Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

The past couple of days I’ve highlighted some of the Puritans’ teaching on depression that J. I. Packer and Michael Lundy explore in their introductory chapters of Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical WisdomBut where did they get this wisdom, asks Lundy, wisdom that is remarkably accurate when compared with modern knowledge.

On the basis of his research he identifies three general sources of Baxter’s wisdom in these issues: an undergirding biblical theology, his metaphysical philosophy, and his personal and professional experience. Lundy goes on to explain the details of Baxter’s holistic approach

The Puritans Borrowed Widely

While the Bible is the absolute, carefully examined basis for faith and life among Baxter and his many colleagues, in practical terms he and they borrowed widely from many sources, and used Aristotelian principles of logic, which they made to conform to Christian theology.

The Puritans held all truth was God’s Truth

The Puritans unabashedly took what they could from a variety of sources, holding that all truth was ultimately from God, and that such truth as was revealed to ancient pagans through general revelation could be legitimately recycled, with care, and applied in an explicitly Christian context.

The Puritans found truth in anti-christian sources

What emerges in Baxter’s material is a curious and compelling mixture of sound Christian doctrines and general holistic medical principles, applying reframed Stoic concepts to those doctrines and principles, and formulated as irrefutable logic. Baxter’s use of logic was characteristic of the highly educated clergy of his day. The Stoics had numerous ideas that were antithetical to Christian belief and practice, such as suicide; that did not keep the Puritans from appreciating those elements of the Stoics’ philosophy which were general and adaptable to Christian thought.

The Puritans saw that distorted beliefs led to wrong actions

Belief and behavior were inextricably linked for Baxter, as they were for the Stoics. What you believed determined how you thought about matters and predetermined how you would respond to possible choices along the path of life. Distorted beliefs would inevitably lead to wrong interpretations of circumstances and so to wrong choices and unethical behavior.

The Puritans addressed Depression and Anxiety with early CBT and medication

What Baxter employed was a clear forerunner of what we now call cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). His version of CBT would be deemed rudimentary and highly tailored to his relatively homogenous clinical population. Yet, it must still be recognized as a forerunner of a very powerful and highly respected tool for dealing with many otherwise intractable clinical problems, particularly those of a severe and chronic nature, including the aforementioned ones. Baxter begins by advising his readers to get their personal theology straight, goes on to tell them how practically to do that using his own antecedent to CBT, and makes sure that his readers understand that their problems have somatic as well as emotional and spiritual dimensions. Then he concludes by telling his readers to trust their physicians and to take their medicines! Describing this as a confluence of belief, behavior, and medicine oversimplifies Baxter’s approach but is a good synopsis for those willing to explore the sort of advice he so freely gives.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.