Paul's Passing Thoughts

Wed. Night Bible Study Makes Jay Adams Look Less Radical

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 6, 2011

“That’s his words, not ours. Therefore, our group concluded that even with our limited knowledge of biblical counseling, we could, in fact, help this Christian—and more than the ‘experts’ that he cited in the article.”

An extraordinary article was published in Christianity Today and published online yesterday ( http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/schizophrenic.html ). It is the testimony of a Christian struggling with Schizophrenia. The article, printed out, is six pages. I took the article with me to our church’s Wed. night Bible study and used it for open discussion.

After passing out copies to each parishioner, I informed them that we would be reading through the article together and stopping for discussion when warranted. As facilitator, I opened with the following question: “Is God’s word sufficient for just the ‘normal’ problems of life, or is it useful for deeper problems?” I then began reading as the others followed along.

The author writing his testimony opened with the following statement:

“I used my cane to hit the handicapped door opener. My hands shook and shadows danced on the wall. In the back of my mind, I saw train tracks. My head lay on the rail. A whistle blew, and I closed my eyes. It blew again and again. My eyes were shut tight. I was anxious and scared. Do suicides go to heaven?”

The parishioners seemed to be catching-up a little bit on this unorthodox Bible study I sprang on them, so I offered another interpretive / discussion question:

“If you were waiting for your car to be serviced at the auto repair center, and the person sitting next to you saw you reading your Bible, and asked that question, would you have an answer?”  One member said “yes” and offered a pretty good theologically sound answer, which prompted my next question: “That’s good, but I’m wondering, should we see this as a divine appointment? Should we ask him, ‘what is going on in your life that would prompt such a question?’ I’m wondering, is this how a lot of people get saved? Is this how churches grow? Isn’t the gospel, if you think about it, problem centered?” The group agreed and suggested that such opportunities should be used to gain involvement in people’s lives. After all, this guy needs hope, right? And what does the Bible say about that? “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1Peter 3:15).

While waiting for his doctor, the author shared what he was thinking:

“I sat in a comfortable leather chair. I thought of the life I could have lived. The life I lost.”

Here was my next question to the group: “If this Christian expressed this thought to the apostle Paul, what do you think Paul would say to him?” A deacon in our church immediately suggested some thoughts on  Philippians 3:8 where Paul said he considered his past life rubbish when compared to the gospel—so, “what’s so special about this guy’s past life?” Hmmm, interesting thought, no? The deacon’s wife then pointed to Philippians 3:13,14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” At this point the group was very engaged and insightful observations from the Scriptures started coming in rapid fire. The group agreed as a whole that this line of thinking was not a helpful focus for our not so hypothetical counselee. We continued to read:

“A small, balding man in penny loafers came to greet me. He wore a Harris Tweed jacket with no tie—a failed attempt to set his patients at ease.”

We did not park long here, but I suggested that our counselee doesn’t know what the intentions of this doctor was in how he dressed. But, let’s say that it was his intentions; how does the counselee know it didn’t work for others? And would that be necessarily wrong? Could this indicate more unbiblical thinking? Probably. I then brought back to mind the author’s opening statement and directed the group to Philippians 4:8,9:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

In light of this passage, should the counselee be thinking (the word is actually more along the lines of “dwelling”) about his head being on a railroad track with a train approaching? In fact, was that “true”? Are those thoughts “lovely”? The group’s response: “Obviously not.” Then came my next question regarding what Paul said the results of right thinking and right doing would be (“And the God of peace will be with you.”):

“We would all agree that this Christian needs “peace,” but does this promise pertain to our counselee even though he’s schizophrenic?” Their answer: “Absolutely!” Hmmmm, interesting.

Then came a very light moment, and a lightbulb moment when we discussed the first question the therapist asked our counselee:

“Well, David, how do you feel?”

My facilitating question was: “In light of what we have discussed, shouldn’t the doctor’s question be ‘How are you thinking—rather than ‘How are you feeling?’ If one knows how this Christian is thinking—wouldn’t his feelings be a given?’”

The group wholeheartedly agreed via laughter. Their smiling faces also seemed to say, as they rechecked the manuscript: “Doctors get paid for this?”

We then continued to read:

“It took me a moment to collect my thoughts. “I still see shadows everywhere. They seem to watch me. Whenever I close my eyes I see myself without a head. Sometimes it feels like invisible knives are swirling around me. The medicine is making it hard for me to walk, and often I feel like I am falling when I am just standing still. The suicidal thoughts are getting better. Just ideas, no actual plans.”

This statement evoked some questions in our minds: Does wrong thinking lead to bad feelings, and do those bad feelings then start to produce further negative thinking, with further negative feelings? The counselee is now using “[it] seems” and “it feels” as if we can almost see the downward spiral right here in this manuscript. Also, can the drugs really do the counselee any good while he is thinking this way?

We continued to read:

“Dr. Stanley nodded and scribbled something on my chart.

‘I see. I think you are doing better than the last time we met. How are you spending your time?’

‘I sleep most of the time. When I’m awake I play my Xbox. Sometimes I read and listen to music.’

‘Do you get out of the house much?’

‘No.’

I directed the group back to Philippians 4:8,9. Is this “doing” (sleeping and Xbox “most” of the time) advisable for this counselee right now? Again, regardless of his condition, does the promise of these verses and James 1:25 still stand? We think it does.

I then directed them to page two and read the following from what the author wrote:

“A little knowledge can be a frightening thing. I soon realized, for instance, that psychiatrists often go to school for 24 years so they can prescribe drugs that, according to some research, are only marginally better than a placebo. Almost all antidepressants increase the recipient’s risk for suicide. Why did I trust these people? Why did I pay $160 an hour to see them?”

That’s his words, not ours. Therefore, our group concluded that even with our limited knowledge of biblical counseling, we could, in fact, help this Christian—and more than the “experts” that he cited in the article.

Others who were reading ahead brought up another important issue from the following excerpt:

“While some members of our conservative church were supportive, it was amazing how often our questions were met with skepticism and hostility: ‘Are you secretly gay?’ ‘Do you have some unconfessed sin?’ ‘Are you possessed by a demon?’ ‘How dare you question God!’ The range of suspicions was staggering.”

Regarding this excerpt—our group’s conclusion: 1. Counseling /discipleship must be done the right way. 2. This is indicative of Job’s three friends: “C’mon job, confess your sins—you will be healed and we can all go back home.” 3. Christians must resist laziness in regard to helping other Christians (i.e., quick fixes and pat answers). 4. Christians must be gentle, humble, willing to sacrifice self, and willing to invest in others.

In, or around 1972, Jay Adams published a book entitled “Competent to Counsel.” The book introduced a radical concept to contemporary Christianity; namely, that the average Christian has what he needs in the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to help others with the deep problems of life. Today, Dr. Adams and Donn Arms offer training that equips Christians to do just that through the Institute of Nouthetic Studies ( www.nouthetic.org ). Our church’s men’s ministry is implementing this training into our curriculum. We trust that it will make us better husbands, better fathers, better ministers of the word, and better evangelist. In Adams’ introduction to the program, he suggests that Christians have more in their discipleship bag than what they think—after Wednesday night, we would have to agree. Also, Dr. Jay’s contention is not looking so radical after all.

What We Don’t Need

We don’t need counseling that taints the “pure milk of the word” ( 1Peter 2:2) with those who ask the wrong questions (“How do you feel” verses “What do you think”). Though feelings in the Christian life are very important, the primary purpose of medication is telling in regard to other counseling disciplines. Neither should God’s word be tainted with those who make feelings the primary discipline through which all other spiritual disciples flow (i.e., John Piper). Nor do we need to solicit ancient philosophers and look for God’s truth in everything that crawls upon the Earth (i.e., CCEF). Furthermore, we do not need to integrate mysticism with the pure milk (i.e., NANC). Moreover, those who cry “Christ-centered counseling, NOT problem centered counseling” miss the point: the gospel itself is problem-centered. The good news addresses two major problems: sin, and separation from God. We are ambassadors on an alien planet, and those in the kingdom of darkness look for relief from their pain, and the happiness Christ talked about in the Sermon on the Mount—but they often do not understand the source of that pain.

Lastly, this excerpt, “Doctor, it has been three years. Will I ever get better?….’you need to accept that you will always be this way’ (the statement by his doctor was never refuted by the Author),” gives us pause because Romans 8:37 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Certainly, Jay Adams is right; we have to believe that Christians have more hope in our bags than that!

paul

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