Progressive pastors never miss an opportunity to enrage the fundamentalists, and the fundamentalists never miss the opportunity to be enraged. Such was the case recently on Twitter when a progressive pastor of whom I have never heard posted a tweet encouraging people to attend churches where the pastor goes to therapy, and encourages the congregation to go to therapy. The result? An onslaught of fundamentalists decrying this pastor’s statement, saying in essence, “all you need for mental health is the Bible.”
I’m going to be real about this. If I were to ever find myself in a position where I needed therapy, I would probably remove myself from the pulpit. I would feel that I would not be fit for Spiritual leadership, and that the church deserved better. But that’s an expectation I place on myself.
As for therapy and the Bible, let’s begin by setting the stage by defining what the Bible is and what the Bible teaches.
First, the Bible is the inspired word of God, penned by prophets and apostles who had God’s word given to them either through vision, angelic message or by direct dictation by God Himself. You can see the inspirational process in action when you read Revelation. The Apostle John, banished to the Isle of Patmos, saw the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Jesus then told John what to write. Throughout the book of Revelation, John sees things and tries to describe them. Angels tell him what to write, and at times, the Lord dictates to Him as well. However, the entire thing came from God, and thus is God’s word.
The Bible, being God’s word, is all we need for faith and practice. It’s all we need to learn more about God, to build our faith, and to live our lives in accordance with that faith. However, to say that all we do is drawn from scripture is an error. Not all church traditions come from scripture, neither are all of our personal choices.
Scripture did not teach the church to open the worship service with Doxology, recite a creed, do a responsive reading, sing three hymns, collect an offering and receive a sermon from the professionally paid pastor. There are a lot of beautiful traditions in the church that I believe praise and honor God, but many of these traditions are not explicitly laid out in scripture. Some point to certain passages and say that it can be inferred that these traditions were in place among the apostles, but that is a mighty big assumption to make.
Since we find that, in the church, we can make decisions and do things that scripture did not specifically teach, but still honor God in so doing, it follows we can do the same thing with our personal lives. Scripture says very little about how to pick a career, how to choose a college, or whether to send your kids to public school or private school. Scripture does teach us how to work (do all for the glory of God), but it does not tell us how to go about choosing what kind of work to do. The lesson is that you can still honor God by making these choices.
Does that mean that scripture lacks direction for believers? As Paul would say, “No, in no wise!”
Scripture was not given to teach us how to do church, how to live life, how to make money, etc. Scripture was given to teach us how to have a right relationship with God. And that right relationship comes through two steps, (1) learning, understanding and accepting the Gospel as truth, and (2) repentance and faith.
The central message of the Bible is the Gospel. All scripture either sets up the Gospel, illustrates the Gospel, explains the Gospel, or declares the Gospel. The Gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Jesus Christ died for our sins, meaning that His death on the cross satisfied the judgment and wrath of God for man’s sin, thus we can walk away scot-free from His judgment, if we believe. Christ took that wrath upon Himself and shielded us from it. The fact that He rose again proves his power and victory over death. By defeating death, He brought in eternal life, so we can have the confident expectation (hope) that we will be received into His Kingdom (Heaven) when we die.
The Gospel teaches that I am broken, that I am a sinner, that my rebellious and selfish choices have inflicted harm upon myself, and those around me. However, through the Gospel, Jesus can heal my broken spirit, wash away my sin, and restore me and those around me from the harm I’ve caused.
Since many mental health issues stem from the issues of sin and brokenness, it is entirely possible, and very common to find healing in the Gospel and the Gospel alone. As a pastor, I counsel individuals through this process. I can, using only the Bible, show the source of the pain an individual is in, show how comfort and healing can be found in the Gospel, and give my congregant hope. I can, from the scriptures, demonstrate God’s divine purpose in suffering, and in so doing provide comfort for the one seeking my help.
And while I have seen people healed through this ministry multiple times, I can also say that there is a time when one needs to seek a qualified therapist who believes the Bible. I say this because I can demonstrate everything I have listed, but I cannot teach someone how to identify and control triggers.
In the Bible, I can show hope, but I cannot manage a chemical imbalance, or the brain patterns of someone whose mind has been altered by repeated mental, emotional and physical trauma.
In the Bible, I can listen and be non-judgmental, but sometimes people want to talk to a stranger for another view, another set of eyes and expertise.
And that is okay. I have on a couple of occasions referred people to qualified counselors who hold a Biblical worldview. And those folks got the help they need.
So, if you’re having issues, let’s talk. If I cannot help you, or you need more intense therapy, let’s get you to a counselor.
So, yes, Virginia, you can go to therapy.