Rapha is a popular psychological program that appeals to Christians. Many people have asked us about Rapha and its founder Robert McGee. Some are Christians concerned about the psychological intrusion into Christianity. Others are looking for some kind of help.
One man who called us about McGee was Steve Rabey, Religion Editor of the Gazette Telegraph newspaper in Colorado Springs, where McGee now lives. Rabey interviewed a number of people including McGee. In “Of Mind and God,” Rabey quotes McGee as saying:
A lot of times people who go to church hear a general message about how God is supposed to be the answer for their problems, but then they’re taught to feel guilty if he isn’t-instead of being given specific information about how he’s supposed to heal their hurts (Gazette Telegraph, 10/30/93, D1).
Why Robert McGee Promotes Psychological Therapy
McGee “studied psychiatry on the GI Bill,” and says: “Therapy was the only thing that attracted me. . . . As a therapist, I could be an empathetic, sweet human being-and make money” (GT, p. D1).
McGee is ordained by the Southern Baptist denomination and during the 1970s operated counseling centers for them. Later he expanded his counseling centers to include beds in psychiatric hospitals, so that his patients would not have to “check their faith at the door to get treatment” (GT, p. D1). Then, as private psychiatric treatment became more popular and more available through third-party (insurance) payments, Rapha mushroomed into big business.
When questioned about our concerns about Christians using psychological theories and therapies, McGee replied: “The Bobgans and others view churches as some kind of sausage machine-if you put people through certain systems and things, they will automatically turn out as disciples” (GT, p. D3).
To replace what he calls a “sausage machine,” McGee offers his particular brand of psychoheresy. Without bothering to present theoretical justification, McGee simply declares that we all have a need for self-worth and that what believers have to learn is how God meets that need for self-worth and significance.
Robert McGee begins his popular book, The Search for Significance, with these words:
When Christ told His disciples, You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32), He was referring not only to an intellectual assent to the truth, but also to the application of truth in the most basic issues of life: our goals, our motives, and our sense of self-worth. [The Search for Significance, 2nd Ed. (Houston: Rapha Publishing, 1985, 1990), p. xiii, hereafter referred to as SS.]
McGee’s Keys for Mental and Spiritual Health: Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
McGee teaches that self-worth and self-esteem are essential to the Christian life. His primary concern is the source of personal worth, esteem, and significance. He contends that these are “compelling needs” and that too many people are seeking security and significance from worldly sources rather than from God.
McGee intertwines three strands throughout The Search for Significance: (1) some very basic, good Bible teaching, (2) unbiblical psychological teachings, particularly from Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis, and (3) emotionally charged stories that fit the theories he is trying to promote. As with most Christians who try to combine psychology with the Bible, McGee does not seem to notice inherent contradictions between his biblical and antibiblical teachings.
McGee’s drink at the cisterns of psychology is similar to Larry Crabb’s. Both teach that people are driven by needs deep within them, outside their awareness. And, because these needs for worth, security and significance have not been adequately met, people suffer more than they realize. They are, nevertheless, driven by inner pain and unconscious beliefs developed early in life from not having those needs met. McGee says:
We are hurt, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually, but because we aren’t aware of the extent of our wounds, we can’t take steps toward healing and health. Our problem is not stupidity, but a lack of objectivity. Because of this, we fail to see the reality of pain, hurt, and anger in our lives (SS, p. 2).
That statement teaches that if we are to live godly lives we must explore the origin of the hurt and dig up the pain. In reference to his own life, McGee says:
I began to be honest with myself and with God. The tough exterior I had developed started cracking, and I began to experience the pain I had neither wanted nor allowed myself to feel (SS, p. 4).
McGee’s Defense Mechanisms
McGee presents an Adlerian adaptation of Freud’s defense mechanisms. McGee declares: “Human beings develop elaborate defense mechanisms to block pain and gain significance” (SS, p. 4).
McGee speaks of defense mechanisms as if they are established facts. Instead, they are an elaborate system of guessing about what is going on inside another person. In fact, much psychological counseling has to do with trying to figure out people’s inner motives and drives. And, the theories end up being personal opinion, because only God has access into the inner man.
The best these theories can do is give some kind of glimpse into how individual theorists saw into their own inner life. For instance, Freud believed people are determined by early life experiences and driven by strong sexual impulses from deep within the unconscious. One of Adler’s doctrines was that we are driven by the need for self-worth, expressed in security and significance. Already, one can see their influence on McGee: unmet needs and deep inner pain driving a person from a powerful unconscious.
McGee speaks much about how much pain people have and how past pain affects their present lives. He says:
Some of us have deep emotional and spiritual scars resulting from the neglect, abuse, and manipulation that often accompany living in a dysfunctional family . . . but all of us bear the effects of our own sinful nature and the imperfections of others (SS, p. 5).
Unholy Mixture: Psychology and Theology
Because he is presenting some Bible and some psychology, McGee speaks of personal sin as well as the failures of others. That is why a Christian could naively read his book and think it is biblical. At times he has entire paragraphs which are biblical, but that makes the reader even more receptive to the errant psychological doctrines laced among Bible verses. The danger of the mixture can be seen in his statement of purpose:
The purpose of this book is to provide clear, biblical instruction about the basis of your self-worth by helping you: 1. Identify and understand the nature of man’s search for significance. 2. Recognize and challenge inadequate answers. 3. Apply God’s solution to your search for significance (SS, p. 8,9).
He wants to “provide clear, biblical instruction” and that’s wonderful, but what he wants to “provide clear, biblical instruction” about is not to be found in Scripture, but rather in godless humanistic psychology. And, when he gives Scriptures, they do not and cannot support those secular theories.
McGee has embraced the need theology of secular psychology. He says:
Our desire to be loved and accepted is a symptom of a deeper need-the need that often governs our behavior and is the primary source of our emotional pain. Often unrecognized, this is our need for self-worth (SS, p. 11). (Emphasis added.)
McGee attempts to support this secular theory with Scripture. He says:
In the Scriptures, God supplies the essentials for discovering our true significance and worth. The first two chapters of Genesis recount man’s creation, revealing man’s intended purpose (to honor God) and man’s value (that he is a special creation of God) (SS, p. 13).
In one fell swoop, McGee equates the need for significance with “man’s intended purpose of honoring God,” and he turns the fact of God creating mankind into “man’s value,” that is, his worth. Instantly God’s Word is restated in Adlerian terms and understood through the colored lenses of need psychology.
McGee presses on. He says:
An accurate understanding of God’s truth is the first step toward discovering our significance and worth (SS, p. 14).
An “accurate understanding of God’s truth” leads to significance and self-worth? Until the twentieth century, an accurate understanding of God’s truth was the first step towards understanding our own depravity and God’s goodness.
Hunger for Significance and Self-Worth: Biblical or Worldly?
Paul was so overwhelmed by the goodness of God and by the gift of grace God had given him to “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” that he referred to himself as “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). Saints of earlier centuries abhorred the thought of self-esteem. Charles Spurgeon put it bluntly: “Anything is better than self-esteem.” [The Treasury of the Bible, Vol. VII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 219.]
But McGee follows the trend of the second half of the twentieth century, along with many other Christians who have become wed to the psychological way. He attempts to give support to his position by quoting Dr. Lawrence Crabb (whose doctrines he follows throughout his book) as saying:
The basic personal need of each person is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being (quoted in SS, p. 14)
. McGee then declares:
Whether labeled “self-esteem” or “self-worth,” the feeling of significance is crucial to man’s emotional, spiritual, and social stability, and is the driving element within the human spirit. (SS, p. 15) (Emphasis added.)
Note that this “feeling of significance is crucial.” Crucial for what? It certainly was never taught by Jesus or the apostles. Throughout Scripture meekness, lowliness, and humility are the sought-after attributes, not self-esteem, self-worth and significance. If these things are to be found “within the human spirit,” why are they not clearly proclaimed in the gospels and epistles? They more clearly fit an Adlerian adaptation of a Freudian unconscious, with its “driving element.” McGee seems to be turning man’s spirit into that kind of unconscious, filled with powerful energy driving behavior.
Even though Scripture never encourages self-worth, McGee insists that, “We must understand that this hunger for self-worth is God-given and can only be satisfied by Him.” Therefore, throughout the book, McGee explains how “hunger for self-worth” is filled by God (SS, p. 15).
Having turned to psychological theories to understand human nature and how to help people change, McGee declares:
Since the Fall, man has often failed to turn to God for the truth about himself. Instead, he has looked to others to meet his inescapable need for self-worth (SS, p. 25).
McGee, himself, is looking outside Scripture to find “truth about himself.” Then, he takes secular need psychology and makes God the fulfiller of what those psychologists suppose are the needs that motivate behavior.
Once he turns God into the fulfiller of needs (which are never established in Scripture), McGee goes through the same litany as his secular counterparts. He also presents the devil’s activity as fooling people into thinking they must fulfill these needs for self-worth through such things as performance and pleasing others. McGee lists “four false beliefs resulting from Satan’s deceptions,” and of course they’re all “false beliefs” about meeting a so-called “God-given” need for self-worth. McGee lists four categories of false beliefs, describes them and then gives what he thinks is “God’s answer” for each one. Here is how they line up:
“False Belief Category”-“God’s Answer”
“The Performance Trap”-“Justification”
“Approval Addict” – “Reconciliation”
“The Blame Game” – “Propitiation”
“Shame”-“Regeneration” (SS, pp. 40-41).
By putting psychological words together with theological words, McGee makes his system appear biblical to the unwary. Further deception results as he juxtaposes psychological doctrines with biblical doctrines as if they go together, when they are miles apart. For instance, he says:
Thankfully, God has a solution for the fear of failure! He has given us a secure self-worth totally apart from our ability to perform. We have been justified, placed in right standing before God through Christ’s death on the cross, which paid for our sins (SS, p. 53).
Here he has an opinion gleaned from humanistic psychology sandwiched between two true statements. He further declares: “By imputing righteousness to us, God attributes Christ’s worth to us” (SS, p. 53). That is an erroneous statement, a result of misinterpreting Scripture through psychological notions!
McGee and RET
The kind of psychology we are talking about is not science; it is philosophy and ends up being antibiblical theology. However, McGee does not seem to worry about where he finds answers to why we are the way we are and how we can change. This is evident in his use of the Rational Emotive Therapy of Albert Ellis, an avowed atheist who considers Christianity to be dangerous to a person’s mental health. McGee says:
Changing how we think, feel, and act is a process that involves the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, honesty, time modeling, affirmation, and truth. As a starting point, however, we will use a model adapted from psychologist Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy (SS, p. 140).
McGee sounds no caution. He simply juxtaposes Ellis with the “supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.” This would be anathema to Ellis, and it should be anathema to Christians. But because he has so fully embraced Ellis’s system, he says:
We often interpret the situations we encounter through our beliefs. Some of our interpretations are conscious reflections; most of them, however, are based on unconscious assumptions. These beliefs trigger certain thoughts, which, in turn, stimulate certain emotions, and from these emotions come our actions (SS, p. 140). (Emph. added.)
The above is a simplified version of how Ellis adapted the Freudian unconscious. With Ellis, unconscious beliefs and assumptions direct present thinking, feeling, and behaving. Larry Crabb teaches the same thing, since he borrowed from the same sources (Freud, Adler, Maslow, Rogers, and Ellis). And, since Crabb’s first books preceded McGee’s by 8 and 10 years, it is safe to assume that McGee is indebted to him for his general system of misunderstanding the nature of man.
Unlike Crabb, McGee does not attempt to justify his use of psychology. Instead, he simply uses juxtaposition. He interweaves biblical teachings with psychological teachings so that the reader assumes all is Christian. He involves God as the provider of self-worth. He uses theological words along with psychological theories-all to support his notion that mankind’s need is self-worth.
Humanity’s True Need
But, mankind’s true need is not self-worth, self-esteem or feelings of significance. Mankind’s true need is to know God, for without knowing God, there can be no salvation, no growth in sanctification. Paul declared that to know God was his greatest passion (Philippians 3).
Peter’s second epistle clearly shows that God’s “divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Knowing the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest need of all. He makes Himself known through His Word and His Holy Spirit, not through secular psychological theories of men.
Looking at self is not even the way to know oneself. To truly know ourselves, we must come to know Christ more and more. Then we discern what is of Him and what is of us. When we see what is of us apart from Him, we must conclude that it is of the flesh. It is worthless. It is worse than worthless. That is why Job abhorred himself when he saw God.
All the attributes given to us in Christ, such as His righteousness and the fruit of the Spirit are of Him. He is the worthy one. We are vessels which would do well to decrease in self-aggrandizing thoughts, rather than increase. Paul never got these mixed up the way McGee does. Paul rejoiced to say:
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:6,7).
In commenting about this Scripture, A.W. Pink says:
God has placed His treasure “in earthen vessels”-not steel or gold-easily cracked and marred, worthless in themselves (A. W. Pink, The Life of Elijah [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991], p. 200).
Indeed, integrationist teachers of need psychology (like McGee) often confuse the container with its contents to establish some kind of inherent self-worth. Much could be said about how unbiblical current doctrines of self-esteem are. However, because this is a short article we do not have room to go into the history of the self-esteem movement in the church, all the reasons why self-esteem is not biblical, and related research, which reveals that raising self-esteem is not the solution to personal or social problems that it is assumed to be.
Profits of Psychoheresy
At the end of McGee’s book, The Search for Significance, are 12 pages advertising “RAPHA: Christ-Centered Hospital and Counseling Care.” In addition to pictures of well-known Christian leaders endorsing Rapha, there are “True stories of God’s miracles through RAPHA,” a list of “disorders” therapized there, and a “Toll Free, 24 hours a day 1-800” number.
McGee’s doctrines of man are manifest at Rapha. Psychologically-trained professionals comprise the staff, and the hospital treatment centers are simply beds in private (secular) psychiatric hospitals. Also, just as the need for self-esteem is paramount in his book, it is a primary consideration at Rapha.
Here are a few statements from the brochure:
Part of Rapha’s success is found in their unique ability to target and resolve problems of low self-esteem. . . .
At the core of all emotional problems and addictive disorders is low self-worth. It is never the only problem; but it is so major an issue that, if not dealt with adequately, one is kept from experiencing lasting, positive results. . . . (Italics in original; bold emphasis added.)
All our programs are led by caring professionals (M.D., Ph.D., M.S.W.) [i.e., psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers].
Like Minirth-Meier Clinics and New Life Treatment Centers, Rapha has a broad advertising base. Rapha ads often include photos and endorsements from such well-known personalities as Jerry Falwell, Charles Stanley, D. James Kennedy, Ben Kinchlow, and Pat Boone.
How popular is Rapha? Rabey reports that “Rapha operates 120 beds in 12 units around the country for an annual income of more than $12 million.” He says, “Nearly 7,000 congregations have opened their doors to Rapha trainers, who teach pastors, counselors and lay leaders how to organize and run support groups” (GT, p. D3). What a convenient means of finding prospective patients!
And, because the support groups are trained by Rapha they are psychologically based. Rapha provides psychotherapeutic treatment that mixes godless humanistic theories and the Bible. But, instead of providing the best of both worlds, Rapha ends up selling broken cisterns that hold no water (Jer. 2:11-13).