In Part One of this article we demonstrate that the biblical counseling program at The Master’s College and Seminary (TMC&S) is not truly biblical. In Part Two we reveal that Dr. John Street’s biblical justification for his counseling is not biblically justifiable. Here in Part Three we reveal two egregious errors on the part of Street, who chairs the graduate program in Biblical Counseling (MABC) at TMC&S, the largest of its kind in America.
Two More Serious Errors
In addition to Street’s unbiblical problem-centered counseling, we are concerned about two other areas of erroneous teaching, which have been widely spread through the audios and videos made of the Biblical Counseling & Discipleship Association (BCDASoCal) Training Conference, Southern California, Fall 2011.1 The first egregious teaching has to do with information Street gave to Julie about her depression and the other is his teaching about schizophrenia.
In speaking with Julie, Street says:
Now, we know that there are certain types of diseases and circumstances that can bring on feelings of depression, symptoms of depression. But all of those types of problems are easily discernible with a good, thorough physical. We know that…. And let’s assume that all the blood tests and everything that the Ob-Gyn has given you have turned out well. I mean, there’s no sign of any organic abnormalities that’s going on in you…. If the Ob-Gyn has jotted down a thorough job then we can say that this is not organically caused. The etiology or the very core of this causes the problem of this is not an organic issue. It doesn’t have to do with Julie’s physiological body, other than the fact that you’re going through normal changes with pregnancy and a lot of changes going on in your life. (Bold added.)2
Street’s counseling is predicated on his belief that bodily diseases are “easily discernible” with “a good thorough physical” and his assumption that Julie had one. Street concludes with “there’s no sign of any organic abnormalities.” (Bold added.) According to Street, Julie’s depression is “not an organic issue.” He proceeds to counsel her based upon his questionable conclusion. Unfortunately there are many biblical counselors, such as Street, who hold to the medically mistaken belief that a thorough medical exam, in which no bodily disorders are found for depression, indicates that there are no physical causes underlying or contributing to the depression and thus one can proceed to “cure” the depression biblically.
Street is apparently ignorant of the psychiatric treatment of mental disorders over the years, including depression, which turned out later to be true bodily disorders even after having had a “good thorough physical.” Street seems unfamiliar with medical history and current practice where various physical diseases in their emerging state or actual existence have, even with a “good thorough physical,” been shown to have no medical markers and yet result in depression and other mental disorders.3
There is a whole class of diseases called “idiopathic.” According to the dictionary, “Idiopathic is an adjective used primarily in medicine meaning arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause.”4 In other words, there are no medical markers yet discovered for such diseases; there are only symptoms. There are many such diseases of both body and brain that occur. There are idiopathic diseases of the body that are known only by their symptoms. A Wall Street Journal article titled “Confusing Medical Ailments With Mental Illness” begins by saying, “More than 100 medical disorders can masquerade as psychological conditions or contribute to them, complicating treatment decisions.”5
The article lists a number of these either-not-diagnosed or misdiagnosed bodily illnesses that result in depression and other mental symptoms. The article states: “Recognizing an underlying medical condition can be particularly difficult when there is also a psychological explanation for a patient’s dark mood.”6 Or, we would add, when a biblical counselor such as Street assumes that a person’s dark mood is due to a spiritual problem just because no bodily markers are found.
After giving reasons to contradict what Street teaches about being able to rule out possible biological problems that could lead to depression since these are “easily discernible with a good, thorough physical,” a medical doctor with extensive experience in the medical field comments, “Now how can Street say that one is safe medically if they get a thorough physical? There are many maladies that do not show up for years and cannot be detected by even a ‘thorough’ physical.”7 Surely there are medical doctors at Grace Community Church, where Street is an elder, who would say likewise. This mentality, such as Street’s, of depression being a spiritual problem if no medical markers are found in a “good thorough exam” has caused much personal harm to believers.
How sad it is when a Christian diagnoses a fellow believer’s depression as spiritually caused when, indeed, there may be hidden biological reasons for the symptoms. In the absence of biological markers, spiritualizing a mental disorder and prescribing a biblical regimen as Street does can be as serious a mistake as biologizing a mental disorder and prescribing a drug, the reason being that following Street’s conclusion about depression could induce guilt and greater spiritual suffering in even the most godly individuals. Wouldn’t it be much better to admit that one may not know what underlies an individual’s depression and yet provide spiritual helps that could alleviate the personal suffering and promote spiritual growth?
Everything in life has spiritual overtones. However, everything in life is not necessarily the sole result of our spiritual choices and that includes depression, which can be the result of genetics, hormones, illnesses, diseases, injuries, and circumstances, all of which can affect one’s state of mind. And, of course one will respond to the issues of life biblically more and more as one grows in the spirit and matures in the faith. Therefore, one should seek to minister the things of the Spirit and build individuals up in the Word. Whether the problem is biological, spiritual, or both, believers may minister God’s mercy, grace, and truth to fellow believers, because every occasion of suffering can be used for comfort and spiritual growth unless the one who ministers thinks he can diagnose another person’s heart attitude. There must be much humility in personally ministering to those who are suffering, even if they have brought this suffering upon themselves.
Street’s questionable conclusion will surely cause many depressed believers to feel guilty about their “spiritual lack” when they may be as spiritually sound as Street himself. Compounding this mistaken teaching is the fact that Street is teaching a spiritually and medically dangerous idea to many others world-wide who will propagate this serious error among their colleagues and counselees.
This medical ignorance on Street’s part will be repeated throughout the work of his students and others who watch his video or hear his audio messages, which are readily available world-wide. Think about the possible medical and even spiritual consequences of this erroneous teaching being foisted upon naïve counselees by those trained by Street.
A second egregious teaching given by Street at the Fall 2011 Training Conference is in a talk in which he discusses thirteen psychological labels and avoiding the use of them. One of the labels he discusses is that of “schizophrenia.”8 He begins by saying, “schizophrenia is just a nice Greek word for people who believe that they have personalities talking in the back of their head.” To begin with, Street has over-simplified a complex and not completely understood condition that comes in a variety of forms. It might surprise Street to know that there are some schizophrenics who do not “believe that they have personalities talking in the back of their head.” His overly simplistic statement is medically appalling as any neuropsychiatric expert would tell him.
Street then compounds his grievous error by saying, “Actually working with schizophrenia’s not hard at all.” (Bold added.) To demonstrate how simple it is to work with schizophrenics, Street begins by saying, “If this represented all the schizophrenics in the world [at this point he stretches his arms out wide], only this many [he holds his thumb and forefinger almost together] are really genuine true Christians.” In other words, there are almost no “genuine true Christians” who suffer from schizophrenia. Since only the Holy Spirit would know how many are and are not Christians, Street has obviously usurped the place of the Holy Spirit as he presumes to have knowledge that there is only a small number of schizophrenics who are believers, and he does so on the flimsiest and false biblical standard as will be seen shortly. Such certain knowledge belongs only to God.
Street proceeds to tell how one can cure schizophrenics by saying:
And of those people [schizophrenics] you have to settle one thing early. Who’s going to define your reality for you? The voices in the back of your head or the Bible? What’s God’s Word say? If you can settle that issue early with this: you can’t work with all these other people. All these schizophrenics think that they’re Christian; they’re not. But you’d only work with a Christian. Remember all counseling is pre-counseling until a person comes to Christ. Right? Well, if you can settle that issue early: Who defines your reality for you? Is it what’s God’s Word says or is it that voice in the back of your head that says hurt yourself or hurt that other person.
So all one needs to do is to make sure the schizophrenic is a Christian because, according to Street, “you’d only work with a Christian” and “if you can settle that issue early” and “who defines reality for you…God’s Word” or “that voice in the back of your head,” then and only then a possible easy cure. While teaching people to base their reality on God’s Word is sound advice, Street overlooks the complexity of schizophrenia and its range of symptoms.
Schizophrenia is one of the most enigmatic of the mental disorders and its cure has been elusive to this day. For Street to casually set aside the billions-plus dollars spent and the multitudinous hours labored on research on schizophrenia by brilliant minds in his promotion of his personal opinion based on his proposed schizophrenia cure restricted to only an extremely small group of Christians that one is able to identify is reprehensible!
Harvard Medical School reports: “One in a hundred persons will at some time suffer from schizophrenia. Its causes are obscure, and no way is known to prevent or cure it.”9 (Bold added.) In his book Surviving Schizophrenia, E. Fuller Torrey, MD, refers to schizophrenia as “today’s most misunderstood illness” and says:
Contrary to the popular stereotype, schizophrenia is an eminently treatable disease. That is not to say it is a curable disease, and the two should not be confused. Successful treatment means the control of symptoms, whereas cure means the permanent removal of their causes. Curing schizophrenia will not become possible until we understand its causes; in the meantime we must continue improving its treatment.10
Street’s “cure” for “Christian” schizophrenics is based upon his say-so and could never be put to the scientific test; how could it be? To begin with, who or what establishes a person as a Christian, when Street says, “All these schizophrenics think that they’re Christian; they’re not”? Consider the amount of confusion and guilt that Street’s blundering opinion will cause Christians who already suffer from schizophrenia.
Just as Street erroneously justifies his use of the Bible to support his unbiblical problem-centered counseling,11 he also erroneously uses the Bible to support his corrupt medical understanding of schizophrenia and his supposed cure. Consider the person with schizophrenia being counseled by Street or by someone he has trained who tries unsuccessfully to follow Street’s plan, is not “biblically cured,” and ends up concluding that he is willfully hearing “voices in the back of [his] head” and/or that he is eternally lost and rejected by God. Think of what might happen to one who not only continues to be plagued by voices, but enters into deep despair. Hopefully Street’s counseling and that of those who follow his teachings will not increase the suicide rate among those who suffer from schizophrenia.
Imagine all those MABC students and those world-wide who see or hear Street’s presentation on schizophrenia believing this egregiously false teaching and then counseling their counselees accordingly. These counselors will erroneously assume that all schizophrenics “have personalities talking in the back of their head[s]” and that the counselor merely needs to determine whether the counselee is a Christian and proceed to lead the counselee to listen to God instead—and then: “abracadabra,” a cure! And, imagine the potential lawsuits that may occur because of this teaching carried out by Street and all these biblical counselors who follow him. This is one more tragedy of Street’s false teaching that is available at TMC&S and the BCDASoCal web site for anyone in the world to see and hear and erroneously believe and follow. Because of Street’s position and background and because Dr. John MacArthur, who heads TMC&S, is so highly regarded world-wide, many will embrace these teachings.
Torrey versus Street
E. Fuller Torrey, M.D, quoted earlier, is a research psychiatrist specializing in depressive illness and schizophrenia. Torrey is the executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and has written several best-selling books on mental illness. Torrey is an eminent research authority, who has over many years seen numerous patients suffering from depressive illness and schizophrenia, which are his specialties. Therefore, we were interested in Torrey’s response to Street’s teaching on depression and schizophrenia.
We were also interested in Torrey’s medical response to Street’s belief that bodily diseases are “easily discernible” with “a good thorough physical” and to Street’s conclusion that in Julie’s case “there is no sign of any organic abnormalities.” In addition, we were curious as to what Torrey would say about Street’s views on schizophrenia. Torrey responded to us as follows:
Dr. Street’s advice betrays a woeful lack of knowledge. Depression and many other psychiatric disorders are physical diseases of the brain which are not detectable by “a good, thorough physical,” including blood tests. Psychiatric disorders can be caused by genetic, infectious, metabolic, and other organic etiologies, some of which are detectable by a physical exam and blood tests, but many cannot be.
His [Street’s] statement about schizophrenia is simply ignorant. I have known many “true Christians” who have schizophrenia. The fact that Dr. Street is in a teaching position is scandalous.12(Bold added.)
We ask any medical doctor who treats patients suffering from depression and/or schizophrenia and who reads Torrey’s critical response to Street’s statements and who disagrees with what Torrey says here to please contact us by calling our toll free number, 1-800-216-4696 (USA), or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prior to the current biblical counseling program, The Master’s College had a Behavioral Studies Program. At that time we were still involved in and promoted the biblical counseling movement. We thought it would be wonderful if the Behavioral Studies Program would be replaced by a biblical counseling program and even strongly recommended that it be done. Eventually it was decided to replace the Behavioral Studies Program with a biblical counseling program, and Dr. Bob Smith from Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries was hired for two years to establish the program. After Smith’s two-year stint, Dr. Wayne Mack of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation was employed to carry on. Street is the current head.
During this period of time, after considerable soul searching and discussions with trusted friends (some of whom disagreed with us), we wrote and published Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible (ABC). We did not come to the conclusions contained within that book quickly or easily. And, we did not expect those immersed in the biblical counseling movement to make an about-face. We believe that many never will. Subsequent to writing ABC, we additionally wrote Person to Person Ministry and Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!
We are making the following two recommendations to right the wrong that exists in the biblical counseling master’s degree program (MABC) at The Master’s College and Seminary:
1. Replace the MABC program with a Behavioral Studies program with the emphasis on a scientific understanding of the broad field of psychology and particularly with an expose of the field of clinical psychology out of which come the psychotherapists and other psychological counselors. This will arm students for the battles that will occur after they leave The Master’s College and Seminary and protect them from looking over their shoulders at what the world has to offer.
2. Encourage the current MABC students to enroll in a Biblical Studies program with special emphasis on ministering versus counseling. The major could be called Biblical Ministry Master of Arts (BMMA). It will give those students who are called to personal biblical ministry a program to train them to do so.
What we recommend would be a huge change for The Master’s College and Seminary. If Dr. John MacArthur would take the time to read Person to Person Ministry and Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! we believe it will be done for the glory of God and the good of His people. We hope and pray for this to happen!
In the meantime our advice to those students who are in the MABC program at TMC&S and those who desire to enroll so that they might minister to others: Switch over to the Biblical Studies major. You will be light years ahead in your ability to Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!
1 Biblical Counseling & Discipleship Association Southern California (BCDASoCal) Training Conference, Fall 2011, http://bcdasocal.org.
2 John Street, “Actual Counseling Session: Clinical Depression,” Audio #17, ibid.
3 Sydney Walker 111. A Dose of Sanity. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996; Martin and Deidre Bobgan, “Christ or Therapy,” Parts One and Two, PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 19, Nos. 5 & 6, www.psychoheresy-aware.org.
4 “Idiopathic” in Wikipedia, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiopathic.
5 Melinda Beck, “Confusing Medical Ailments with Mental Illness,” Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2011, p. D-1.
6 Ibid., pp. D-1, D-4.
7 Personal email.
8 John Street, “Gathering Data: Discerning Problems Biblically,” Video Session Four, BCDASoCal Training Conference, op. cit.
9 Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, Vol. 2, No. 12, June, 1986, p. 1
10 E. Fuller Torrey. Surviving Schizophrenia, 5th Edition. New York: Harper. 2006. p. 156.
11 Martin & Deidre Bobgan, “A Critical Review of The Master’s College & Seminary Biblical Counseling Program,” Part Two, PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Volume 20, Number 5, September-October 2012, https://www.pamweb.org/street_tmc&s_2.html.
12 E. Fuller Torrey email 9/13/12.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, November-December 2012, Vol. 20, No. 6)