Christianity and Psychology

I’ve had Depression since I was a young boy. There are days in which I want to die (more than I want to admit, but less than you probably just thought).

To say that I am particularly invested in Christianity taking care of those with mental health issues barely does it justice.

What I write here comes without a degree in mental health (though I was raised by a psych nurse, took university level courses in psychology, have done plenty of reading as a survival tactic, and the aforementioned 20+ years of experience). I might not be the most educated on the subject, but I do come from a particular place of insight.

A member of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was fired a few months ago more or less for being the sole member of the faculty to push a blend of psychology and faith in counseling. This article from Christianity Today sums up exactly how big of a controversy this is. This became such an issue (because of people like me) that it came under review by the trustees. This is the letter I wrote and sent to each of the trustees:

Dear Trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,

I am writing you as a deeply troubled Christian raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. It came to my attention two months ago that Professor Johnson, the lone counseling professor with a PhD in psychology, was fired. This is a drastic blow to the seminary and to our faith on a number of levels. Having read his work and listened to former students of his, he is a man whose belief cannot be questioned and has spent the majority of his career fighting to keep a place for faith in the various fields of science, a fight I deeply empathize with. This firing, seemingly because he does not back a strictly nouthetical tradition of counseling, appears to be a backstab from the very community which he was defending.

I in particular have been hurt by malpractice in biblical counseling and can say from personal experience that I do not put stock in it as it is often billed: a stand alone counseling method. It is absolutely imperative that it be done in relation to actual knowledge of the brain, the body, the spirit, and how they work together. I firmly believe that the methods he describes in his works aid believers who are struggling with depression, grief, and other psychological issues. By firing Johnson, it appears that a deeper division in this false war between faith and science is deepening, making it a harder struggle for those of us who do believe in science to side with SBTS and the Southern Baptist Convention in general.

The last concern I have, raised by this same situation, is the lack of tenure at SBTS. The entire idea of tenure is to protect valued professors regardless of politics or policy, within reason. The only reason to remove tenure is to remove those protections. There is no foul play or lack of belief in Johnson, and the work he has done has certainly shone brightly back on the seminary. To the greatest extent of my knowledge, this appears to be a wrongful firing on the grounds of politics and policy. As a constituent whose tithes pay toward the SBC and, therefore, SBTS, I demand, at the very least, more transparency, if not an outright return of tenure. I can think of nothing more vital to a Christian education than to protect and celebrate our leading thinkers in various fields and I simply cannot believe that this is what has come about.

I pray that you will look into these matters and take into account my words and the words of others I am sure are flooding your inboxes; I pray that you can see the value in it, not only in regards to the university, but to the overall faith.

–Blake

I received no responses to my letter. Dr. Johnson’s firing was sustained and he leaves his position this month. Tenure did not return and I have not seen any attempt from the seminary to make things more transparent.

Full confession: by the time of writing this, I already didn’t identify as a Southern Baptist. I still identify as a Christian, but that particular denomination does not identify me or my faith as it stands. This does not mean that the church I still call home in the states is not a Southern Baptist affiliate. That is the reason I wrote “raised in the Southern Baptist tradition” as my opener. It seemed better than “I felt like you hated me and so I left and don’t know what to call myself other than, generally, Christian.”

I feel like there is a need for science in general, that alienating it from faith today is no better than what the church believed of Galileo. Nowhere in the Bible does it state that the earth revolves around the sun and is not flat. Science has proven that there is extra-biblical knowledge. This knowledge only flies in the face of Christians who want the Bible to be a scientific textbook– but that is not what the Bible is trying to be. So, I’m an integrationist, I believe that we can (and must find) valuable information outside (though not at the exclusion) of the Bible. That includes how to treat those who need counseling.

I usually like to have something for you, the reader, to do. But, at this point, there is little you can do, but pray and talk with other Christians. Though this particular event is months past, we will see the ripples from this as we progress. This will change, and I think hurt, how we attempt to help those who struggle with mental health.

To those of you who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and all other kinds of Depression, I’m right there with you.

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6 Comments

  1. Hey Blake!

    Great post on an important subject. Not sure whether you’re interested but I wrote an article that is very relevant to the subjects at the heart of your post:
    https://perfectchaos.org/2016/09/07/counselling-and-faith/

    To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue at present. Does God heal people in ways that we do not find specifically referenced in the Bible? It’s an important question.

    God bless you brother and hope you’re looking forward to the new year.

    Regards, Steven

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Steven,

      Thanks for the response! It sounds like you and I both have had some similar experiences of struggle. The biggest thing for me is at the heart of your post as well: I want to make sure that people can get similar counseling experiences to the “secular” while still able to fully incorporate their faith. Others’ miles may vary, but I’ve found that my mental health is easier to maintain when my spiritual health is incorporated.

      Happy New Year! Hope it is blessed. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for posting this. In my opinion, you don’t have to believe anything or subscribe to one particular belief. However, I think there is a benefit to educating people on multiple perspectives on any topic. Well said!

    Liked by 1 person

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