My Problems With Nouthetic Counseling: A Biblical Response by David Lee Chu Sarchet
Those who know me well know that I have not made it any secret that I am against nouthetic counseling (also known as Biblical Counseling). However, not many people know exactly what my issue with Nouthetic Counseling is.
In this blog I will outline exactly what my issues are.
I do hold to the theological viewpoint called Two Kingdom Theology as taught by Dr. David VanDrunen from Westminster Theological Seminary California. I recommend you read his book titled “Christians Living In Two Kingdoms” to have a better understanding of where I am coming from.
What Is Nouthetic Counseling
Nouthetic Counseling is not consistent with a confessionally Reformed Two Kingdom Perspective because they are against Psychiatry and Psychology. Nouthetic Counselors believe that those disciplines are pagan in nature and thus should be avoided. However, according to the Noahic Covenant, the Lord often uses secular people for the good of His people. Actually, the Lord blesses even secular psychiatrists and psychologists with the common grace and blessings of knowledge to know how to treat the human mind that is plagued by mental illness.
We can trust psychiatrists and psychologists in there fields of expertise. Actually, to not trust them is to not trust in the Lord’s ability to provide for one’s needs for mental health. The sin that Biblical Counselors commit is the sin of arrogance because they arrogantly assert that Psychology and Psychiatry are useless because we have the Bible and that is all we need.
However, It Doesn’t Talk About Everything.
As a matter of fact, there are many things the Bible does not talk about. Things like how to treat Schizophrenia and how to fix a car. For those things we need to turn to outside sources to understand how to properly handles these matters.
In this blog, I will be reviewing a sermon from Pastor Voddie Baucham (Listen Here). Voddie is a Reformed Baptist minister who also subscribes to Nouthetic Counseling. My prayer for those who read this will see the error (incomplete) of Biblical Counseling. I call is dangerous because I have heard countless numbers of people who have been devastatingly dangerous mindset.
Voddie Begins In Daniel Chapter 4
False Understanding Of Schizophrenia
“We cannot walk through Daniel, Chapter 4, and avoid the topic of mental illness. We cannot look at a picture of a man who, had he walked into a hospital today, would have immediately been diagnosed with schizophrenia and medicated until he was drooling, left there without any hope.”
This statement demonstrates that he does not understand what exactly Schizophrenia is by definition and it also demonstrates a gross misreading of Daniel chapter 4. Understanding of the diagnostic criteria that describes exactly what Schizophrenia is according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) will see that King Nebuchudnezzer was not experiencing schizophrenia.
Furthermore, Baucham shows a misunderstanding of what psychiatric medication do. Sure, sometimes they do make you excessively drowsing but that does not then mean you shouldn’t be taking them. If a psychiatric medication is making you drowsy then you should talk to your doctor about a medicine adjustment. Mdication is supposed to help you live functionally within the community without any significant side effects. People should not even be able to tell someone has a mental illness when their medication is working properly.
Voddie’s Other Misunderstandings
- “But then you gotta read Job and you gotta deal with clinical depression. ‘Oh we’ll just act like Job is not there.’ That’s fine.
- We’ll deal with the Apostle Paul and the murders he oversaw and then we can talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘Well, I don’t really want to talk about that.’ Ok, fine, if you don’t want to talk about that.
- Let’s talk about Jesus, shall we? In the Garden of Gethsemane, where he experiences a classic instance of anxiety. Or better yet, when he comes to the tomb of Lazarus, weeping, there in depression, but then resuscitates Lazarus, and they celebrate — now he’s bipolar.
- Let’s not even talk about the Psalms, where you find every manner of what we would define as ‘mental illness’ expressed by the psalmist himself.”
Sadly, this shows a lack of understanding of clinical depression, PTSD, anxiety, and even Bipolar Disorder. As someone who struggles with Schizoaffective Disorder, which is essentially Schizophrenia and Bipolar, I am deeply offended by how he trivializes these mental disorders.
For one, I do not think it is right to attempt to diagnose Biblical characters because it is difficult enough for psychiatrists to diagnose living people today.
Secondly, Depression is much more than just mere sadness and weeping. Anxiety is much more than just feeling anxious about something. PTSD is much more than just feeling remorse for what you did. And Bipolar is much more than just mere mood swings.
Baucham Addresses Mental Illness
“And yet because this text is in the Bible, and because I shepherd real people with real problems, it is incumbent upon me to know something about this. It is not an option for a pastor to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil when it comes to this issue of mental illness. That is not allowed. That is dereliction of duty. We’re responsible to walk with people who have real difficulties”
First off, I would like to take this moment to applaud Voddie’s efforts at making an attempt to address the subject of mental illness. So many pastors choose to avoid this topic so it is commendable for him to take the time to speak on this issue. I do agree that if a pastor is going to counsel real people with real problems then it is essential for him to address the topic of mental illness. Sadly, this requires an understanding of psychology which Nouthetic Counselors are so adamantly against.
The Anti-God Agenda
I admit that not everything that is taught in psychology is truth and it is also true that there is an anti-God agenda being pushed in the psychological world. However, this does not mean that there is absolutely no truth in the field of psychology.
Let me elaborate with an illustration: We typically know that in the field of science there is also an anti-God agenda too, right? However, no one would say that that means when science says the earth is round and that gravity is real that it is wrong (or maybe some people might). We understand that there are some truths even in a godless field. Well, in the same way there is some truths in the field of psychology and we know that all truth is ultimately God’s truth anyways.
“Psychologizing Our Culture”
“The acceptance of psychiatry into the medical community has changed the way we think about this issue of mental illness and has gone a long way toward psychologizing our culture.”
This is not a bad thing.
First off psychiatry IS a medical field of study so it should be accepted into the medical community. Psychiatrists have to go through the same amount of medical school to get their doctorates as any other medical doctor.
The reason for “psychologizing our culture” is because mental illness is very common. Studies have shown that over 50% of people struggle with a diagnosable mental illness. Since this is the case and people realize this, people have decided they would like to understand mental illness better.
There is nothing wrong with that because knowledge is power!
“Thirdly, over-diagnosis. All of us know someone who has been diagnosed with something. I can give you a brief list and it would hit most of us in the room when it comes to the people whom we know. We start with the one that is most popular today which is bipolar disorder. Secondly, depression. Thirdly, anxiety disorder — or social anxiety disorder, known as “SAD.” Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — ADD or ADHD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. As long as we’ve been engaged in wars across the world, this one has become huge. It’s on everybody’s list these days.”
This is a claim that is commonly used by Nouthetic Counselors as if they think that this is bad thing. The fact is there is no “over-diagnoses” whatsoever. We live in a Fallen world because of Adam and now a common effect of the Fall is that people have mental illness. This is a common phenomena and the diagnostic criteria helps us better understand the common phenomena of mental illness.
“Another reason that we’re psychologized — because of these drug commercials.”
Mental illness is not anything new because it has been around since the Fall as I have already established it is highly common. There is nothing unbiblical about accepting the notion that mental illness is common and actually it is unbiblical to deny this reality. When we realize that the Fall has affected every part of our being then we should understand that it would affect our psyche. The detrimental effects of the Fall on the human psyche is what we call mental illness.
“And ‘destigmatization’? Far from there being a stigma anymore with mental illness — and I’m not saying that it’s good or bad or whatever, for stigma — but there was stigma attached to mental illness — now we’re proud of our mental illnesses. We wear them like a badge. We won’t tell people our phone number but we’ll tell them our diagnoses.”
To say that there is no more stigma is downright offensive. To those who struggle with mental illness have to deal with the effects of the stigmatization every day. We cannot safely tell our bosses that we cannot come into work because of our severe crippling depression. Or when we cannot call off of work because we are experiencing intense hallucinations and delusions. So we have to make up another excuse that they would be more “acceptable”.
This is proof of the stigmatization of mental illness.
Even family members and other loved ones look down on us. They do not understand what it is we are experiencing. That is proof of the stigmatization of mental illness.
I do not talk about my struggle with Schizoaffective Disorder because I love it. Actually, I wish that there was no such thing as mental illness and that we were just normal people. The reason I continuously take my medication every day is so that I could be seen as normal. I do not want people to see me being mentally ill.
Dealing With Mental Illness
“The overwhelming number of pastors who have any theological training have basically been given this kind of training when it comes to mental illness and mental disorders: ‘If somebody has a small problem you can help them. If they have a big problem, call a professional. Because God cannot handle mental illness’.”
I do believe that pastors should be allowed to work with people who struggle with mental illness. Preferably alongside a mental health professional. However, if a pastor is going to counsel people with mental illness then they should have an understanding of psychology.
“We think about the term ‘chemical imbalance’ in that exact same way. Because we assume that these people are doing science. And most Christians don’t know that there is no such thing as chemical imbalance. There’s no test for it. There never has been a test for it.”
There is a test for this. CAT scans have proven that a Schizophrenia brain and a Bipolar brain and even a PTSD brain is significantly different than normal brains. The rise or lower level of a Serotonin or Dopamine or Cortisol levels can trigger either Bipolar or Schizophrenia.
Nouthetic counselors must know about this by now because this is common knowledge. There is no dispute on this issue whatsoever.
“Lot of people also don’t realize that the way these diagnoses come about — is, again, if it’s not through testing, ‘cuz here’s what you’re saying to me, ‘Now wait a minute, you’re saying these doctors aren’t testing people to determine that they have the — how do they come up with these diagnoses?’ They vote. The psychological community gets together, they talk about groups of symptoms that they see, they give it a name, and if enough people in the room raise their hand, it gets into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and it becomes an official diagnosis.
This is an overly simplistic understanding over how the DSM is created. It is not created on a whim by a vote.
The fact is only after many years of intense research and experimentation, psychiatrists start to notice patterns in different subjects and they record what they observe. After they have recorded their observations then they decide what behaviors belong to which category of mental illness.
By the way, this is why the DSM is constantly being updated because as they discover new things about the human mind and behavior they then need to add their findings to the next edition. The fact they are constantly changing and adapting to their findings is actually how good science operates.
Psychology and Psychiatry
“There’s also an absence of results. Let me say this and please hear me clearly: Psychiatry and psychology have never cured anyone of anything nor do they claim to be able to.”
This is technically true. There is actually no cure for mental illness.
Nouthetic Counselors demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of psychiatric medication. The most we can hope for is that, with medication, we will be able to live a fully functional lifestyle.
Physical and Spiritual Side
“This is a problems with psychology and psychiatry. Wrong worldview. It’s based on a materialistic worldview that sees nature as a closed system and man basically as a machine. It does not account for the bipartite nature of the human being — that there is a physical side of him and that there is a spiritual side of him. They only treat the physical side, are not equipped to deal with the spiritual side. Don’t acknowledge it. Don’t account for it. They can’t.”
I am not denying that Psychology and Psychiatry are based on a humanistic worldview and thus they are anti-biblical in their agenda. Actually, this does bother me whenever I attend my bipolar support group and schizophrenia support group every week.
However, to deny the beneficial effects of Rap music only proves that Nouthetic Counselors do not understand the Noahic Covenant and how there is truth expressed in Psychology and Psychiatry by the Lord’s grace. We should be willing to accept that truth no matter what source it comes from while rejecting falsehood too.
Voddie Read Daniel 4:25 About Nebuchadnezzar
“‘— that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field; you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time shall pass over you…'”
This is the evidence that refutes the claim that Nebuchadnezzar would be diagnosed with Schizophrenia. After all, Daniel 4:24 says, “This is a decree the Most High God has issued…”
Schizophrenia is characterized by intense hallucinations, delusions, and paranoid thinking.
Connecting Sins With Mental Illness
“The warning is due directly to Nebuchadnezzar’s sins. Directly because of his sin. Period. End of discussion. ‘This is what’s going to happen to you because you have sinned against God. This is what lay ahead for you because you have sinned against God.’ And so here in Daniel we see a direct link between sin and mental illness. And when I use the term ‘mental illness’ I’m using the term that we all understand. And you’ll, you’ll see why I make that clarification here shortly. A direct link between his sin and what in an emergency room or in a primary care physician’s office would clearly be diagnosed as schizophrenia. A direct link to his sin.”
That Is Called Eisegesis
Eisegesis is a hermeneutical principle where someone inserts their own interpretation onto the text instead of allowing the text to interpret itself. This is an error Voddie would be ashamed to be caught making.
As for mental illness being directly linked to sin, this is a mistake. Many nouthetic counselors make and it reveals the tragic flaw in their theology.
In John 9, the disciples made this same mistake when they asked Jesus why a certain man was born blind. Jesus corrected their thinking by telling them that the man born blind was not because of his sin. Or because of his parents’ sin but “so that the glory of God may be shown in him”.
How God Is Glorified
I suggest that the same can be said about mental illness as well. Some ways that my Schizoaffective Disorder shows the glory of God is in the fact that it keeps me humble and dependent on Him thus demonstrating His faithfulness in taking care of me and also demonstrating His divine provision in my life too.
Also, Nouthetic Counselors saying that mental illness is directly related to individual sin is the same error that Job’s friends made for which they were rebuked. However, I do not deny that mental illness is a result of the Original Sin at the Fall of Adam.
Sharing The Gospel
“Can you imagine trying to get truth and the Gospel through to an individual who is on a cocktail, a fistful of powerful psychotropic drugs, has a flat affect, and stares off into the distance when you talk to him? Do you think that makes it easier or more difficult for a person to hear and heed and comprehend the Gospel?”
As someone who has been on the side of being overly medicated, I can attest to the fact that in that state it is extremely difficult to comprehend the truths of the Gospel. I remember when I was in that state it was difficult even to comprehend when anyone was talking to me about anything. This is why it is important if you are overly medicated to tell your psychiatrist so he can fix that.
However, the answer is NOT to go off your medications as some Nouthetic Counselors seemingly suggest. This could lead either to your death, imprisonment, or locked away in psychiatric ward. This is not an exaggeration, it is just fact.
It is NEVER wise to go off your medication for any reason ever even IF you believe you are “cured” because the reason you are doing better if precisely because of the medication.
If you struggle with the feelings of shame because Christians have told you that taking medication displays a lack of trust in God. Well, the truth is not taking medication displays a lack of trust in God’s sovereign provision in your life.
“But we cannot ignore what would be done to an individual in a circumstance like this, can we? Do you notice anybody who’s not on this team? There’s no Daniel on this team. And Daniel is the only one who has an accurate diagnosis and any hope for this man to ever be cured. But he would not be allowed on this team. He would not be consulted by this team. Because his worldview doesn’t fit into this worldview.”
This argument blatantly ignores the fact that there are Christian counselors who treat people with mental illnesses too. As a matter of fact, Dr. Mark McMinn is a certified psychologist who is also a Christian and there are many more just like him too.
So, to say that a Christian Counselor would not be welcome onto a mental health team is just inaccurate. Now, maybe a Nouthetic Counselor would not be welcome onto the team but they have no credibility and should not be on the team treating people with mental illness anyways.
“I know my reason has returned to me because I understand the nature of God. The person of God. The attributes of God. I get who God is. That’s where you want to be, folks. But that’s not even what we seek when it comes to these “mental illnesses,” so to speak. What do we seek? [mocking voices:] ‘I just want to feel better.’ ‘I don’t feel good’.”
Now, I agree that the first step towards a stable mental health is having a proper understanding of who God is. Actually, John Calvin makes the point that in order for us to have a proper understanding of ourselves is to understand the nature of who God is. I am in complete agreement with that sentiment.
However, where I disagree is in the false dichotomy presented here where he says that you can either have a proper understanding of God or you can feel a healthy sense of self-esteem. Why can’t you have both? Actually, I would argue that when you have a proper understanding of the Gospel, it will have an effect on your self-esteem.
For example, when you understand that you are saved only by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and that your salvation is secure for eternity in Him. And that because of what He did for you now you part of a royal priesthood and you are holy, how can that NOT have a positive impact on your self-esteem?
Your Sin Has Physical And Emotional Consequences
“Your sin has physical and emotional consequences. I did not say everything that everyone ever deals with, is, always, go back to a verse that they need to — that’s not what I said. Hear what I’m saying. Your sin has real physical and emotional consequences. Proverbs 26:13: “The sluggard” — by the way, that’s sin — ‘The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road, there’s a lion in the streets.’ The sin of slothfulness — contributing to anxiety! Must need a pill! No, it’s a sin problem at the root of that! Proverbs 28:1: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as lions.” The wicked are fleeing when no one’s pursuing — there’s paranoia, directly related to wickedness!”
First off, this trivializes the plight that actual people with anxiety disorder experience. Anxiety disorders are very crippling. When someone feels intense anxiety at the grocery store over the fact that they are being overwhelmed to the point where all they can do is fall down and cry and then they have trouble breathing to call that sin is highly offensive and unbiblical.
Not all forms of anxiety is sinful but Nouthetic Counselors fail to comprehend this basic fact.
Secondly, saying that we can either “take a pill” to calm our anxiety or “Trust God” is a false dichotomy because the logical third option is you can trust God to provide you with the pill you need to calm you anxiety.
“Thomas Szasz (a psychiatrist, not me): ‘My view is that there is no mental illness and hence also no therapy, psychotherapy. Therapy, then, is a particular kind of human relationship aimed at helping people cope with their problems in living. This makes it necessary to reframe some of the questions you pose’.”
This is quoting a psychiatrist from the 1960’s is questionable to me. This is committing the logical fallacy of “Argument from Authority”.
“There is no evidence that psychotropic drugs cure any problem or disorder. To my knowledge, there is not one recorded cure of a mental illness anywhere on Planet Earth ever, ever, ever, ever, ever — which makes sense, since there’s never been an actual, accurate, scientific diagnosis of anything to cure.”
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of medication. Like I have said medication is not meant to cure anything. They are only meant to help us manage our symptoms.
Underlying Spiritual And Physical Conditions
“Most mental problems — know this — are caused by underlying spiritual or physical conditions. Do you know, for example, that a lack of sleep, dehydration, poor diet and exercise, tragedy and loss, sin and immorality, all these things can lead to depression? And if you take medication for depression, none of those things goes away. You just mask the symptoms. If you go see a doctor, and they don’t ask you how much sleep you’ve gotten in the last 7 hours, or 7 days, or, they don’t ask you how you’re eating and how you’re exercising, but they’re going to give you some psychotropic drugs — run.”
First, I want address the obvious error of equating mental illness to being spiritual.
The common mistake many Christians, not just Nouthetic Counselors, make is they want to spiritualize everything and not everything needs to be spiritualized. It’s ok to acknowledge that not everything is spiritual. Mental illness is one of those things that is not spiritual.
It is solely a chemical imbalance in the brain and that is all.
Secondly, it is true that lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet can and will have an effect on your mental health. That is not in dispute. However, even if you have a proper diet and you exercise daily, you may still struggle with clinical depression and thus you may need an antidepressant in order to help you manage.
“Psychotropic drugs are not the only possible solution. They’re not the only possible solution. We see that here in Nebuchadnezzar’s life. We see it also throughout the Scriptures, do we not? If you feel bad, there might be something causing you to feel bad. You can get to that without drugs. You have a problem focusing? They’re might be something causing you to have a problem focusing. Deal with that. You can deal with that. It’s not the only answer.”
Psychiatric medication has been proven to be the most absolutely most effective form of treatment for clinical mental illnesses and to trivialize mental illness as just being “problems with focusing” and “feeling bad” is a blatant misrepresentation of what is mental illness. Our struggle with mental illness is much more than having troubles focusing and feeling bad.
“If you’re here today and you’re being treated by someone for a mental illness, and you have not informed your elders — first, I want to ask you a question. Why on God’s green earth would you do that? Why? By the way, I can tell you the answer: Because you’ve bought the lie. You’ve bought the lie that says there’s that side of the world that deals with real problems and there’s this side of the world that gives you pep talks once a week — and that this side of the world has nothing to offer for those real problems that there’s no test for and no cure for on that other side of the world.”
Now, this is resorting to shaming people who struggle with mental illness for not talking to their elders and pastor about their struggles. Maybe the reason we do not talk to our elders and pastor about mental illness is because of sermons like this that does absolutely nothing but increase the stigmatization of mental illness!
If elders and pastors would take the time to actually learn about what mental illness actually is and then started being more compassionate towards our plight then we will be more open about our struggle with them but it won’t happen until they change first.
This is why I started the Christ-Centered Mental Health ministry in order to raise awareness of mental illness and to educate the Body of Christ on mental health issues. It’s sermons like this that show me that the Church is in desperate need of this ministry.
“If you’ve been upset or offended by anything I’ve said today, I want to ask you a question: Why? Why? There was merely the assertion of fact rooted in a biblical understanding of the way we are created. What is that you are clinging to that would make you chafe against the Word of God when applied to the most significant things in your life? Be free.”
With respect to Voddie Baucham, there was absolutely nothing biblical in this entire sermon. It is clear that Nouthetic Counselors must commit the fallacy of eisegesis just to make their assertions but when you apply critical thinking and sound theology their claims fall apart.
I Respect Voddie Baucham
I deeply respect Voddie for his normally sound theology and for his strong stance against Social Justice Warriors and Critical Race Theory. However, he clearly missed the mark in this sermon. I only hope and pray that no mentally ill person has suffered from hearing this sermon.
It is time for Christians with sound biblical and scientific reasoning to stand up against Nouthetic Counselors. It also grieves me to know that Nouthetic Counseling is the golden calf of many Christians who profess to belong to the Reformed tradition because as I have stated in the beginning that Nouthetic Counseling is inconsistent with a confessionally Reformed Two Kingdom Theology.
The underlying theology of Nouthetic Counseling is Theonomy. The reason I say that it is based in Theonomy is because at its core it teaches that the only thing people need is the Bible and that secular resources are invalid.
This position ignores that we are called to live alongside unbelievers as simultaneously citizens of Heaven and citizens of earth. As citizens of earth, we are free to enjoy the same things as unbelievers (if not sinning against God). And we can work in the same realm as unbelievers too.
There are many other things we are free to engage in with unbelievers, but one of the most obvious ways is we can even learn from unbelievers as well. This means that even when our psychiatrist and psychologist is an unbeliever they still can offer valid advice to us about how to manage our mental health. To deny this is to deny the reality of God’s created order.
We are not called to live in a Christian bubble and that means sometimes we are to acknowledge that they can and often do teach us.
This is no issue for Christians with proper theology because we understand that any truth from an unbeliever is ultimately God’s truth.
This is not to say that everything that comes from unbelievers is true so we must exercise great discernment.Tweet
I hope this blog has been educational for anyone who reads it and I hope that Christ was honored and the reader is edified too. Soli Deo Gloria!
-David Lee Chu Sarchet
Mental Health Advocate and Christian Apologist
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