A couple of weeks ago I watched this video interview with Dr David Powlison, How does Biblical Counseling view Psychiatric Drugs?  I had some pastoral concerns about this video, and expressed them in this blog post, Who sinned? This man or his parents.

Last weekend I was privileged to receive a response from Dr Powlison. I asked him if he would mind me posting his response on my blog without further comment by me. Dr Powlison gave his OK, and said he had no problem with me responding. However, to let Dr Powlison’s words have their full weight and significance, I think it’s best to let them stand alone.

David M, I so appreciate your thoughtful response to my brief podcast. In fact I fully agree with your pastoral instincts. Depression per se is suffering, not sin, something many ministries miss. Symptomatic reliefs of many sorts are not to be despised, lightening burdens is a good. My mention of what each of us brings to suffering (“issues”), did not imply that sin is the underlying cause of depression, or that depression reduces to sin, or is cured by dealing with sin. To those who would merely medicalize depression, I meant to communicate “Don’t forget the person” by either over-medicalizing or over-situationalizing. On the other hand, I’d say to those who reduce depression to sin, “In your eagerness to deal with sin in light of Christ, don’t forget that people are physically-embodied and socially-embedded, and that both are vectors of sufferings,” some of which can be alleviated in part, some of which are intractable until the last day.

By “meaning and relationship” I intended the opposite of how you took my too-brief words. These things are good gifts we bring to sufferers (both personally and as bearers of Christ). My citing those words was not an allusion to strugglers’ personal failings. It was a reference to the potential for the church to enter in and care helpfully for strugglers. It describes a gift, not a diagnosis. In the context of Christian meaning and love, sufferers find encouragement, hope, and growth in grace, even as we all must endure through darkness.

Blessings, David P

  • Austin Trundy

    David Powlison is sidestepping the issue. The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation says that they believe that medicine is ok. However, much of their talk implies that all medicine does is alleviate symptoms and that there are always “underlying spiritual issues.” This can lead to much guilt for a Christian that is depressed for purely psychological reasons. And anything psychological is something that the CCEF avoids. If medicine works, it is because there is also a mental realm of reality that we should not ignore. I do not mean to say that we should ignore the spiritual ways we are affected with depression. But we should not push blame on people that tells them that they are most likely depressed because of an underlying spiritual issue.

  • David Murray

    Thanks for your comments Austin. Have you seen this video in which Dr Powlison speaks in a much more balanced way about medicine: http://headhearthand.posterous.com/helpful-ccef-video-about-depression

  • Austin

    I know that they do sometimes say that meds are ok. I’m thankful for that. But the problem is they won’t admit that depression can be JUST the result of a physical problem (chemical imbalance). Instead they always insist that we must always look for the spiritual causes too. I’m all for working on the spiritual problems we all have. But trying to (even partially) blame a chemical imbalance on one’s relationship with God is not only wrong but is damaging.

  • David Murray

    Austin, you’re right on that one. However, there is a welcome movement/shift going on (too slowly admittedly) as evidence gradually overcomes unbiblical presuppositions.

  • Brandon

    Thanks for the helpful post!

    I know I’m late to the scene here, but are there any books/resources that you would recommend for a Christian struggling with severe depression? Perhaps a more comprehensive treatment of the subject which expands on the themes laid out in your book “Christians Get Depressed Too”.

    Thanks for your time.