Paul's Passing Thoughts

David Powlison’s Eisegesis Kingdom

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on July 15, 2010

“Indeed,  David  Powlison believes  that the church  ‘forgets things’ and  apparently, the most recent thing it forgot about is the true gospel. But never fear, CCEF’s  ‘research and development’ team is hard at work  setting things  straight, until the next discovery that will be ‘tested’  in a local church near you.”

“It’s just no big secret that Powlison believes that everything having breath upon the earth can contribute to  biblical understanding, even psychiatry.”

As a former rabid advocate of  biblical counseling, I now have grave  concerns about where it is going and what it produces. One particular red flag  caused me to start thinking in 1998, and I have been cautiously observing ever  since. What was the red flag?  While the church was barley absorbing the  earthquake caused by two men of diverse theology, Jay Adams and Dave  Hunt, then came the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF)  saying that both of them were wrong. Though Jay Adams was on the scene  making waves before Dave Hunt concerning so-called “Christian psychology” and his contention against it, Dave Hunt was really the one who broke  down the barriers, making a wide road for Jay Adams and his objective,  biblical alternative to the integration of Freudian depth psychology with the  pure milk of the word. But at the time,  I was thinking that when you already  have a reformation of sorts going on and someone comes along saying that  they have one also; “hey! not them, us,” something  just didn’t smell right.  As  I have observed the debate over the years and where it has all ended up, I hear Ozzy Osborne singing “Crazy Train” in the background.

In today’s American church culture, one sits in stupefied bewilderment as  you look at the plain sense of  Scripture in comparison to what the theological  rock stars of our age are teaching and propagating. How did this happen?  Simple, eisegesis verses exegesis;  and the capital city of the Eisegesis kingdom is CCEF,  and its reigning king is David Powlison.  As the most recognized  leader in the CCEF organization (the counseling wing of Westminster Seminary), he passionately proclaims the sufficiency and final authority of God’s  word in counseling,  but I have a few questions. My questions come from an  interview posted on the “Nine Marks” blog; comments by Powlison that are  indicative of his counseling philosophy and often repeated by him:,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID2448362,00.html

He is quoted as follows:

“The church forgets things.  The church rediscovers things. But when it  rediscovers something, it’s different because  it’s  always in a different sociocultural-historical moment, and  different  forces are at work.”

What church is he talking about? Christ said that He would build His church  and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I assume that Powlison isn’t  speaking for the whole church and all of its history. However, the bigger  question is how Powlison thinks that truth is “rediscovered.”  But first, the  idea that the truth, once rediscovered is “different” because of the “sociocultural-historical moment,” should give one serious pause. What in the Ozzie Osborne does that mean?! The Apostle Peter addressed his primary concern  in regard to what Christians might forget.  As a matter of fact, because he knew  his departure was near, it was the one teaching that he was emphasizing that  he did not want them to forget. If they didn’t forget that teaching, it would  enable them to have a rich entry into the kingdom of heaven (2Peter 1:1-16).  A “rich” entry into the kingdom of heaven? Sounds pretty good to me! If one  is fearful of what the church may have forgotten, they should look where the  Bereans looked to hold Paul’s (the apostle) feet to the fire, the Scriptures.  Also, in regard to some concern over the “socio-cultural-historical moment,”  the Apostle Paul and the Hebrew writer both cited Old Testament Scripture without any additional references outside of Scripture to validate its New  Testament application, saying the very purpose of the prior writings (2-4 thousand years beforehand in some cases) were for that present-day teaching  (1Cor. 10:6, 10:11, Heb. 11:1-12:1).

But it is clear from many of his writings that Powlison believes the study  of general revelation is critical to a correct understanding of Scripture and its  application. By general revelation, I mean anything that  (according to Powlison) “God might have  shown other people.” Powlison’s concept of  “recycling” is well documented  and I am not going to expound on it here. Suffice to say that in the same  interview mentioned above, he said the following:

“Caring for the soul, which we try [try?] to do in biblical counseling, is not  new. Two of the great pioneers in church history would be Augustine and  Gregory the Great. Even secular people will credit Augustine’s Confessions  as pioneering the idea that there is an inner life  [ in essence, contemporary Depth Psychology verses Behavioristic  Psychology].  Augustine did an unsurpassed  job of tearing apart the various ways in which people’s desires become  disordered” [like Freud’s theory that people are primarily driven by desire. Powlisons speech is always saturated with psycho-therapeutic references].


“Gregory wrote the earliest textbook on pastoral care. He pioneered diverse  ways of dealing with a fearful person, a brash and impulsive person, an angry  person, an overly passive person. He broke out these different struggles and  sought to apply explicitly biblical, Christ-centered medicine—full of Christ,  full of grace, full of gospel, and full of the hard call of God’s Word to the  challenges of life.”

Besides not being impressed with Augustine for various reasons in addition  to his anti-Semitism and allegorical approach to Scripture, the only Gregory  the Great that I know of is the former Catholic Pope of A.D 540.  Again, I  would not be comfortable with gleaning “insight” from a Roman Catholic Pope for purposes of  biblical counsel. It’s just no big secret that Powlison  believes that everything having breath upon the earth can contribute to biblical understanding, even psychiatry. We see a hint of this in the same  article from Nine Marks:

“The modern psychologies present a tremendously stimulating, informative, and threatening challenge. These psychologies are stimulating because  they push us to ask questions that we may not have already considered.  They’re informational because they are very observant. They’re threatening  because they are a self-conscious alternative to the church and would love to  take over the care of souls. They’re willing to do our job for us, letting us be  a religious club that does good works while they deal with the deep stuff and  the long stuff.”

It is clear that Powlison believes psychology and many other disciplines of  non-spiritual discernment (notice how he concedes that they deal with the  “deep stuff” while we only partake in “good works”) are indispensable in a  full understanding of the Scriptures. If you doubt that, here is what he is  quoted as saying, again, in the same article:

“CCEF is also unique even within the wider biblical counseling movement  in two more ways. One is what I call “R&D”—a research and development  purpose. We don’t believe that saying “biblical counseling” means that we  have figured it all out. We are a work in progress. We have a core commitment  to push, to develop, to build, to tackle a new problem.”

Powlison then explains further what the strength of this “research and  development” is:

“CCEF has five full-time faculty members who share a wonderful synergy,  in part because you have people who all have a dual expertise—a primary  commitment to Bible and theology, coupled with some other expertise. Our  director, Dr. Tim Lane, was a pastor for years. He brings a sensitivity to how  counseling ministry links to the other aspects of church life. Dr. Mike Emlet  is an M.D. who had a family practice for years. He’s the scientist who brings  an awareness of mind-body issues like psychiatric diagnosis and medications.  Dr. Ed Welch has a PhD in neuro-psychology and a burning interest in the  nuances of actual counseling moments and how counseling actually happens.  Winston Smith stays very current with the psycho therapeutic world. He has  given his life to issues of marriage and family and group dynamics. My  graduate work (besides Bible and theology) was in the history of psychiatry,  history of science, and history of medicine. I am only just speaking of the  faculty and not speaking of various members of the much wider counseling  staff who have various interests. It’s a very rich environment with a common  commitment to biblical counseling.”

Powlison continually admits that CCEF endeavors to test every theory it  can find with Scripture, believing that there is an element of truth in all of it  that will lend more understanding to the Scriptures. While this should scare  the Ozzy Osborne out of every thinking Christian; instead, Christians are  immediately guzzling down everything that comes out of CCEF without any  hesitation whatsoever. When you think of the Apostle Paul himself being  deprived of such (carte blanche acceptance from the likes of the Bereans and  access to “R and D”), it baffles the mind. Furthermore, this approach (R&D)  is what developed the  gospel-driven life movement as we know it today.  Otherwise known as  gospel sanctification,  it has its own concept of the  gospel, its own hermeneutic, its own theory of change, and its own experience. It is the “Christo-centered” approach Powlison speaks of in the same  interview. Let there be no doubt about it, much of the present-day  gospel-driven (or “New Calvinism”)  theology is the brain child of the CCEF eisegesis soup factory  (through Powlison’s “Dynamics of Biblical Change”) and the brand is chock-full of everything that Popes and Sigmund Freud have to offer and deemed  biblical by CCEF “experts.”

So then, In classic CCEF form, and their scientific approach to biblical  truth, it should be no surprise that the book that articulates Powlison’s  Dynamics of Biblical Change, “How People Change,” by Paul Tripp, was   tested in a number of churches before it was published in 2006 via  a  pilot  program of  sorts (“How People Change”, [“How Christ Changes us by His  Grace”] Leader’s guide, pg. F.3. Copyright 2003; published in 2005). Pray tell, why would you need to test a studious work from the word of God? It is  either rightly divided or it isn’t, why would you need to test it?

Indeed, David Powlison believes that the church “forgets things,” and apparently, the most recent thing  it forgot about is the true gospel. But never fear,  CCEF’s “research and development” team is hard at work setting  things  straight, until the next discovery that will be “tested” in a local church near  you.

So are some results in? Yes, I think so. You ever heard of Neuro-linguistic  Programming? Many psychologists consider it to be the most powerful and  effective program for changing people available today. This alone, when  Powlison’s mindset is considered, makes it very improbable that CCEF has  not considered the possibility of some biblical truth to be found in NLP.  Information on NLP is easy to get, a Google search will quickly produce more  material than you could read in a year.

Advocates of NLP have noted the similarities and value of CCEF’s  teachings in regard to NLP, especially the writings of Paul David Tripp,
whose book “How People Change,” as I mentioned before, is based upon David Powlison’s  “Dynamics of Biblical Change.”  Tripp is sometimes quoted by Armand  Kruger, the director of South Africa’s Institute of Neuro-Semantics, because  of NLP concepts that can be found in “War of Words,” a book also written by  Tripp.  This shouldn’t be a surprise because NLP is the study of how words  and communication have the power to bring about change.  Likewise, the  importance of asking ourselves certain questions to evaluate the inner-man is  primarily a NLP concept,  and strongly emphasized as well in Paul Tripp’s  book, “How People Change” (Not to mention many more uncanny paralells).

David Field, a UK theologian and seminary professor who advocates the  integration of NLP with Reformed theology, and especially counseling, quotes  David Powlison extensively. He also confirmed his belief  in the similarities  of  both teachings (CCEF and NLP) in a personal correspondence between the  two of us. Why would this be a surprise?  In the above cited interview, Powlison openly admits that Ed Welch has a PhD in neuro-psychology. NLP  is a major component of neuro-psychology, this is practically common knowl-

edge.  Furthermore, in churches closely associated with CCEF, the NLP  concept of visualizing  possible future events and re-framing them (or in this  case, using the feelings invoked to reorient the desires of the heart),  can be  found in teaching series using Paul Tripp’s “War of Words.” An actual copy  of a study sheet (that advocates visualization) associated with one of these studies can  found here:

Click to access homework%20pdf.pdf

(Note how the homework  assignment directly violates Paul’s imperative to think on what Is true [Phil.
4:8] ).

In addition, during a face to face meeting with myself and elders of  a church  closely associated with CCEF, the elders would not deny that NLP was  integrated into their teachings or the teachings of CCEF, of which their  lessons were based on.  They would not even say that they were unaware of  any facts either way.  Let me be clear, they would not even say: “We don’t  know.” “We doubt it.” “no, that’s ridiculous,” or even, “your stupid,” though  I specifically asked them to tell me the latter.

What is in the CCEF soup? Hard telling, but the results are beginning to  show.  As I look out on the present reformed landscape, I have to believe the  infamous Jim Jones would weep with envy. Powlison routinely espouses  concepts that directly contradict the plain sense of Scripture, and nobody  blinks, but rather run to the vat with hoses equipped with motor-driven  suction. Why is it unreasonable to suggest that CCEF be held to the same  standard that Paul was? Furthermore, in the same cited interview, he boldly
proclaims that he wrote a whole book (“Speak Truth in Love”) based on  removing the definite article “the” from Ephesians 4:15. No English translation does that, indicating that the text speaks of Scriptural truth specifically,  not the “big” and “little” truth that Powlison speaks of to build a case for “all  truth is God’s truth” and problem-centered counseling.  This can also be seen  clearly in the context of the text, where just prior to the conjunction, Paul is  talking about false doctrine.

I close with a suggestion for a “research and development” wing within the  church. The apostles had one. You can find it in Acts 6:1-7. It entailed  appointing men to oversee the needs of the church so elders could prayerfully  search the Scriptures while holding each other accountable. I believe that  verse seven speaks to the results. To suggest that the apostles also perused all  the wisdom of that day to aid in the process of the “ministry of the word”  (verse 4), is ridiculous and silly. Peter himself, the rock of the church,  advocated no more than the “PURE” milk of the word (nothing mixed in, in  case you missed the point). Pastors who let CCEF indiscriminately pump  information into the minds of their people are asleep at the switch, and worse.

Again, the Bereans would not even give the Apostle Paul a pass and were  complimented by the Holy Spirit accordingly (Acts 17:11). Additionally, Paul  advocated no less for even himself (1Cor. 11:1); therefore, who in the Ozzy Ozzborn is David Powlison?


4 Responses

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  1. Doug said, on July 16, 2010 at 2:28 AM

    What unnecessarily long-winded, wholly surface and illogical drivel. It’s clear you see yourself in a position where you can accurately comment on Powlison and CCEF. Let me be the first to tell you something that I hope you figure out soon: you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. There are so many surface arguments here it’s impossible even to start. Let me guess, you think you’re competent to head some “R&D” wing?

    “Pray tell, why would you need to test a studious work from the word of God? It is either rightly divided or it isn’t, why would you need to test it?”

    This just screams out your incompetence. You really don’t know the difference between something that’s true from the word of God, how that truth is presented and how that truth is received? Your assumption is that if it’s from the word of God it will be warmly received? Read your own Bible, your view is so contrary to every occasion where someone hears truth and denies it. Do I really have to take the time to explain something like that to you?

    This is one of the most imbecilic things I’ve read. Stop writing and start learning. You’re not even close to even an armchair authority on anything you write on and it shows loud and clear.


    • pauldohse said, on July 16, 2010 at 3:54 AM

      Doug, CCEF tested Paul Tripp’s material in several churches before the release of the book because they knew the material (teachings) are controversial and unorthodox. I was a member at one of the churches that participated in the “test” program. When the class began, I was participating in another Sunday school class, but my wife attended. What she was taught is clearly an antinomian, “let go and let God” form of Quietism. The leaders of the church I attended knew I would not approve of the material, and were covertly teaching it to my wife; at the time, I trusted them.

      Paul Tripp’s book, which is a treatise on Gospel Sanctification, is the articulation of David Powlison’s “Dynamics of Biblical Change.” Gospel Sanctification is an antinomian doctrine, teaching that Christ obeys the Law in our place, and that Christians have no role in upholding the Law of God. The doctrine synthesizes justification and sanctification (hence: “Gospel Sanctification”), so therefore, our role in sanctification is the same as it is in justification: next to nothing. The doctrine is sometimes referred to as “New Calvinism” because it extrapolates the tenets of monergistic salvation into sanctification, making it monergistic as well. In fact, my wife was taught that synergistic sanctification was a false gospel. I spent hundreds of hours in study on this doctrine and discussed it in-depth with the elders of the church that hosted the pilot study. I know what I am talking about. You are probably nicer than your penmanship would indicate, but clueless.

      Furthermore, Tripp, Powlison, and many others, continue to pretend that they are orthodox evangelical biblicists, which is disingenuous. Also, their haughty attitude that they are appointed by God to save the evangelical church from the false gospel of synergistic sanctification is evident and repulsive.


      > —–Original Message—– >


  2. donnarms said, on July 16, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    Paul, you do not provide a way to communicate with you privately. Would you be willing to communicate with me via e-mail?

    Donn R Arms


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