A Prof’s Life: A Day of Counseling

Another in my series on A Prof’s Life.

I had high hopes of making some progress on a few writing projects today. Not to be. From the moment I came into the office I was immersed in a complicated counseling situation in my congregation which consumed my whole morning with multiple phone calls, emails, texts, meetings, and writing up notes so that I can update my elders.

Usually I try to keep my writing mornings free of distraction by turning off email, phone, etc. However, I knew I had to deal with this situation urgently and hoped I could make sufficient progress in a couple of hours so that I could get into study mode by mid-morning. By the time lunchtime came round and things had quietened down, I had little mental fuel left for any in-depth study — not helped by my usual post-debate insomnia last night.

Used my lunch break to fill out a mortgage application form and then met with two members in my congregation to plan an update and refresh of our congregational website which has been languishing for too long. Thankfully we now have a really gifted creative member who is taking it on and I look forward to seeing the fruit of her work.

At 2pm I attended practice preaching where one of our students preached a wonderful sermon on Ephesians 2:1-10. His points were:

I. What we were (vv. 1-3)

A. Dead in sin
B. Enslaved in sin
C. Condemned in sin

II. What God has done (vv. 4-6)

A. Through his mercy
B. Through his love
C. By his grace

III. What we are now to do (vv. 7-10)

A. To display the grace of God in humility
B. To be his workmanship created for good works

It was massively encouraging to see the student make such a huge improvement compared to the last time I heard him preach. Deeply satisfying to see someone humbly take on critique and work hard to improve.

I was so refreshed by that sermon that I summoned up the energy to do an hour of work on my dissertation about Matthew Henry. I started researching the chapter that will compare Henry with Richard Baxter.

After that I had another meeting related to the counseling problem before heading home and finalizing my blogposts for Friday.

Check Out


You Get What You Pay For | Samuel D. James
“Ours is a culture of cheap, low-quality entertainment; cheap, low-quality politics; cheap, low-quality religion; cheap, low-quality education. We are so adapted to the tradeoff between inexpensive and mediocre that we hardly notice it anymore–until, of course, we have nothing else to choose from except the vulgar, the dishonest, and the middlebrow. And at that point, often a point of no obvious return, we lament, ‘How on earth did we get here?’”

3 warnings from a pastor leaving the ministry | Scott Hollingshead, The Cripplegate
“After several years of ministry the church plant disbanded and the pastor left the ministry. He and I still kept in touch after the church shut down, but that communication dwindled over time. I found out he wasn’t going to church much anymore, and when I challenged him about that, he cut me out of his life.”

The Ashley Madison Scandal One Year Later | Jimmy Dodd, For The Church
“I have been deeply troubled over the past year as I have head story after story of pastoral repentance. Many well meaning articles have been written by respected leaders declaring fallen leaders repentant – only weeks after the initial exposure of sin. My concern is grounded in the fact that all too often, identifying an act of sorrow as repentance is premature, misleading and unbiblical.”

Help Me Teach the Bible: Michael Horton on the Campaign for Core Christianity | Nancy Guthrie, TGC
Nancy Guthrie speaks to Michael Horton about his book Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story, we discuss why those we teach need training in doctrine, the way God speaks to us today, and whether the purpose of our lives as Christians is to change the world.”

10 of the Greatest Leadership Questions Ever Asked | Ron Edmondson
“One of the best skills a leader can develop is the art of asking the right questions – and, even better – at the right times. Here are 10 of the greatest leadership questions ever asked:”

New Book

How Should I Manage Time? by Ryan M. McGraw

Kindle Deals

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink ($3.99)

Five English Reformers by J. C. Ryle ($0.99)

The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose by Lisa Anderson ($2.99)


Life on Campus

A Prof’s Life: The Ideals and Reality of Leadership

Another in my series on A Prof’s Life.

IHOP breakfast with a student started the day, followed by a couple of hours of preparation for my chapel address at 10am. I preached on 1 Timothy 6:11-16 on what it means to be a man of God. My outline was:

I. The Warning (vv. 11-12)

A. Flee these things (love of controversy, of division, and of money)

B. Follow after righteousness, etc.

C. Fight the good fight of faith

D. Fasten your mind on eternal life

II. The Witnesses (vv. 12-15)

Be encouraged by these witnesses/motives:

A. Because many saw your confession (at baptism/ordination)

B. Because God sees you

C. Because Christ sees you

D. Because the whole world will see Christ openly at the judgment day

III. The Worship (vv. 15-16)

You have a great calling but you also have a great God:

A. He is Invincible

B. He is Immaculate

C. He Is Immortal

D. He is Invisible

E. He is Infinite

Two hours of admin followed that – mostly emails but also chasing up some incomplete coursework from last semester.

At 2pm, I Skyped into the Theological Education Committee (TEC) of the Free Reformed Churches of North America, the federation that my own congregation belongs to. The TEC is responsible for the theological education of Free Reformed Students at the Seminary and also has an oversight role regarding my own teaching.

I left the Seminary at 3.45pm to visit a member of my congregation who is in hospital and then drove an hour to Grant Christian Reformed Church. I counseled a pastor over the phone as I drove, in a pre-arranged call, and then grabbed a Macdonalds before speaking to the congregation about leadership. I talked the congregation through the elder checklist and the deacon checklist which we use in my congregation to keep one another accountable and to inform the congregation of what to expect from our church leaders.

Got home just before 9pm, and after a day of preaching and teaching about the ideals of leadership and now I’m just about to depress myself by the sad reality in the final presidential debate.

Check Out


Does trusting God remove anxiety? | Musings of a Christian Psychologist
“Over the years of doing therapy with Christians I have noticed how many feel guilty for their anxieties. “If only I could trust God more…I say I believe he is good but clearly I don’t trust him because I can’t stop being anxious.” Still others express distress that their faith in God does not change their feelings of hurt over past relational wounds and fears it will never get better.”

10 Tips for Leading Kids to Christ | Jason K. Allen, For The Church
“My greatest stewardship in life is not training a generation of students at Midwestern Seminary. It is training my five young children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I feel the weight—and glory—of this stewardship daily and find immeasurable fulfillment and joy as I see my children taking steps toward Christ.”

Praying Through the Scriptures: Genesis 2 | Chad Van Dixhoorn, Reformation21 Blog
“We come to you this morning, our Maker, Redeemer and eternal Rest. You are the one who patterns the weeks of our lives, ordered by the work of your creation and the rest of your holy day. We praise you for giving us work for six days and rest for one day.”

Twelve Key Reasons for Church Staff Conflict | Thom Rainer
“Conflict is certainly not unique with church staff. But among the several reasons for staff conflict, there are some that seem to be more pervasive with these relationships than others. Here are twelve of them.”

Feeding on Christ When Jesus Comes Again | Nicholas T. Batzig, Feeding on Christ
“Geerhardus Vos set out 12 aspects of the manner of Jesus’ coming again. According to the Scriptures, Jesus will come…”

Know When to Run | Patrick Ramsey, Meet the Puritans
“One lesson then that we ought to learn from this past controversy is to know when to fold ‘em and when to run away. We need to learn to put to death the desire to have the last word. After all, God’s truth will triumph and its success is not dependent upon our relentless and unending barrage of articles, posts and tweets. ”

For 100 Years, Planned Parenthood Has Silenced Millions Of Women | Abby Johnson, The Federalist
“Planned Parenthood has consistently claimed to ‘care’ for women and champion ‘women’s rights’—yet they silence any woman who thinks women deserve better than Planned Parenthood.”

LGBT Group Threatens Johns Hopkins Over Report That Science Doesn’t Show People Are Born Gay, Transgender | Leonardo Blair, Christian Post
“The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, has threatened to penalize Johns Hopkins University if it does not denounce a report from two of the institution’s scholars which concludes that there is little scientific evidence that people are born gay or transgender.”

Plan Your Free Online Education at Lifehacker U: Fall Semester 2016 | LifeHacker
“Your education doesn’t have to stop once you leave school. We’ve put together a curriculum of some of the best free online classes available on the web this fall for the latest term of Lifehacker U, our regularly-updating guide to improving your life with free, online college-level classes. Let’s get started.”

Ridiculously Good Pre-Publication Offer on 13 New Mini-Books | Counseling One Another
“The good folks at Shepherd Press have informed me of a new pre-publication deal on 13 new LifeLine mini-books. With up to 80% off, depending on quantity ordered, NOW IS THE TIME to stock up on your counseling resources!”

How My Books are Being Banned at the Society of Biblical Literature | Michael J. Kruger, Canon Fodder
“Dr. John Kutsko, executive director of the Society of Biblical Literature, has just proposed that InterVarsity Press–one of the largest evangelical presses in the country– be suspended from having a book stall at the annual SBL meeting (starting in 2017). The reason for this ban is the recent decision by InterVarsity to uphold the biblical view of marriage and to ask their employees to do the same.”

Kindle Deals

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

How to Walk Into Church by Tony Payne ($4.99)

God of Word: The Word, the Spirit and how God speaks to us by John Woodhouse ($0.99)


Hungry: Learning to Feed Your Soul with Christ by Rondi Lauterbach

New Depression Research: Appreciation, Critique, and Gospel Opportunities

I had hoped to post an article on the third address from the recent Library of Congress Symposium on Can Depression Be Cured? to follow on from the summaries of the first two addresses (here and here). However, the third lecture was extremely disappointing, both in its content and delivery. While the first two speakers worked hard to simplify extremely complex research, the third made no such effort. There didn’t seem to be much substance to what he presented either, with his main point being that although genetic markers have been identified for schizophrenia and bi-polar, which is wonderful news, there has been little progress on finding such for depression. Genetic markers can not only help in anticipating whether someone may develop these disorders, but also in testing for it, and, hopefully, eventually curing it. Without genetic markers for depression, most diagnosis still relies on various checklists of symptoms which don’t always agree and which involve a number of subjective measures.

Anyway, the first two addresses were excellent and exciting for the future. Now I’d like to offer some reflections on how to process these findings from a Christian standpoint. (Most of this applies to anxiety disorders too).

1. I was struck by the compassion of Dr. Gold and Dr. Zarate towards those who suffered with depression. These were not merely ambitious academics in ivory towers; they were men on a mission to attack and destroy depression and to relieve its multitudes of victims. Their sympathy and love for the suffering were evident throughout and clearly motivated so much of their research.

2. How much more we should pray for scientists and researchers in all fields of medicine, including those in this field. We often pray for individual people to be cured or to have their pain relieved, but we rarely pray for the unseen background researchers pouring their time and talents into understanding various diseases and discover cures for them. Although many, and probably most, of them are unbelievers and some are even antagonistic to Christianity, through His common grace, God can direct them and use them to bless the world and His people.

3. We should be deeply thankful for the discoveries God is enabling these researchers to make in this field and the improved treatments that He is enabling them to find. All three researchers acknowledged that while anti-depressants are much better than they were, there is still much work to do to generate more consistent success and in a much shorter period of time. Thankfully, breakthroughs are being made in this vital area, especially since the focus has moved from meds improving the neurochemical balance to meds which actually increase brain cell growth (neurogenesis) and the connections between cells (neuroplasticity).

4. The non-Christian presuppositions of these scientists were evident at various points, mainly through references to evolution, but also in the non-mention of the spiritual side of humanity and the connection between the soul and the body. However, by taking Christian presuppositions to their findings, we can reject what is false and supplement what is missing in order to present a more accurate and complete picture.

5. This research should build much more sympathy and compassion (and reduce stigma) for those suffering with depression, especially considering:

  • There is evidence of significant brain tissue loss in depression.
  • Depression, bi-polar, etc, are at the top of the table for daily disabling effects, above even cardiovascular, respiratory, and circulatory diseases.
  • Depression causes many damaging physical changes in the rest of the body (heart disease, strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis).

6. The latter reality should also create an urgency to treat such disorders promptly before greater and wider physical damage occurs. I’ve heard Christians say that people should not use anti-depressants because they forfeit the sanctifying benefit of the suffering. Usually the same people are the first to run to meds for every other ache or pain! But this research shows that such counsel is not only hypocritical, it’s also extremely dangerous given the fact that depression is now seen to be a  systemic neurodegenerative disorder. It other words, it damages the whole body. Yes, we want to hear God’s voice in our suffering. But the message may be, “Get treatment before you suffer even worse problems.”

7. The danger of prolonged stress was emphasized by Dr. Gold. Depression is now being viewed more as a disorder of the human stress response–it gets stuck in the “on” position. That’s a message to all of us who are living lives that are way too stressed. We always promise ourselves that we will slow down eventually, but “eventually” never comes and in the meantime, according to this research, we are slowly destroying our brains and bodily systems. This explains why so many “high-achievers” come down with depression.

8. The importance of combining talking therapies with medication was also emphasized. One thing that’s frustrated me over the years has been seeing psychotherapists saying only talking therapy works, psychiatrists saying only medicine works, or Christians saying only biblical counseling works. It was refreshing to see men who were humble enough and secure enough in their field to see the importance of working with other caring professionals. In the Q&A, someone raised a question about the role of Christianity in the healing process and the answer was positive about need for “therapeutic alliances” and the importance of close trusting relationships in counseling that can be formed especially in religious contexts. Dr. Zarate confessed that psychiatry had been “inappropriately unfriendly to religion.”

9. It’s in this “talking therapy” area that Christian counseling has such an opportunity to assist the depressed in a “therapeutic alliance” with other caring professionals. Do we not have the best words to talk to the suffering? That’s not to exclude the role of other trained professionals in the process, but Gospel therapy has to be a vital part of this process. It seems a bit strange to think that words can grow or shrink the brain, can grow or sever connections, but that’s what the science shows; and it shouldn’t surprise us. God has connected the body/mind/heart/soul so that the one impacts the other (Proverbs 3:8; 4:22).

10. Dr. Gold’s promotion of resilience training as a defense against mental and mood disorders is also an open goal for Christians. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy, trauma, threats, and even significant sources of threat. See how fitted Christianity is to that! Specifically, resilience training involves: positive emotion, optimism, loving caretakers, flexibility, the capacity to reframe adversity, strong social support, altruism, commitment to a valid cause, a capacity to extract meaning from adverse situations, and a tolerance for emotional pain and sadness. Sounds just like the effect of a healthy local church doesn’t it.

11. As expected, sin was not mentioned as a possible cause of depression. They started with the brain damage associated with depression, but didn’t ask what caused that. Of course, as with a brain tumor or Alzheimers, it could simply be the result of having a fallen human brain in a fallen human world. But it could also be sin-damage. If talking therapies can heal damaged areas of the brain and make them grow again, then the wrong kind of talk/thought can damage and shrink the brain too. Evidence for this has been found in studies of the brains of abused children.

12. If depression is a disorder of the stress response, it explains why unresolved guilt is at the core of many depressions. What greater stress than knowing that what we have done is worthy of divine judgement, that we are hell-deserving and hell-bound! Such stress impacts not just the conscience but the body too (Psalm 32:1-5). Again, what a ripe and ready field for the Gospel of Christ with its promise of a full, free, and gracious pardon of all sin.

In summary, the Christian response to this research should be to receive correction, to express caution, to offer critique, to cut stigmatizing, to grow in compassion, and to increase confidence in the Gospel.

What else should we take from this research? What further cautions or critiques are appropriate?

Two previous posts on this research can be read here and here.

A Prof’s Life: The Perfect Week of Ministry

I’ve started reading a blog by Paul Levy in which he simply narrates the day-to-day life of an ordinary pastor (in England). It’s like pulling back the curtain and showing what goes on in a normal pastorate. Very honest and very helpful both for seminary students and church members. While reading it, I thought, “Hey it would be good to do something similar for the life of an ordinary Seminary prof.” I think there’s quite a bit of mystery and misunderstanding surrounding what we do, so from time to time (not every day), I’ll post “A day in the life of a seminary professor.” 

I arrive at the Seminary for about 7.15am, after dropping my daughter off at school. Started the day by spending about three hours preparing for two classes in the afternoon. This involved familiarizing myself with the lecture material and highlighting the parts I wanted to emphasize, gathering further reading links, and some audio resources to supplement my counseling lecture. I re-wrote part of a lecture I want the students to read before Friday’s class. I also marked an assignment that my Christian Ministry students completed on an ideal week in ministry. The assignment was:

Prepare a color-coded spreadsheet of your “ideal” ministry week showing how much time you will devote to study, prayer, visiting, meetings, family, etc.

My assistant also downloaded the files they submitted so that I could project them onto the screen in the classroom and we could learn from the strengths and weakness of each one.

Got my “Check out” links together from my Feedly reader and sent them to my assistant for preparing a draft blog post. Started writing a blog post reflecting on the recent depression research I’ve been summarizing. Don’t want to fall into the traps of either being too naively welcoming or being too cynical and critical. On the whole, I think this research is good news and, although not a touchdown, it’s definitely moved the chains.

Answered a few emails, ate lunch, and then headed to my Foundations of Counseling Class at midday. We studied the strengths and weaknesses of various secular counseling systems such as psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and cognitive behavior therapy. We looked at each system under five headings: their philosophy, their view of Personality, their understanding of the problem, their plan or aim, and their prescription to get there.

We spent longer on CBT as it is probably one of the systems that looks most like some aspects of biblical counseling. We worked our way through some of the material in Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think (not a Christian book) noting some helpful worksheets, questions, etc. But I always recommend the Christian book I’m not supposed to feel like this as a great example of Christian CBT. I’ve given away dozens of copies of this book.

I don’t particularly enjoy teaching this part of the counseling course because there’s so much that is false in most secular systems, but it’s important for students to at least know what’s out there as many of the people they will be counseling will have had some previous counseling in these systems. Also, there are some helpful insights as well as lessons to learn from some of their methods. Pointed the students to some further book, blog, and audio resources on this subject.

The Counseling class runs from 12 noon to 1.15pm and the Christian Ministry Class from (1.30pm to 2.45pm), each with a short half-time break. We spent the Ministry class going over the students’ “ideal week of ministry” assignments. We had one student in the class who has been a pastor for 20 plus years, so we asked him to give a “real week of ministry.” It was quite different to the ideals! Here’s the kind of table the students produce:


I was encouraged by the place the students planned to give to prayer, with a few of them having not only prayer times first and last thing in the day, but even one or two designated times throughout the day. I felt quite convicted by that. Some of them failed to allocate any evening time to visits or church meetings. One or two probably had too many evenings out in a row.

I challenged a couple of them about starting their days with email and admin as I find that distracts from the mental work of sermon prep. But everyone is different, with one student saying that it clears his mind knowing that he’s dealt with important emails, calls, etc.

Another thing I encouraged them to do was to make each day as regular and routine as possible. Our bodies and minds love rhythm and regularity. I noticed that some of them had only allocated a couple of hours a day to sermon prep, or two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. I’m only beginning to get moving after two hours of study and my best work is done in hours 3-5. Most of them had allocated enough time in the week but it was just too scattered in small blocks through the week in some cases.

Most of them had planned exercise a few times a week and also a full day off. A few had a little work planned for their day off. Again, I asked them to consider the huge mental benefit of one day in which you really had NOTHING ministerial to do. “Six days you shall labour and do ALL your work!”

After class, I wrote more of my depression research blog post, phoned in for my arthritis meds, wrote this blog, picked up my daughter from school, and headed home. I was going to use the hour before evening meal to finalize prep for my chapel address tomorrow, but ran out of time. Phoned a member who has been through surgery, then spent the evening with my kids. Shona was out at the Seminary Wives Fellowship speaking on the subject of “Encouragement.”