In Part One of our critique of Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS), we reveal that Scazzero uses the Freudian iceberg image as a metaphor for his “Transformative” scheme of the Christian life with 90% of the mind unconscious and only 10% conscious. Scientifically speaking, there is no proof for the 90% conscious and 10% unconscious or any combination of conscious and unconscious one may conjure up.
Another Freudian myth that Scazzero follows is that of psychic/unconscious determinism. We quoted from Scazzero’s words in Chapter 3 that reveal that he is teaching psychic/unconscious determinism. We provide quotes from EHS, Chapter 3, in Part One to prove that the title of Chapter 3, “Going Back in Order to Go Forward: Breaking the Power of the Past,” establishes with Scazzero’s own words that he believes in psychic/unconscious determinism, even though he speaks to the contrary at times. Freud would be in complete agreement with the intent of what the Chapter 3 title means.
Near the beginning of Chapter 3 Scazzero says:
True spirituality frees us to live joyfully in the present. It requires, however, going back in order to go forward. This takes us to the very heart of spirituality and discipleship in the family of God—breaking free from the destructive sinful patterns of our pasts to live the life of love God intends (bold added, p. 71).
Scazzero asks questions and then answers them for his readers to let them know how far back they must go to be free. He asks:
Why hasn’t a lifetime of spirituality in the church, surrounded by the truth of Jesus Christ, transformed deeply their inner lives and marriage? Where is the rich, abundant fruit of a life well lived in God?
Why are so many of us living lives with deeply entrenched parts of us apparently untouched by the power and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ? (p. 73).
He then says:
This entire book, I hope, begins to offer an answer to this challenge.
One critical ingredient, however, relates to our need to go back in order to go forward. This can be summed up in two essential biblical truths:
- The blessings and sins of our families going back two to three generations profoundly impact who we are today.
- Discipleship requires putting off the sinful patterns of our family of origin and relearning how to do life God’s way in God’s family. (Bold added, p. 73.)
Scazzero spends much time trying to prove a determining impact of our ancestors on us in order to present his desperate need to explore the past in order to change. As we will demonstrate, this is a psychological method that is in direct conflict with the Bible. Scazzero’s method may rearrange the flesh. But the biblical way is death to the old Adamic sin nature that has been passed down through generations and the gift of an entirely new nature to be lived through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for sin and His indwelling presence. We will speak more of this later.
In the section titled “The Power of the Family,” Scazzero says:
When the Bible uses the word family, it refers to our entire extended family over three to four generations. That means your family, in the biblical sense, includes all your brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-uncles and aunts, and significant others going back to the mid-1800s! (Bold added, p. 73.)
No matter what or how much influence there may be from Adam forward, the Bible does not instruct believers to be transformed into the image of Christ by spending needless hours attempting to find out about the traits, characteristics, and behaviors of relatives going back “three to four generations.” Believers become like Christ by the Holy Spirit changing them into the image of Christ as they look at Him (not at parents et al):
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18.)
Nevertheless, in his attempt to provide biblical proof for the past generations heavy influence and, therefore, for one’s need for his psychological system, he says:
God, in the giving of the Ten Commandments, connected this [generational] reality to the very nature of who he is: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below … for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4–6, emphasis added).
God repeated the same truth again when Moses asked to see God’s glory: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. … Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation’” (Exodus 34:6–7, emphasis added).
When David murdered Uriah in order to marry his wife Bathsheba, God declared, “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own” (2 Samuel 12:10). (Italics his, pp. 74-75.)
The above three Bible verses are all Scazzero provides in Chapter 3 in his attempt to prove that he has biblical support for the present-day influence of his generational sins teaching. However, we will show that Scazzero is often biblically heterodox.
Before we use two words and one statement from theology to prove his error, we will define the words. The first word is “exegesis”:
According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary,” exegesis is the process of careful, analytical study of biblical passages undertaken in order to produce useful interpretations of those passages. Ideally, exegesis involves the analysis of the biblical text in the language of its original or earliest available form.
The second word is “eisegesis,” which is the opposite of “exegesis.” “Eisegesis” is “an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.”
The statement we wish to discuss is: “A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.” This is an important theological principle that Scazzero would know from his seminary training. A biblical text without the context of the whole verse, the whole chapter, the whole book, and the whole Bible is out of context and can be used as a proof text. A proof text is an appeal to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage cited. This is exactly what Scazzero is guilty of in his use of the three Bible verses just quoted.
Notice the emphasis in italics that Scazzero adds to Exodus 20:4-6, specifically verse 5:
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4–6, emphasis added). (Italics his, p. 74.)
This is a text that requires a context. The Lord God is making two statements (texts). The first is “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” The second is “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Scazzero offers Exodus 34:6-7 with his emphasis as follows with part of the verse left out, which we have inserted with brackets :
God repeated the same truth again when Moses asked to see God’s glory: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. … [maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.]Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation’” (Exodus 34:6–7, emphasis added). (Italics his, brackets ours, p. 74.)
This text is indeed a repeat of the Exodus 20 text. Seen in both texts are the curse and punishment of God as well as the love of God “to a thousand generations.”
Do these texts support Scazzero’s generational sins teaching? Are all the children condemned regardless of whether or not they are following in their fathers’ sinful footsteps? The verses Exodus 20:4-6 and 34:6-7 need a context, which we provide in the following two verses: Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:19-22:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (Bold added, Deut.: 24:16, KJV.)
Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. (Bold added, Ezekiel 18:19-22, KJV.)
Notice the faithfulness and longsuffering of the Lord! Indeed, He “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter:3:9). As we demonstrate in Part One, no one is bound to their past or to any influences parents may have had on them. They find their freedom, their new life, and their biblical transformation in Christ. In fact, Scazzero even says that on page 82:
The great news of Christianity is that your family of origin does not determine your future. God does! What has gone before you is not your destiny! The most significant language in the New Testament for becoming a Christian is “adoption into the family of God.” It is a radical new beginning. When we place our faith in Christ, we are spiritually reborn by the Holy Spirit into the family of Jesus. We are transferred out of darkness into the kingdom of light.
The above statement is absolutely true and in direct conflict with the rest of EHS. Indeed, Christ does change lives, but He does so according to Scripture, notaccording to man-made psychological constructs falsely supported by proof-texting!
In his attempt to biblicize his psychologically-derived system of understanding the self by looking for the sins of parents, grandparents, and other ancestors, Scazzero introduces a third text out of context. He says:
When David murdered Uriah in order to marry his wife Bathsheba, God declared, “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own” (2 Samuel 12:10, emphasis added). (Italics his, p. 74.)
In context, this was a specific situation, from which one cannot make a universal application. Moreover, we see an outworking of Exodus 20:4-6 and 34:6-7, in that when David repented, God forgave him:
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die (2 Sam. 12:13).
A further outworking of Exodus 20:4-6 and 34:6-7 is that David’s children would have a choice to love and follow God, without trying to find reasons for their behavior in their father’s behavior. Scazzero’s use of Exodus 20:4-6 and 34:6-7 and 2 Samuel 12:10 does not support his psychological construct of Christians needing to search the past to see patterns of parents’ and ancestors’ sins to understand and transform their own present behavior. Instead, these verses and the entire Bible highlight God’s grace and mercy to all generations who turn from their sins, love Him, and keep His commandments. In addition, these verses are meant to be instructive to fathers as they raise their children, not to children to psychologically understand themselves. There is no instruction in the Bible for children to, in essence, blame their parents for their own sins.
The above verses are perfect examples of how Scazzero has used three texts entirely out of context, which has led to a pretext which is his prooftext to justify his psychological/theological position about generational sins. Thus, we must conclude that biblical support is absent for Scazzero’s generational sins teaching.
Scazzero then claims the following as evidence for his false biblical support for the generational sins texts:
Family tensions, sibling rivalry, and internal strife marked his [David’s] children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren for generations (p. 75).
He then continues as if he is now able to generalize to all generations that follow by saying:
Family patterns from the past are played out in our present relationships without us necessarily being aware of it. Someone may look like an individual acting alone—but they are really players in a larger family system that may go back, as the Bible says, three to four generations. Unfortunately, it is not possible to erase the negative effects of our history. This family history lives inside all of us, especially in those who attempt to bury it. The price we pay for this flight is high. Only the truth sets us free. (Bold added, p. 75.)
The above statement that “it is not possible to erase the negative effects of our history” is one of absolute unbelief in what God has said and promised. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul declared: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” 2 Cor. 5:17). While some residual effects of a person’s past may continue on in the old sinful nature, which is to be put off, believers are given new life in Christ, which is to be lived by faith.
Sadly, Scazzero thinks he must find out about all those things that were supposedly passed down to him before that could happen. He says:
After all, didn’t Paul teach in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that when you become a Christian, old things pass away and all things become new? But crisis taught me I had to go back and understand what those old things were in order for them to begin passing away. (P. 13.)
Nothing in the Bible supports such a need to “go back and understand what those old things were.” The indwelling Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and all we need to do is acknowledge sinful attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors, repent, and put them off (1 John 1:9). Knowing a so-called generational source is not necessary and in essence puts the blame on someone else! The Bible clearly identifies sin.
While some patterns may exist, just as patterns in people groups, they do not support the generational sins teachings. This is this a huge exaggeration regarding the amount of influence. Incidentally, Scazzero doesn’t mention all the blessings that may be passed down from relatives. Although one’s own sinful ways remain in the old nature; they do not exist in the new nature, the new life in Christ. That is why the old must continually be put off (Eph. 4:22).
Worse yet is Scazzero’s method of applying his statement, “Only the truth sets us free.” His system is too full of heterodoxy to set anyone free, no matter how free they may claim to feel. Indeed, Jesus said:
If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (bold added, John 8:31-32).
Jesus, as expressed in His person and His Word, is the only truth that sets men free: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
God’s grace, mercy and transforming power throughout Scripture cannot be surpassed by any amalgamation of psychology and the Bible. Scazzero’s proof-texting does not support his psychologically contaminated system. Surprisingly, Scazzero has both a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
Family Systems Theory
As another example of trusting a man as a mentor and psychology as an answer for spiritual growth, Scazzero admires and gleans from a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Murray Bowen. Bowen began his career in psychiatry at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, as a “fellow in psychiatry and personal psychoanalysis.” In other words, Bowen began as a Freudian, but later developed a system known as “Bowen Theory.” Likewise, Scazzero’s failed idea of generational sins has morphed into a multigenerational sins transmission system, which is another failed idea.
I will never forget the first time we made a genogram—a diagram outlining some of the patterns of our families. Our counselor at the time took about an hour to ask probing questions about the interactions between members of both of our families, to write two or three adjectives to describe our parents and their relationships.
When the counselor finished, he simply asked us, “Do you see any similarities between your marriage and your parents’?”
We both sat there dumbfounded. (P 27.)
Here we see that Scazzero became introduced to psychotherapy and the Bowen Theory of “Multigenerational Transmission” in the counselor’s office. It was here that he became convinced that one should not be “Denying the Impact of the past on the Present.” He believed these ideas and incorporated them into his faith system, which he then disseminated throughout the world.
Because Scazzero refers to and depends upon Bowen’s theory, we looked up the research on Bowen’s claim for “multigenerational transmission.” Multigenerational transmission is the heavy influence of characteristics, behaviors, faults, and patterns of family interactions from parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and even more remote ancestors that form a child’s personality and therefore heavily influence (determine?) present behavior. In reviewing Bowen’s claims, an article in the Journal of Marital Family Therapy says:
Research on multigenerational transmission has generally ignored Bowen’s theoretical perspective, and more research needs to test Bowen’s claim that his theory is universal.
In other words, there is no proof that what Bowen says about multigenerational transmission is true.
In using Bowen’s ideas, Scazzero claims that he is able to assist Christians to know themselves by “Living Faithful to Your True Self,” which is the title of Chapter 2 of EHS. He begins by saying:
One very helpful way to clarify this process of growing in our faithfulness to our true selves in a new way is through the use of a new term: differentiation. Developed by Murray Bowen, the founder of modern family systems theory, it refers to a person’s capacity to “define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them.” (P. 58.)
An article about research on Bowen’s Family Systems Theory states that “progress in lifting one’s differentiation of self beyond the level of the previous generation of parents is both slow and unsubstantial.”
One review of the “Bowenian Approach” summarizes the criticisms of the approach by 14 researchers. The review begins by saying: “Research involving the Bowen Family System theory tends to review the validity of the approach rather than its effectiveness (Brown, 2015).” The review ends with: “In conclusion, although Bowen Family Systems Theory has solid fundamental ideas, practitioners and researchers have yet to decide whether or not the theory is ‘true’ (Nichols, 2014, pp. 85).” Between the beginning and the end of the review there are some deep and significant criticisms of the Bowenian approach. Because of a gender bias in the system with the abused person held responsible as well as the abuser, the article states that “it is important to note that the Bowen Family System Theory has been banned from several states in batterer’s intervention programs due to this shared responsibility outlook (Murray, 2006).”
Open Field for Shaming and Blaming
Based upon the Bowen Theory of multigenerational transmission, Scazzero introduces a genogram. A genogram is “a diagram outlining the history of the behavior patterns (as of divorce, abortion, or suicide) of a family over several generations.” Scazzero then has a section titled “The Scazzero-Ariola Family.” Ariola is his wife’s family name. Scazzero says: “Genograms are a way to draw our family trees in a way that looks at information about family members and their relationships over two to three generations” (p. 84). He then provides a pictorial illustration of the present and past to, as Scazzero says, “understand the dynamics of who I am.” (p. 84), as if the Bible does not already say who he is, i.e., a sinner saved by grace.
On pages 84 and following, Scazzero’s comments about his and Geri’s parents and grandparents are unbiblical, to say the least, and set a spiritually disgraceful unbiblical example for his vast audience to follow. Perhaps without realizing what he is doing, Scazzero is violating the commandment to honor parents: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). This essential commandment is repeated in Ephesians 6:2-3: “Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”
Honoring parents is such an important commandment that it follows directly after the commandments about how to relate to God. It is even higher in the list than “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). Moreover, the way in which Scazzero is dishonoring his parents includes breaking other commandments as well, namely “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15) and “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Ex. 20:16). In essence, as he reveals his impression of his parents, grandparents, and other family members, he is stealing their reputations and also bearing false witness (at least bias) against them. In essence, Scazzero is blaming his parents, grandparents, and other ancestors for his own failures and faults. Moreover, he does all of this behind their backs with no recourse for those who have been indicted as a means of Scazzero trying to understand himself.
Here are a few examples of the liberties Scazzero takes describing his grandfather:
He was a “womanizer” who lived as a “married bachelor.” He sent his wife and children to work in an Italian pastry shop while he continued living his own separate life.
My mother cannot remember him ever saying her first name. Crescenzo would scream, for example: “Disgrace the family and I’ll kill you.” He would win a pony and give it to another man’s child. When one of his friends expressed keen interest in my mom’s pet dog (she was about ten years old), he gave him the dog as a gift, ignoring my mother’s tears. (P. 84.)
My dad worked for him in Ariola’s pastry shop before marrying his daughter. He once remarked to me, “He treated his dogs better than his children.”
Scazzero then describes his mother:
Francis, my mom, was his only daughter. Her childhood and teen years were lonely, isolated, and tightly controlled. She never had a childhood and carried the emotional scars of her abuse into our family. Giving and receiving love, enjoying life, fun, laughter, playfulness, joy were unknown to her. She struggled with depression and feelings of profound loneliness her entire life. (P. 85.)
Scazzero also dishonors his own father by describing him in a negative and biased manner:
My father was emotionally unavailable and absorbed in work and his hobbies. He delegated the raising of the family to my mom while he traveled. One of the tragedies of our family was that his marriage into my mom’s family resulted in a cutoff from his own family that lasted more than twenty years. (P. 85.)
One gets a very one-sided message from Scazzero’s descriptions as he looks for reasons for his own failures and shortcomings. Such exposure of others and delving into the past are unnecessary and even harmful. We all mustface our own failures, shortcomings, and sinful naturewithout giving external reasons, such as early environment or past history, if we want to put to death the old nature and live according to the new life in Christ. (See Romans 6.)
Scazzero is leading others to break the same commandments as he does. He is also crippling his own and possibly others in their desire for a life that is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) and a walk with the Lord like Paul:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20.)
That Scazzero could be so well schooled theologically and so far off biblically is unconscionable. God will hold Scazzero and us responsible for what we teach and write.
To Be Continued
 Peter Scazzero. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, 2017. (Hereafter page references to this book appear in the text.)
 Peter Scazzero. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, 2017. (Hereafter page references to this book appear in the text.)
 Peter Scazzero uses the New International Version (NIV)of the Bible throughout most of his book. We will be using the King James Version (KJV) in our response.
 Richard B. Miller, Shayne Anderson, Davelyne Kaulana Keala, “Is Bowen Theory Valid? A Review of Basic Research,” Journal of Marital Family Therapy, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8189078_Is_Bowen_theory_valid_A_review_of_basic_research.
 “Strengths & Limitations s of Bowen’s Family Systems,” https://www.coursehero.com/file/pfk9fj/Strengths-Limitations-of-Bowens-Family-Systems-Theory-Strengths-o-Treating.
 “Bowenian Approach: Criticisms,” https://trp868.wixsite.com/bowenianapproach/criticisms.
 “Genogram,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genogram