There was a time when Christians gave testimonies of hope. They extolled their wonderful Savior who had given them new life. They told of how Christ worked in their lives to enable them to live pleasing to God and to grow in the fruit of the spirit. They could say they had experienced the goodness of God. Moreover their lives matched their testimony.
Now, however, the kind of testimony the world hears from Christians is how troubled they all are and how they need special psychiatric clinics to manage their lives. No longer are such Christians walking by faith in victory; instead they are barely recovering through some combination of worldly methods and a bit of the Bible.
The new testimony to the failure of God’s grace in the lives of Christians is being seen and heard by the world. Atheists and secular humanists are even further convinced that anyone who follows the God of the Bible is bound to be depressed and to have all sorts of problems directly related to his faith.
Christian psychologists and psychiatrists, with their dependence on the world’s ways of counseling and with their numerous advertising testimonials on Christian radio, are proclaiming to the world that Christ is not sufficient and that Christians are in very bad shape.
Here is the response of the world to these Christian treatment centers and their patients, written by psychologist Edmund D. Cohen in the secular humanist publication Free Inquiry (Summer 1993). After listing Palmdale General Hospital in California, Minirth-Meier Clinics, Rapha, and New Life Treatment Centers and the accompanying books by Minirth-Meier, Robert McGee, and Stephen Arterburn, Cohen says:
When I began assembling literature from these programs, I found in them an unexpected and crucial validation of my own work. The born-again treatment providers’ renditions of the psychological disorders they treat corresponded exactly to my rendition of psychological disorders Bible indoctrination fosters. (p. 27)
This is what Cohen claims these programs validate:
In my own research on the born-agains, I found out that behind their facade of euphoric calm, people marinated in the Bible and surrounded by the born-again church subculture tend to be depressed, and suffer from a sort of generalized emotional distress partaking of anxiety, worry and fear. (p. 26)
He contends that Christians tend to “suppress thoughts and feelings considered inappropriate for a saved person” and that their “distress is grounded in salvation doubt and nagging fears about what will happen after death.” (p. 26)
Christians who object to Cohen’s evaluation of true Christianity have to admit that the popularity of Christian psychology and the proliferation of Christian psychiatric wards do give some doubt as to the reality of Christ in the lives of both the treatment providers and their clients. Cohen evidently never knew the reality of Christ in his own life, even though the byline refers to him as one who “was a born-again Christian.” (Emphasis added.) We say “doubt as to the reality of Christ” in their lives because, if one truly knows Christ and follows the Word of God through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, he will grow in faith. He will have assurance of salvation and confidence before God. He will bear the fruit of the spirit in his life and will not live a phony facade.
Cohen’s description of what he sees to be typical of “born-agains” must be a result of his own experience and the observation of those who claim to be Christians but who are living by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of God. They are like those who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5).
While Cohen may not understand what it truly means to know Christ and to live by His indwelling presence, he clearly sees what is going on in the pseudo-Christianity of psychological treatment. He says, “The clients of Rapha, Minirth-Meier, and New Life would no doubt be chagrined to find out how much of their parlance is lifted directly from secular mental health sources.” He further contends that “psychological and theological jargon are mixed indiscriminately.” He declares, “The main gimmick simply consists of administering secular mental health treatment, but attributing any beneficial result to the religious devotions of born-again Christianity.” (p. 28)
What Cohen is clearly saying is that these psychological treatment providers are using the methods of “the despised secularists” and, in doing so, demonstrate that Christians need “additional, imported material to help compensate for something lacking.” Yes, the message is loud and clear. The psychologized Christian testimony of the 90s proclaims that Christ is not sufficient and that Christianity has some real problems.
Cohen refers to Toxic Faith by Steve Arterburn and Jack Felton with their 12-step program for “religious addiction.” Cohen says:
They [Arterburn and Felton] seem oblivious to their method’s far-reaching implications. By making contemporary mental health lore the controlling criterion, having that lore determine what the Bible demands or does not demand from born-again believers, the basic principle of trusting and obeying the Bible is reduced to a farce. (P. 29)
Of course, this further convinces Cohen of the danger of Christianity to a person’s mental health.
Cohen is concerned about the mixture of psychology and Christianity, but for reasons vastly different from our own. We are concerned about psychological notions and methods contaminating the true faith. But, Cohen is concerned that what he calls “a conglomeration of natural science and supernaturalistic antiscience” (i.e. Christianity) undermines the mental health profession. Evidently Cohen has not yet discovered that clinical psychology’s conglomeration of notions is not natural science either. It is not a conglomeration of anti-science and science, but rather a conglomeration of Christianity and antichristianity.
The attempted integration of psychological theories and therapies with Christianity produces a hybrid that can only denigrate true Christianity. Testimonies extolling psychological treatment for Christians proclaim that Christians have lots of emotional problems their faith can’t handle. Unbelievers hear such testimonies and conclude that Christianity is dangerous to a person’s mental health.
Where are the Christians who have found Christ sufficient, who have experienced His abundant life, who know the depths of His love and the power of His grace? We know where lots of them are: they are on our mailing list! But, are their voices being heard amid the din of “hurting Christians” who are “recovering” from their state of “victimhood”? We hope so!
(Quotations from Edmund D. Cohen, “And Now—Psychiatric Wards for Born-Again Christians Only,” Free Inquiry, Summer 1993, pp. 25-30.)
(From PAL, V1N4)