Friday, February 17, 2012

Integrationism and Biblical Counseling

We believe that truth can be found in both of God’s “books” – Scripture and creation. There are many things that we can learn from the study of the earth and the study of the skies (Psalm 19). God’s imprint is on everything. Creation is pregnant with His knowledge, as the clouds are pregnant with water. Accordingly, Christian counselors Stanton L. Jones and Richard E. Butman write:

  • “Just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, so too does truth, by the process that theologians call God’s common grace. Romans 1 speaks of God even revealing central truths about his nature to unbelievers…. If we understand God’s counsel to be truth, we will be committed to pursuing truth wherever we find it. And we sometimes find it in the careful and insightful writings of unbelievers.”
This is the doctrine of “general revelation.” All manner of Christians believe that God speaks to us through nature as well as through Scripture – “special revelation.” However, should this insight make us “integrationists?” This is the idea that we can and should integrate our knowledge from the Scriptures with our knowledge from nature/science?

In some ways we must. It is hard to derive a meaningful and robust understanding of Scripture without general revelation, which we derive through our feelings, perceptions, and experiences. It’s hard to understand the Scripture’s teachings on sin and forgiveness without experiencing these for myself. The fact that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) would have been meaningless to me had I not experienced tsunamis of self-condemnation.

This, however, brings us to an area of strong contention. Can we integrate the insights of secular counseling with our understanding of Biblical counseling? Writer and counselor Larry Crabb answers affirmatively:

  • “All truth is certainly God’s truth. The doctrine of general revelation provides warrant for going beyond the propositional revelation of Scripture into the secular world of scientific study expecting to find true and useable concepts.”
“All truth is certainly God’s truth,” but are the revelations of secular counseling truth and can these truths be used productively? Christian Counselor Bruce Narramore claims that they can be:

  • “The evangelical church has a great opportunity to combine the special revelation of God’s Word with the general revelation studied by the psychological sciences and professions. The end result of this integration can be a broader (and deeper) view of human life.”
While it is obvious that the study of the brain has revealed new insights about behavior and the correlation between physical and mental states, it is unclear how these insights might impact Christian counseling. Eric L. Johnson argues that, if we can use the insights of the science of psychology, we can also use their insights in the area of counseling:

  • “Non-Christian bias has influenced the content and practice of modern psychology, but it is also the case that God has revealed so much about the brain, learning, human development, motivation, social influences, forms of abnormality, and even helpful counseling practices through the labors of secular psychologists.
However, the study of physical psychology is worlds apart from secular counseling practices. Although the two might seem inseparable, I think that we have to carefully distinguish them. While a newspaper might be inseparable from the ink of its news-print, our efforts to understand a particular editorial would be misplaced if we tried to understand its message by investigating the ink patterning.

While the physical study of the brain is relatively free from the values of the researcher, the counseling enterprise is imbued through-and-through with secular values and assumptions, so-much-so that Martin L. Gross has written:

  • For many, the [Psychological] Society has all the earmarks of a potent now religion. When educated man lost faith in formal religion, he required a substitute belief that would be as reputable in the last half of the twentieth century as Christianity was in the first. Psychology and psychiatry have now assumed that special role. They offer mass belief, a promise of a better future, opportunity for confession, unseen mystical workings and a trained priesthood of helping professionals devoted to servicing the paying-by-the-hour communicants. (The Psychological Society, 9)
One example might be illuminating in this regard. Numerous Christian counselors have borrowed extensively from secular behavioral therapy, using the technique of “systematic desensitization.” If someone has a fear of flying, the counselor/therapist will slowly confront their client with images of flying, encouraging them, all along the way, that they can handle these fearful stimuli. This finally culminates with the client actually boarding a plane.

However, the success of this operation depends upon the client growing in the faith that s/he can do it. While helping the client grow in self-confidence and self-esteem is central to secular counseling, it is antithetical to Christian counseling. Instead of growing in self-confidence, the Apostle Paul understood that he had to diminish in self-confidence so that he could grow in God-confidence:

  • We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
Biblical counsel takes us in an opposite direction from the secular. On its most basic level, the secular attempts to build confidence and self-esteem while the Biblical goal is humility and self-acceptance based on God’s acceptance of us through Jesus Christ. The secular foundation is diametrically opposed to the Biblical. While we are to die to self and to look towards God, the secular emphasis is upon growing the self.

Some Christians believe that they can merely “Christianize” the secular. As they lead their client through “systematic desensitization” to show them that they can tolerate the fearful plane ride, they are careful to say, “You see, God is able to give you courage to take this flight.”

However, the process might have little to do with God, even though it might have been baptized in prayer. Was the greater freedom-from-fear they experienced, when imagining themselves boarding a plane, the result of God’s intervention or a very human suggestive process? Was their diminished anxiety the result of their relationship with God, or a natural process that anyone could experience?

Of course, we know that the answer is the latter one in both cases. Anyone can “benefit” from this form of “therapy,” at least temporarily. However, the perceptive Christian counselee will conclude, “I was able to do it. It had nothing to do with my prayer, since anyone can benefit from these methods.”

This, of course, is the wrong conclusion, but one that will be embraced if we start out with wrong methods. The method becomes the message!

Consequently, I am very skeptical of integrating secular methods and secular counseling insights. I am also assured that our Lord has given us everything that we need, in this regard, to come to spiritual maturity – the goal of all true Biblical counseling. In these matters, Paul assures us that, through the Scriptures, we have everything we need:

  • All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Sadly, we – Christian counselors and Christian lay people – fail to understand how well-endowed are. We are rich beyond belief. When we fail to realize this, we compromise and “integrate.”

  • See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Col. 2:8-10)
Much of the church has been taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” This is because we fail to understand our riches in Christ and how they are jeopardized by alien philosophies. Consequently, the Apostle Paul prayed this way:

  • I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephes. 3:16-19)
Without this “knowing” and “grasping,” we are left thinking that we are missing out. Integrationism is a symptom of this thinking. We think that we are missing out – that the Biblical revelation, regarding this spiritual matter, is not sufficient enough. It doesn’t stand on its own, so we have to draw from other sources.

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