How much of the church is involved in psychoheresy and how might you detect the shift from Christ-centered faith to a quest for a psychologically satisfied self? Are you hearing more sermons on how to feel better about yourself than about the holiness of God? Are you hearing about the importance of “being” over “doing”? Are you encouraged to get in touch with your feelings? Are you learning new techniques to deal with stress? Are you hearing about how to improve your self-image, raise your self-esteem, and forgive yourself? Are codependency groups and other twelve-step programs being offered in your church?
Sometimes the language of psychotherapy is barely detected because we live in a psychological society, heavily influenced by the counseling industry. Moreover, the language of therapy is broadcast daily over “Christian radio” throughout America.
Gustav Niebuhr, in his article “Evangelical Christians see value of psychology,” calls it a “cultural shift” and gives his “visit to a Christian bookstore” as one example:
In the section devoted to the “Christian life,” once the province of books on prayer and devotions, you can now find guides on how to stop worrying, overcome codependency, manage stress and live free of guilt (Santa Barbara NewsPress, February 15, 1997, p. D2).
Niebuhr points out that evangelical Christians, who previously “viewed psychotherapy as hostile to religious belief, have largely put aside their suspicions of the profession” (p. D2). In other words most evangelical Christians do, indeed, embrace psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies.
We have witnessed this shift over the past 30 years, and it happened in spite of the research revealing the inefficacy of psychotherapy. Niebuhr quotes Steve Arterburn of New Life Clinics (previously Minirth-Meier New Life) as saying that Christians have accepted the “Christian counseling” form of psychotherapy “because people see the results” (p. D2). But, that can only be by individual testimony and by hype advertising, because the research on efficacy does not support the idea that treatment from psychotherapy is superior to other activities in which a person may participate (see Bobgan, PsychoHeresy, pp. 182 ff.). But research does reveal negative results from psychotherapy. It has been demonstrated that psychotherapy can harm.
Prior to the advent of psychoheresy in the church, preachers taught people about the powerful, sufficient grace of God during times of trial and affliction. But, now many seem to assume that people are “hurting” and thus needing some kind of psychological wisdom and help. Rather than preaching the power of the Gospel both to save and to sanctify, they offer an insipid solution to the latest trend of psychological ills that surely must be debilitating the flock.
Through the years we have encouraged believers to minister God’s grace to one another, both because the Bible calls us to do so and because research demonstrates that, on the average, nonprofessionals do as well as or better than highly trained, experienced professional counselors (PsychoHeresy, pp. 179 ff.). Now others are echoing the call, with words such as these: “A New Testament approach to ministry demands that we [pastors] allow trained church members to assist in counseling.” (Ministries Today, September/October, 1996, p. 61). The author of the article declares, “I teach a 32-week, Scripture-heavy course designed to disciple team members in a Spirit-led, prayer-centered, biblical approach to ‘one anothering.’” That sounds great, but later in the article he reveals his confidence in psychological counseling and its underlying psychologies. He advises pastors “to have a trained, professional Christian counselor available as a consultant to you and your team of counselors” (p. 62).
We commend those who desire to help and encourage believers to minister to one another, but here again trust is placed in psychology for difficult cases. It is as if to say that Christians can help one another with little problems, but they cannot help with the big ones. We continually find that, underneath all the external verbiage, most professing Christians maintain a dual trust. They rely on the psychological theories and therapies of unregenerate men and they also rely on the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Their allegiance is divided, and their leaning towards one or the other will depend on the severity of a problem.
This attitude is repeated from church to church, so much so that people write to us and ask, “Are there any churches that are free of psychoheresy?” We generally answer that there are very few. We recommend that people look for a church where at least the senior pastor carefully preaches the Word, trusts in the sufficiency of the Savior for living the Christian life, and warns people about the dangers of following the wisdom of the world.
Another publication read by pastors is Your Church, in which a clinical therapist encourages pastors to protect themselves from people in their congregation. Why? Because he says, “Today’s church member springs from a therapeutic culture” (November/December 1996, p. 44). Here is some of the advice given:
Use a professional therapist as a consultant if you have a counseling program in your church. Lay counselors should be under the supervision of a qualified counselor. . . . Make a referral to a qualified therapist when dealing with long term counseling. Personality types that run the greatest legal risk often require long-term counseling (p. 47).
The expression “qualified counselor” refers to a psychologically trained and licensed counselor.
Some pastors become so impressed with secular psychological theories and therapies that they leave the pastorate, go back to school, and become psychological therapists themselves. One such former pastor declares:
I really believe the counselor serves a priestly role. . . . I think (spirituality and counseling) go together. Truth is truth. There are just different languages for it (“Ministering to the Mind,” The Bakersfield Californian, January 25, 1997, p. A14).
We wonder about which truth this pastor-turned-psychological-priest might be referring, since there are now around 500 different and often conflicting theoretical systems of psychological counseling. Such an idea of truth is like the New Age definition of truth being “whatever is truth to you”—completely subjective with no standard. Psychological counseling and its underlying psychologies are not based on the one secure foundation of truth, the Holy Bible. Instead, psychological counseling is based on systems of human opinion.
Christians do recognize certain shortcomings to psychology and thus attempt to add a spiritual dimension, but when they do so they are still compromising their trust in God and His Word and placing their confidence in the psychological wisdom of man, human effort, and professional intervention.
Yes, psychoheresy is abounding. In one form or another, it is more prevalent in the pulpit and the pew than ever before. Many have already placed their trust in the false gospel of psychoheresy. Yet, we know there are others who would listen and respond to warnings about psychoheresy if the information were made available to them.
(PAL V5N3 * May-Jun ’97)
For a book revealing the failings of psychotherapy, see PsychoHeresy on the Study Materials page. For a book uplifting the biblical approach to ministering to life’s problems, see Competent to Minister. Both books can be obtained through this ministry.