think “No. That’s not right. No one can make another sin; the excuse may sound plausible, but it can’t be true.” Excuses, a-plenty fly in counseling rooms. When you take one apart and look at it carefully, you will always discover that, difficult though it may have been to resist the temptation to sin, your counselee was the one who “did it.” Always remember, no one is ever forced to sin. Force may be applied by circumstances, threats, physical torture or whatever, to give in to temptation—but he alone is responsible for his sin. He did it.

And, difficult as it may have been for the counselee to resist, he could have, if he was in a right relationship to God and called upon Him for ability to withstand. You may sympathize with him for the bind in which he may have found himself, but never for his sin. You need to help him to repent. Only then can you learn where his weaknesses are that allowed him to give in. Having done so, you can also help him to learn to resist temptation, to grow in faith and spiritual strength, and how to go about addressing the temptations presented by others. But, you see, those things cannot be done until, first, he admits his sin. Otherwise, if someone else were responsible for his actions, there would be little reason for taking the time to teach him.

So, never forget that, the minute you begin to hear an excuse being framed for sin, you can only help by, first, bringing your counselee to repentance. Then, you can directly deal with the circumstances, relationships and so on, whatever they may have been. Until you reach that point, there is little else that you can do. So, don’t try. Too many counselors attempt to help before the counseling context is ripe for it. Change follows repentance as its outcome; it doesn’t produce it.


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: www.BCInstitute.com

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, http://bcinstitute.wordpress.com/

Emlet, M.R., “Listening to Prozac..and to the Scriptures: A Primer on Psychoactive Medications”, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, January 2012, www.ccef.org/jbc/listening-prozac-and-scriptures-primer-psychoactive-medications

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: www.BCInstitute.com.