by Debbie Dewart

Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Changes That Heal was developed at the request of Campus Crusade for Christ, which now uses the book extensively in training its leadership. The book incorporates many of the concepts found in Boundaries, which Cloud co-authored with John Townsend, and Hiding From Love, authored solely by Townsend. It is unfortunate to note the intrusion of psychotherapy into organizations originally formed to spread the gospel. The fruit of modern psychology is changes that hurt, not “changes that heal.”

Cloud’s Commitment to Psychology. Cloud insists that he does not wish to become involved in the debate between psychology and Scripture. He claims to reject an extreme position on either side and to offer biblical solutions to the emotional struggles of Christians. According to Cloud, the “Scripture alone” position is one that repeats the error of Job’s friends, seeing every emotional struggle as “sin only.” Yet despite his expressed desire to avoid the Scripture-psychology debate, Cloud clearly opts for the psychological approach. He defends his method as more compassionate. However, he fails to address psychology’s dependence on the theories of godless men, unrighteous men who hold down the truth about God (Romans 1:18). Because man is the image of God, such theological distortion must inevitably result in grave error about the nature of man and how he should live.

The Image of God. Cloud claims to define the image of God in terms of four “developmental tasks,” building his book around what he claims are the “four aspects of the personality of God.” These “tasks” are: (1) to bond with others; (2) to separate from others; (3) to sort out issues of good and bad; and (4) to take charge as an adult.

Biblically, the image of God can be described in two broad categories. Man has retained the image in one sense, but has lost it, through sin, in another sense. Man retains moral agency and rationality; he has not become a beast or a demon in the Fall. Texts such as James 3:9 and Genesis 9:6 affirm this broad sense of God’s image, retained by all mankind. But in the sense of moral excellence (righteousness, holiness, knowledge of God’s truth), man has lost God’s image and needs restoration (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:10; Romans 8:29). The “task” of “sorting out good and bad” comes closest to recognizing this aspect of moral excellence, but Cloud’s emphasis is on the acceptance of both good and bad, rather than on the restoration of holiness. While it is good that he recognizes the importance of the image of God, his definition does not do justice to Scripture.

Grace and Truth. Before delving into detail about the four developmental tasks, Cloud addresses the matter of grace and truth, which “together invite us out of isolation and into relationship.” He rejects approaches that emphasize one of these at the expense of the other.

Certainly, we must minister to others with both grace and truth. Although Cloud rightly recognizes that God’s law does not provide the eternal salvation that is a free gift of God’s grace, he tends to confuse law with truth. He also defines grace in terms of an unconditional acceptance of the “real you,” sins and all. Biblically, God’s grace is freely offered because Christ fully satisfied the requirements of God’s law. God’s truth includes the wonderful gospel news about God’s free gift. God accepts the believer in Christ, based on His redemptive work. Meanwhile, through His Spirit and Word, He sanctifies us, conforming us to the image of His Son. Psychology masquerades as compassion and grace, but all too often becomes an easy acceptance of sin.

“Developmental Task” #1: Attachment/Bonding. Christians are indeed intended to live in relationship with both God and others. Passages such as Ephesians 4 teach us about our unity in the body of Christ. Cloud’s focus, however, is primarily on getting our “needs” met through God and others. Scripture concentrates on our love for God and others. Reconciliation and service, not “neediness,” are the center of biblical attention.

Cloud’s discussion in this area, as well as on the other “tasks,” analyzes failures primarily in terms derived directly from Freud: defense mechanisms, denial, projection, reaction formation, and numerous others. Freud’s godless speculation about human motivation draws heavily on the presumed deterministic “unconscious” and thus destroys responsibility to a holy God.

“Developmental Task” #2: Separation and “Boundaries.” Much of this material is repetitious of the book Boundaries and has been critiqued at length elsewhere. Here Cloud discusses the task of “separating from others.” A multitude of sin is “explained” by the “boundaries” concept. There are certain biblical separations that Cloud rightly notes, such as the Creator-creature distinction. Some of his discussion about individual responsibilities has an element of truth in it. However, his major focus is on emotions and on giving to others out of personal choice rather than any sort of obligation. God does care deeply about our motives for good works and warns against ungodly motives, such as the fear of man. However, Scripture properly clarifies our responsibilities and priorities before God. We are to love Him first, and then we are to love others as much as we already love ourselves. The psychological concept of “boundaries” easily results in a relentless pursuit of one’s own “needs,” drawing believers away from service to God and others.

“Developmental Task” #3: Sorting Out Good and Bad. Again there is a grain of truth present. Believers must learn to discern between truth and error, good and evil. Cloud’s psychological approach, however, is one that promotes acceptance of both good and bad. He believes that many people are unable to tolerate the fact of good and evil in the world, and consequently “split” the two, seeing others and/or self as either “all good” or “all bad.” In urging acceptance of both good and bad, Cloud borders on embracing sin.

We do live in a world that is marred by sin. Yet God has graciously planned the redemption of His people and renewal of His creation (Romans 8). As Christians, we acknowledge the sin in the world, but we live with the hope of a glorious eternity, where all the powers of evil will be destroyed once and for all. We treat others with humility and respect, yet vigorously pursue godliness. Cloud’s psychological “integration” of good and bad falls short of the biblical view, which is both realistic in terms of the present time and assured of a future eternal glory (Romans 8:18).

“Developmental Task” #4: Becoming an Adult. This final “task” is described in terms of moving from childhood status into adulthood, which Cloud characterizes primarily in terms of exercising authority. The Bible does encourage growth toward maturity, and roles of authority are defined in the home, church, and state.

The major problem in this section is a big one. In his lengthy discussion of adolescence, Cloud encourages an attitude of rebellion toward parents. Although Scripture encourages believers to be discerning and not blindly follow human authority, nowhere is such rebellion ever encouraged or condoned. Cloud misleads his readers by encouraging the type of autonomy that is the very root of our sin.

Conclusion. There is a dangerous mixture of biblical truth and psychological error in Changes That Heal. Cloud believes his approach is “deep” because it moves beyond the mere consideration of “symptoms.” However, only the Holy Spirit, using the powerful Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), can fully examine and sanctify the inner man. Believers, meanwhile, are to actively study and obey the Scripture, pursuing holiness in the reverential fear of the Lord.

(From PAL, V5N3)