According to Wikipedia, “John Stephen Piper (born January 11, 1946) is a Calvinistic Baptist Christian preacher and author who served as Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 33 years.”1 Piper has had several Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Christian Book Awards and two best-selling books. He retired from Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC) about a year ago and is understandably still very popular and influential.
We called BBC about counseling twice over a period of time during the years Piper was the senior pastor. We asked how a need for ongoing counseling for an individual or couple was handled and were told that they had a “long list of mental health professionals” to whom they refer. The person giving information about counseling referred us to several counselors with phone numbers. Interestingly the list of counselors the person gave us contained both females and males and then added that there were a number of licensed mental health counselors in the congregation as possibilities. While Piper would not have a woman preaching at BBC under his leadership, he had no problem referring a man to a female licensed counselor to discuss the issues of life.
During one of the calls we asked about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and were told that they had a whole list of them, but that none of them met at BBC. The referral person said the church likes to match the person in need with the particular AA group, as they seemed to know the details of each group.
Piper reveals his Word-of-God-plus-psychology point of view by having endorsed and recommended Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. Johnson’s book is blatantly a tome (over 700 pages) of support for an integrationist view.2 An integrationist is one, like Johnson and Piper, who does not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture for the issues of life. Now some may object and point to Piper’s teachings about the biblical doctrine of suffering and the purpose it serves in the believer’s life. Such is the enigma that surrounds the latter day church. Nearly every pastor, church, Christian school, seminary, mission agency, and denomination that we have examined fail the acid test of the sufficiency of Scripture for the issues of life, no matter what their statements of faith and teachings are!
After Piper had retired, we wondered about the professional counseling and AA legacy he may have left. We called the church and spoke with the same person we had spoken with years earlier. We were told that there are currently four layers of counseling provided as possibilities, including “Christian Counselors,” which are mental health professionals. We were told that all four levels are provided, discussed, and described with the persons or couples in need.
In a section titled “What Is Counseling at Bethlehem?” the answer to the question is: “Foundationally, it’s the ability to bring the Word of God to bear on one another’s lives. Proverbs 20:5 says, ‘The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.’ We have various counseling care options for those in need. We also have training for those wishing to help others.” The four layers of counseling are: “Small Groups,” “Elder/Pastoral Counsel and Prayer,” “CARE Ministers, and “Christian Counselors.”3
“Layer 4: Christian Counselors” states “We have information on Christian counselors with various specialties who may be available to provide you with additional counsel.” An encyclopedia says, “An Achilles’ heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, which can actually or potentially lead to downfall.”4 Layer 4 is the spiritual Achilles’ heel of BBC in that it refers Christians out to licensed mental health professionals who are Christians, trained in secular psychological theories and therapies, who counsel for a fee.
Individuals are told to pray about their need, select the level that God leads them to, and then to let the referral person know so it can be implemented. If one selects “Christian Counselors,” several names and phone numbers of licensed, psychological mental health counselors will be given. It was once more mentioned that there are a number of licensed mental health professionals in the congregation.
We asked about AA groups and were told that the church currently refers out to Alcoholics Victorious (AV), which is an AA look-alike, Christian recovery group with Jesus as the Higher Power. While the current counseling arrangement varies somewhat from when Piper was pastor at BBC, though the changes may have occurred while he was he was still there, the church continues to refer out to licensed mental health professionals and now refers out to AV, which is an AA variation. Referral out to licensed mental health professions and to AV reveals a confidence in the wisdom of man and a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture for living the Christian life. John Piper, during his time at Bethlehem Baptist Church, was guilty of psychoheresy and his legacy lives on!
2 Eric Johnson. Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April 2015, Vol. 23, No. 2)