Bob Kellemen, Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, invited me to interact publicly with his responses to my recent posts on “mental illness.” 

Dear Bob,

Thank you for taking the time to read my posts (here and here) on this difficult and controversial subject of mental illness. You know how much I value your opinion and deeply appreciate the time that you’ve put into thinking about these matters. As usual, your interaction is gracious even when critical. I know that your desire is to move forwards together rather than re-fight the divisive battles of the past. For that reason, I’m not going to engage your defense of Jay Adams, a man that we have all learned a lot from.

(For those fresh to the discussion, Bob is mainly taking issue with what I wrote in Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness, and he has posted three responses so far: Part 1Part 2Part 3).

I wish I had more time to interact with your responses, but you’ve caught me at a really busy time with end of the semester, a conference, a book deadline, and, oh yes, a baby due in 10 days!  I was very tempted to simply point to the excellent comments from Phil, Otto, and Elizabeth under your first post as summing up my response. However, I want to honor your own investment of time and thought, as well as demonstrate my respect for you and your thinking by adding a few thoughts below.

1. I used the labels of “sin maximizers” and “mental illness maximizers” as identifiers of diagnosis rather than cure. I felt that was simpler and clearer. For example, had I used “grace maximizers” instead of “sin maximizers,” then I would be at risk of denying that any grace is involved in God’s provision of medical or psychological cures. I believe that Christians at both ends of the spectrum are trying to be grace maximizers. I notice that you did suggest other labels (e.g. “sanctification maximizer,” or “shepherding maximizer,” or “grace/gospel/Christ maximizer,” or “compassionate, comprehensive whole person maximizer,”) but, again, using these would suggest a lack of these emphases on the other side of the equation.

2. I confess that my terms are not ideal, and regrettably do tend to play into mischaracterization. However, I do think that if you take the focus way from these two words, “sin maximizers,” and look at the way I tried to explain them in the context of that post and my previous post, that the danger of mischaracterization is lessened. I note that Elizabeth and Otto who commented on your post were also a bit baffled at the way you had interpreted my article.

3. On the subject of mischaracterization, I do think in your interaction with Otto that you seriously mischaracterized my view of biblical counselors as “taking joy in maximizing sin.” Whoa! “Taking joy?” That’s a huge addition to my language.

4. I was also disappointed by your “If” in your comment to Otto:

“If David and I agree that 95% of biblical counselors take joy in glorifying God through shepherding people toward Christlikeness, then I’ll be delighted!”

Come on, Bob, surely you know me well enough to know that there doesn’t need to be an “if” preceding that statement. As a friend who loves to see you delighted, let me go further and say “I believe that 100% of biblical counselors take joy in glorifying God through shepherding people toward Christlikeness.” You bouncing now?

Also, I’m a biblical counselor myself! If I’m not, I don’t know what I am. I teach biblical counseling and I do biblical counseling. I’m just a pastor who counsels with an open Bible in my hand. I’m not qualified in any other area but biblical ministry. What do I need to be or do to be a “biblical counselor?” Please let me in. Just joking! A little.

5. My post should be seen in the context of the previous post which discussed the problems around “mental illness” terminology.

6. My post did go on to define “sin maximizers” as “those who speak mostly in moral categories” as opposed to medical categories. In other words, I was not saying that some counselors try to maximize sin. I agree that 100% of biblical counselors are sanctification maximizers in all that they aim to do. I’m also sure that 100% of Christians who take a more medical or psychological approach are also trying to be sanctification maximizers.

7. I did describe “sin maximizing” and mental illness maximizing” as two extremes with most of us falling somewhere along the spectrum. In other words, I’m certainly not saying that 95% of biblical counselors are at the extreme end of the spectrum, just as I’m not saying that 95% of Christian psychologists are at the other extreme end of the spectrum. I believe that the vast majority of Christians in counseling do their best before God to address both sin and suffering, both spiritual and physical issues. I also believe that the vast majority of the biblical counseling movement has an increasingly holistic view of human nature and human problems. I’m grateful to men like yourself for contributing to that maturing of thought and ministry.

8. I actually wasn’t the first person to use sin maximizing language. Biblical Counseling leader Dr. Michael Emlet (CCEF) uses this language in Crosstalk where he says that when we ignore the suffering aspect of a Christian’s life we will “minimize sin committed against them and maximize sin they commit” (80).

9. I did try to speak in terms of “impressions given” and “impressions received.” I thought that would indicate that I was glad to give the benefit of the doubt regarding motivation and aim, although the message communicated was sometimes misunderstood.

10. I’m sorry that this term “sin maximizing” has proven such an obstacle and hindrance to engaging the other 1301 words in the post. I’m happy to ditch it in favor of the somewhat-less-memorable “viewing problems in mainly moral/spiritual terms” as opposed to “viewing problems in mainly medical terms.” As long as we’re agreed that such tendencies do exist, or at least that there’s a widespread perception that such tendencies exist, then I’d welcome your engagement with the substance of the post which was intended to gently challenge us all to do what we can to close the gap between Christians working in this important though often confusing area.

So, my friend, hope that helps a bit. I love all your books, and continue to use Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends as two of my primary textbooks in my counseling classes. I started reading Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling last night and have to say that I am hugely impressed so far. What an outstanding contributing to caring for sinning and suffering people. So many good chapters, and I especially enjoyed Laura Hendrickson on The Complex Mind/Body Connection.

Looking forward to your interaction with my suggestions about how to move Christians forward together as we continue to learn from one another. I know that we both desire the good of all and the glory of God.

With much brotherly love,


  • Adam Thompson

    As someone who has just now happened across this discussion, I find “viewing problems in mainly moral/spiritual terms” and “viewing problems in mainly medical terms” to be better descriptors than “sin maximizing” and “mental illness maximizing”.

    There is certainly a balance to find. Secular experts (parenting, counseling, education, etc.) try to diagnose and explain everything, refusing to admit that much of what they deal with is sin. Yet on the other side, we must acknowledge that in a fallen world, we have weaknesses that are physical and mental, as well as spiritual weaknesses.

    • David Murray

      That’s well put, Adam.

    • Bob Kellemen


      I agree with David. Your wording is excellent and your description of the needed balance is very helpful. Thanks.


  • Pingback: Dear David

  • Bob Kellemen


    Thank you for continuing the conversation.

    Here’s the link to my Dear David response:


    • David Murray

      Thanks Bob.

  • Al

    Those who seek to be compensated for counseling are often pressed to use a medical model and offer a diagnosis because insurance companies require it. I know counselors who use this method but in practice seek the balance Adam discussed. Offering counseling as a ministry free of charge has freed me from those concerns.

    Initially, the terms maximizing and minimizing confused me until I read the discussions several times. Perhaps “sin emphasizers” or medical model emphasizers would clarify somewhat. Just a suggestion fwiw.

    Thank you both for tilling this soil that good fruit may grow and feed God’s people, freeing them to live for His glory.