Positive Faith: A New Microblog

If you’re sharp-eyed, you may have noticed a new button on the blog’s navigation bar. Right beside the Blog button, you’ll notice one that says Microblog. If you click on it, you’ll arrive at my Tumblr blog, which has been customized to integrate with the HeadHeartHand website.

So, why would I want to start another blog? Well, I’ve often wanted a place where I can post smaller pieces, photos, quotations, video clips, etc., that I come across in the course of my study, as well as some personal news from time to time. I didn’t want to post all of these items on the HeadHeartHand blog because that would just clog up that main stream with smaller pieces and distract from the regular daily postings.

Tumblr also makes it really quick and easy to post things from a browser or phone; hence why a lot of young people are hanging out there.

I’ve called it Positive Faith because I want the microblog to be an enjoyable source of encouragement and inspiration for Christians in an often negative and pessimistic world.

If you subscribe to the HeadHeartHand blog by RSS or email, the Positive Faith posts should now be showing up in your RSS reader or your daily HeadHeartHand email. If you subscribe by email, you’ll also have noticed an improvement in the format, as I’ve switched from Feedburner to Mailchimp.

If you don’t already subscribe by email, why not start today. Just fill out your email in the box on the right of the blog, and you’ll ensure a daily dose for your Head, your Heart, and your Hand! Going forward, there will also be special offers from time to time for email subscribers.

Once again, I owe a huge debt of thanks to Cameron Morgan and Ray, his assistant, for their design and technical skills that made this possible. If you ever want design or technical work done on your website or blog, Cameron’s your man. I can’t recommend him highly enough. You can reach him on Twitter or via his website.

Check out

Facebook friends and sin
“How am I supposed to respond to my so-called friends who promote sin on their wall?”

The Digital World of Teens
While we’re at it, here’s an Infographic revealing how entrenched teens are in technology and the digital world.

Death and Resurrection: The Typological Structure of Old Testament Redemptive History
“Throughout redemptive history a number of typological death and resurrection acts were revealed in Scripture to prepare us for the ultimate death and resurrection of the coming Redeemer.”

9 Things you should know about women’s body image issues
The most stunning stat here? “Only two percent of women globally consider themselves beautiful.”

Ligonier Academy now accepting D.Min applications
This is a wonderful program for pastors wanting to continue their education under some of the best teachers in the world.

When the bombs exploded in Boston
Tony Reinke walks us through our Boston thoughts and feelings.

Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness

No credible Christian I know of says that all instances of depression, anxiety, etc., are always mental illness and never the result of personal sin. Yet sometimes that impression is given because of language and emphasis.

Similarly, no credible Christian I know of says that all instances of depression, anxiety, etc., are caused by personal sin and are never the result of mental illness. Yet sometimes that impression is given because of language and emphasis.

As we saw yesterday, part of the reason for these false impressions is the absence of mutually agreed terminology that would cover both physical and spiritual causes. However, there are steps we can all take to bring Christians who disagree on these matters a bit closer together.

I’m going to ask “mental illness maximizers” (those who speak mostly in illness/disease categories) to reach out to “sin maximizers” (those who speak mostly in moral categories), and then I’m going to reverse the process. I realize that these are not two totally distinct groups and that most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum between them. But, wherever we fall, we can all make an effort to bridge the divide and work more cooperatively and respectfully.

Mental Illness Maximizers

Christians who use mainly “mental illness” language and fully accept the possibility of physical damage and disease in the brain’s ability to process thoughts and emotions, should:

1. Be careful not to give the impression that “mental illness” is all we believe in. While offering compassionate help to those who suffer due to having fallen bodies and brains, or because of factors outside of their control (Job 1), or because of direct divine intervention (John 9), we must also carefully identify where people have brought much or all of their suffering upon themselves due to sinful personal choices, and adjust our language, counsel, and help accordingly.

2. Even where there is a physical cause or element to a person’s suffering, we should still allocate time and energy to helping sufferers respond to these physical issues in a spiritually beneficial manner, reserving an important place for God’s Word in the healing process.

3. We should usually not run to the “medical model” too fast, too over-confidently, or to the exclusion of spiritual factors. Where medical intervention is necessary, we should make clear that it’s very rarely a full cure on its own.

4. Even if there has been physical damage to the brain, undermining its ability to process thoughts and emotions, in addition to medical treatment, we must also have confidence in God’s Word playing a role in reversing bad thinking and feeling patterns, and substituting them with biblical ones.

5. We need to be sure that we are also helping people to get spiritual benefit from their suffering. While we do not agree with the idea of somebody suffering depression to the maximum to get the maximum spiritual advantage (who would do that with a broken leg or cancer?), yet we must question the common demand for the speediest and most complete deliverance that can be found in this world.

6. While being open to medical research, we should be more discerning in reading and believing it due to the secular assumptions that drive most scientific work.

7. If we involve other caring professionals we must stay involved in the caring package and ensure that people are not led astray by false philosophies or dangerous therapies.

8. We must keep the local church, Christian fellowship, the means of grace, and prayer central in all care packages.

Sin Maximizers

The vast majority (95%+) of biblical counselors I speak to accept the existence of “mental illness” to some extent. However, some of them are (understandably) so afraid of losing biblical categories of “sin,” “redemption,” “sanctification,” etc., that they sometimes give the impression that there is no such thing as “mental illness,” or that it’s so extremely rare that it’s hardly worth a cursory glance.

I know this  impression is often unintended and sometimes denied, but it’s the impression I and many others have at times received. As someone who sadly used to be 100% in the “denial of all mental illness” school, I’m probably more sensitive to this impression than others, but I know that the impression is widespread among a wide range of people. And we’re not all dummies.

As the effect of this impression is that many people who desperately need at least some spiritual help turn away from Christian pastors and counselors, and go to more “compassionate” secular counselors, I would offer the following suggestions to lessen this impression and hopefully increase the involvement of biblical counselors in these situations:

1. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, try not to state that in very small print, with very few words, and with a very quiet voice. If you do, don’t be surprised if people think that you in practice deny it.

2. If you accept the possibility  of mental illness, don’t allow any other statements in your speech or writing that seem to deny it. People will see the inconsistency and make their own conclusions about what message is really intended.

3. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, don’t limit root causes to one or two glandular problems. This not only makes it look like the last medical research you read was 30 years ago, it also effectively reduces the number of “genuine” mental illnesses to a negligibly small number.

4. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, provide holistic help to people by going beyond searching for sin and calling to repentance.

5. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, do not indulge in generalized criticism of psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacists, etc., unless you really know what you are talking about. If there are things to critique – and there are – be specific, but also recognize the valuable contributions that these other caring professionals can make.

6. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, build relationships with trustworthy professionals in those fields, so that you can confidently involve them (not “punt” to them) in caring for sufferers God has brought into your life.

7. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, don’t insist that a person who is suffering in this way endure it as long and as deep as possible in order to get maximum spiritual advantage. You wouldn’t do that if he had cancer. Remember that the person’s family members and churches are often suffering the consequences of waiting for the sufferer to get his “spiritual growth.”

8. If you accept the possibility of mental illness, be open to reading current medical research and learning about the knowledge God is sharing with scientists for the benefit of His church. Try to avoid latching on to a few pieces of research that prove your prejudice against, say, medication. If you are going to quote research, make sure you read a breadth of material and stay mainstream. There are quacks on both extremes of this divide.


If there’s one thing we can all do, it’s to avoid making our own experience the rule for others. That’s the most common mistake I’ve seen people falling into here (and I’ve done it myself as well). Just because medication worked for you, does not mean it will work for everyone else. Just because biblical counseling alone worked for you, doesn’t mean it’s the answer for everyone else. Just because you’ve never been depressed, doesn’t mean depression does not exist. Cases are so different, and causes are so complex, that we need to exercise charity, sympathy, and patience in all our dealings with one another.

What else can we do to bridge the gap and communicate more clearly? This is no academic question. It’s sometimes a matter of life or death.

Previous posts in this series
The problem with “mental illness”
Pastoral thoughts on depression
Mental illness and suicide: the Church awakes
7 Questions about suicide and Christians

Check out

Quick links today as I’m off to Indiana to speak at Mid-America Reformed Seminary Student Conference on “Depression in the Church.”

3 Ways the Gospel Changes Marriage
(1) From selfishness to service; (2) from laziness to engagement; (3) from self-righteousness to humility.

Laying waste to time-wasters
The three main types of time-wasters.

Get a basic overview of the Bible
Some hints and tips from R.C. Sproul.

6 ways you can respond to suicidal ideation
And here’s another on Suicide education and prevention in the church.

The Scottish Reformed Conference
The premier reformed conference in Scotland has some great video and audio resources.

Tim Brister’s Productivity Tools & Apps
Part 1 and Part 2.

The problem with “mental illness”

I wish there was a word or phrase to cover the mental and emotional disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety, schizophrenia) that result from both personal sin (for which we are responsible), and personal suffering (for which we are not – or not wholly –  responsible).

For example, when I sometimes write about “mental illness,” some Christians hear such “disease” terminology as denying sin, minimizing personal responsibility, undermining the sufficiency of Scripture, and ignoring the divine provisions of repentance toward God, faith in Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That’s not my intention.

On the other hand, I and others react against the way some Christians reject all (or most) “mental illness” categories. We see this as a serious denial of biblical anthropology, a denial of the extensive damaging effects of the fall upon humanity. Our reasoning for believing in such damage is rooted in Scripture and goes something like this:

Step 1: As a result of the fall, my body’s chemistry, physics, and electricity are damaged.

Step 2: My brain uses physical structure, chemistry, and electricity to process my thoughts and emotions

Step 3: My brain’s ability to process my thoughts and emotions will be damaged to the extent that my brain is affected by the fall.

Step 1 is a biblical fact. Step 2 is a scientific fact. Step 3 is the logical result of Steps 1 and 2.

There are three additional complications to contend with here. The first is that the brain acts as a bridge between our spiritual and physical worlds (our soul and our body) in a way that no other body part does, making it difficult to achieve clear distinctions between what is spiritual and what is physical. Second, the brain is the most complex organ in our body, with so much still to be explored, discovered, and understood that some scientists call it “the last frontier.” Third, just as with all areas of my body, the “natural” damage to my brain in Step 1 can be increased by three aggravating factors:

Factor A: Damage outside my control (e.g. genes, brain injury, aging, abuse**, shock, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.)

Factor B: Personal sin which is my responsibility (e.g. substance abuse, the deliberate choice to think sinful thoughts/feel sinful emotions, the refusal to trust/obey God, rejection of the means of grace, etc.).

Factor C: Direct divine intervention (i.e. God, in His sovereignty, may impact my brain processes: as a chastisement to correct my faith, or as a test to display my faith – as physical suffering did in the case of Job).

As the damage under Step 1 is increased by these three factors, so the disabling suffering in Step 3 will also be increased. But what should we call the mental and emotional disorders/effects in Step 3?

Misleading and harmful
Given that sometimes the disorders in Step 3 are the result of personal choices (Factor B), to use only “mental illness” terminology can be misleading and harmful.

But given that sometimes the disorders in Step 3 are the result of a fallen brain, or damage outside of my control (Factor A), or the direct intervention of God (Factor C), to use only “personal sin” terminology can be equally misleading and harmful.

So what do we call the disorders? “Sin” is too narrow in many cases. “Illness” is too narrow in other cases. Use of either category exclusively is inaccurate, provoking suspicion and often hostile reaction.

In the ongoing absence of mutually acceptable terminology that would allow us to speak more accurately and comprehensively, I have a number of suggestions that I hope might help to bring Christians a bit closer together as we discuss these vital matters that impact millions of suffering people. Tune in tomorrow for more details.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to that follow up post Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness

** See Eric Johnson’s book, Foundations for Soul Care for a review of the scientific evidence of the physical changes that take place in the brain due to sexual and verbal abuse in childhood.

Check out

Why newspapers need to hire more Christians
“Media outlets who want to understand America should at least have a few journalists hanging around who share — or at least, aren’t hostile to — the Christian faith.”

British Christians fed up with “coarse, sneering” mockery of Christianity
A new ComRes survey, commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, found that 67 percent of 535 practicing Christians polled feel they are part of a “persecuted minority”. It also found that 76 percent said that many people opposed to “same-sex marriage” are reluctant to say so for fear of being called a bigot.

Anderson Cooper’s Coverage of the Gosnell Atrocities
You’ll need a strong stomach for this.

How to build a billion dolar business and still get home by 5.30pm
Fascinating insight into the life and business practices of Survey Monkey’s Dave Goldberg.

The sorry state of the apology
After a spate of celebrity apologies, Dorothy Greco says that “though their public mea culpas might make for a great sound bite, they lack the components of a bona fide apology. Sadly, within the church, we rarely do much better. ”

The preacher’s vocal hygiene
Lot’s of practical advice from Jeremy Walker on how preachers/teachers can care for their vocal chords.