High Point, Church Sex Abuse, and Third Party Investigations

Ann Voskamp may be right in that the Andy Savage scandal at High Point Community Church of Memphis may be the Church’s Harvey Weinstein moment.

Personally, I tend to be a tad more cynical, but one thing is for sure: it was a shot across the bow. There are a mother lode of family jewels in churches across America, including (some might say especially) otherwise “conservative, evangelical, Reformed, and Fundamentalist” churches.

Unless the Church gets serious about addressing this, the reckoning is going to be orders of magnitude worse than they can ever imagine.

My take?

Deal with it now.

Bring all the scandals into the sunlight.

Expose the offending ministers.

Admit failures–from failure to exercise oversight, to failure to report when allegations surfaced, to unwittingly or even intentionally throwing victims under the bus, to protecting people who were clearly abusive and immoral.

To the extent that is possible, try to make amends with those who were wronged.

Where criminal acts may have been committed, churches need to report these to the authorities. Perhaps statutes of limitations may have run out, but this still could help nail them if there are more recent offenses elsewhere.

But make no mistake: transparency is paramount. On this front, more is better.

To Hell (literally) with corporate damage control tactics; that is how the WORLD operates. The Church is not “of the world”.

Why am I adamant about this?

1. If there is any place where children ought to be safe, it ought to be the Church. One observer noted that, in the first century, the Church was a refuge from the world: a contrast to the brutality and immorality and corruption that so defined so much of Graco-Roman society.

Jesus had very stern warnings about those who would cause children to stumble. And while I believe that child molesters can be saved, I would also point out that there is a guaranteed reckoning for those who commit such acts against children.

And if you’re a theological conservative–as I am–those warnings from Jesus should kick you in the jewels, as He is not simply talking about kiddie-diddlers.

That means parents need to take their responsibilities very seriously; that means everyone who interacts with children–especially teachers, camp counselors, chaperones, etc.–needs to have a (spiritual) “war face”.

This is not a game.

That includes teaching the Scriptures properly; that includes modeling the love of God in a way that includes appropriate discipline while not exasperating them: children should be able to taste and see that the Lord is good.

As for predators, you can bank on the fact that they are going to target churches. If you have a substantial number of children, you can almost guarantee that one or more predators are going to be lurking in your midst if they aren’t already there.

THAT’s not your fault. As I’ve said before, predators will target churches (that’s where the kids are) for the same reason the armed robber targets the bank (that’s where the money is).

What you do about that, however, is going to make or break you.

I’ve said it many times: they will have charisma; they will often be professionals; they will be very talented; they will appear trustworthy; they will be very affable.

Some offenders may not be predators, but are still sexually deviant: they have not reined in their lusts and therefore are not qualified for their positions. This is one more reason why you need to be leery of bringing on young adults into ministerial positions.

(My take: many of these youth pastors, like Andy Savage, are in this category. They don’t necessarily qualify as predators, but neither do they have the Christian maturity befitting a teacher or minister either. They have charisma, but–as I’ve said many times here–charisma is not character! Ergo, putting them in that position is a prescription for disaster. Just ask Jules Woodson.)

I’ll say it again: What you do about that is going to make or break you.

In the wake of the Andy Savage case, High Point failed about as badly as a church can fail. They not only did not do the right thing, they proceeded to do the worst possible thing.

They stood by as Savage provided self-serving spin, deflection, and even blame-shifting. They turned the worship of God into a glorification of someone who, faced with his past, could not even properly state the severity of what he did.

That Savage is on leave of absence now is all well and good; they should have done that immediately, and then fired him as soon as he started playing spin games, and–as the details of the allegations surfaced–reported the allegations to the relevant authorities.

(For the record: Savage will not face criminal charges in the Jules Woodson case, as the statute of limitations has run out on any possible offenses on his end.)

High Point has since decided to enlist a third party to investigate the Andy Savage matter.

While the Deebs and Amy Smith are (rightly) skeptical of churches hiring third parties to investigate, I’ll take a contrarian view in this case: given that criminal offenses aren’t on the table now, I think that is probably a good idea.

But I say that with the following caveats:

(1) What does High Point really want investigated?

At this point, it ought not just be about Andy Savage: his offenses–besides his spin and blame-shifting–occurred long before he came to High Point. If they just investigate what Andy Savage did, then it’s just going to be a waste of money.

(2) What does High Point hope to accomplish?

Are they just trying to cover their nether regions in the event of a lawsuit? Are they just seeking to do damage control? Or are they really serious about the type of change–seeking to get things right–that comes from repentance?

Color me skeptical, but if they were repentant, their entire ministerial staff would have been in sackloth by now. They would have apologized to Jules for engaging in blame-shifting. They would have FIRED Andy Savage. They would have censured–if not suspended–their entire worship team.

All I’m seeing from them is more akin to damage control.

Ultimately, such an investigation can only be helpful if High Point is serious about fundamentally changing their culture.

If they ARE serious, then a good investigation can show deficiencies in their leadership: what kinds of culture they need to foster going forward; how they should screen would-be ministers, teachers, and other workers; how they ought to respond to allegations; how to cultivate an environment that reflects the love of God while providing appropriate protections for those in positions of vulnerability.

But such change requires more than an investigation and white paper; it requires true contrition.

Does High Point have that?

At this time, I remain skeptical.

Andy Savage, High Point, and #churchtoo

Anyone with at least a double-digit IQ who has been following these things, knows that the Church–and that includes all shades of conservatism–has a mother lode of sexual abuse scandals, family jewels tucked under her pristine clothing.

I’m not talking about ministers who have had extramarital affairs. That is bad enough–don’t get me wrong–but that’s a different issue.

Oh noes. I’m talking sexual abuse scandals.

I’m talking about molestations and even rapes by volunteers, by teachers, and other church leaders (deacons, elders) to include pastors.

I’m also talking about church leaders who dismissed accusations, not reporting them to authorities, and enabled abusers to continue their abuses.

I’m also talking about church leaders who, instead of reporting allegations to authorities, “launched their own investigation”, or hired their own third parties to investigate–thus ensuring that the investigative bodies would be beholden to them–and, in the process, enabled abusers to continue their abuses.

I’m also talking about church leaders who, instead of reporting allegations to authorities, forced accused ministers to resign, providing them pathways to get “new starts” elsewhere, and, in effect “passed the trash” to other churches.

I’m also talking about church leaders who, because the accused person is a trusted friend, choose to do nothing because they swear that the allegations have to be some mistake.


For decades, these cases have piled up like a clogged toilet. Over the past 15 years, however, a perfect storm has been brewing.

Amy Smith, who blew the lid on such coverups at SBC powerhouse Prestonwood Baptist Church–incurring the wrath of her own family–was a major catalyst for the emerging cadre of watchbloggers. Her cause, known as Watch Keep, is a tick in many an SBC leader’s britches.

Other bloggers would come to prominence. Jeri Massi, a Bob Jones alum who worked for their publishing arm, has done a wonderful job chronicling the abuses among the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) ranks. Her devastating assessment of the Hyles Dynasty (FBC Hammond, IN) is, on its face, worth the read.

Todd Wilhelm of Thou Art The Man has blown the lid on various abuses, including Voice of the Martyrs.

Arguably the biggest contributor to the watchblog world has been Deb and Dee at The Wartburg Watch.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve followed most of these blogs. Do I agree with them on everything? Of course not. I’m an old-school Patriarch, albeit a laid-back one, and thus am in fundamental disagreement with them over the “complimentarianism causes abuse” mantra. (My view: abusive situations generally occur when accountability is nonexistent. And while that often happens in elder-run churches, there are no small number of congregational churches whose leadership is stacked with yes-men, who are prone to cover for abusive leaders. Any church government model can be–and is often–abused.)

I’ve gone back and forth with Dee–on these pages even–over a few matters. But, when it comes to exposing abusers and those who cover for them, they are doing the world a great service.

From Mars Hill to Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Good-Old-Boys networks that coddle the abusers in the NeoCalvinist, Southern Baptist, and other evangelical ranks, the Deebs have been exposing them to that great disinfectant: sunlight.

Over the years, they have been effective on the margins. Sure, Mahaney is still in business. But he is a shadow of his former self. And while Matt Chandler has not been slowed in his ministry, even though he was forced to eat some humble pie for his treatment of a wife who sought an annulment from a husband who was caught viewing child porn.

But on Friday, 05 January 2018, the Deebs and Amy Smith teamed up to help Jules Woodson, a gal who, 20 years ago, was forced to perform a Lewinsky on youth pastor Andy Savage of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church (He is now at High Point Community Church in Memphis, TN). Savage would go on to celebrity status while Woodson has had to deal with the trauma and guilt for 20 years.

On its face, they might have thought that this would be another case of abuse in the evangelical world, perhaps leading to resignations, hand-wringing, etc.

This time around, it was different.

Andy Savage tried to minimize what he did. The entire blogosphere–myself included–rained HELL on him. I know, because I followed the Twittersphere. Dee and Amy were killing it.

The story went national, even global. From Christianity Today to the Washington Post to The New York Times, the more Savage and/or High Point opened their mouths, the harder they got clobbered.

#churchtoo became the Church answer to #metoo.

And while Andy Savage is in the clear legally–as the statute of limitations has run out on what he did to Jules–he has taken quite the shellacking:

(1) His upcoming book–How To Have a Ridiculously Good Marriage–is dead. Bethany House killed it.

(2) Larry Cotton, the pastor who allowed him to resign 20 years ago, and who did not report his abuses to authorities, has been placed on a leave of absence by his current church.

(3) Cotton has also had a book deal killed.

(4) Ed Stetzer has condemned Savage’s explanation.

(5) Savage is now on a leave of absence. Hopefully it will be a permanent one.

(6) Jonathan Leeman of 9 Marks–a Neocal outfit–provided an insightful op-ed to The Washington Post. Of course, he is articulating a view that I have put forward here.

The Deebs, and Amy Smith, have triggered a very large–and necessary–earthquake in the evangelical world.

Will this be the catalyst that leads churches to confront abuses and revisit the way they have treated such matters in the past? Will this lead to Church leadership addressing this issue from the top? Will this lead to shakeups within Church bodies?

I don’t know. Personally, I think it may take a few more large shockwaves for major change to happen.

But between the Deebs and Amy Smith, they have provided a foreshadowing of something much bigger to come, unless the Church confronts these issues sooner rather than later.

A Low Point for High Point

HT to Dee at TWW and Amy Smith of Watch Keep.

And, for the record, Andy Savage (a) has not denied Jules Woodson’s account, and (b) has affirmed what he calls a “sexual incident” involving Woodson.

I’m going to put it bluntly: In legalspeak, Savage is trying to cover his ass.

He was supposed to be taking Woodson home. She did not have transportation of her own. Savage intentionally passed the proper turn, and told Woodson that where he was taking her was a “surprise”.

He took her to a secluded area, pulled down his pants, whipped out his member a la Clinton, and solicited a “Lewinsky.”

Immediately after receiving said Lewinsky, after the damage was done, he realized the gravity of his offense and asked for forgiveness and assurance that she would tell no one.

When she (rightly) told the pastoral staff, they promised they would take care of the matter. They never went to authorities–although they had an obligation to do so–and they allowed Savage to resign and go elsewhere, providing a sanitized explanation in the process.

Savage went home, “repented”, and went on to become a mega-pastor who, until yesterday, was on the verge of a book deal about, ahem, marriage. The title: How to Have a Ridiculously Good Marriage. Woodson, sadly, still tries unpack the baggage from that atrocity.

(Mr. Savage: Maybe you can begin by not wrecking other people’s chances of having such a marriage.)

I know some of you might read this and think, “Well, this was a long time ago, and he has suffered for what he did, and I have no doubt that he is sorry, so why dredge all of this up now?”

Fact is, whatever Savage has ‘suffered’ as a result of the knowledge of what he did, it pales in comparison with the metric ton of demons that Woodson has had to face down from that night. She has spent almost 20 years fighting a battle for which she did not ask, while (a) Savage has not had to face the music, and (b) the church that should have done right by her effectively blamed her for his sins and crimes.

And while I have no doubt that Savage truly is sorry for what he did, it is very sad that he has tried to minimize the severity of his actions. It is also sad that High Point, of all churches, has all but blamed the victim.

But yes, this kind of thing is what pisses me off, and on multiple levels.

(1) High Point failed to do the right thing. High Point, a NeoCal outfit affiliated with the Gospel Coalition, has not even so much as put Savage on leave, even though the allegations against him carry potential civil, if not criminal, consequences. If the statute of limitations has not run out, Savage could be on the hook for one or more felonies.

(2) High Point not only failed to do the right thing, they probably did the worst possible thing in response to the allegations. This past Sunday, God was not the center of the worship at High Point; Andy Savage was. The music leaders went completely off the rails and called for a standing ovation in support of Savage.

To their credit, Austin Stone Community Church of Austin, TX, has placed pastor Larry Cotton, who was allegedly complicit in the coverup of Savage’s abuse of Jules, on leave and has enlisted an independent third party to investigate Cotton’s role in the coverup. And Bethany House, which had been set to publish Savage’s book this Summer, has cancelled the publication of that book.

(3) Aside from the well-deserved pounding that Savage is taking from Amy Smith, the Deebs, Todd Wilhelm (Thou Art The Man), and other watchbloggers, I am going to add this…

First, the disclaimer: Nothing I am about to say, in any way, lets Savage off the hook for what he did. If the law allows for it, he should face prosecution; he should also face civil penalties for any quantifiable damage that Woodson has suffered. And while I am not happy that his wife and family will suffer in this process, I would also add that this is a sad consequence of the actions of their husband and father. As I’ve said many times here: Sexual sin is The Gift That Keeps On Giving. If this were a mere act between consenting adults, it would have been bad enough. But given that it carries potential civil and criminal liabilities, the score has gone up.

Having said all of that…

Looking at the circumstances of Savage’s acts, I cannot help but question the wisdom of putting Savage in the position he had in the first place.

(1) He was in his early 20s. He was either a college student or a recent college graduate.

(2) In spite of his lack of spiritual mileage, he was a YOUTH PASTOR.

I don’t care how smart you are in your early 20s. At age 23, I had an engineering degree, with memberships in two different honor societies, and, even in my inexperience, knew my Bible better than the average bear. Even then, I can tell you without hesitation: I WOULD HAVE HAD NO BUSINESS BEING A YOUTH PASTOR.

There is a difference between understanding the narrative flow of the Bible, and really knowing, on a personal level, the dynamics that play out in the life of the believer as well as those outside the Christian fold. The knowledge I am talking about is not something you learn in a classroom: it is spiritual mileage that comes from (a) confessing and repenting, often, of your own sin, (b) getting the log out of your own eye, (c) working for a living and dealing with various personalities, (d) managing complex relationships, (e) navigating through hard times.

Reading the Bible and studying it are very important; fleshing out the truths that you learn is every bit as important. The latter does not happen in a day!

Moreover, at that young of an age, and I say this as a guy, let’s just say that you are still learning to reign in the lusts driven by hormones that race at Mach 9. Putting it bluntly, Andy Savage was a horny young adult who still needed to learn the self-regulation that leads conduct becoming a minister of the Gospel. Even worse, he had not gained the understanding that–whatever one’s hormones–there are some places you must never, ever go.

We know that young people, in the throes of puberty–that time where the blood rushes from the brain to the lower extremities and remains there for about the next 70 years–will experiment. I’m not endorsing the practice, just acknowledging the fact.

99% of the time, that experimentation will be on one’s self. I’m not saying it’s right–it’s not–but it is what it is.

Sadly, in the course of that experimentation, folks will use media–which, today, is available in high-def and for free–that is akin to adding rocket fuel to a barbecue grill. That causes the lusts–already nasty–to burn beyond all recognition.

Are those things responsible for what Andy did? No; I’m sure those elements didn’t help him. And it sure as heck didn’t help that he was in a position of leadership–for which he was not qualified–and in a position of responsibility over women who, because he had not learned to master his lusts, became targets in spite of his ministerial obligation to them.

Had Savage truly been interested in Jules, he could have dated her: he could have had her move to another class, and pursue her in a way that was God-honoring.

But he wasn’t interested in making a future with her; he saw her as a path to getting his rocks off. And given the circumstances, he may have crossed into criminal territory.

At the very least, High Point owes Jules the mother of all apologies.

And they need to fire Savage.

And they need to hold him accountable.

And this needs to be a teachable moment for a number of things. Because this is a culmination of all that is wrong with American evangelicalism.

Biblical Counseling “Authorities” Hijack Luther

Dee at TWW tipped me to this.

I’ll elaborate more later this week, but–dang–Heath Lambert runs totally off the rails.

Using his reasoning, no one should ever accept any form of modern medicine for anything, because its prescription never mentions Jesus.

The issue here isn’t Biblical Counseling, but rather this inane cabal that purports to put constraints on it.

Fact is, you can provide the best, solid Biblical counsel to a client who is determined to know the truth. But if that client does not have his or her faculties–and sometimes that requires meds, and sometimes those meds must be taken for the duration of one’s life–then such a client lacks the capacity to begin to receive the counsel.

Ergo, medications may be complimentary–bringing a client to the place where he or she can “come reason together” in the first place–to Biblical counseling.

We can argue all day about the origin of certain disorders–bipolar, schizophrenia, chronic depression, etc. I would not deny that sin is often an exacerbating factor, if not a contributory factor, to clients with some of these conditions. At the same time, that does not change the reality on the ground: many clients, without taking psychotropic medications as-directed by a physician, are simply not going to be able to receive counsel, whereas with the meds, they are able.

I have seen this dynamic up-close and personal, more time than I can dare count. These folks have included good friends, people I’ve known from work, as well as people I’ve known in various Church and parachurch settings. I am not a licensed therapist, nor am I a “certified Biblical counselor”. I am a Christian who is a serious student of Scripture who, as I get older, continue to gain great appreciation for the severity of the impact of sin, and the consequences of the Fall, including the curse of the earth, on all aspects of our humanity.

To suggest that this cannot impact brain chemistry–and that there is no place for medical therapy in the process of recovery–is ludicrous.

My question to those who subscribe to Jay Adams and Heath Lambert: given a client who is bipolar who clearly does not have his or her faculties, would you rather (a) have them go to a doc and get his or her meds straightened out and then, once they gain their faculties, reason with them; or (b) let them continue in their irrational patterns, and potentially wind up doing something incredibly destructive, potentially including suicide and/or murder?

Paul Pressler, the SBC, and the Conservative Movement

Those who are regulars here know that I attended SBTS from August 1993 to May 1994. I was there when Mohler was inaugurated, and was there as the seminary became Ground Zero in the war over the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a major fight within the seminary, as–at the time–the faculty ranged from centrists to far-left on the theological spectrum. The previous President–Roy Honeycutt–had been a center-left type, and his predecessor (Duke McCall) had been even further left.

Over the years, SBTS had implicitly told the whole world: conservatives need not apply.

How liberal was it at SBTS in the fall of 1993?

(1) You couldn’t have a rational discussion about women in ministry. If you expressed any Biblically-based reservation against women pastors–and those are perfectly legit–then you were a sexist and/or a misogynist.

(2) You couldn’t have a rational discussion about the authority of Scripture. The powers that were insisted that, if you subscribed to a conservative model of Biblical reliability (i.e. inerrancy), you might as well be guilty of putting the MENTAL in fundamentalism.

(3) If you were pro-life, or supported the Biblical case against homosexuality, then you had few allies among the faculty. The most “pro-life” ethics professor had been part of Ron Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action.

(4) Along the lines of (3), if you didn’t support some form of communismliberation theology, then you were cruel and heartless, and didn’t side with Jesus. Because, after all, everyone knows that socialism is in the Bible, even if it isn’t.

(5) If you didn’t support re-translating the Bible to remove gender-specific references to God, then you were a sexist who wanted to make women feel excluded. As a result, feminist theology was very popular among the student body, and the theology department tacitly fanned those flames.

(6) If you were a Young Earth Creationist, or even a skeptic of macro-evolution–I identify as the latter–then you were anti-science, and all legitimate debate over this was settled.

What do I mean when I say you couldn’t have a rational discussion of these matters?

It means that the professors typically stacked the deck to exclude balanced discussions of such hot-button issues, and none of them–not even the professors I otherwise liked–were on your side. They didn’t dock your grade for disssenting–thank you for that, as I was one B short of straight As–but it was a hostile classroom nonetheless.

It was slow-motion indoctrination. And to any conservative–which I am–this needed to change.

Enter R. Albert Mohler, circa September 1993. His inauguration had been the culmination of about 10 years of change on the SBTS board of trustees: as left-leaning board members dropped off, the Executive Committee of the SBC would nominate right-leaning board members. Eventually, there were a sufficient number of conservatives to really make big changes.

Honeycutt saw the handwriting on the wall, and retired, making the way for Mohler. I have my issues with Mohler, but I won’t take away from the fact that he brought a very necessary housecleaning to SBTS.

But the rise of Mohler at SBTS would not have been possible without a powerful Texas judge and lawmaker: Paul Pressler.

In fact, it was Pressler–who recruited a young firebrand, Paige Patterson–to enact a strategy for a conservative resurgence that was nothing short of brilliant.

The resurgence itself was possible in no small part because it was, if nothing else, very popular among mainstream Southern Baptists, who were–with pockets of exceptions–more conservative than what was coming from leadership.

Pressler and Patterson would use that populism to get conservative SBC Presidents–such as Adrian Rodgers and Charles Stanley–elected. Those Presidents would, over time, fill the Executive Committee with right-leaning appointments, and the Executive Committee would, over time, stack the boards of every SBC entity–from the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) to the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) to the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) and every one of the seminaries–SBTS, GGTS, NOBTS, SEBTS, SWBTS–with conservative board members.

Those would bring in new leaders who would fundamentally reshape the face of those entities, and the SBC itself.

For his part, Patterson would become President at two SBC seminaries: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).

But it was Pressler’s strategy and Pressler’s vision that fomented that change. No modern-era SBC leader, from Patterson to Mohler to current SBC President Steve Gaines, would have had such an impact on the SBC but for the work of Pressler.

This is why the SBC powers that are have torn a page from North Korea and dedicated stained glass tributes at the SWBTS Chapel to Dear Leaders such as Pressler.

That is why the current lawsuit against Pressler and Patterson–accusing Pressler of sexual abuse and Patterson of knowing about it and doing nothing–is a big deal.

If the allegations are true, then Pressler–now 87 years old and otherwise long-retired–has much to answer for. It also would beg the question: what did other SBC leaders know about this? And if they knew anything, what did they do with that knowledge?

While a skeptic can reasonably argue that this could be a witch hunt driven by the #metoo bandwagon, it is also possible that we have a smoking gun, especially if the story is true that Pressler has settled a prior claim. The details of that are sealed, but–in a trial–those details will become unsealed, assuming it gets that far.

My take: I’m all for Due Process. Let the facts come out, let the cross-examinations begin, and, if there are family jewels, lay them out for all to see.

And if heads must roll, then off with their heads.

And if they molested children–or covered for those who did–then I say start with the smaller heads…

Biblical Counseling — Who Can Be A Biblical Counselor?

Dee at TWW provides this assessment of Biblical/Nouthetic Counseling (BC), at least as-presented by PastoralCounseling.org.

FWIW: I’m all for Biblically-based counseling; I provide it myself. At the same time, I have significant reservations with the Jay Adams crowd, which is driving the BC movement, which–I would contend–is corrupting Biblically-based counseling (BBC).

In this installment, I am going to address the premise that opens up BBC to pretty much any Christian. From PastoralCounseling.org (emphasis added):

Who Can Be a Biblical Counselor?

Quite simply, anyone who wants to be a Biblical counselor can consider themselves one. Biblical counseling is based on the idea that all one needs is a deep understanding of the scripture to offer counseling. While it’s true that many who consider themselves Biblical counselors are ministers or other types of church leaders, this isn’t a requirement. Any person who feels as though they have been called to offer Biblical counseling to another may do so.

Without a doubt, that is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read.

Quoting James 3:1-2:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways.

Teaching is a role that carries great importance and great responsibility (1 Corinthians 12). And according to James, the penalty for straying is stricter for teachers than those who are not teachers.

And make no mistake: Biblical counseling is a form of teaching.

If you aspire to be a Biblical counselor, you are aspiring to a teaching role.

That means you are going to need to be very knowledgeable in the Scriptures. And I’m not just talking about knowing the narrative flow of the Bible, although the average Joe doesn’t even know that.

What I mean by being knowledgeable in the Scriptures?

  1. Understanding the way God worked in the lives of people in the Bible. What warnings did God give? What issues kept coming back up over and over? How did God deliver providentially? How does this point to the Gospel?
  2. Understanding how people responded to God and to each other.
  3. The characteristics of different types of people (Proverbs).

I also believe that there is a practical body of knowledge that people need to have. There are particular dynamics of human behavior that are important to know: how different personalities respond to different questions and circumstances; what kinds of things are going to drive people in particular situations, and how may that play out.

I’ll give you a good example: myself and MrsLarijani during our 2-month ordeal, as Abigail spent her first two months in the NICU, 5 of those days on ECMO (the heart-lung machine, which is last-ditch life support).

Did I mention that, during that time, I had nasty deadlines at work, which meant that–even though I had plenty of leave time accumulated–I was not able to use much of it? In fact, I racked in substantial overtime during those two months. I also spent at least two hours every day with Abigail. MrsLarijani rarely left the hospital. Oh, and one of our cars broke down during that time.

Helping a couple navigate through that is not just a matter of being able to recite Bible verses; trust me: MrsLarijani and I understood those already. This isn’t about giving someone a Bible verse or even a Biblical principle, but rather a practical matter of how to flesh it out.

Knowing what the Bible says is often the easy part. Sometimes, the fleshing out of those truths isn’t as easy. That part often requires a counselor with some spiritual mileage.

Does the Bible command, “Thou must exercise to get stress relief?” No. But you know what? We know, from a scientific standpoint, that high stress creates inflammation, which contributes to both weight issues and heart disease as well as diabetes risk. We also know that proper diet and exercise–and having a good circle of friends–helps relieve the stress, which reduces inflammation, which contributes greatly to coping skills.

That is why I made it a point to sign myself and MrsLarijani in at Planet Fitness–which is right down the road from the hospital–after the first week. I used that membership diligently: I worked out an average of 7 hours per week. In spite of the high-carb dietary madness at the Ronald McDonald House, I managed to generate enough endorphins that I otherwise felt good in spite of the situation.

Here’s another case: how do you counsel someone who is trying to make a complex business decision that can have big implications? What happens if you have someone who needs medical or legal help?

I once had a pastor who was excellent in terms of practical advice. He knew the best people to call, he knew how certain attorneys and counselors operated, he understood who the best car mechanics were, he knew the best docs, he knew the docs to avoid. If you wanted to buy a house, he could guide you through the issues like no one else. If you were going through a very hard time, he understood the issues that you would be wrestling with, and provided practical advice as to how to think, how to act, how to pray, and–when necessary–what repentance looked like.

As a counselor, he helped people make good decisions, or at least helped them avoid making bad ones. And if he didn’t have the answer, he could direct you to someone who did.

But he was able to do that because he had a lot of spiritual mileage: he wasn’t a spring chicken. He knew the Scriptures, and he also understood different schools of thought about tough issues. While he had an MDiv–he was pursuing doctoral studies on the side–his body of knowledge was the kind you didn’t just get with a degree.

Biblical Counseling, Case Study (from TWW)

Irrespective of what you think of TWW and their War on Complementarianism, Dee is providing the “Biblical Counseling” (BC) movement a well-deserved pounding.

You might wonder why I say that, given that, recently, I defended BC as a tool in the toolbox?

Keep in mind that, as I presented it:

  1. Unlike the BC movement–Jay Adams, Heath Lambert, etc.–I am not dismissive of professional therapists (licensed family therapists, psychologists, even psychiatrists). There are times when such professionals are very necessary. And there are times when psychotropic medication is necessary for a client to even reach a position where he or she can receive Biblical counsel.
  2. Given that teaching is a spiritual gift, and given that counseling is a form of teaching, not everyone is competent to counsel.
  3. As with all things, Callahan’s Law applies: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
  4. Being competent as a counselor requires a lot more than taking a few courses and passing an exam. Even an MDiv degree from a reputable seminary doesn’t necessarily qualify such a one. This is because such a body of knowledge requires spiritual mileage. Knowing the academics of the doctrine of sin is one thing; dealing with it in your own life–i.e. getting the log out of your own eye–is where the real learning is done.

I would also add the following caveats about BC:

  1. Some proponents, particularly Jay Adams, have been dismissive of demonic influence on this earth, claiming that because Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil, that today’s issues do not involve demons but are just a matter of getting someone to see the Bible the way you do on an issue.
  2. The BC folks are dismissive of most, if not all, licensed professionals. They see such professionals as anti-Biblical, promoting a paradigm that is opposed to Scripture. They believe that “Sola Scriptura” means “Nolo Medicare”, when in fact Scripture provides no such admonition.

As I’ve said before, there are two types of people who are bipolar: (a) those who take their medicine and (b) those who do not take their medicine.

The latter are often very irrational when their mood swings kick in: they will not reason with you, no matter how convincing you are. A lot of BC counselors errantly assume that such folks are just living in rebellion and will not receive Godly counsel, when in fact that such folks–once they have their medicine–are very rational and reasonable. (In fact, if they are not being reasonable, you may need to direct them to professional help, as they may need medication.)

And it’s not just folks who are bipolar. Schizophrenics, those who suffer from chronic depression, and even mothers in the throes of post-partum depression often need medication. We can ruminate all day about the source of the problem, but the fact remains: (a) with medication, they are rational; (b) minus medication, they are not.

The same can also hold true for folks with eating disorders, depending on the severity of the disorder. I’ve known gals who had to be hospitalized for anorexia; one was a middle school classmate of mine who is now a FB friend; one is a top-tier triathlete; one was a classmate of mine at SBTS. They needed meds. I’ve also known others who did not need meds. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.

In Dee’s article, she provides a case study from a BC exam. I will provide it, and my answers.

Here is the case study:

Tim and Emily
Tim and Emily come from a church across town, and have asked to meet you because of some help that you offered their friends several months ago.  They are coming because of a persistent problem they have had in their marriage.  They explain that in their six years of marriage Tim has always had a “short fuse.”  He regularly “loses it” when he comes home from work which fills the evenings with tense communication.  Their weeks are filled with arguments about everything from dinner being ready on time, to whether they should have kids. Tim thinks Emily is a good wife, admits the problems are his fault, but says he just doesn’t know how to “maintain control.”  About a year ago Tim went berserk screaming at Emily, kicking the kitchen table and throwing plates on the floor in response to Emily’s complaint that he came home late without calling.  Emily was always uncomfortable with Tim’s previous pattern of outbursts, but this was different.  She was truly scared.  Tim was too.  In tears she told Tim that something had to change.

Tim talked to his pastor who told him that he needed to see a professional therapist.  Tim followed the advice and made an appointment with the Christian counselor whom his pastor recommended.  Tim met with the therapist for a few sessions, who ultimately recommended he see a psychiatrist for medical care.  When Tim met with the psychiatrist he was told that he had bi-polar disorder and began to take the medications prescribed by the physician.

Tim was initially discouraged to learn that he had a disease that would likely last his entire life, but he was thankful to have a plan to deal with problem.  Emily was also encouraged that there was now at least something they could do.

Their encouragement quickly gave way, however, when after several months on the medication Tim had still not really changed.  While his temperament seemed milder in general the loss of control, and screaming were still present.  It was at this point that Emily began to regret ever marrying Tim.  All the arguments together with the couple’s lack of children were taking their toll.  She realized she was in a marriage that she did not want to be in, but didn’t think she had any options.

Then last week Tim “went completely crazy.”  Emily suggested on a Saturday morning that Tim should cut the grass because he had not done it the week before.  Tim did more than scream and throw things this time.  As he yelled and became more “worked up” he threw the phone at Emily.  He missed her, knocking a hole in the wall, but they both knew he had crossed a line.

Emily said she couldn’t take it anymore and wanted out of the marriage.  She told him that if something didn’t change very quickly she was going to leave.  That is when he reached out to his friend who recommended you.

Tim and Emily both profess faith in Christ, and relate their testimonies of conversion in their teen years.  Both are also terribly discouraged.  Tim doesn’t know how to treat Emily better since he is “plagued” by this disease.  Emily loves Tim and would like their marriage to work, but she is worn out with the lack of change.  She feels badly about wanting to leave because she knows he has an illness, but she is increasingly convinced that God is telling her to divorce Tim.

1.     How will you decide whether to pursue Tim and Emily as believers or unbelievers?  What difference will their status as Christians make in your counseling?

2.     Describe, as fully as you are able, your strategy to help Tim and Emily think biblically about his diagnosis and their use of bi-polar and illness language.

3.     Emily is “Convinced that God is telling her to divorce Tim.”  Write out your word-for-word response to Emily on this matter.  In your response, be sure to address the themes of biblical decision-making and permission for divorce and remarriage.

4.     What strategy would you employ to see repentance, reconciliation, and restoration happen between Tim and Emily?

5.     Describe a detailed plan of restoring marital communication that you would pursue with Tim and Emily.

Here are my answers:

  1. They are believers. They have their issues, but they are believers. What does that mean? (a) while BC is important to helping them unpack and resolve baggage, they need professional help; (b) Tim needs to see his psychiatrist–ASA-freaking-P–because he may need to have his meds re-evaluated, assuming he is currently taking them as-directed; (c) a professional therapist may be necessary during that process.
  2. For one thing, we need to determine if Tim is taking his meds as-directed by his physician. If he is skipping his meds, then we must confront that head-on, as he is within inches of earning a domestic violence conviction. If he is bipolar, he needs to take his meds, and he may need to take them for the rest of his life.
  3. I would contend that such thinking is not Biblical: while it is possible that, if the trend continues, red lines could get crossed and divorce could become inevitable, those red lines have not been crossed and there is no Biblical precedent for a “preventative divorce”. The Biblical admonitions about divorce are in play, and, as presented in this case, there are no extenuating circumstances as yet. That, however, can change if the trend continues.
  4. First, both Tim and Emily need to be in a position where they can even receive Biblical counsel in the first place. That means they need to see professionals to ensure such issues–that require professionals–get resolved. And that includes getting medications in line where that is necessary. Once those are taken care of, then we can talk about the dynamics that drive their conflict with respect to the Scriptures. She may need to respect him more; he obviously is lacking in the “love your wives as Christ loved the Church” department. It is likely that each has matters that require acknowledgement and repentance.
  5. That is a stupid question, given that such a “plan” is dependent upon in-depth, detailed discussion.

How would you score that, Dee?

Biblical Counseling: My $0.02

My first foray into the world of “Biblical Counseling”, which, back then, was called “Nouthetic Counseling”, began in 1990, when I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. The director, Janet, was a big supporter of Jay Adams, and our supplemental training often involved studying and discussing chapters from one of his books. I still have the book The Christian Counselor’s Manual.

At the time, there was a huge countercultural backlash, among many conservative Christians, against traditional understandings of mental illness. Everything–and that’s the key word here–from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia was, in many circles, ascribed to unresolved baggage due to one’s own sin.

Whereas the psychiatric world would contend that these issues were chemical imbalances or matters that had an undetermined organic cause–for which the cure was medication–the “Biblical Counseling” proponents would insist that this was all about confronting sin and guiding a person in repentance.

Compounding matters, the “Biblical Counseling” crowd would promote the idea that pretty much any Christian could be a “Biblical” counselor.

Having seen both approaches in the lives of various folks in the Christian world over the last three decades, and having been a student of the Scriptures–we’re talking Berean-style–for most of the last 4 decades–and having served my share of time as a teacher for most of those years, and having provided my share of counsel and having seen others provide it, here is my assessment….

(1) Biblical counseling is a tool in the toolbox.

(2) There are many times when Biblical counseling is helpful, as–irrespective of one’s mental health needs–we all need to be exhorted and admonished and pointed to the redeeming work of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

(3) Not just anyone can do it.

(4) There are many times when a person–even with the best of counsel–will still need psychotropic medications. Whether this is the result of that person’s sins, or whether sin has exacerbated an existing mental illness, or whether the mental illness is a completely separate animal, is irrelevant.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to know many people who are bipolar. Some of them are not Christian, some of them are Christian. But here’s the thing: there are two types of bipolar people I know: (a) those who take their medications and (b) those who do not. Those who DO take their meds tend to live otherwise responsible lives, even as their mood swings are hell at times. Those who do NOT? Their lives, down to the person, are total train wrecks: sexual excesses, financial irrationality, manic meltdowns, even suicide attempts. Sometimes, sadly, those suicide attempts are successful.

“Biblical counseling” alone never worked with them; for those who are Christian, what works is Biblical counseling combined with diligent and vigilant use of appropriate medications.

Yes, we must address sin issues; that goes for everyone, including you and me. As we do this, we must address that with respect to the Gospel, which includes the work of the Holy Spirit. I would also add that, in our broken world, in our broken bodies, sometimes that brokenness requires psychotropic medications.

Can sin be a cause of mental illness? I think it is possible. I believe that people can have bipolar or schizophrenic issues that sin may exacerbate. Over time, that may take enough of a toll on a person’s brain chemistry that such a one, irrespective of the quality of counsel they may receive, may have to take medications for the rest of his or her life.

Depression is also a fickle issue. I know of a fair number of mothers who suffered post-partem depression. Some of them toughed it out without meds–and their lives were miserable–and others took an anti-depressant for a season, which took some of the edge off their depression.

Fact is, when someone is in a spiral like that–depression, anxiety, manic stage, etc.–they are not in a capacity to reason with you. I’ve tried to counsel folks who were in that position, and it would not have mattered if you could prove to them that the sky is blue, they wouldn’t believe it. I’ve seen very excellent counselors fall short. Why? The issue in those cases wasn’t the quality of counsel: the client absolutely needed medications.

But once the clients took their prescribed meds, they were easy to reason with: Biblical counseling worked just fine with them, once they had the faculties to reason.

My point here: it’s not a question of either/or, as this is a both/and. Biblical counseling works, and sometimes that requires that the client take psychotropic meds in order to be able to receive the counsel.

I would never, ever, tell a client to ditch his or her meds. In fact, I would advise the client to take their meds as directed.

Now I’m going to explain why I have a problem with the idea that “anyone can do Biblical counseling”….

First off, I’ve been a teacher of the Scriptures–spanning children, teens, and adults–for many years. I am not the greatest teacher ever, nor am I the worst. I AM a stickler for sound doctrine, I DO relate the dynamics about which we read in Scripture to our lives today, I interpret the Old Testament with respect to the New Testament, I am a serious student of Scripture, I am observant of the various trends that emerge in evangelical circles, and I am an ardent observer of the fruits of those various trends, sometimes for better, other times for worse. I am a student of Church history and theology. I once had a pastor call me a “blue-collar scholar.”

For me, rightly dividing the word of truth is a very big deal, an imperative if you are going to teach.

And Biblical counseling is a form of teaching!

Would you accept financial counseling from someone who just filed Chapter 7? Of course not.

Would you take a math course from a teacher who failed algebra? Of course not.

Would you accept marital counseling from someone who had an affair?

Then no…it takes more than just being among the Redeemed to be qualified to counsel. You may give someone advice from time to time–even then, wisdom means knowing the value of shutting the heck up–but what I am talking about is farther-reaching than that.

To provide Biblical counsel, you have to know a lot about sin. You also have to know a lot about how the Gospel works in the life of the Believer.

You don’t learn that in a day. And you don’t just learn that by taking a few courses and getting a certificate. You have to wrestle with the Scriptures; you have to wrestle with your own sin, which everyone has; you have to know what it is like to fall down and get back up, over and over; you have to have lots of experience going to the throne of grace, knowing that you stepped in it. If you are married, you have to deal with your own baggage as well as that of your spouse. If you have children, you must succeed where some of the best people in the Bible failed.

But make no mistake: this isn’t something that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can do.

Having said that, I’ll stand by my point: Biblical counseling is a tool in the toolbox. And sometimes, in order to receive such counsel, one may need meds. Some may need meds for a small season (think post-partum), and others may need them for longer periods (think bipolar, schizophrenia).

But to say that it’s a question of either/or is a false dichotomy.

Ravi Zacharias Has Some ‘Splainin’ To Do

During my Thanksgiving break, I saw a post from Amy Smith (Watchkeep) regarding Ravi Zacharias. She labeled him a “con-man”, linking to this article, which–among other things–highlights a sex scandal as well as what appears to be his false representation of his academic background.

Warren Throckmorton–who has done a good job exposing such fraudulence at Patheos–also weighed in on Zacharias’ claims of having a terminal degree (i.e. a PhD or equivalent doctoral degree).

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

(1) While I did not follow Zacharias, I occasionally read some of his work. And, to his credit, his writing appeared generally solid, and he is–irrespective of his pedigree–what I would call a good public apologist for the Christian cause. As a public speaker, he is telegenic and appealing, and he tends to be, at face-value, very persuasive.

I use the term public apologist to delineate between folks like Zecharias and Vox Day (author of The Irrational Atheist,  tour de force against Dennett/Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris), who appeal to the masses outside of academia, and the academic apologists, like Norman Geisler and John Lennox, who provide strong academic, peer-reviewable materials on the subject. The latter are credentialed whereas the former may or may not be academic specialists.

What bothers me here is not the quality of Zacharias’ work; on its face, that is actually, from what I have seen, very good. He does not seem to promote false doctrine and in fact appeals to skeptics in ways that few others have.

And that is what makes his academic misrepresentation so galling: he has discredited himself by claiming a pedigree that was not even essential.

As Vox Day has shown, you don’t need to be a credentialed apologist to score a knockdown against the High Church Atheists; in The Irrational Atheist, he steamrolled Dawkins & Co. by simply testing the veracity of their claims.

Some might ask whether Zacharias’ honorary doctoral degrees–which allow him to use the term Dr.–let him off the hook.

Of course they don’t. To use an honorary doctorate to promote yourself as an expert in a field is black-letter fraud.

Earning a doctoral degree is an arduous pursuit: you have to qualify just to get into a program; you have years of both research and rigorous study; you have a comprehensive exam; you have to defend your thesis in front of a cadre of academics who will hit you with questions you never thought possible; you have to publish your dissertation.

The process usually takes at least four years. Many candidates end up “ABD” (All But Dissertation), as they hit snags that cause them to fail to complete the degree.

To call yourself “Dr.”, while not having an earned doctorate degree, is dishonest.

(2) The sex scandal is a very big deal, and there is no pretty way to spin that. Among the narrative is his threat to kill himself if he is outed. The scandal, and his handling of it, reflect a profound spiritual deficiency, not to mention a severe lack of stability in his life.

I say this not to beat on people who have mood swings (bipolar disorder) or even who struggle with depression, but when you are threatening suicide in order to manipulate others to do your bidding, then the last thing you need to be doing is public Gospel ministry.

(3) Given (1) and (2), no reputable publishing house should be putting his books into print. No serious Christian should be going to his conferences; no reputable church should be promoting his materials or his events.

There are two kinds of false teachers.

(a) There are false teachers who promote heresy. These types may deny the Fundamentals–such as the Deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the perfect life of Jesus, the Substitutionary Atonement, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and His eventual Second Coming. Or they may deny the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Or they may deny the Trinity. Or they may promote New Age or Gnosticism. Or Prosperity Theology. Or Feminist Theology. This type of false teacher teaches things that aren’t compatible with Scripture.

(b) There are false teachers who live immoral lives. They may have sex scandals for which they must be held accountable. They may be fraudulent in their personal or business dealings. They may be malicious or spiteful or abusive. They may be given to greed or other vices (recreational drugs, excessive alcohol).

I don’t like to throw the “false teacher” label around haphazardly. There are many ministers with whom I have substantial differences, but whom I would not tag as “false teachers”.

But Zacharias, from the available public information, has a serious problem. He appears to have misrepresented his academic accomplishments. In the world of academia, that’s a very big flippin’ deal; I’ve seen professors–who had not completed their PhDs even though they listed it on their vitae–get fired on the spot for what Zacharias has done.

And his sex scandal, let’s just say he owes the Body of Christ–which has enriched his wallet over the years–a candid answer for his conduct.

Even worse: Big Christianity owes the Body an answer as to why they keep promoting his work and his events, in spite of his academic and moral record.