Table Based on the ocular Catechism of Puritan, William Perkins, modified by myself.
Click link above: sample screenshot below
Table Based on the ocular Catechism of Puritan, William Perkins, modified by myself.
Click link above: sample screenshot below
There is such a huge desire in this age for personal guidance. From life coaches, self-assessments, and counselors all the way up to wanting to know the will of God, people want to be told who they are, what they are good at and thus what they should do with their life (so as to be successful). This is typically a big picture idea, and larger than life goal setting. Day-to-day decisions about what to eat, wear and watch on TV are not usually in view, unless they are the mundane things in life that make a person unhappy or are holding him back from their true potential.
According to Jay Adams, Christian author/minister/psychologist, there are two categories of people that would say the Bible is insufficient to provide such guidance. The first are those who would say, “Scripture has nothing to say about everyday decision making.” To these the Bible is outdated and just does not speak to our modern way of life. This group finds it is easier to make decisions based on logical or pragmatic reasoning, where what is perceived to be in “my best interest” or expedient right now is what leads them into the decisions they make, daily and in life. The second group (more popular in Christian circles) is more mystical than skeptical, as these would say, “Scripture does speak about the everyday, but it’s easier to rely on, or supplement scripture with dreams, my feelings, or interpreting circumstances.” People in this second camp are big on “putting out the fleece”, or making statements like, “I felt led to …” or “God put it on my heart to …” I believe the Bible is sufficient for all everyday decisions, and our life decisions, within the limits of what the Bible permits, and then allows for our personal differences.
The Bible (and therefore God) speaks to and counsels us both directly and indirectly. Scripture is not a catalog of every do and don’t do that a person will face in life. The Bible does have both specific and general principles, in the context of people and situations, which serve as examples of things applicable to anyone and any time-period.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of things, it is not easy to find Scriptural guidance about what car to buy, job to take or who to marry, so there is confusion.
Those who rely on “the Lord led me to …” approach are usually speaking of some means exterior to the Bible (I personally refer to this as the “Magic 8 Ball” method). Years ago, these exterior means would be called divination or superstition by which someone has gained access to the secret counsel of God. Worse, people would claim that God spoke to them directly. These persons would either be seen as mad/crazy or be executed for such practices, although today these things have passed into everyday acceptable practices. In short, what is wrong with this approach is that guidance should never be apart from the Bible. The Bible is “sufficient” (recommend doing a study on the sufficiency of Scripture, as it is a fading doctrine in some Christian circles). The Bible covers all the principles and practices of life. It really does! It may take us getting off our lazy butts to read, research, make comparisons, evaluate the context and stuff we trust our pastor to do, but it is every Christian’s job, too. There are plenty of direct imperatives (commands) of God about things known to avoid (at what times and why) and there are just as many if not more indirect implications of what we are to do in a variety of circumstances. Some may ask, “But what about those “Led by the Spirit” passages (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:8). In context, both passages are not discussing decision-making, but are speaking of the motivation of the Spirit to live the Christian life in our sanctification. Even if either was speaking of Spirit leading, other passages give the fuller context that the Spirit works via the Word (Heb 10:15).
Let’s get back to a practical example: Marriage. Everyone wants to know infallibly who to marry and are so paranoid about getting it wrong that they will go to great ends to ensure God confirms it. First the Bible’s counsel is that celibacy is a fine and acceptable way of life (Gen 2:18, Matthew 19, 1 Cor. 7). Did you know the Bible was the first to ordain the status of singleness to such a stature? In cultures of the time, it was offensive or an embarrassment to one’s family if a guy or gal did not marry. Everyone is born single and so is, in a sense, gifted with singleness up to the point that they are married. We have a direct command that we are only to marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). Believers are to heed this command as intended by God to be the spiritual protection of both parties in the covenant relationship. Then we have much more indirect counsel from Scripture when our marriage choice should be spiritual maturity, attending church regularly, holding to sound doctrine, be clean, not be lazy, and several other general qualities of a godly mate. Once narrowed down to any acceptable choices that remain (say for a guy three gals fit the above equally) it is flat wrong to ask then, which is “God’s will?” It is God’s will to marry according to the exclusion of all wrong choices. We can correctly speak of God’s will after the marriage has occurred, that God willed you to marry who you did simply because it occurred, as God has ordained whatever comes to pass.
To seek out God’s directive will, take the time to dig through scripture and establish the parameters for decisions as He has laid them out. Once all parameters are set (not excluding the unpopular ones) see what options remain, and if there are multiple choices still, then there is freedom to pursue one, according to preference. It is wrong to consider one of three remaining “good” choices as wrong, or sinful. Think of all the many pieces of bread offered in communion, and yet one is predestined for you, yet the others are not sinful, we can only speak of which piece was eternally meant for you after you have eaten it. Until you ate the bread, all of the pieces were holy and good and available to choose.
Example 1: The color of a shirt to wear is not a morally right or wrong choice, unless there are other factors, such as occasion, modesty, offence, etc.
Example 2: A pastor receives a call to two churches, one in New York and one in India. Neither can be a wrong or sinful choice, and so there may be a preference.
Back to the marriage example: if left with more than one choice, we cannot say definitively which one God wills you to marry, but only that God does direct that you marry a girl “like” those that remain in the running (having passed through all the parameters that Scripture forbids about marriage). There may be a preference of one gal over the others, or simply some of them may not share your affection.
When the remaining choices are numerous we should trust God, in faith, that we may happily choose any of the remaining options. We must not add to God’s counsel, our own personal superstitions or attempts to divine beyond Scripture more parameters than we are given. The fleeces, casting of lots, and other tricks must go.
Bigger in the evangelical churches is the attempt to trust ourselves with being in direct contact with God such that He will guide us via our feelings or circumstances. We must not rely on trying to interpret circumstances because we do not know and cannot tip God’s hand in such ways. The fleece or closed/open door just does not work. You may think it works just because having used it before you did not suffer any ill effects or the issue went away. This is not a valid/scriptural way to be led by God and can be very dangerous. When this method is used, you are left with hundreds of interpretive difficulties, many of which are whitewashed away because it’s easiest to hone in on the choice you really want to hear. Say someone is seeking to be a missionary to India and yet his church’s mission board says no. They have had a warm fuzzy feeling about God leading them into missions for over a year. How should this person interpret this seemingly “closed door” when they were so certain God was leading them to do this? Here are just a few interpretations one could consider.
1. Maybe God is saying no?
2. Maybe God is saying not now?
3. Maybe more training is necessary first?
4. Maybe God is testing your sincerity and perseverance to try again?
5. Maybe God is just saying not India?
6. Maybe God wants me to go it alone without the approval of some missionary board?
7. Maybe God is showing me this is the wrong denomination to be asking?
The same problem of interpretation of circumstances exists with positive (open doors) things in life. Being presented with various opportunities that are financially profitable are not always the right choices. As Jay Adams states, “Some open doors lead to elevator shafts.” Warm fuzzy feeling of God via wherever the wind is blowing in my favor only leaves people delusional about what God really wants. Get married because it just felt right, as opposed to all the direction discussed above and when things fall apart we will question if we heard God correctly. Many take the opportunity to just not be happy as their out, and will say that although God led them into a marriage, He is now leading them out of the marriage and on to someone/ something else. God DOES open and close various doors and circumstances, but these are not to be our guides in life. We follow Him. The same can be said for feelings, urges, convictions, having peace, leadings, etc. Each have some unrecognized or self-reason behind them that may or may not be biblical, but are hardly thought out. We all want peace about life, and in the decisions we make, but ultimately our peace is with God, and as such, if He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not to say no, just because it’s not the peace we are looking for. Some biblical choices and counsel is hard to accept and may lead to difficulties in and with this life. But if this life is not our focus, then what guidance are we really looking for?
Jay Adams coins “The Holding Principle” which he bases on Romans 14:23. This principle is to – Never act until you are sure that what you are about to do is NOT sin. If you have done the hard work, and set all your parameters and something is still in question, sit and hold it and dwell on it a little longer. Anything that raises doubt or scruples in your mind is something to wait on, think and pray about prior to making that decision. We are to be “fully convinced in our own mind” that what we are doing is right and right before God (Rom 14:15b). We may miss out on eating some good meat, or a lucrative business opportunity, but if God is glorified in our decision, at least we can confirm that we are not condemned for having sinned carelessly, selfishly, or maliciously (Rom 14:23).
I see so many bad decisions being made, which are usually based on really bad insight and with little to no biblical direction in mind. I really hope and pray this helps you with how you view decision making within your Christian walk.
– See the book “A Theology of Christian Counseling” by Jay Adams for more insight and details.
Prayer and Doing
Jay Adams talks about three common questions he used in counseling: “What is your problem: What have you done about it: What do you expect me to do about it?” In his experience the second question is typically a one word answer, “Prayer”.
As discussed in a prior post prayer does not shift or punt the problems of life to God. There is no shift of the problem to God and thus you are free to go about daily life, except to maybe pray more, and wait.
We are foolish to expect God’s answer to prayer to drop from the sky or be some audible answer. Adams uses the example of eating. We are taught in the “Lord’s Prayer” to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”… and yet none of us, if we expect to eat, sit and wait for a bag of fast food to drop out of the sky. 2 Thess. 3:10 further teaches us that if a man refuses to work, then he should also not be fed. This all seems to clearly indicate that there is more to our problems than just prayer. There needs to be action that accompanies the prayer. Prayer is only the beginning point of dealership with a problem.
Philippians 4:6-9 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Typically we read verses 6 and 7 and say “There it is, I just need to ask for peace and I should get it”. So many Christians seem to be praying for peace in life these days and are not getting it, why is that? Could it be because we have neglected to read on in context? In verses 8 and 9 Paul gives us some bold things to do in striving to attain that peace. We are to work on changing our thinking and check what are right and wrong thoughts. We are to actively emulate Paul and he is only emulating Christ. There is nothing about waiting until you get peace until you start to do these. We are to be doing them within and during the pursuit of peace. Paul qualifies in verse 9 that we are not to be seeking peace so much that we neglect that God is the God of peace, and that it is ultimately Him that we have gained in our salvation, and not just a self achieved personal peace of mind. In short prayer is just step one, of actively working towards anything you are praying about. If all you are doing is praying about something, maybe it’s time to start taking part in doing.
The Christian Doctrine of Prayer:
In the simplest and most correct form I know of I wish to present the ACTS model of praying. In other words the word ACTS is really an acronym for recalling elements of prayer the Bible gives us.
Adoration is the first word of the acronym. Thanking God for more than what He gives, but for who and what He is. The adoration is lacking when it centers on what God gives and our current feelings about our current life situation. We may struggle with contentment about life in general, but we should always be far more than content and even ecstatic that we have the One true God looking out for us.
Confession is the word making up the next letter of the acronym. In general it is saying the same thing, about ourselves that God has revealed about us in His word. Because the Christian is in Christ and free from the judgment to come, he can honestly confess sin when he has committed it, and return and talk to God about it.
Thanksgiving is the third word of the acronym. Thanksgiving is the Christians expression of gratefulness in all things that no matter what our losses are, the Christian will not drift or float away into utter despair because he is anchored to the thankfulness of salvation in Christ.
Supplications is the last word from this acronym. It is simply making our requests be made known to God (I’ll get into more details about this in a future post).
Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
I wanted to address in this post some of the false notions of prayer that are common in today’s world.
First is the psychological shifting of perceived weight; which is therapeutic projection of letting go and letting God, cast your cares upon Him. In this type of prayer God is more like a metaphysical closet to hide/ dump your burden in, or try to disown them. This kind of prayer is just a psychological exercise of venting and doesn’t really have to do with God at all. The mental health secular world can in this context encourage people to pray and yet not care if there is really a God or not. It is just the act of doing it that is the therapy. Yet this is truly insulting to the person and work of Christ.
People are in trouble when trusting in the “act” of prayer rather than the God to which they are supposed to be praying. It is not a subjective experience of feelings or a magical solution should you get the form and content just right.
It is also wrong to think that praying is only useful in conforming man’s inward heart to God’s, and not really impacting the world. Now I do believe that this occurs (Prayer will change our hearts), but I do not believe this to the exclusion of God using and working in and through prayer. God is not fate, but really and personally listens to the prayers of His people (more about God’s hearing and listening in the next post).
Prayer is not the same as petition only. It is meant to be a heartfelt communicating about more than just the need or desire to ask for things. Think of a close relationship (spouse, BF/GF, close friend, etc.) and what it would be like for you if the only time the person spoke to you was to ask for you to do something for them. I don’t think such a relationship would last very long in human terms.
Prayer is not the same as Eastern or even Christian meditation. Transcendental meditation is to let your mind wander into unconsciousness, and Christian meditation is to reflect upon passages of God’s word seeing freely thinking about how those passages intersect with life and other thoughts that come to mind, but this is not prayer (although I admit it could lead to prayer).
I must say that I also disagree with the Catholic notion of prayers to saints, as if the direct access to God in Christ is somehow obstructed, and the saints provide some other avenue of approach. Is Christ too busy for the prayers of all Christendom? To the degree that a saint has the power, attributes, or inside track on some benefit then it is subverting the authority and honor of Christ who teaches plainly that all men are to come to Him. The living would hardly suggest that any man should pray to another man, so why is this somehow different in death?
Stay tuned for more.
Reference: Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
In these comparisons I want to give everyone a fair and yet condensed perspective of what various psychologies would diagnose a problem to be and how they would approach a treatment. I think this will show just how diverse, conflicting and unscientific the methods, which will either not affect real change or leave the person in a worse condition. As evidence of the worse condition, I’d just point to the culture and ask if the psychologies are true, then why do people seem to have more issues and more clinics are opening all the time. I’d say they are promoting the problems and not helping. Yet the same could be said about Christian counseling. To this I’d answer that Christian counseling is just getting started, and is still finding its way back into the practical application of theology.
The first example I’d like to consider is a fairly common one. We all have a bout with depression from time to time, but what about when it becomes a dysfunction that begins to interfere with a person’s everyday life, and something they just can’t shake? What is done with a person to get them functional again?
Medical: The person has a chemical imbalance and if the chemistry can be figured out, we can relieve the depression. This may help make a person somewhat functional, but it does not have the cause of the depression even on the radar. It is a treating of the symptoms at best.
Freud: “Very interesting,” spoken in my best Freudian accent. No advice is given, but as the client talks he is led to realize and confess on his own that the world is full of bad people, he is one of them, and he just needs to live with unrealized dreams and hope and push onward. This is as good as it gets, and he should just make the most of it. There is no redeeming quality to offer the client about people or themselves, no tools to feel better, and no explanation for why others are not depressed.
Burns: The client is simply full of wrongful thinking and thus feeling about standards and perceptions of the world and expectations, and how to win friends and influence people. The Client is equipped with charts other tools to assess why he does what he does, and once he learns what triggers certain reactions (bad habits, or reactions to things) he is positively coached to “learn” correct thinking and behavior patterns. This treats the subject of depression as symptomatic and only masks the cause as a trigger to which you apply a different trained reaction other than depressing. The misery and melancholy are supposed to just vanish with enough practice in correct thinking. But, how often does life clean itself up enough to allow everything to go “your way” long enough to get everything sorted out?
Adler: The client does not have a “problem” with depression he just needs to understand what inner goals he has formulated that led him into this. The client is “depressing” and so he must have an inner goal pulling him into the solitude and solemn soul searching he is experiencing. He needs to make use of this time and situation to figure out those goals and seek with the counselor to formulate new goals or tinker with the private logic that helped formulate the goals that exist. You can probably see that this is a nice system but provides no real relief from the depression. It’s a good thing to be depressed and so just learn from it. Few tolerate this type of thinking, when they know they want real relief and others seem to have it.
Bradshaw: The client is a malnourished child (specifically your inner child). The client does not have a healthy self image because at some point in his past, someone was supposed to help provide that love and care, either did not, or gave cause to some form of subtle or malicious abuse. The client is lead to search his past seeking to reveal who is at fault for his loneliness and despair, and through sessions not only realize and come to grips with the pain, but to forgive and move on as the wounded warrior he came in as. Yet hope and encouragement is provided from the counselor and possible reaffirmations by a group, of similarly suffering clients, who separate are hurting, but together are unified in support of each other’s pain. The fallacy of it all is that some inner child from the past is really the you of today, acting out as a child because you are not getting the toys you want. Manipulating a person to blame something of the past, and then forgive it at the same time is a mental sleight of hand, and did nothing but presents a straw man and burns him down.
Christian Integrationist: The client in this counselors’ care is in a type of “up for grabs” methodology. Depending on how the counselor has been trained, the client will receive one of the above methodologies. In this sense all that has changed is that this Christian counselor has pushed one of the prior mentioned systems into the Bible to find support and so bless it as godly counsel. Taking the medical approach would be like Paul counseling Timothy to take some wine for his ailments. As Freudian that the world is a sinful and brutal place and we face it every day. As a Burns, you just need the right doctrines and your life will work itself out. As an Adlerian your okay, God is speaking to you and giving you signs in life of shutting and opening doors and you need a goal and just keep pressing towards it. Lastly a Christian counselor under Bradshaw would sound something like a Joel Osteen, with encouragements, suggestions, and steps to fill those God given needs in your life. In each, the end is the same as those above, and yet worse, because the sufficiency of Scripture and love of God have been dragged through the mud.
Biblical Counselor: The client is advised to have a check up, because he is not a disembodied spirit, and the physical can contribute to the mental. But the mental is not ignored as only physical ailments, as there is some impact and training to be made of how to recognize when physical symptoms are encroaching again. The client is advised that the world is full of sin and misery, and yet that God has done something very significant to redeem the world, and him in the process. The client is led through not only doctrinal insight on God’s interpretation of the world, people and feelings, but also that the heart is also a vault of sin and sometimes motivations that override what we know. The counseling does have a goal in mind, that of being more like Christ each day and yet able to look into those goals and our past that shaped us and honestly answer to our responsibility in allowing ourselves to become the people we are. The Client is not only a victim, but has participated in some of the same sins as those he laments as happening to him. The depressed client in particular is not allowed to simply set new goals, or blame his past, but acknowledge that he set up idols that he believed would bring him satisfaction outside of what God provides, and those idols will not be rehabilitated by the counselor but destroyed and God shown to take their place. Even still it is not that God will be shown to fill his every need, desire and want, for his own selfish good feelings but that God will rehabilitate his desires, needs, and goals to be as like His, and so those that bring glory to God, and not to self. The pat answer to just repent and conform will only be as such from a loving perspective or correction that is to bring healing and growth in grace. It is not a session of hell fire and brimstone, but it is also not a band-aid where surgery is necessary. There should be the meeting with God, whereas the truth of how God sees the person and the situation is brought to bear in the same tender and caring way that God loves His people. The Biblical counselor can be holistic in the deepest sense because God’s word is the deepest insight into the persona of men, and has the authority to direct, correct and train us.
John Bradshaw was made famous by PBS when they would broadcast his mini seminars and counseling tips and ideas. He is the promoter of the inner child and illustration of an empty cup psychology. His needs model of understanding the psychology of mankind is, in my opinion, the predominant model in America currently. The basic premise is that we are all born in certain needs that we not only want but “need” to have met. This starting point assumes the innocence of mankind as children, who have this mental cup waiting to be filled with love, nurture, and acceptance. When the cup is filled with the toxic pollutants of the world, you get people who just react badly. As such Bradshaw would observe then that everyone and every family is dysfunctional to a degree. If you sip something too strong, you react with a blah face, and recoil from the cup. We all have banged up and bruised cups from all the pain and suffering of life imposed upon us, and yet there is this innocence of a little child still deep inside us, longing for that cup to have something good put in it, so that we can be relaxed, loved, and warm while sipping upon good things (insert your favorite coffee commercial here). Again I know this is a gross generalization of the man and his work, due to the brevity of space, but I believe it is an accurate picture from the inside.
Solution comes in the form of being able to trust the counselor and the corresponding support group, who affirms you and who you are in a bare self-appeasing way. The blame for how you feel and what you do is based upon others not needing your needs, leaving you and training you to fend for yourself in very questionable an non-affirming ways. Patterns of anger are not sinful, but a learned way of gaining respect and attention, because that need was not met for you, and so on. You simply replace idols of anger to get attention with more humane patterns of getting more with honey. It’s learning to work with the system of manipulating people and things in a more positive way, so people are serving you and you serve their needs and wants, or what we might call the “win-win” principle. It is a tainted version of the golden rule, “don’t spit in my cup and I won’t spit in yours.”
From a practical standpoint this model also does not take all the data into account. Bradshaw cannot explain why some children from very nurtured homes, still turned out badly, or why some kids raised very poorly turn out so good and mentally healthy. It really has no morality to it, as everyone is out there seeking ways to be fulfilled, and yet Bradshaw (like the others) just sees it as counterproductive to fill your cup off of the manipulation of others (in a strictly negative way). It also seems to project a client into their past to find insight and pain from childhood, when such pain may not really be there. A client who was very content as a child may just recently be dealing with the lack of feeling acceptance and love. To project the client backwards to childhood is misleading and a manipulation of their childhood.
The Christian integrationist does much better with this model than with others I’ve discussed. It works well with moral examples, and can point us to be like Jesus and so forth. But it’s starting and ending premise in Bradshaw is that we are innocent through and through. There is no sin, just frustration in not getting your desires or “needs” met. Dobson, Crabb, Minrth and Myers, products sound the same notes (most sticking with the cup illustration too), only they say that God is the true one to fill your “needs” for value, acceptance and love. It’s the old Beatles song, “All you need is love,” where the human love of Bradshaw is substituted with God. But this is a tainted self-praising love and not godly, righteous or justifying in the least.
The theologically sound Christians pause to reflect on if these are really “needs” or fleshly desires. Christians recognized that sin is within and not just pushing in on us from the outside. Does God exist to make us happy and feel good about who we are, or do we exist to bring glory and honor to Him in all circumstances? Christians do far better to remember that although we are sinful, in very moral ways, God saves us from our sins, not to seek to get our feelings pumped up by Him, but to have our youthful lusts of self praise lowered and put off so that our sense of praise and worship for God might increase. We lose ourselves in the praise of God, only to really find ourselves happier than we could have imagined. We can then pray to see God’s will done, whatever tomorrow holds instead of telling Him how to change our circumstances and others (not us, we are fine) in order to make us happier people. In grace, we are humble, and Christ seeking in such a way that we can put all others first, because God has really and practically given us more than we could have hoped for.