I’VE UPDATED THE INTRO AND END OF THIS POST IN ORDER TO MAKE IT EASIER TO KEEP THE FOCUS ON THE ISSUES.

I’m deeply disappointed  with this article by Heath Lambert, Executive Director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, now called The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

The article asks, “Can Jesus Heal Mental Illness?”

And answers, “Yes.”

That answer in itself might be OK, but the article goes on to explain that “Yes” means “Yes, Jesus alone can heal mental illness.”

I want to explain my deep concerns about this article by simply highlighting a few quotes from it followed by some questions. I’ll number the questions to make any response easier.

Christians ought to understand mental illness in terms of spiritual issues. If mental illnesses are spiritual issues then we need to ask whether Jesus can bring healing to these things.

1. Only spiritual issues?

2. No other dimension of understanding?

…we need to carefully explain that mental illness is atheistic language for problems that have to do with life lived before the God of heaven and earth.

3. Atheistic language? Can you explain what is atheistic about it?

4. What does “problems that have to do with life lived before the God of heaven and earth” mean? Does it mean that all these problems are traceable to problems with our personal relationship to God?

It looks like this is answered by the next sentence:

We need to further explain that it is Jesus alone who can deal with these problems.

5. Mental illness is purely about a defective spiritual relationship to God that Jesus alone can heal? Jesus alone?

The next sentence seems to remove all doubt:

Jesus really can heal these problems. In fact, his is the only healing available.

The penultimate paragraph then comes to the only logical conclusion from such presuppositions:

Our culture believes that mental illnesses point to biology and require medical intervention.  Those of us in the biblical counseling movement are the only ones who know that the construct of mental illness actually has to with problems of the heart and require the gospel of God’s grace for healing.

6. No biological component? Ever?

7. No medication? Ever?

8. Mental illness has to do with problems of the heart and requires the Gospel of God’s grace for healing?

9. No other dimension than the heart?

10. No other solution than the Gospel?

11. The Biblical counseling movement know all this? They are the only ones who know this?

I hate writing posts like this, especially when I know and appreciate the author, an author who has written helpfully elsewhere. But this is dangerous and potentially deadly stuff that I hope will be qualified or clarified soon, not only for the sake of those who do suffer from mental and emotional disorders, but also for the sake of the Biblical Counseling movement.

  • Marie Peterson

    Yikes…this is scary!!! I mean, if all he meant was that God is the one who must bless the means whereby mental illness is dealt with, I would give a hearty amen! But to say that mental illness is purely spiritual is to honestly quite gnostic. So is he separating mental illness from things like depression? Granted, we do often mistake a spiritual problem for a physically mental one. But when you look at various things we all (or at least hopefully all) see as physical, it can affect us mentally as well. Is our brother really going to attribute a purely spiritual cause for the dementia that comes from Alzheimer’s? What about the mental side effects of medicine? Are those purely spiritual. This makes no sense…and I have a Christian friend I’m thinking of that would be crushed and confused if you said the only problem (note I said “only”) is spiritual.

    And, while this isn’t in regards to mental illness, I do have to take medicine because of a deficiency in my body, and several years ago I re-regulated the medicine. For about 6 months, I tried being off of it, and I got really depressed and weepy. And, when I got on a lower dosage than I had been on before, I then felt better over all- better sleep. Which we know that God gives to His beloved! But there are some things we can do in God’s strength even after we’ve given our souls and cares to Him!

  • AL

    Keep up the good fight Dr. Murray! The stigma of mental illness is a huge burden that deserves compassion and care holistically…not brushed off as only a spiritual problem that can “be prayed/repented away”. We are foster parents and know that each of the children who come into our care will have various mental health issues due to neglect/abuse/trauma/biology etc. While we plan to teach them about Jesus and his all sufficient grace we would be naive if we thought that we could reject all medication, therapy, diet, nurture etc.

  • Debi Martin

    Thanks for posting this! Wow, is he even living on the same planet? Mental illness is just a construct? It can’t be defined because it doesn’t exist? Tell that to my OCD! My husband can confirm – it is real, it does exist. And it’s not just a spiritual issue – it has a physical component that my brain lacks chemicals that medicine can provide. To say that mental illness is only about spiritual issues is very damaging to those who suffer from this very real disease.

  • Kelly Seale

    I’m not one to usually inter into these discussions but I have been harmed in the past by poor beliefs on this very subject. I have been clean from my 38 yr. drug addiction for 8 yrs. now and I give God all the glory for the success I’ve had with this awful problem. He brought the right folks into my life, at the right time to come along side me and help me. What finally happened to free me from my addiction was God put a precious Doctor, that had struggled with his own addiction in the past and had found healing, square in my path. This good man took me and applied his own experience and understanding of addiction – the PHYSICAL and the spiritual – to me and my history of heroin addiction, and for the first time in 38 yrs. I found freedom. It was a tough road to be sure but one that lead to my ultimate freedom from heroin addiction. Even now, after all these years clean I find it hard to comprehend the fact that God, through this good brother, has brought about my healing.
    Now back to the issue at hand. During my 38 yr. sojourn through the dark, dark world of heroin addiction, I tried to get clean many, many times and failed many, many times. Relapse is par for the course in a big percentage of the time when dealing with addiction but it was exasperated in my case, on more than one occasion, by brothers and sisters in Christ that had faulty beliefs that match this fellow’s that is the focus of this day’s blog. They were truly trying to help me, and they believed they were following God’s will, but they were dead wrong, and when dealing with heroin addiction and you make big mistakes with the addicted you can easily bring about said addict’s death. I will say that it is 100% a miracle that I am still alive after the life of dark, dark sin and degradation that I was delivered from. But my point is; God used man’s intervention, in the medical community, with medication, along side of years worth of Godly counseling, to bring about the clean and free Christian man that I am today.
    I will say that when I chose to put a needle into my arm at 11 yrs. of age, I rang a loud bell that is all but impossible to un-ring. I say that because I still have some strong battles with wanting to go that horrible route in order to stop the emotional pain I experience every day of my life but God is with me every day of my life and He gives me the strength to carry on without the aid of substances. God has provided Godly counsel and Godly folks that love me, that keep an eye on me, and through all of these means I stay clean and free from the horror of my past.
    Thank you Dr. Murray for your ability to rightly divide the Word of God and to be brave enough to speak the truth when only the truth will help folks understand how God uses all manner of avenues to heal his precious children. You sir are a great tool among many in God’s arsenal against spiritual and physical illness, and I thank you for your continued service.
    Finally, God bless all of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are fighting the good fight with the many spiritual and physical malaise that can overcome us at times. We share in a fellowship of suffering that has our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the helm, providing for us at every turn. I am proud to be found in your number.

  • Lora

    Thanks for being a voice of reason. I appreciate your efforts to remain biblical and balanced. I think the Lambert’s approach necessarily victimizes those struggling with mental illness. THEY don’t have enough faith, or THEY haven’t repented from some secret sin. How are we showing God’s grace by not using all of His gifts to help those suffering? (first of course is Scripture, but also medications and counseling) Do we deny the smoker chemotherapy for his lung cancer because it was lifestyle induced? No, we treat the cancer and provide smoking cessation counseling. Life is more complex than just repent and believe and all your problems will go away. Never minimize sin, but don’t minimize the real biological experience of mental illness as well. We are fearfully and wonderfully made…. And this includes our brains, our hormones, neurotransmitters etc.

    • Beth Harris

      I have been a born again believer for 25 years. I have also struggled with major depression. Two years ago I tapered off of the medications at the suggestion of my Psychiatrist to see if I still needed them. Within 7 weeks, I was an emotional wreck. I could not stop crying. I could not sleep and I was unbearable to live with. My family begged me to get help. It took 2 hospitalizations and 4 months of hell to regain normalcy. I wish I did not have to take these and struggle over guilt for having to take these medications. I have confessed and repented and sought the Lord. I think it is quite hypocritical for the author to say that he took a claritin and that’s okay but you other poor saps are lost. Does he not know that God is for us and our salvation is secure, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our salvation. We have died, been resurrected and now seated at Christ’s right hand in heaven. The article that he wrote is condemning and hurtful to people who are already suffering. He has obviously not been through a mental illness and I pray that he will never have to suffer the torment that I have been through and that his article has caused me.

  • Robert Briggs

    I wonder in reading the article you critique David if the issue is more a matter of nuance and definition? I share your concerns in that it speaks very dogmatically and in a very black and white fashion. However surely Heath is not going down the road of excluding the physiological element to our maladies? I wonder if he is not simply trying to go after those elements of mental issues that are spiritual and this is just a case of a badly written blog article that lacks careful nuance? I know from experience from a bad concussion a few years back that a bang on the brain does affect thinking and emotion and actions in ways I never personally understood before. It did require understanding this function in a faithful spiritual manner. Anxiety and fatigue became very real issues for me during the early days even although I was simply sitting at my desk reading. To deny physiological elements in our struggles is simply ridiculous and I would be very disappointed if this is what Heath is now promoting. Thanks for drawing my attention to this brother, we are developing a biblical counseling ministry here and it is going well but understanding where men are coming from is challenging not to mention vitally important. I will be seeking more clarification on this.

  • http://www.baylightcounseling.com/ Joshua Waulk

    I appreciate your concerns for Dr. Lambert’s article, Dr. Murray, but, he indicates that this post will be part of a broader series, so he deserves the opportunity to continue his thought before we pass judgment to quickly. I think we must also compare what he writes in this series with what he has written elsewhere. I have never come away from a reading of Dr. lambert (or any of the best contemporary BC’s, i.e. Powlison, Hambrick, etc) that suggested to me that “we” deny the possibility or reality of biological factors in mental health at large. In fact, in my training in BC at Southeastern Baptist Theo. Seminary, the reality of organic components in some, but not all cases, was taught and embraced (i.e. BPD).

    Would I love to hear Dr. Lambert expound on some of his thoughts in this post. Sure. Somehow, in the limitations of a blog post, I suspect we’re not getting the whole message. What I would caution against are proclamations of dashed hopes for biblical counseling. As I see it, and as I experience it daily in my own BC practice, this new generation of BC is in fact the holistic movement that we desire, and that we, the church, need. The stories I’m told by counselees so frequently about their experiences with secular therapists help compel me to press forward in the BC effort. I think we’re on the same team. But, we see through a glass dimly. Still, we throw powerful language around (i.e. mental illness), not recognizing that we risk cementing in people’s minds propositions that can not always be proven, and for which there are legitimate occasions for doubt.

    • David Murray

      Joshua, I don’t doubt that Dr. Lambert speaks and writes differently elsewhere. That’s what makes this article all the more puzzling and perplexing to me, especially given the historical context and possible pastoral consequences.

  • carole

    This is scary and puts the added burden of being deemed somehow lacking in faith. or worthiness in God’s eyes because of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues!

  • Anita G.

    I have already exhausted every point and reccomendation that this article suggests. This used to be my platform–the complete sufficiency of Scripture. I would be open to showing the man who wrote that article (Heath Lambert) to come see my bookshelves–there is plenty of proof of my attempts to self medicate for many years through the reading of many, many godly authors; especially the Puritans. I also read, prayed, wept and grappled over Scripture. Alas! No relief.

    I do want to lean on the side of graciousness and would like to see a response from Lambert with perhaps a little clarification on what exactly he meant. It was a bit of a complicated article to follow for some of us ‘simpler’ people–which is a little scary since the content IS about us.

    A few thoughts:

    1. Nothing, NOTHING can seperate me from my Lord Jesus Christ. Medication also fits in this realm. I am not an unbeliever because I take medication; nor will I be consigned to hell because I take medication.

    2. Long before I was given a label as ‘mentally ill’ I was given the label of ‘Christian’. Yes, at my baptism, but even more importantly, before the foundations of the world.

    Dr. Murray, I thank my God concerning you, that in your kind and compassionate dealings with suffering people, you bring such hope through that precious word of God. You are a comforting, yet advocating voice for the oppressed and a trustworthy servant of the Lord.

  • jryandavidson

    I believe that a crucial component in thinking through counseling and counseling from a Biblical perspective is to have a healthy understanding of the overarching narrative of Scripture in such as way that the Fall is seen for how devastating it really is. As a counselor, and pastor, I tell people that all of our psychological and emotional struggles are a result of sin…however, I go on to explain that sometimes we experience mental health issues as a direct result of our own sin (perhaps someone who commits adultery who continues in unrepentance and moves into depression) OR the results of sin in general (the fact that we live in a broken and cursed world as a result of the Fall). So, depression for example might be neuro-chemical in nature as a result of our broken bodies… If we do not consider the effects of the fall of man on the brain chemistry, we are saying that in some respects, the Fall of man affects everything but our brains…no, we get Strep Throat, Cancer, Colds and more from the Fall…in fact we get mental issues form the Fall…who among us would say that Alzheimer’s is directly because of sin…or even an idol of the heart. I dare say none of us…it is a result of the fallen bodies with which we journey…thanks be to God the resurrection is coming! I like the confessional statement summary of the Biblical Counseling Coalition regarding Biblical counseling:

    “Biblical counseling occurs whenever and wherever God’s people engage in
    conversations that are anchored in Scripture, centered on Christ and the
    Gospel, grounded in sound theology, dependent upon the Holy Spirit and
    prayer, directed toward sanctification, rooted in the life of the
    church, founded in love, attentive to heart issues, comprehensive in
    understanding, thorough in care, practical and relevant, and oriented
    toward outreach.”

    We just continue to consider the fall of man and the brokenness of our bodies as we seek to be “comprehensive in understanding”. Jesus is ultimately the answer to our mental health issues and perhaps that’s His Word in biblical counseling…or perhaps that’s through His common grace in a much needed (and thoughtfully and rightly prescribed) psychotropic medication. Thanks Dr. Murray for your continued work and for you continued humility as you dialogue.

  • Gabriel Powell

    Much clarity would come by separating “mental illness” and “brain illness”. The secular world combines the two because it cannot account for the immaterial (spiritual) component of our lives. But Biblical counseling understands both. The “mind” is not an organ and therefore cannot be “sick” in the medical sense of the term. But the brain can be (Alhzeimers).

    In ways we don’t fully understand, the brain affects the mind, and the mind affects the brain, but there are ways to distinguish the two. Medical tests can check for brain illnessness, and spiritual ‘tests’ can check for mind problems (wrong believing/thinking).

    If we keep these things in mind, we will have more productive dialogue.

  • Josh Gerber

    With all due respect Dr. Murray, but I don’t see the same important points that you mentioned in your recent post regarding Theological controversy played out in your critique here. There, you noted that, “Justin and Stephen responded with Was Jesus Really In The Tomb as a Corpse? I thought this was a fine model of how important theology can be debated in a humble, respectful, constructive manner. There’s no attempt at point-scoring, no name-calling, and no impugning of motives. The aim is clearly to guard the person and work of Christ from any misunderstanding or confusion, and to bring readers to a better knowledge of Christ and ultimately to deeper love and worship of Him. That’s what it did for me anyway.”

    In critiquing Dr. Lambert’s article, I’m wondering if are doing the same thing that you commended Justin and Stephen for? I don’t see your attempts to debate in such a manner as you described earlier, but if I am misunderstanding you, I apologize. I don’t doubt that your intentions are to foster a better and deeper love for Jesus, but so are Dr. Lambert’s. I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Lambert, and I can assure you that what he isn’t saying is that you only need to have more faith and all your problems will be solved. I can’t tell you how hard we wrestled through case studies, looking at both the outer man and inner man issues. It would have been much easier, honestly, to place a DSM label on the person. Dr. Lambert stressed and showed us repeatedly how not to be simplistic by saying the whole focus is on sin. This is a theological controversy, by the way, as you differ on what is meant by the sufficiency of Scripture and the relationship between the body and soul.

    I’m wondering if you have read his book, “Counseling the Hard Cases,” in which he clearly brings out the need to address both the inner and outer man, and works hard to demonstrate the level of care and compassion for those in suffering? It’s easy to look at one post and assume a lot, but to be fair, you have to look at what the biblical counseling movement has been saying in totality, and especially what Dr. Lambert has written and said.

    I do have hope for the biblical counseling movement, because it’s not like the picture or the impression that you present in your critique. In contrast, those in this movement, including myself, are working hard to love people, know them and their situations, speak the truth in love, and help them glorify God in practical measures to the ability to which God has given them.

    The objections that you raise are good questions, and I’m sure that Dr. Lambert will address them. I’d encourage and invite you to really take the time to talk with and listen to those in the biblical counseling world. In no way am I being disrespectful, but I believe that if you would listen and hear them out more, you would have a deeper appreciation of what we are doing, even if you still come away disagreeing.
    Thank you for listening!

    • David Murray

      Thanks Josh. I see a significant difference between a post in which we debate a finer point of theology and something that for some people can be a matter of life or death. In such circumstances, I believe it is incumbent upon us to write in a way that it is impossible for us to be misunderstood (or as close to that as we can get), especially when we know the history of deeply damaging principles and practices in this area.

      I don’t doubt that Dr. Lambert speaks and writes differently elsewhere. That’s what makes this article all the more puzzling and perplexing to me.

    • Jorge

      Mental anguish is always a relationship-with-God issue? So Christians can never be depressed?
      Your reliance on Dr. Lambert for the answers to some probing questions is disturbing.

      “I’d encourage and invite you to really take the time to talk with and listen to those in the biblical counseling world. In no way am I being disrespectful”
      – Not disrespectful? Telling someone who is talking about Biblical counseling, to talk and listen to those (who you approve of) in Biblical counseling, is such.

      • josh gerber

        Jorge, all of life is theological, since everything we do is in relationship to God. I didn’t say that Christians can never be depressed. My point is that by talking to Dr. Lambert, one can find out the answers to the questions the Dr. Murray poised without guessing or making assumptions. It’s not disrespectful to ask this much. As brothers in Christ we should seek to understand the other’s position on such matters before making posts/blogs that demonstrate otherwise. I do thank Dr. Murray for being gracious and answering me back.

  • Bob Kellemen

    David,
    I’m interested to hear Heath’s ongoing posts in
    his series (this is one of several). I’d also be interested to hear your response to Heath’s post about your blog: http://www.biblicalcounseling.com/blog/we-can-do-better-than-this-speaking-truth-in-love-in-an-internet-age
    Big picture question for you David: Is it a bit overkill to take one post from someone
    you say you respect, and respond with a sensational title like “dashed
    hopes for biblical counseling”? I’m not in any way minimizing the
    importance of the discussion of “mental illness” from a biblical
    perspective. But do you really believe your hopes have been dashed for the
    modern biblical counseling movement because of your interpretation/perception
    of one post in a series of posts?
    I’d encourage you and your readers to visit
    our Biblical Counseling Coalition website and type in “mental
    illness.” It will lead people to this link: http://bit.ly/1dG69vq which
    has a number of nuanced articles on biblical counseling and mental illness.
    Bob

  • ChristianDepression

    Thank you for your thoughts on this, David! It was much-needed, in my opinion.

  • Pingback: Guest Post: The Gospel and Mental Illness – Kevin DeYoung

  • Brandon M.

    I just recently commented on DeYoung’s post over at TGC and voiced my concerns with Lambert’s position.

    That led me to want to thank you personally, Dr. Murray, for your willingness to challenge the “big names” in the biblical counseling movement, who essentially see mental illness as ALWAYS resulting from personal sin (though they would never state it like that).

    My mom has suffered with anxiety, panic attacks, and severe depression for many years. She became even more depressed, because she always thought it was her fault (personal sin, lack of faith, lack of love for God etc.). Your book “Christians’s Get Depressed Too” has helped her greatly. I thank God for you; for giving a voice to those who deeply suffer from mental illnesses (not always directly linked to their own sin, but as a result of the Fall) who need to be heard and understood.

    Praying that the Lord will use the dialouge between you and Dr. Lambert for His glory; and to bring clairity towards a more biblical understanding of the nature of mental illness, and to help those suffering with it.

  • A Klassen

    Just this year, my friend’s friend was completely healed from extreme anxiety. She suffered so much that she needed help with household and parenting duties. What was the cause? Mold in the home! If she had gone to this “biblical counselling” she would still be suffering!

  • Lawsin Graceright

    I’ve read all 4 articles in this series. What would happen if all dangerous psychiatric patients in North America with schizophrenia were taken off all of their medications. In particular, those who have killed because of schizophrenia but are now living safely in the community because of treatment with antipsychotice drugs. Serious question. Not being contentious, just confused.

  • jonathan martinez

    Dr. Murray, i believe you jumped the gun on too many of your statements before even looking into the NANC program. Unfortunately, you are very convinced of Psychology that it is even part of your pulpit ministry, I went to your sevice on mothers day, was saddenned to see that you read alot Psychology today along with your scripture. Im a Psychology graduate, did multi systemic therapy, used as many theories available but none answers to a single cure. People get tired after so many therapy sessions they claim they are fine. Its also very expensive, that seems to curb out the depression or other symptoms they have.

    • David Murray

      Hi Jonathan. I took a look back at my mother’s day sermon and can only see two quotations in the sermon. One came from a Christian homemaker and the other from Kevin DeYoung’s blog in which he quoted a Canadian scholar whose research confirmed the fitting nature of the biblical roles for men and women. Was there something else that offended you that I can’t remember?

      I’m pleased to see that NANC’s successor organization, ACBC, is increasingly open to incorporating various branches of science in its approach to some counseling issues.