Heath Lambert has a fine article here on the Ham v Nye creation debate and the way worldview determines how we all look at the same evidence.

Halfway through, he points out how in this respect the “Counseling Wars” are so similar to the “Origins Wars” and then says:

I know of no single biblical counselor who rejects the observations of secular psychiatry. Biblical counselors embrace the same facts as secular counselors, integrationists, and Christian psychologists. Biblical counselors are not distinct from these other approaches in their embrace of the facts but in their approach to and understanding of these facts.

I think this is true in principle, but I don’t see much evidence of it in practice. That’s where I’d like to see the biblical counseling movement mature and develop, and it could do so by taking a leaf out of Ken Ham’s book.

Informed Interaction
When compared with biblical counselors, Ham and his creationist colleagues seem to be much more informed about the science they are interacting with and much more capable and courageous in entering the scientists’ world, taking the scientists’ facts and findings, and re-framing them within the biblical worldview.

I don’t see so much evidence of that in biblical counseling, a field I read a lot in, teach in, and do almost daily as well. What is much more common is disinterest in, hostility towards, or even outright rejection of the whole field of psychology and pharmacology IN PRACTICE. Note these last two words. I don’t doubt the “we embrace the same facts” theory, as Heath Lambert ably articulates it. But where’s that actually being practiced and who is actually practicing it?

Criticism and Condemnation
Instead, whatever is claimed, the most frequent Christian note with respect to psychology and pharmacology seems to be criticism and condemnation.

Yes, there are exceptions to this. For example, Ed Welch’s Blame it on the Brain? though brief and now a bit dated is helpful. Bob Kellemen’s post on counseling someone with serious depression who wants to try meds, though couched in cautious terms and lacking any “good news story” about medication, is also welcome, although I would not recommend Hodges book to someone in that desperate situation.

So, yes, there are exceptions. But here’s the question: If our biblical worldview is so sure and so strong, why do we rarely see anyone entering the lecture halls, Psychology journals, science labs and research facilities, returning with current facts, figures, and findings, and presenting them from a biblical worldview, as Ham and others do so well in the area of origins. Is there nothing positive to find, learn from, and apply?

If our worldview is so sure and strong, why can’t we more frequently recognize, praise, and use findings, advances, practices, and even meds that secular scientists and psychologists have discovered and have used to help others?

Some Christians might be embarrassed by Ham’s worldview and presuppositions (I’m not, by the way), but you cannot be embarrassed by his current knowledge of the field he is critiquing. I’m afraid that’s not the case in many areas of biblical counseling. If I hear the ancient concession line about the thyroid gland being repeated one more time, my eyes and veins will pop without any thyroid problem!

How about some current brain research? How about some good news stories about medications and how they helped a Christian? How about working much harder to study current secular theories and therapies and finding even the odd grain of helpful truth in them?

I’d love to see a counseling debate along the same lines as the creation debate. But for all the gifted theologians, sound exegetes, and compassionate carers that we have, I don’t know if we have anyone anywhere near as able a champion as Ken Ham on our side; someone who knows enough about our worldview opponents to stand toe-to-toe with them in an informed debate, and debate knowledgeably and respectfully with an opponent of a contrary worldview.

It’s certainly not me, but if you’re out there I’d love to meet you.

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  • http://www.bethelotleyilkley.com Martin Woodier

    You’re the nearest we’ve got to it, David. Will you please take up the mantle?

  • http://rpmministries.org Bob Kellemen


    Thank you for the link back to my post and your comments about it.

    A couple of thoughts…

    1. I’m a little surprised by your hesitancy to recommend Good Mood Bad Mood, especially since your post today is encouraging BCers to engage research. That’s what Dr. Hodges does: practices informed engagement with the most current research.

    2. My “letter” to our mutual friend seeks to encourage him to do what your post recommends. It invites informed engagement in practice with current research as he makes a very important decision. Of course, it does much more than that, but it does include that important element.

    3. I listened to the Ham debate and developed a different question, this one for my Christian Integrative Counseling (CIC) friends. Using your title, it would go like this, “Where is the Christian Integrative Counseling’s Ken Ham?” Ham repeatedly returned to the Bible. Ham exegeted the text and used biblical theology to develop his position on creationism. The biblical counselor seeks to do the same: exegete the text and use a robust biblical theology to develop a comprehensive theory/theology and a compassionate practice/methodology of counseling. My question and concern with Christian Integrative Counseling is, “Where are the people doing robust biblical exegesis/biblical theology, in practice, as they integrate?” Unfortunately, what ends up happening, in practice, is little integration because there is too little biblical foundation to integrate.


    • Nathan Hitz

      I may have a reply to your last question. “Where are the people doing robust biblical exegesis/biblical theology, in practice, as they integrate?” I’m not close to the debate, but from what I have seen of David’s writing here on his blog… maybe (I humbly submit) David and those like him would fit the bill. Personally, I find the crowd at Puritan Reformed to be neither ignorant nor disinterested in the areas of biblical exegesis and theology.

      To both Bob and David: thanks for your labors to keep these ideas in front of us. I pray God’s blessings as you counsel.

      • http://rpmministries.org Bob Kellemen


        I have no question about David’s commitment to nor about the commitment of all the professors at Puritan Reformed Seminary to robust theology and exegesis. However, I’m not sure that David would self-identify as a “Christian Integrative Counselor,” but we would have to ask him. Also, I do not know that the average professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary would self-identify as a “Christian Integrative Counselor.”

        My question would be for people who focus their ministry on counseling and who self-identify as “Christian Integrative Counselors”: “When you develop your counseling approach, are you doing robust work in the biblical text–in practice, not just in theory?”

        Just as David asks a fair question of BCers, I think it is fair to ask that question of CICers.

        By the way, depending upon how David defines research and how he defines the use of research, I believe there are many biblical counselors who are committed to understanding the implications of current descriptive research and current medical advances. My whole series of posts on this topic talked about a comprehensive approach like that. Where we would differ is on “integrating” secular psychological theory (the wisdom of the world) with biblical wisdom for life in a broken world.


        • Nathan Hitz


          Your first paragraph immediately above provides some important clarification. Thanks–that was helpful!


    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks for your comments Bob. I agree with your challenge in #3 although I think we’ve got to be careful not to make it a habit that when someone points out a shortcoming on our side that we don’t just turn round and say “You’ve got a shortcoming in this area too.” Deflecting does not encourage reflecting.

      I was grateful for your post, but my memory of Good Mood Bad Mood (it’s been a while since I read it) is that it would be too long and complex for a depressed person who can hardly read a simple sentence with understanding.

      I do have other reservations about the balance and sensitivity of the book, but as I’m drawing from distant memory reserves, I’d like to re-read it before I say anything else.

  • Lynda

    My nomination is Dr. Verle Bell, Christian psychiatrist at Pine Rest in Grand Rapids MI. Most brilliant man I ever met. Blog at http://www.lastingvictory.com

  • http://www.goodmoodbadmood.com Charles Hodges MD

    Hello Pastor Murray,
    I don’t know you as we have never met. I suppose that must change now since you have mentioned me in print. I am Charles Hodges the author of Good Mood Bad Mood. I have practiced medicine for 38 years now as a family physician and I write the prescriptions for the anti depressants that your friend was going to discuss with his doctor. I have been teaching and counseling from a Biblical viewpoint for a couple of decades. I am not Ken Ham. Ken Ham is far better suited for that than I am. 
    I do think we should get to know each other. I think there are many people like me in the Biblical Counseling movement and if you knew me better you would know them better too. So, let’s take a run at it.
    Yes, there is controversy (You used the word war) going on in the field of depression. Frankly, the argument is not yours. It is happening in my field of medicine. And, researchers are currently airing their disagreements about the effectiveness of antidepressants as they are being used today. There is also a considerable argument going on about the diagnosis of depression and DSM criteria whereby it is made. This is not an argument in Biblical counseling. This is an argument among psychologists and psychiatrists without regard to religion! I outline that research in my book. I did so because current research would indicate that the diagnosis of depression is ambiguous and applied far too often to people who are grieving loses.
    We in the medical profession have caused this by consenting to a process of making a diagnosis of a disease (depression) with no means to validate it. The chemical imbalance theory of depression is fading because after 50 years of looking there is no objective scientific evidence that it exists. This is not an opinion arrived at from examining the scriptures or biblical counseling folklore. It is the current statement of the scientific literature and I wrote about it in my book with abundant footnotes.
    Perhaps it is true that many of us in Biblical counseling view the “observations of secular psychiatry” with skepticism. It is not because we are afraid of encountering scientific fact. It is as Ronald Reagan once said of his political opposition. It wasn’t so much that they were uniformed. Reagan said, “It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.” So it has been in the psychiatric part of medicine. We have been operating for 50 years with “facts” that are proving not to be true! And, that it is good because, now we can start looking for a better answer. And that is what medicine needs today; a better definition of the changes at the cell level that cause depression. If we get that we can make a better diagnosis and we can find better ways to treat.
    If you are looking for evidence that someone in the Biblical counseling movement is reading current research and writing about it, I invite you to read my blog @ goodmoodbadmood.com. I write there every week about the science of medicine that applies to Biblical counseling. A couple of weeks back I wrote about a fascinating study that showed that taking religion seriously made a huge (90%) difference in the risk a person faces for depression if he came from a family that had a history of it. This morning I posted about the connection between sleeping less than 6 hours a night and depression. This is current published research that I write about.
    I note that you mention Ed Welch’s book, “Blame it on the Brain.” There is a good quote in that book that applies to this chronic recurring controversy over taking antidepressants. I remember that he said something to the effect that taking medicine for psychiatric disorders was not a matter of right or wrong. Instead it was a question of whether it was “wise or unwise.” In that sense I have been trying to tell people for 20 years that taking medicine for psychiatric diagnoses is a Romans 14 issue of Christian Liberty. I have also said that the idea that taking antidepressants is a right or wrong issue has been the wrong question. What we should have been asking was, “do these medicines work and are the side effects worth the benefit!” The research today does not clearly tell us that these medicines work very well for most of those who take them.
    I have little use for debates. It is not that I fear the controversy, but I do not like arguing with my brothers and sisters. I have a family of pastors whose denomination enjoys inviting pastors of other denominations in for a good round of debating their theological differences. They asked me once if I would come and do it. I told them no! When they asked me why, I said it was because I liked them.
    So, I know that you are a brother and that we likely disagree about some things. But I suspect that if you knew me better, you would criticize me and those like me less. We should get together and talk about this.

    Charles Hodges M.D.

    • Carole Swets

      Dear Dr Hodges,

      While i appreciate all the research and work that you have done in the area of depression, I take issue with something you quoted in your article and hope that you are not in agreement with the sentiment! I am a Christian and have “taken religion seriously” as long as I can remember! My family DOES have a history of problems with depression and anxiety and have have found medication to help ease some of my symptoms. The statement that you quoted in your article seems to make the assumption that those suffering from depression and/or anxiety are somehow less “spiritual” than those who do not! This only adds more burdens to the sufferer who already struggles with issues of guilt and worthlessness! Please clarify that this is not your belief! Thank-you!

      • http://www.goodmoodbadmood.com Charles Hodges MD

        Hello Carole, Would you please go read my blog on January 1 2014. It more closely quotes the study than I did in my response to Pastor Murray, The study did not look at “taking religion seriously” as I said. It did look at those who said that religion or spirituality was important to them on a 1 to 4 self rating scale. Those who said they view religion or spirituality as important to them were 90% less likely to be depressed. I suppose that those who view religion as important to them do take it more seriously than those who do not view it as important to themselves. Interestingly enough it did no correlate to church attendance. Those who attended church a lot we not necessarily in the group with the reduced depression. The article in Jama is very interesting because it correlate MRI scans with those who viewed religion as important and there were interesting differences in their scans. Religion in the study was not necessarily Christianity either.
        So please go read the blog.
        I specifically said in my blog that this study should NOT be used to tell people if they had more faith that they would not be depressed.
        Thank you for your comment on my comment!
        Charles Hodges MD

        • http://www.goodmoodbadmood.com Charles Hodges MD

          PS. The blog is at goodmoodbadmood.com

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Charles, Thanks for stopping by. It was Bob who recommended your book to someone who was seriously depressed. I disagreed because I don’t think someone who can hardly read a sentence with understanding would profit from it. I’m not sure where you got the idea about my criticizing you as I don’t think I have ever mentioned you before.

      However, as you and Bob are recommending your book, and as I have many Christians with depression reading my blog (and their pastors and caregivers), let me say just a couple of things. Although it’s been a while since I read your book, I do recall having reservations about its sensitivity towards people with depression, especially those on medication, and also whether it truly represented a balanced look at all the the evidence rather selecting the evidence that suited a pre-exisiting agenda.

      However, I’d have to read it again to be sure that my memory is serving me well.

      I do recall reading your blog a few times and appreciated it. I’ll add it to my blog reader and try to build a better sense of where you are coming from. I deeply respect men like you who have devoted themselves to caring and thinking about the suffering in our communities. I also appreciate your willingness to interact with some of the current research.

      I agree with you that we are still very much at the early stages of understanding the brain and its relationship to the soul and the rest of the body. Personally, I’m excited about what the newest brain scans are revealing about the physical changes in the brains of people with depression, schizophrenia, and other mood disorders. Have you written about that anywhere?

      • http://www.goodmoodbadmood.com Charles Hodges MD

        Hello David,

        I suppose the reason why I identified what you were saying as criticism of me was because you were being pretty general critical of those of us in biblical counseling. That is what I am. I have outlined the criticisms you made and my objections to them in my first reply so I won’t repeat them again. When you mentioned me by name and my book, you did not say the reason why you would not recommend your book to your friend was his “inability to read anything.” So, I thought it was best to write you and tell you my concerns about your descriptions of Biblical counselors.

        Yes, I write about MRI’s and lots of other technically interesting articles. And, yes I do look for things that bolster my view of counseling those who struggle. I suppose you might say the same. :-)

        Thank you for looking at the blog. I do have one request.
        When you read my book the first time you read it with a set of assumptions about me because I am part of the biblical counseling movement.
        Maybe you could read it again knowing that the author writes prescriptions for antidepressants because he believes it is a Romans 14 Christian Liberty issue.

        As you do read it, please understand that my goal was to offer hope to the vast majority of people that I counsel. Most of them who come to our counseling center are already taking medicine and are still struggling. That is why they come.

        I think it is so hopeful for many of them to know that 90% of what has come to be known as depression today is sadness over loss and not a disease. That is the result of secular research ( see The Loss of Sadness by Horwitz and Wakefield)
        not biblical counseling folklore. It does not diminish their suffering, but it does offer them a better solution to dealing with their sadness. Secular research says that this 90% would do just as well to simply talk to someone about their struggles.
        That does not diminish the struggle of the remaining 10% either.

        I am willing to continue this conversation if you wish.

        Charles Hodges MD

        • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

          Just quickly Charles. I’m off to bed and I’ll try to return to this on Monday. I believe it would be more accurate to say “SOME secular research.” I’ve read “The Loss of Sadness” and agree with some of its analysis.

          However, I seriously question if the 90% figure applies within the Christian community. It certainly does not within the communities I’ve worked among.

          Looking forward to reading your blog and learning from you.

  • http://veritaemedicinae.blogspot.com/2014/01/depressed-about-taking-antidepressants.html Healing Hope

    I appreciate Ken Ham’s love for the Scriptures, but I do not agree with some of his scientific conclusions. I find AG imposing a post Enlightenment cosmological worldview on to an ancient Hebrew worldview at times. Ken Ham communicated the Gospel to a a lot of people, for this I am grateful.

    I think we need an updated biblical anthropology. One that eschews platonic dualism, does not degenerate into reductive materialism, and boldly asserts biblical holism in light of contemporary findings in psychiatry, neurology,and psychology. This, I believe, is where most of the controversy exist.

    I think some Dr. Hodges comments illustrate well some of the past struggles.

    “The chemical imbalance theory of depression is fading because after 50 years of looking there is no objective scientific evidence that it exists.”

    “We have been operating for 50 years with “facts” that are proving not to be true! And, that it is good because, now we can start looking for a better answer. And that is what medicine needs today; a better definition of the changes at the cell level that cause depression. If we get that we can make a better diagnosis and we can find better ways to treat.”

    “I have also said that the idea that taking antidepressants is a right or wrong issue has been the wrong question. What we should have been asking was, “do these medicines work and are the side effects worth the benefit!” The research today does not clearly tell us that these medicines work very well for most of those who take them.”

    • http://www.goodmoodbadmood.com Charles Hodges

      Etiology makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between cushings disorder with a depressed mood, and major depression with no apparent cause. It is the difference between generalized anxiety disorder and hyperthyoroidsim with an anxious mood. If you understand pathology you generally understand the cause. Then the cure sometimes follows. Charles Hodges

      • http://veritaemedicinae.blogspot.com/2014/01/depressed-about-taking-antidepressants.html Healing Hope

        My article mentioned metabolic and pathological causes for depression but these are limited to the body. My definition of etiology was much broader, extending to causes from a spiritual, psychological, social, and demonic nature. Chris

  • Andy


    Have you interacted much with Eric Johnson’s work? Particularly his book Foundations for Soul Care. He is a self-identified Christian Psychologist, but his book all the marks of the kind of scholar/counselor you are suggesting. Robust theologically, scientifically, and philosophically.

    If you are familiar, I wonder what you would make of his chapters on the nature of Scripture. He essentially argues that “sufficiency” isn’t the most helpful way of speaking of the epistemological positioning of scripture among other sources of knowledge, but rather “primacy.” Once this is embraced, the Christian is free to truly engage the sciences Christianly as well as construct a distinctly Christian psychology.

    I think your perception is spot on that biblical counselor by and large do not seriously interact with science. Though I here biblical counselors defend themselves on this point all the time, their defence is without substance. And in fact, I would suggest that their lack of engagement with science is simply the natural consequence of their epistemology.

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  • http://veritaemedicinae.blogspot.com/2014/01/depressed-about-taking-antidepressants.html Healing Hope
  • Nathan Young

    Thank you for your article and searching questions. Over the years I’ve found David Powlison (CCEF) to be the Ken Ham of “Biblical Counseling” and John Bettler before him. Powlison has written extensively, interacting with secular psychology and drawing insightful Biblical conclusions. If you are not familiar with his PhD dissertation turned book “The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context,” I commend it to you. Powlison also teaches a CCEF/Westminster course entitled Theology and Secular Psychology, which is freely available on iTunes U. Much of his writing is searchable on CCEF’s website. He is thoughtful, nuanced, Biblical, pastoral, and helpful–equipping pastors like me to serve suffering people.
    In Christ,

  • J Thomsen

    I find it strange that all Christians embrace medicine for physical problems (chemo for cancer for example), but most condem meds for those with mental health diseases. I have a friend who is bipolar and Christian counseling told her time and again that she could be off her medication if she became a stronger Christian. This ‘counsel’ landed my friend in jail, prison, and mental health facilities as she tried again and again to stop taking her medication and rely on God. She threatened to kill me, my family, and friends. On her medication she was a Christian like the rest of us, seeking God and to help her through the challenges of life and living a ‘normal’ life. I feel many Christian counselors lack the first hand experience and as a result many mentally ill Christians are following their counsel and dying over and over again as they go off and on the medication roller coaster trying to be a strong enough Christian to not need meds. Cancer patients die without their medications, and these blessed children of God die each time they go off their meds. I write this comment with tears because I lost my friend to manic depression as she went off her meds as a result of poor ‘Christian’ counseling.

  • http://patrickschreiner.com/ Patrick Schreiner

    Eric Johnson is. He is well versed in both fields.

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  • http://www.onlyyouforever.com/ Caleb Simonyi-Gindele, MAMFT

    Hi David, I just wanted to reach out because I’ve been thinking a lot about your call for an integrated approach since reading this a few months ago.

    I think there are a lot of people trying to do what you are asking, but in different ways and in varying degrees. I studied at Trinity Western University (Langley, BC) and we were constantly challenged to evaluate and integrate the research we presented in our papers.

    For the last 5 months my wife and I have been working on a website and podcast that hope to do this for married couples. We’re trying to help millennials build thriving, passionate marriages by offering an blend of ancient wisdom (Scripture) and modern research. Our podcast can be found here on iTunes: http://bit.ly/1jxl0ZI

    If you had any feedback on how we’re doing at our task we’d love to hear it.

  • approvedmoneychangers

    While I realize that the purpose of this post is good and the point is an important one, I’m somewhat disturbed by the example that is used. Couldn’t someone else be found for modeling a biblical handling of a complex secular field?! Ken Ham is simply not an example to follow. What looks like an in-depth knowledge of the field of biology to a non-biologist looks more like a profound series of misrepresentations and misunderstandings to a biologist. He stretches and cherry picks data to fit preconceptions in a way that is not the least bit consistent with intellectual integrity. His background is as a high school teacher, not a scientist. His writings tend to be leagues from what you will find in scientific journals and surprisingly close to what you will find in a propaganda pamphlet. I’m not sure that I should go on since I don’t want to take away from your main point, but on all counts, Ken Ham is not the model for what you really want to introduce in your field, and there is a good reason why he is dismissed as a serious contributor to the science religion debate, let alone the field of science, by virtually all scientists and most theologians. Do Biblical counseling a service by looking as far as possible from Ham for finding someone who models a biblical approach. I’m a little amazed that no one else here has noticed this glaring problem, but this is maybe normal when most visitors here are probably not too familiar with the field that Ham is supposedly addressing.