Friday, August 27, 2010

Psychologizing Sin & Its Impact on Biblical Counseling

by JM

It is certain that pastors must offer techniques to aid those they serve. Abstract principles without specific application is akin to giving people a destination without a vehicle; urging people “to be warmed and filled” without blankets and a food voucher. The question then becomes this: is there a kind of therapy unique to Biblical Counseling? It is clear enough that many therapies are reflective of underlying worldviews. Freudian psychology results in uniquely Freudian applications. Skinner’s Behavioralism has birthed unique therapeutic/clinical models. What about a Biblical worldview? One might argue that the Biblical model for the application of the doctrine of sanctification is minimalistic, and therefore the Biblical model for counseling should be minimalistic. Paul seems to offer this model when he deals with the works of the flesh in people’s lives:

(1) Instruct: Get people to understand the gospel and its implications for facing the problems of living.

(2) Command: Urge people to stop behaving in ways that don’t reflect the truth of the gospel.

When Paul deals with the works of the flesh in people’s lives he effectively tells people to “stop it” by putting off the old man and putting on the new man. Should this minimalism be carried over to our counseling model? I worry that to overcomplicate the counseling process (let’s say by charting surgically precise prescriptions for very particular problems) might communicate a greater power to sin than we should, as well as distracting from more efficient solutions. For any problem and behavior P, it is more than likely that P is made up of an elaborate web consisting in thoughts, examples, attitudes, history, etc… that are causally linked. Let’s represent it as follows: P [T, E, A, H, etc…]. As counselors we might feel that therapy should consist in interacting with the nuances and causal connections of T, E, A, H, etc to P. The other option is to deal with the set as a whole by addressing what is common in all these areas of sin. I opt for the later.

I do not feel confident that we have Biblical warrant to baptize Freudian-like introspection and insert this as the typical practice in the typical church counseling circumstance. The general truths of the gospel rightly understood and applied are more than sufficient to aid a believer struggling with the seemingly infinite complex of sin and depravity. We do not need physician-like knowledge of a disease to receive treatment for it. I need only to trust the physician and follow his prescription – the physician being God and what he declares about us in His Word.

Some may rejoin by urging that this generalism offers no solutions to a mass of people who are hurting. I feel that it’s just the opposite. Psychologizing sin limits help to a special class of professionals who have only been on the scene for the past 60 years. For thousands of years we have been sheep without shepherds, wandering aimlessly without the penetrating psychoanalysis needed to live a life pleasing to God.