Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Bible: Inspired but inadequate?

I'm reading through an odd text for a course I'm taking. It consists of a number of interviews done for Preaching magazine over the past couple of decades, and it has a truly eclectic group of preachers as its subject, including Max Lucado, George Barna, R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur.

I was truly horrified to read the following quote:

I think it's very tempting for traditional preaching styles to present Christ and the Word of God as the quick cure-all for whatever ailment is afflicting an individual today. I think that might be a little simplistic. If someone has been sexually molested, if someone grew up in the home of an alcoholic father, if someone has been beaten as a child, there are some deep psychological wounds that have to be carefully treated by trained Christian counselors before these wounded people can thorougly appropriate the promises and precepts of Scripture. (Communicate with Power, ed. Michael Duduit. (Michigan: Baker, 1998), 74-75.

The speaker is Bill Hybels, back in 1992. It is a frightful thing to see how even the pastors of the church are willing to exchange the glorious resources of God for the muddy cisterns of modern psychology.

Were there no sexually molested people in first century Palestine? Were alcoholic fathers absent throughout the Roman empire? Is child abuse purely a 21st century phenomenon? Nonsense. God provided what they needed then, and what we need now, in the marvelous riches of his Word illuminated and made active through his Spirit!

As David Wells so trenchantly observes in The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church:

Biblical inspiration was affirmed but its consequences were not worked out for our preaching, our techniques for growing the Church, our techniques for healing our own fractured selves. These all happened largely without the use of Scripture. It is as if we think that while the Bible is inspired, it is nevertheless inadequate to the tasks of sustaining and nourishing the twentieth-century! The result of this divine myopia is that he has left us with something that is inadequate to the great challenges that we face today.

I can personally testify to the power of God's Word to heal brokeness. My step-father was an alcoholic who was at times physically abusive. But I am neither, having both forgiven him and loved him. All of my aunts and uncles on both sides of the family have been divorced at least once. My wife and I have been married for almost 10 years and are deliriously happy. My wife's father is a mean-spirited man who often was (and still is!) physically abusive. But she is a loving, devoted Mom.

And we attribute all of our health to the work of God's Spirit primarily through his Scriptures. He is the God who heals us, and to turn to anything else is sinful, dishonouring and destructive. Not that there isn't a place for counseling, but all the wisdom of the counselor will come through the Word and all the effectiveness of the counselor will be of the Spirit through the Word.

If you want a remarkable testimony to this truth, I highly commend the story of Jan Fletcher to you. In her pamphlet God's Complete Provision: for healing the pain of childhood sexual abuse, she describes the start of her suffering:

Molestation in my pubertal years by a church deacon, and later, incest by my stepfather in my mid-teens, led me to engage in rampant promiscuity, as I tried to find love in all the wrong places.

By Hybel's standard, this woman needs specialized counseling. Some, including my former church, would recommend mystical prayer counseling, which Mrs. Fletcher is very familiar with (see her online book Lying Spirits). But when she was 39, God graciously led her to true healing, in reconciliation with himself:

No gimmick and no special formula discovered by any man can heal the human soul. Only the power of God can truly give lasting healing. God's healing is absolutely unique, because the result is a changed heart and a new spiritual birth. God freely offers it to us, but the cost of giving it to us was not cheap. It was very costly. This precious gift of spiritual rebirth required that Jesus, the Son of God, suffer a humiliating death on a Roman cross.


True healing comes through reconciliation with God, as we accept God's gift and submit our sinful nature to God's work in us through the cross. This reconciliation is not based in a mystical encounter we initiate. ... Instead, as the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 10, our salvation, and the healing to our souls that it brings, does not come through a subjective feeling. It comes through a willful and reasoned acceptance of the objective truth of the message of the Gospel heard through the word of Christ.

Let us flee all false and worldly solutions to the all-sufficient, all-powerful Word of God!


JLF said...

Some seriously good thoughts for our time, Tom. Thanks.

Your insight is appreciated... of course they faced the same things in 1st century Palestine that we face in our world today! How arrogant to assume that we're the only ones to have experienced the pain we have. "Our problems are bigger...". Nonsense. There is nothing new under the sun.

... except maybe some of the stuff you write about in your "tech" posts. :)

TwinsK&D said...

Thanks very much for your post!! It is sad to see that people are turning to worldly solutions rather than relying on the Word of God. One scripture comes to mind, its found in Psalm 19:7-14 and states:

"The law of the Lord is perfect,?
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is ?sure,
making wise ?the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than ?gold,
even much ?fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from ?hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have ?dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."

We can rely on the Word of God! The above passage states that the scripture is sufficent for everything we encounter in life(eg its perfect, it revives the soul, its sure, it makes wise the simple, etc). Please take time to read through the passage above,it gives a title for the Word of God, a characteristic of the Word of God and a benefit of the Word of God! When I think of scripture being sufficient for all of life this is the scripture that come to mind most...a sermon on Psalm 19 by John Macarthur can be found at:


Thanks very much for the links and thoughts Tom, I always enjoy your posts!

TwinsK&D said...

Hey brother, I love your 'Library' :-) Its like looking at your bookshelf :-) very cool, I look forward to how the Lord will use it! Its always neat to see what books people are reading and what they recomend!


Gordon Cloud said...

Sin is much like the common cold. We all are susceptible, and when afflicted, we can only treat the symptoms, but alas, we cannot cure it.

Much contemporary theology is focused upon the symptoms of sin. They offer nothing to relieve man of the problem. The molestations, addictions, etc. are simply symptoms of the sin curse.

Thank God for the cure! The Word of God gives us the solution to the sin curse.

Tom G said...


I hate to be the one to differ, and I'd have to hear more from you to be sure how much we really do differ, but I think you may be truncating God's own revealed plan for growth.

First, Hybels did not say a sexually abused person could not experience God's healing and grace, but that to appropriate the full extent of God's promises may require counseling--specifically, Christian counseling.

Second, you jumped from "Christian counseling" to modern psychology. No thinking Christian denies there are schools of modern psych that are completely opposed to the Word of God and highly damaging. Good Christian counseling avoids those approaches.

Third, you rightly stress the Word of God; yet the Word of God is often ministered to us by other persons. What is preaching? What are Christian books? What is a Christian blog? Good Christian counseling is the Word of God ministered from one person to another, one to one instead of one to a congregation.

Fourth, I wonder if you object to persons specializing in Christian counseling, studying what is Biblical and effective, and doing it professionally. But this is just a form of pastoring. It would be rather odd to take the position that the church should not allow wise persons to develop their pastoral gifts and use them, even for pay--every church (except perhaps the Friends) does this, in the person of their pastor.

Fifth, to take point 3 a bit further, I hope you are not of the view that all we need for growth is the Word of God and prayer. This is--please hear me out now--an unbiblical position.

Consider Adam, who was in the Garden of Eden in a creation where God had repeatedly said everything was good. He had the perfect environment, perfect health, perfect food, a perfect job, no sin, and a perfect relationship with God. How did God evaluate his situation? "It is not good."

It was not good that Adam was alone, that is. God himself said that God was not enough for Adam, because God had designed relationship into Adam as a reflection of God's own internal Trinity relationship. We need each other, because God created us to need each other. Sometimes we need each other to help recover from sins we have committed, sometimes for healing from sins others have committed against us. This is God's way for us.

This is reinforced hundreds of times throughout Scripture--especially in the "one anothers" of the Epistles.

In some ways it feels strange and almost dangerous to say that God is not enough. I would not say it except for two things: 1) God said it first; and 2) relating to others is one of the ways we experience the knowledge of God.

tomgee said...

Hi Tom.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I suspect I have misrepresented myself in some of your points, but would like to reinforce others.

First point, Hybels didn't say "may require" Christian counselling, but that "there are some deep psychology wounds that have to be carefully treated by trained Christain counsellors." So he does insist, perhaps hyperbolically, that working with a trained counsellor is required.

I fully agree with your second point. I did jump too quickly from Christian counselling to modern psychology. That's probably my hobby horse you hear squeaking. :-)

Third point, there is Christian counselling that is biblical and ministered from one person to another. Agreed. I don't think I ever said, nor meant to imply, that we don't need other people in experiencing the power of the Word and of Christ.

Fourth, I believe Christian counseling is valuable, biblical and appropriate. I don't have a problem with professional counseling, but I do believe there is a risk in too strongly deemphasizing the role of the pastor in favour of the professional.

Point 5, all that we need for growth is _found_in_ the Word of God. The 1000 page book on your desk by itself is not sufficient. But the teaching within that book, through the illumination of the Spirit who inspired to words to begin with, developed and applied through personal prayer and meditation as well as through your church family, that will be sufficient.

So I agree with your reference to the "one anothers". What I disagree with is the incursion of man-made constructions in lieu of biblical solutions. All too often what I have seen portrayed as "Christian counseling" has been far from biblical. It doesn't mean that there is no such thing as biblical counseling, only that one must be very, very careful and discerning.

Tom G said...

Thanks for that response. I'll admit some of my own squeaking was probably a hobby horse, too.

We need each other, but of course some of what passes for helping each other is humanistic or worse. That's where counseling goes wrong, whether or not it has a "Christian" label on it.

I try to be careful to endorse not "Christian counseling" but "good Christian counseling." That's just a shorthand way of acknowledging that not everything that goes by the name is really Biblical.

Drexen Magz said...

Off-subject and in the "it's a small world" category, I think I saw some of your neighbors in St. Clair Shores, Michigan this past weekend. My son was in the Silver Stick Finals hockey tournament (Texas Aces) and a team named the Beeton Stingers was in our hotel.

http://www.christian-drug-rehab.org said...

I agree that it really is a pity that people should opt for worldly wisdom over God ' guidance.As a recovering pot addict i must say its been God's grace.
mani kanna