Associate Professor, Southern Seminary
A Critique by Martin Bobgan
Dr. Eric L. Johnson, an associate professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Seminary), has written a huge volume titled Foundations for Soul Care. It is a tome of 716 pages. It is loaded with a vast number of bibliographical references that, in spite of small print, covers over 70 pages. Because Johnson’s tome is loaded with references and jargon profusely sprinkled throughout in sometimes convoluted and complex reasonings and confusing explanations, it comes across at times as a prolixity of obfuscation. For example, Johnson writes:
A science consists of a set of communally established practices for elucidating the nature of some object of inquiry and how it changes, leading to a resulting body of complex discourse that records and organizes that knowledge.1
He also writes:
Therefore, each science is a hermeneutical discipline that seeks to elucidate the meaning of its object by obtaining an increasing accurate and comprehensive description, explanation and understanding of it.2
I minored in philosophy and studied under Dr. Herbert Feigl, a luminary philosopher of science, and I had to read those two sentences, as well as many others, twice to catch on to what Johnson is trying to communicate. Feigl was much easier to read and comprehend than Johnson. Thankfully those blessed biblical saints who minister to souls and who do not normally experience this kind of academic verbosity will be totally lost and understandably so. My advice to them is, “Don’t bother reading this book.” In his blockbuster of words, Johnson provides a plethora of ideas but a paucity of help for the ones who are currently biblical soul carers. This book will be of no help, require a ton of time to read, and may even be a confusing and intimidating detriment to those who truly care for souls.
The book will appeal to the small number of theologians who have the vocabulary, know the jargon, and will endure the torture of reading it. I doubt that I will read all of Johnson’s book; I have read articles he has written. However, I may have already read more of Johnson’s book than did those recommending it. If any of those individuals who have given a written endorsement for the book call me, I will read to them several inexplicable paragraphs from the book and challenge them to explain what they mean. My guess is that they will not be able to do it. The best part of this book is that, while it will be recommended by many who will probably never read all of it, few will be buying and reading it aside from the unfortunate seminary students who will be compelled to do so. Even those who follow Johnson will be flummoxed by his fluidity.
Johnson Maligns the Bobgans
After we obtained Johnson’s book, we went to the index to identify where Johnson may have written about us. We were curious for personal as well as academic reasons as we have often been misrepresented. We found one paragraph about us on page 111. The paragraph begins: “The most reactionary approach to descend from [Dr. Jay] Adams is seen in the work of Martin and Diedre [sic] Bobgan.” Note the pejorative remark with the word descend, which means “to go or pass from a higher to a lower place.” In the next sentence he refers to Adams as our “mentor.” Johnson is totally in error here, as we neither descended from nor ascended to Jay Adams. We were not mentored by him and did not even know him prior to Bethany House publishing our first book The Psychological Way/The Spiritual Way in 1979, about which Johnson seems to know little.
Johnson says that the Bobgans “would appear to have relatively little influence outside of a small group of like-minded extremists” (bold added). Johnson ends the paragraph by saying:
Suffice to say that the Bobgans serve as a tragic reminder to conservatives of what can happen when Christians become consumed by the antithesis, to the point that they cut off everyone in the body of Christ, except those who are in total agreement with themselves (bold added).
Once again, Johnson is in gross error. This is a statement that begs an explanation or a footnote, but none exists. What constitutes influence and where has he proved that we have “cut off everyone in the body of Christ”? Johnson’s ignorance is appalling here as he has probably read none of our books and knows little about us, yet he comments on our influence and isolation. Granted, we are cut off from those who believe in counseling psychology and those who have an insufficiency view of the Word of God for problems of living, such as Johnson. Admittedly, we are not in the popular stream of psychological integration and the biblical counseling movement.
We do not normally speak about our influence, but, since Johnson, who seems to believe that popularity is somehow related to truth, has publicly made such egregiously false statements, we will reluctantly compare ourselves to him. We could compare the sales of our books with the sales of Johnson’s books and particularly his current one. Deidre and I have coauthored 18 books. Our books were published by Bethany House, Moody Press, and Harvest House before we established our own publishing company. My prediction is that one of our 18 published books has sold more copies than all of Johnson’s. As to distinguished individuals who respect our academic work to the extent that some have given us written endorsements, this includes both Christians and secular academics. We would naturally have fewer than Johnson, because there are fewer in the church today who truly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture for problems normally taken to a psychotherapist. Though we have fewer than Johnson and the insufficiency-of-Scripture group, we do have a number. The following are two examples of well-known Christians.
“[PsychoHeresy] is a book that should have been written ten years ago, and the message should be gotten to every conservative pastor in this nation today. It has a very important message for this hour.” — Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Radio.
“The modern church is being inundated with human philosophy. It has been deluded into believing that psychology and psychiatry can be used to replace the eternal verities of God’s Word in the redemption of mankind. Martin and Deidre Bobgan warn God’s people of this great peril.” — W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, one of the most widely read Christian writers of the last century.
The following are two examples of well-known academics in the mental health field:
“Although I do not share the Bobgans’ particular religious views, I do share their conviction that the human relations we now call ‘psychotherapy’ are, in fact, matters of religion—and that we mislabel them as ‘therapeutic’ at great risk to our spiritual well-being. This is an important book.” — Thomas Szasz, M.D., professor emeritus of psychiatry, State University of New York, and one of the best-known psychiatrists in the world.
“The Bobgans have produced a unique and helpful book which puts ‘psychotherapy’ back where it belongs. Spiritual counseling is as valid and effective a way to assist people who have problems of living, and is in fact more honest than most. For people with problems of living who share the Bobgans’ spiritual world view, their approach would be the most effective. The Psychological Way/The Spiritual Way is incisive, well reasoned, well written, and an important addition to literature on counseling and psychotherapy.” — E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., author of Surviving Schizophrenia and numerous other books, known internationally for his research in the field of schizophrenia.
We have had over 400,000 visits to our web site this past year. How many visits does Johnson have? We have also probably been on more radio and television broadcasts than Johnson as well. So, whether it’s book sales, endorsements, web site visits, or media interviews, Johnson is totally wrong about our “little influence” and our being “cut off from the body of Christ.” He would be correct if he said that we were cut off from those like himself who have an insufficient view of Scripture when it comes to problems of living and granted there are many of them out there.
In addition, Johnson has misspelled my wife’s name, not only in this paragraph, but elsewhere in the book. So, in one half-page paragraph, Johnson can’t even get his facts straight. It’s a small glimpse of the multitude of errors that may exist elsewhere in his 716 pages. Also, this one paragraph misrepresentation of us reveals that Johnson is more driven by emotion than fact. How much has this affected the rest of the book?
The above misrepresentations of our position are not the only ones Johnson has made. Johnson elsewhere says this in reference to us:
A number of writers have called for a wholesale rejection of psychology and have suggested that all our knowledge of human nature should be derived from the Bible (bold added).3
This is another example of shoddy research on Johnson’s part. We have never had a “wholesale rejection of psychology” and have never “suggested that all our knowledge of human nature should be derived from the Bible.” This is further evidence that Johnson makes comments absent having ever read us. We have university professors of psychology who support our work who would not do so if we had a “wholesale rejection of psychology” or ever even “suggested that all our knowledge of human nature should be derived from the Bible.” By using the generic term psychology, Johnson erroneously accuses those of us who are specifically anti-psychotherapy of being generally anti-psychology! We repeatedly say throughout our work, “When we speak of the leaven of psychology we are not referring to the entire field of psychological studies.”4 Even a casual reader of our work would know better!
We have repeatedly referred to the fact that the American Psychological Association (APA) has over 50 divisions. Our target is “Division 29. Psychotherapy.” Considering how often we have written and said this publicly, it becomes more apparent that Johnson has, probably out of ignorance or sloppy research, misrepresented us. How much other ignorant or sloppy research has Johnson done in his book?
Johnson Is an Integrationist
Johnson admits that he is an integrationist when he says, “The author [Johnson] identifies himself with the integrationist position.”5 An article he coauthored ends by saying:
The bottom line is that clients should be able to go to a therapist and trust that the therapeutic engagement of their soul corresponds to the type of ultimate direction exploration, or orienteering, they seek.6
Those who are the listed endorsers of Johnson’s book are also integrationists or open to it. There is no endorser on the cover of Johnson’s book who completely subscribes to the sufficiency-of-Scripture position or they wouldn’t be there. Also, there is a left-of-Southern-Seminary, liberal leaning of the institutions represented by the endorsers. Until the rise of psychoheresy in the church, the “integrationist” label alone would have nullified the work of any Christian. Too many in the church, through popular psychological writers, have become too “sophisticated” and, like the Laodicean church, too lukewarm and too worldly to care that much.
Science or Pseudoscience?
One thing I learned in my study of the philosophy of science is that scientific status is recklessly claimed by many who are seeking acceptance for their beliefs. Johnson is guilty of very loosely and very audaciously making statements about psychology as science. He says:
But the scientific basis of most of contemporary psychology is beyond dispute in contemporary academia, because of its now voluminous, well-documented and replicated studies in areas like neuropsychology, cognition, motivation, emotion, social psychology, personality, as well as psychopathology and psychotherapy, a judgment confirmed by scientists in other disciplines (e.g., psychologists are regularly invited to contribute to representative science periodicals like Scientific American) (bold added).7
Here lies one of the enormous mistakes made by Johnson throughout the book. The word psychology for Johnson is used generically and includes the list of items in the above quote, and these are all scientific according to him. Contrary to what Johnson says, his entire list is not accepted as science “in contemporary academia.” By throwing all of these disciplines into one list and declaring a “scientific basis” for them, Johnson has revealed how ignorant he is about the philosophy of science.
Let me name two of many eminent philosophers who would say the opposite from Johnson regarding the Freudian et al psychotherapies. Sir Karl Popper, who is considered one of the greatest philosophers of science, looked into psychotherapies formulated by Freud and others and said: “though posing as sciences, [psychotherapies] had in fact more in common with primitive myths than with science; that they resembled astrology rather than astronomy.”8 He also says, “These theories describe some facts, but in the manner of myths. They contain most interesting psychological suggestions, but not in a testable form.”9 Dr. Adolf Grünbaum, a distinguished professor of philosophy and research, levels extensive criticism at The Foundations of Psychoanalysis, which is the title of his book. (Psychoanalysis is one form of psychotherapy.) Based on his writings, it is obvious he would condemn the psychological foundations of psychotherapy and would not regard them as scientific theories.10 The weight “in contemporary academia” with respect to Johnson’s claim of scientific status for all the psychological disciplines on his list is on my side and not on his.
As proof for his above statement claiming scientific status for all the psychological disciplines on his list, Johnson first says that this is “a judgment confirmed by scientists in other disciplines.” As evidence, Johnson then says, “e.g., psychologists are regularly invited to contribute to representative science periodicals like Scientific American.” This is another one of his many false statements. The Scientific American has no science degree requirements for articles; neither is there a requirement that one be a scientist to have an article accepted.11 It took me two minutes to find this out by calling “editorial” at Scientific American. This is probably true of many other science journals. It is true of many science journals with which I am acquainted. How many other false, off-the-cuff statements like this are sprinkled throughout his 716 pages?
Another great error by Johnson is when he uses the generic term psychology, for which he gives examples as in the above quote, and then uses the same generic term to describe or criticize those who believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. For example, he says, “TBC [traditional biblical counseling] in particular often seems to assume” that “since modern psychology originates from non-Christians, it all must be invalid” (bold added).12 He gives the following individuals as seeming to hold this view: Dr. Gary Almy, Dr. Ed Buckley [sic], Dr. Richard Ganz, Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr., and S. Lance Quinn. Now, when academics use “often seems” they have a lot of evidence to support their “often seems” statement. I say this so that Johnson doesn’t weasel out of this accusation of mine by weaseling on the words “often seems.” The logic of Johnson’s accusation when applied to his earlier statement means that all of the men mentioned above (Almy et al) believe that, since psychology, including “neuropsychology, cognition, motivation, emotion, social psychology, personality, as well as psychopathology and psychotherapy,” “originates from non-Christians,” “it all must be invalid.” It is clear from their writings that, when these men use the word psychology, they are referring to the theories and therapies of counseling psychology and not all psychology. They are not saying that “it all must be invalid.” I have means of contacting all of these men, but it would be a waste of time. It would be a waste of time because they would all say that no matter what “truths” exist among the myriads of psychologies not one of these is needed to support, augment, or replace the biblical truths when it comes to the saving and sanctifying of souls for what are regarded as talk therapy problems. This is not the same as these men saying, when it comes to the entire field of psychology, that “it is all invalid” or that they, to use Johnson’s words, “tend to reject non-Christian psychological work across the board” (bold added).13 They would certainly say that it (psychology) is all unnecessary, because of the sufficiency of the Bible, which is far different from saying that “it is all invalid.”
The Bible, through its doctrines and teachings applied to one’s life, has been sufficient for almost 2000 years for what are now regarded as problems to be sent to conversation therapists. These Johnny-come-lately theories and therapies are not needed for soul care by the men named above because they were not needed from the Day of Pentecost onward and they are not needed now. Johnson apparently doesn’t get it. The subject is psychotherapy and not generically-speaking psychology. It has to do with the individual, marital, and family problems normally taken to a talk therapist. You guessed it—one more false accusation on Johnson’s part.
Let me save our readers and others who are willing to listen to reason the time of reading Johnson’s book. You don’t need to read about the “doxological,” “semiodiscursive” (took me twice to pronounce that one), “canonical,” and “psychological” distinctives of Johnson’s “Soul Care Model.” You don’t need to learn about semiotics with its semiodiscursive possibilities, along with a lot of other gobbledegook that’s spread throughout the pages of this almost three-pound book. Don’t be impressed with or intimidated by this book, and, most of all, don’t read it unless you need some sleepy-time reading. Let me give you reasons.
This type of psychology (soul care psychotherapy) of which Johnson twists the definition (p. 16) is a recent arrival on the scene. In fact, the first state license was issued to a mental health professional (other than a psychiatrist) during Johnson’s lifetime. One element of what Johnson is teaching at Southern Seminary and in his book was not even a licensed profession prior to his birth and would have been laughed out of every seminary and Bible college in America at the time. It took the rise and popularity of clinical psychology in the past 50 years, based upon politics and not science,14 to eventually make it one of the most popular majors in Christian colleges. And, now it is held in high esteem in most seminaries across America. It is teachings like Johnson’s at Southern Seminary that earn the “slip of the tongue” of calling seminaries “cemeteries.” Those in the psychological and many in the biblical counseling movements have intimidated enough people so that the biblical care of souls is largely absent in the church. Thankfully, few in the pew will ever know about Johnson’s book and even fewer will read it.
Flip the book open to almost any page and you will have prime examples of circumlocution. What did the church do since the Day of Pentecost without Johnson’s circumlocutions on soul care? They cared for souls, because they believed in the sufficiency of the Word of God for problems of living that are now normally taken to a psychotherapist or a biblical counselor or one of Johnson’s soul carers. It was called the “cure of souls” in the literature.
Johnson’s Book No Help to Soul Carers
I have four college degrees, including two degrees in mathematics, and have become familiar, over the past 30-plus years, with the meta-analytic studies in the field of psychology having to do with outcomes in psychotherapy. Underneath all the highfalutin language used by Johnson is a question that he probably never asked and the answer to which could eliminate his voluminous verbiage. The question is: Has any scientific research established that any one of the almost 500 psychotherapies with their theories surpassed the biblical care of souls? Scientifically speaking, if a later approach (psychotherapy) is to replace or modify an earlier approach (the biblical care of souls), scientific evidence is presented to prove the need. To date there is no valid research comparing the biblical care of souls with any other approach or ideas that came after it.
I say categorically that there are no scientifically valid studies, no not one, that have proven that the biblical care of souls has needed any help from any of the 500 approaches to psychotherapy or any of their underlying pseudoscientific psychologies or from Johnson’s soul-care psychotherapy! There is no scientifically justifiable reason for these psychological counseling theories and therapies, including Johnson’s, to supplement, supersede, or supplant the biblical cure of souls. Johnson cannot dredge up one meta-analytic research study on psychotherapy to support his revisionist theory of soul care. I challenge Johnson to prove me wrong by providing scientific evidence to show that there is a psychological theory, technique, or methodology that can trump the biblical care of souls to the extent that it would produce a better cure rate than the biblical care of souls alone! Nothing in Johnson’s book is needed to improve upon what believers have done over the centuries to cure souls. Johnson’s book, like those of all the integrationists who preceded him, will not add one iota or one scintilla of aid to the biblical care of souls. This means that those in the church, like Johnson, who are genuflecting at the altar of counseling psychology are doing so absent scientific proof. Christians do not need psychotherapy or any other modern-day psychologically-oriented amalgamated soul care, such as Johnson presents in his book.
Contradictory Views at Southern Seminary
According to Christian Century, in 2005 Southern Seminary made “a ‘wholesale change’ in its counseling program.” Southern Seminary threw out “the ‘pastoral counseling’ model in favor of ‘biblical counseling.’” Christian Century says:
School officials say the new approach is “built upon the view that scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart.”15
As I read the Christian Century article, it was clear that Johnson’s views are more compatible with the critics of the change than with the supporters of the change. Russell Moore, dean of Southern Seminary’s school of theology, refers to the former model as a “failed ‘model.’” Moore says that “it is naïve” in reference to “the presuppositions behind secular psychologies.” Moore goes on to say, “You can’t simply say you’re going to integrate the science of psychotherapy with scripture because there are only sciences and theories of psychotherapy that are contradictory and incoherent.” What Moore is criticizing Johnson would defend.
It is obvious from Johnson’s past and present writings that he would be in disagreement with the “new approach” at Southern Seminary. In case there is some question about this disagreement between Johnson and the “new approach” at Southern Seminary, the following description of Johnson’s classes by one of his students, shows his commitment to the former model:
In an atmosphere increasingly becoming “anti-psychology,” Dr. Johnson worked hard to help us understand that psychology, in its proper place, can be a conduit of God’s grace to the suffering.… Psychology, when grounded firmly in Scripture and theology, becomes not our enemy but a tool that allows us to effectively apply the truth of Scripture. You cannot use psychology apart from a thoroughly Christian worldview and theology if you expect to succeed as a counselor. If Scripture is truly sufficient, we should have no qualms about subjecting our psychology to it, rather than discarding psychology entirely (bold added).16
Based upon Johnson’s teachings, the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of the saints are not sufficient to deal with the personal, marital, and family problems normally taken to a psychotherapist. Johnson is an integrationist; he supports an integrationist position in his book. In fact, his book should be a joy to every integrationist and every Christian mental-health practitioner.
Only by the wildest stretch of the imagination could Johnson’s teachings fit into the sufficiency-of-Scripture, new model at Southern Seminary. No amount of rationalization or justification or oleaginous twisting of the English language can make the Johnson model fit the sufficiency-of-Scripture model. Any fair-minded reading of Johnson’s work will confirm that what he teaches contradicts the sufficiency-of-the-Bible, new direction at Southern Seminary.
Revisionist Soul Care or Biblical Soul Care?
We have listened to messages by Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr, president of Southern Seminary, and even quoted him. Mohler says, at times, something like: “Give me that old-time religion.” Johnson’s work is not old-time religion. It is a new-time, latter-day religion which has given birth to all kinds of latter-day deceptions. Johnson’s teachings are the very wisdom of men about which the apostle Paul warns God’s people (1 Cor. 1, 2). Johnson’s teachings and book are perfect examples of what the Holy Spirit warns about. Johnson’s work is worse than the worldly wisdom of men, because it is amalgamated with Scripture. His book Foundations for Soul Care abuses the Word of God by corrupting it with the worldly wisdom of men, but it is only pseudoscientific snake oil offered to the unwary or to those in academia who salivate over erudite teachings. Johnson can justify, rationalize, and, yes, even at times euphemize what he says, but in essence he is opposed to the sufficiency of the Bible and in favor of integration. Johnson serves as a tragic reminder of what can happen when Christians become consumed by the academic antithesis of what the Bible clearly teaches on sufficiency to the point that they embrace the very wisdom of men about which the Bible warns.
Question One: What will Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., do about this oxymoron in his midst? How long will he stand between two opinions? Will it be Johnson’s revisionist soul care theory or the biblical care of souls?
Question Two: How long can Johnson, the promoter of psychological integration, stay at Southern Seminary and keep his integrity?
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, November-December 2007, Vol. 15, No. 6)
1 Eric L. Johnson. Foundations for Soul Care. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007, p. 144.
2 Ibid., p. 153.
3 Eric L. Johnson, “A Place for the Bible within Psychological Science,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1992, Vol. 20, No. 4, p. 346.
4 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. PsychoHeresy. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1987, p. 4.
5 Eric L. Johnson, “A Place for the Bible…,” op. cit., p. 348.
6 Eric L. Johnson and Steven J. Sandage, “A Postmodern Reconstruction of Psychotherapy: Orienteering, Religion, and the Healing of the Soul, Psychotherapy, Vol. 36, No. 1, p. 13.
7 Eric L. Johnson. Foundations for Soul Care, op. cit., p. 112.
8 Karl Popper, “Scientific Theory and Falsifiability” in Perspectives in Philosophy, Robert N. Beck, ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1975, p. 343.
9 Ibid., p. 346.
10 Adolf Grünbaum, The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984; Adolf Grünbaum,personal letter on file.
11 Jacob Lasky, editor. Scientific American, phone conversation.
12 Eric L. Johnson. Foundations for Soul Care, op. cit., p. 111.
13 Ibid., p. 112.
14 Rogers Wright and Nicholas Cummings, eds. The Practice of Psychology: The Battle for Professionalism. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, Inc., 2001.
15 David Winfrey, “Biblical therapy,” Christian Century, January 23, 2007, p. 24.
16 Student response to Johnson’s classes, http://stephennewell.wordpress.com.