Check out this blog entry from my colleague, Steve Taylor. Steve helps us consider what to make of the “unrebutted” charges against God found in Psalm 89. If you ever struggle with feeling that God has not kept his promises or struggled with what to do with OT passages that seem to charge God with failure to keep his promises…read this:
Category Archives: Doctrine/Theology
During my recent trip to the DRC and Rwanda I practiced French by reading the Bible in French and English. Not sure it helped much but I did discover an interesting difference in Matthew 5:6 between the two translations that made me stop and think.
First the NIV:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Now the French:
Heureux ceux qui ont faim et soif de la justice, car ils seront rassasiés!
Notice something different? Most English translations use the word righteousness. Those who hunger after righteousness will be filled (or satisfied). Now, when you substitute the word justice–those who hunger and thirst for justice–does it add meaning to you? It does to me.
Justice? Righteousness? Do you hear differences?¹
When I hear the word righteous, I think of individual holy acts, attitudes, and character. When I hear the word justice, I often think of fairness, judgment, and legal outcomes that make right prior wrongs. In reading this verse in French and in Goma, DRC where so many have no justice and can’t return to their villages due to ongoing conflict, my mind considers that Jesus might be saying that those who hunger and thirst after justice are going to be blessed in a particular way.
Obviously, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will also long for justice for individuals, communities and states. One cannot be righteous and yet unjust or just and unrighteous. However, it is possible for us to fight against sin in our own lives, practice individual acts of righteousness, and yet forget to pray and work for justice for those who are being oppressed.
Some years ago Carl Ellis, in a class on African American theology, suggested that White evangelical churches often preach and teach about individual righteousness (i.e., what to put off and what to put on) but rarely teach about corporate righteousness unless it is to rail against worldly matters (e.g., abortion, homosexuality, greed, etc.). I do think this is changing as evangelicals are paying attention to matters of justice around the world. Yet, we can be reminded that God cares about those who are unjustly treated. It is not just Abel’s blood that cries out (Gen 4:10) for justice.
Thankfully, there is a just and righteous outcome. The sacrifice of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:24). Yet when you read Matthew 5 don’t forget that God is actively blessing those who are oppressed. He will satisfy them by fulfilling their desires. Let us not forget to hunger and thirst after justice for ourselves and for the world.
¹In this post I am not tackling the best translation for the Greek word (δικαιοσύνην) used in this verse. The 92 times it is used in the KJV are all translated righteous/ness. However justice is implied in 2 Peter 1:1 as we have faith due to the righteousness of God.
I know, 9/11 remembrances have come and gone. However, this reflection from Diane Langberg speaks to the struggle of the workers on the “heap” and her experience with them while they were uncovering their colleagues who had died trying to save others. As usual, Diane has a way of seeing God in the midst of death.
Here’s the link.
I am frequently asked about the best materials out there for churches interested in building a lay counseling ministry. There are materials out there that help to teach people to be good listeners. There are materials out there that give lay counselors an education on the nature of problems and how God is in the business of changing hearts and minds. These same materials help readers realize that lay counseling can be a credible and highly important ministry in the church. While professionals are needed for difficult cases, many counseling needs can be handled “in-house” if the church supports and supervises wise lay counselors.
Well, a new book is out and though I have not read it all, I have gotten a flavor of it, enough to recommend it to you all if you are looking for such a book. It is written by Robert Kellemen, author of a number of counseling texts and frequent blogger. Don’t miss his answer to a question of mine at the bottom.
Why is this an important book?
- Most prior books on this topic present lay counseling either as an anemic listening only task or speak only in theological terms and fail to actually train lay counselors to listen well. This book considers both the biblical basis for lay counseling AND is concerned about listening skills as well.
- Most prior books forget to bring the WHOLE church along in the vision of biblical counseling. Bob has the readers consider the church culture and health. If the church (leaders) aren’t buying in to this, there won’t be a counseling ministry.
- Bob focuses on the character of the counselor. This is HUGE. What’s worse than a poorly trained counselor? One who is well-trained but arrogant and un-reflective.
- Bob covers practical matters of a counseling ministry including the ethics of lay counseling. This is extremely important if a church doesn’t want to make mistakes that could lead to lawsuits.
Click here for more on the book including a table of contents, video trailer, and sample chapter.
So, I asked Bob this question:
Most churches seem divided between those who support lay biblical counseling and those who think counselors should be specialists outside the church. How does your book speak to both?
Bob’s answer is extended but helpful:
That’s an excellent question. Anyone who knows the focus of my ministry knows that I tend not to be an either/or person, but rather a both/and person. I believe God calls both biblical counselors in the church and those who counsel outside the church.
Equipping Counselors for Your Church, by the very nature of the title, is much more focused on local church-based equipping. However, in chapter one I address More Than Counseling: A Vision for the Entire Church. Here I outline seven different “styles” of meeting counseling needs in the Christian community–including the “specialist model.”
A main reason I choose to focus on equipping counselors for the church is that very few others are doing so. While we have scores and scores of books about training professional Christian counselors, the last book written on equipping counselors for the church was Tan’s 1991 book–based upon his 1980s dissertation which in turn was based upon research from the 1970s. We’ve gone an entire generation without a book on equipping counselors for the church! Frankly, that’s inexcusable given the Bible’s clear mandate that we equip God’s people to speak the truth in love so that we all grow up in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Further, we have 100s of counselor education programs in Christian colleges, graduate schools, and seminaries, but in my research, few of those programs have required courses in equipping counselors. In the one course I took on the topic in my seminary MA, we were told that it was not possible to equip counselors for the local church! I couldn’t disagree more. I always tell pastors, counselors, and students that if you are going to obtain a Master’s Degree that means you have so mastered the topic that you not only are able to do the work of counseling, you should be able to equip others also.
So, we could debate the issue forever (biblical counselors in the church or specialists outside the church), but the fact is, there’s a dearth of biblical, best-practice material available for those who are committed to equipping one-another ministers for the church. Equipping Counselors for Your Church brings together two-dozen best-practice churches who are doing it successfully now, plus my experience launching and leading biblical counseling ministries in three very different churches. It provides a biblical, logical, theological, relational, field-tested, practical step-by-step “4E” process: envisioning, enlisting, equipping, and empowering.
What is your baseline perspective on life? Do you tend to believe that life should work pretty well and are surprised when suffering and pain enter your life? Or, do you tend to believe that life is hard and are surprised and pleased when it is not so hard or when you have moments of peace?
Perspective is pretty much everything. If you are driving during rush hour and you expect that traffic will be really bad but it turns out to be better than you feared, you probably feel great. But, if you were thinking your drive would take you one hour but it took two, you probably feel a bit frustrated. Both drivers might travel exactly the same amount of time but have opposite perspectives.
Expectations shape our feelings and perceptions of how life is going for us. Now, I am NOT arguing that if you just think happy thoughts, you won’t be bothered by problems in this life. No matter your perspective, you will suffer. To think otherwise would be denial of reality. But behind most of our “this is not fair…why would God allow this…I’m not sure I want to believe in a God who allows pain to happen” kind of comments are some assumptions and expectations that reveal what we believe life should be like.
Consider these assumptions or expectations. See one that gets you?
1. Life should be fair and should work. This could be called the Jonah perspective. Yes it should. But since sin entered the world, it isn’t. Instead of blaming God, might we not want to notice how many times in life, things are fair, just, and good? Might we not want to see that God is giving us better than we deserve? How might that mindset modify our general view of God’s care for us?
2. I have sacrificed much for God, why hasn’t he given my good and decent desires)? This one is similar to the 1st point but focuses along the lines of Psalm 73. Fairness is seen along the lines of righteousness. The good guys get blessings and the bad guys get suffering. If we hold this expectation then it is common to feel gypped when we don’t get our good desires met.
3. Suffering is something that is temporary, something to get through. This is an American viewpoint. We can overcome obstacles, we can heal the sick, we can fix problems. Once we get our education, get married, get the job we wanted, get our 401Ks then life will be good.
Yesterday we feted John Franke, Professor of Missional Theology, for 18 years of service and to bless him as he begins his new life as theologian in Residence in a church in Allentown. John has been a colleague and a friend. I was asked to say a few words about his and instantly, 3 words came to mind:
tenacious. honest. compassionate.
John is tenacious for the pursuit of truth. He is also tenacious in an argument. I have had many with him (all friendly). Having a sparring partner like John causes one to stretch and consider new ideas. I am sure that I am a better teacher and thinker because of him.
John is not just tenacious in the realm of intellect. I have had the pleasure of playing against him in basketball, ping-pong, foosball, etc. My most favorite experience with John in this regard was on a pleasure trip with him where we took turns riding on a tube pulled by a boat. Each of us rode the tube by ourselves. After a few minutes, the driver of the boat did his magic to see if he could cause us to fall off. While I and another friend were soon bounced off, John hung on for dear life. Even when the tube flipped upside down, John tried to hang on despite being under water.
John is honest about what he thinks and believes. Sometimes that has cost him dearly when he failed to recite certain expected talking points, whether with colleagues or in the class room. You never worried that John thought one way but talked as if he thought another. If you asked John to share his opinion, he did so.
Now, honesty without compassion can turn into harshness. But, John has obvious compassion, especially for the downtrodden, the minority, the one with a weaker voice. In his teaching he would give opportunity for folks who had felt marginalized in evangelicalism to voice their concerns and interests. The only people who had to worry much about John were those who were themselves unwilling to extend a listening ear to those on the fringe.
We will certainly miss John’s voice and his playfulness on our faculty. But, we also know that God is calling him to a new ministry and so we send him on serve the local church and to continue to write for a larger audience.
The abuse and trafficking conference hosted by Biblical concluded by hearing from Dr. Diane Langberg about the problem of sexual abuse in Christian communities and a panel discussion of the speakers.You may order DVDs here for a ridiculously low price.
Diane began her talk by acknowledged that the very title of her talk, abuse in christian communities ought to be “the king” of oxymorons, something that makes no sense to us. But sadly, abuse does happen in our midst. She provided several examples, from missionary kids being abused, to pastors abusing counselees and camp counselors their children.
While the abuse is horrific, what is even more problematic is the way the Christian community often covers up and protects the “head” or their reputation at the cost of the victim’s right to justice and protection.
People in power are protected because they are gifted, important, and successful or considered necessary to the furtherance of the work of the kingdom of God. Vulnerable sheep, who have not found it safe to graze, have been thrown out, silenced, slandered and frankly, abused yet again by the power structure of the body that is not following its Head
How does this happen? Diane listed several contributing factors
1. a culture of systems.While systems are not inherently bad, they do have a tendency to be self-preserving over against rooting out sickness. Families have ways of tolerating great sicknesses via denial:
No system – family, church, community or institution – is God’s work unless it is full of truth and love. Toleration of sin, pretense, disease, crookedness or deviation from the truth means the system is in fact not the work of God, no matter the words used to describe it. We have a tendency as humans to submit ourselves to some command or idea of men, of the past, of tradition, of a systemic culture and in so doing, refuse to listen to and obey the living and ever present God.
2. Deception. “Sexual abuse requires both deception and coercion or an abuse of power. The deception must first be of the self and then of the victim and the community.” Diane pointed out that a significant problem happens in the Church when abusers use spiritual language to deceive.
3. Power. There are various types: positional, verbal, theological, emotional, etc. We have the power to speak up for those who have been silenced. Our failure to do so is complicity with the crime of abuse.
4. Misunderstanding of repentance. Quoting a convicted abuser, Diane told us that many see Christians as easy to dupe…with a few tears and emotions. But repentance must take time and bear the fruit of acceptance restrictions, seeking the welfare of others (not the end of punishment). Anyone who asks for trust and believes he/she is worthy of it (after abuse) does not understand the Scripture’s teaching on deception and is therefore at risk for further abuse.
Finally, She ended with some principles to remember. Some of them included remembering that sexual offenses against minors are crimes and therefore we are to utilize the criminal justice system. Sex between a leader and a parishioner is NOT an affair but an abuse of power. Systems are not to be protected but the weak and God’s name. God is glorified by truth, not lies and cover-ups.
May we, who are already in positions of power and influence, lead the way by falling down on our faces, imploring God to make us like Himself no matter the cost to our positions, our programs, our organizations, our ministries, or our traditions so that His precious sheep may safely graze.
Could we devise one mental health treatment for many counseling problems? Given that so many problems have similar symptoms (anxiety, mood dysregulation, vigilance, intrusive and unwanted thoughts, etc.) and appear to involve common neurobiological processes (limbic systems), might we be able to find a single treatment for multiple expressions of problems?
David Barlow and others say yes.
The Renfrew Center (an eating disorder clinic) publishes Perspectives: A Professional Journal of the Renfrew Center Foundation, a free journal. In their Winter 2011 issue they have a brief article by David Barlow and Christina Boisseau about a new “transdiagnostic unified treatment protocol” (UP) that can be applied to all anxiety and depressive (and eating) disorders. Let me summarize a few points from the article:
- 70 to 80% of clients with eating disorders also have anxiety disorders, 50% meet criteria for depression
- A number of anxiety and depressive disorders have emotional dysregulation as a central theme
- Etiology of these diagnoses may be best accounted for by “triple vulnerability theory”: biological vulnerability to negative mood…early negative childhood experiences due to attachment issues or unpredictable environment leading to an elevated sympathetic nervous system…and psychological learning from an event focusing on a particular issue (anxiety, panic, observation of parent’s panic, etc.)
- The Unified Protocol (UP) focuses on “the way that individuals with emotional disorders experience and respond to their emotions” (p. 3). UP consists of 5 core modules
- emotional awareness training (focus on “nonjudgmental present-focused awareness”)
- cognitive reappraisal (“identifying and subsequently challenging core cognitive themes”)
- emotion driven behaviors (EDB) and emotional avoidance (identifying maladaptive EDBs, learn new responses and avoid avoiding emotions)
- awareness and tolerance of physical sensations (self-explanatory…as they relate to emotions)
- emotion exposure (“…goal is to help patients experience emotions fully and reduce the avoidance that has served to maintain their disorders(s)”)
- These modules are flexible and shaped to the individual needs of the client
Obviously, there is much work to be done to validate this protocol but it makes sense. You can see the CBT foundation but also a greater focus on emotion rather than cognition.
Those interested in the full text and references can find it here!
Last night my psychopathology class focused on the topic of depression. We covered the usual stuff: various experiences and features of depression and bi-polar disorder, potential medical causes, common medical and psychological treatments, etc.
Depression, as you most likely know, comes in all sizes and shapes and is multifactorial in etiology. Depression involves the body, the mind and spirit, and the environment. Thus, treatments should also cover the gamut, focusing on thoughts, faith, body, and environment. I ended the class pointing briefly to the fact that the English Puritan treatment of depression covered pretty much the same. They encouraged their parishioners to treat their despair and melancholy with these ideas,
- Seek the benefit of “Physick” or medical interventions
- Accept the comfort of Scriptures and in community with friends (and they also counseled others to avoid over-use of exhortation)
- Be mindful of God’s present and past mercies
- Utilize the sacraments and other spiritual disciplines
- Avoid too much time in introspection, but
- Examine oneself to see if there are also hidden issues to be dealt with
Notice the “heart surgery,” as one of my students put it in her paper, doesn’t happen til much work has been done to stabilize and comfort the despairing individual.
KEY QUESTION: Is there such thing as Godly depression?
If so, what would it look like? This question comes out of the view that depression and accompanying hopelessness reveals, to some degree, that a person is failing to trust the Lord.
Or does it? Is it possible to be depressed and spiritually mature? I believe so. So, what signs might you look for to determine that the person in front of you was experiencing a Godly depression? Was St. Paul despairing to the point of death but wholly trusting the Lord at the same time? (2 Cor 1:8f)
Andrew Schmutzer, an OT professor at Moody, is editing a collaborative approach to the topic of sexual abuse. Chapter writers include psychologists, theologians, and pastoral care providers. The book is due out this coming July/August and is to be published by Wipf & Stock.
Title: The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused
Check out the Long Journey Home TOC for chapter titles and contributors (including your’s truly). My chapter is intitled, “The Nature of Evil in Child Sexual Abuse: Theological Consideration of Oppression and its Consequences”