Psychology And The Question Of Scriptural Authority

The atheist wanted nothing to do with the Christian perspective on depression. She knew what secular psychology teaches and what medical doctors believe. Convinced that professional counselors alone possess the qualifications to address an issue like depression, she publicly ridiculed the possibility that habitual self-pity could be a root cause of depression. When I stated personal experience of overcoming depression by repenting of self-pity, the atheist reacted angrily, interrogating me about my credentials and scolding me for suggesting a link between the two conditions. Her rage surprised no one.

When Christians who have studied both secular psychology and Biblical counseling raise our objections to psychological approaches, all too often we are dismissed as uneducated idiots who have absolutely no right to our beliefs. The atheist will demand that we have clinical training according to secular standards, as if secular standards supersede Biblical truth.

For the atheist, secular standards indeed seem authoritative. I get that. Someone who rejects God quite naturally would reject the authority of God’s Word, and Christians shouldn’t expect otherwise.

But I also see an element of intolerance in how an atheist engages in discussions on counseling with those who favor Biblical counseling. Although an atheist would never admit it, psychology is just as much a religion as Christianity, commanding its adherents to hold it out as a truth beyond question. For all their talk about truth being relative and tolerance of differing opinions, sooner or later the atheist will expose an unwillingness to consider opposing points of view. He or she has embraced the “truth” of secular psychology, and expects Christians to bow to its doctrines.

Instead of letting atheists browbeat us into agreeing that God’s Word can’t answer psychological problems, Christians need to stand firmly on its sufficiency to deal with such issues. I’ve quoted 2 Peter 1:2-4 here a lot, but I think it bears repeating as we formulate our attitude toward these types of matters.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. (NASB95)

As I’ve said before, the knowledge of God comes through reading, studying and meditating on His Word. Therefore, the Bible provides all the tools necessary to deal with emotional and spiritual problems — including depression. While it’s entirely understandable that an unbeliever wouldn’t accept this principle, they have no right to demand that Christians turn from the counsel of Scripture in favor of psychology (a philosophy rooted in both atheism and occultic ideologies). Whether our opponents accept the authority of Scripture or not, we can stand firmly on its sufficiency to address the underlying issues that lead us into depression and other psychological problems. Their unbelief (and certainly their hostility) towards the Word of God has no power to nullify its truth.

In fact, the Word of God actually discerns the human heart in ways that psychology can’t.

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. ~~Hebrews 4:12-13 (NASB95)

James wrote that God’s Word serves as a mirror that we can either ignore or use to correct ourselves (James 1:23-25). It faces us with sinful attitudes, graciously showing us the way to repentance. We usually don’t enjoy its confrontations, but we acknowledge that its disciplinary qualities confirm our status as God’s children (Hebrews 12:4-11). As Christians, we have a marvelous resource at our fingertips that allows us to get to the bottom of our struggles.

Of course, not all depression indicates sin. Job suffered horrendous circumstances as Satan sought to undermine his faith in the Lord. His depression did result in momentary sin, which God corrected. In his case, the Lord used his depression and suffering to prove how genuinely he believed. 1 Peter 1:6-9 assures believers that trials will do the same for us. In this type of situation, we can take comfort — and even find hope — in knowing that God uses our depressing circumstances to sharpen our faith in a manner that prepares us for eternity.

Similarly, Christians get depressed by the increasing sin in both the world and the professing church. Frankly, we should be depressed to see this degeneration into wickedness. Lot, Jeremiah and Paul all experienced grief as they watched sin spread and saw people delighting in the multiplication of evil, and so should we. If we care about others, how can we help but feel intense sadness at their rebellion against God? Yet even in this sort of depression, we find consolation in God’s sovereignty (Psalm 37:1-11).

Having acknowledged those exceptions, we must come back to the truth that depression normally results from our sinful attitudes. Psychology fights tooth and nail against this view, while Scripture offers freedom to those who humbly confess sin and walk in repentance. At times, the grip of sin requires a person to seek help from a Certified Biblical Counselor, but normally the body of Christ can provide counseling through Scripture.

Obviously the atheist I’ve been talking with won’t recognize the authority of God’s Word, and I don’t expect otherwise from her. Psychology is her authority. Nevertheless, I mustn’t accept her standard of truth, especially where it contradicts God’s Word. She can’t understand my loyalty to Scripture, nor do I expect her to understand. But Christians have a responsibility to rely on the Word of God as the ultimate standard of truth, including the truth needed for counseling.

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