Friday, March 07, 2008

How much is totally sufficient?

Yesterday, Dr. Albert Mohler had Dr. Lance Quinn of the National Association of Nouthetic Counseling in which they discussed the role of counseling within the Christian community. At Dr. Quinn’s introduction, they engaged in the following discussion:

Mohler: I think the best term I know to use is “Biblical Counseling” because that’s really the essence of what we are talking about here. Is guiding persons, not by our wisdom and not by our intuition and certainly not by a secular therapeutic worldview or construct, but rather by the scriptures. Because the underlying affirmation in all of this is that the scriptures—and the scriptures alone—are sufficient to guide persons in the faithfulness in Christ. Growth in Grace through correcting real human problems; to address real human needs. That’s your conviction as well.

Quinn: That’s right, I would say [name], along with just a few others, tragically, are just a few that are affirming the total sufficiency of Scripture for counseling in the life of the Church and the Life of the Christian. So much of the other brands of forms of so-called “Christian Counseling” are really integrated in that they take psychological concepts and they try to integrate them with Christianity and often that’s a failed project

Which raised an interesting question to me—in what areas does the Bible constitute “total sufficiency”?

If I told you I thought the Bible was “totally sufficient” to teach mathematics; you would laugh. The Bible does not contain the quadratic equation, nor the concept of functions from calculus. Nothing within about the sum of the sides squared equals the hypotenuse squared in a right triangle.

Not a single book of the Bible, nor the compilation ever proposed contemplated this would be a sufficient book to teach or learn mathematics. No author had any intention of it containing this information.

The Bible is not sufficient to provide us the ability to construct a skyscraper. Nor to build a computer. Not even enough information to develop the telephone or the light bulb. The Bible would be inadequate when discussing “World History” or “Forms of Government” or even “Social Studies.” Certainly portions of the Bible may touch upon such topics, but to be “totally sufficient”? Nonsense.

Even as a moral guide, most American Christians have a heightened view of morals from a U.S. Constitutional standpoint rather than the Bible. (The Bible is quite silent when it comes to “rights” ya know—those come from the Constitution. Things like slavery and polygamy are now prohibited by our laws, while accepted by the Bible.) The Bible is not sufficient to explain our laws.

So why does counseling get a pass? Why are all the years, study and requirements to become a licensed psychiatrist or licensed psychologist or licensed counselor pooh-poohed as hogwash an unnecessary? How did the Bible become “totally sufficient” to provide complete insight into counseling?

When I was growing up, if a couple had an issue in their marriage; they used one and only one source for counseling—the Pastor. Issue with a rebellious teenage? Go to the pastor. Problem with pornography, gambling, alcohol, adultery, anorexia, depression, insomnia? Go to the Pastor.

I look back in terror at the thought of people going to a person who may have the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree in theology, for direction in a field the rest of the world requires licensure, academic specialization and continuing education.

As these two gentlemen discussed the problem further, Dr. Quinn mentioned counseling a man who was in prison on a sex charge of some sort. The “problem” they compared to the secular society as to Christianity was that a person with a sex issue has an illness in the secular world, whereas it is sin in the Christian world.

I was aghast at the comparison. Somehow they equated “illness” to the concept it could therefore be cured. I am of the personal opinion (and this is solely my opinion) that pedophilia is incurable. No amount of counseling or psychiatric intervention of any sort will cure this problem. Sure, I treat it as an “illness”—an incurable, convictable, always present illness. It doesn’t “go away.”

See, but as a sin it can go away. All it takes is a little willpower and poof—no more sin. Yet I noticed Dr. Mohler and Dr. Quinn were careful to note one would still have to monitor, watch and restrict a sex offender—even if they claimed to be free of the sin. Sounds like good advice to me—just like what the world would do!

I also found it funny Dr. Quinn said upon a person entering their counseling program they would go to a licensed, Christian physician for “a physical.” And, if intervention was need on a physical basis, the Christian doctor would intervene.

Did you follow that? In other words, if a person needed prescription medicine for their situation, they would go around the “total sufficiency of the Bible” by declaring this a “physical” need, which the Bible has no qualms about treating. Neat, eh? You can go to a Christian counselor who proclaims the Bible is totally sufficient to resolve your depression, while treating with your Christian doctor who is prescribing Zoloft.

What do you think? Is secular counseling all just a bunch of flotsam and jetsam and completely unnecessary? Is the Bible totally sufficient for counseling? Would the Bible be totally sufficient for counseling for a non-believer—or is it another one of those “Christians ONLY” clubs?

I know the Protestant crowd is completely infatuated with sola scriptura but this seems to carry it a bit far, don’t ya think?


  1. I may not be the best Christian to ask, since I agree just about entirely with you. I've had the same argument with fundamentalists and pointed out that I would not use the Bible for instructions on how to build an airplane, nor would I use it to learn about life in pre-Columbian America or nanotechnology. I would use it (and this may be where you and I diverge) to learn about Christ and the metaphysical.

    In regards to mental health, have a couple of biases. One is my favorite aunt who has a doctorate in child psychology. Everything she uses in her practice has been through the crucible of scientific inquiry, and her professionalism precludes her from pushing any particular religious view on anyone, and to be open to treating any patient regardless of their faith.

    Another is that of my church. We expect our pastors to provide pastoral care (hence the title), but we also provide them with formal training in basic counseling and tell them to refer people to professionals when necessary, be it for illnesses physical and mental. My pastor has a rolodex in her office chock full of psychiatrists, psychologists, substance abuse counselors, internists, oncologists, and just about every other type of -ist. She also has names of financial counselors and attorneys. She recognizes that while she can and must certainly provide spiritual help and emotional support, the responsible thing to do is to recognize her own limitations in training, and when to recognize that certain medical, financial and legal problems need expert help.

    By the same token, there are several retired pastors in my church who are now licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). They went through school for it and got licensed by the State of Georgia for it, and none apparently thought that having an ordination from the Presbyterian Church as a Minister of the Word & Sacrament could be a substitute for a LCSW.

    On the other hand, there was mail room guy in my office who proudly had on his cube wall his "diploma" from a correspondence course telling the world that

    Xyz Bible College
    Hereby Certifies that
    John Doe

    has successfully completed a course in training to become a
    This day the Fifteenth of April, the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and x.

    (big curly signature)
    Head of Christian Counseling Department

    ...With the light text at the bare minimum size to fall within the law.

    Considering some pretty alarming views he expressed regarding Catholicism, I don't think many people sought his advice even on scriptural matters.

  2. Be happy you aren't dealing with Orthodox Jews. It isn't an uncommon argument that Torah (in the sense of Tanach + the Oral Tradition) really does contain all the knowledge that ever will be, including math and all the sciences.

    Indeed, it isn't an uncommon apologetic claim to argue that "X" piece of knowledge where "X" is almost anything discovered historically was really a rediscovery of ancient Jewish knowledge. One sees this most often in classical apologetic works about philosophy where they try to claim that all sorts of ideas in Greek philosophy really came from Jewish knowledge that was plagiarized. So whenever the Talmud uses an idea from Greek philosophy, the Greeks must have gotten it from the Rabbis since obviously the Rabbis would never get knowledge from the surrounding culture.