Dave and the Girl

I remember several horrific incidents occurring during my teens. There was the murder trial that seemed to bring the ills of deep, dark Appalachia to our little town. Three young men, “men” being a misnomer, bludgeoned a 17-year old girl to death for no clear or acceptable reason, leaving her along the railroad tracks. As surprising as the murder had been, I was astonished when one of our town’s star athletes raped a girl later that summer and went about town as if he’d done nothing wrong.

The following poem is from a number of years ago, and resulted from a writing prompt in a poetry exercise. At the time, I had been outraged by the seemingly routine incidents of date rape across the college campuses of America. The following is a fictional incident.

Dave and I caught her.
We were out of breath
from chasing her down the
shore of the lake.
Dave pinned her
up against a tree and
wouldn’t let her go
no matter what I said.

Sun would be up soon.
I kept hoping old man Snyder
would come out
and start down the lake
to cast for his lunch.

Dave was pulling up
the front of her dress
to the point where
he shouldn’t. I

wretched just as he
reached inside her skirt.

I could not stop shaking.
This is just not right!
Just not right!

Right before Dave put his
hands where they

don’t belong
I struck him hard in the
back of his head with a rock.

Dave fell flat on his back
at the feet of the girl,
eyes staring up, not moving.

The girl was grinning,
almost sickly glad
what I’d done.

She kicked Dave in the side
and spit in his face, then
squeezed my hand and
whispered thank you
and ran along the edge
of the lake,
disappearing in the
morning fog.

©2017 Steven Barto

History of the Church Part Four: Dissension and the Protestant Reformation

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

religious dissension : discord, strife, conflict, contention, variance; a state or condition marked by a lack of agreement or harmony; implies essential lack of harmony producing quarreling and antagonism.

THE CHURCH NEEDED DRASTIC reformation even before Martin Luther came on the scene. However, before Luther could hope to affect reformation in the church, he had to resolve his personal struggle with an overpowering sense of sinfulness. Although he lived a holy life of obedience, he feared being perpetually tainted by unconfessed sin. As Gonzalez wrote, “The very sacrament of penance, which was supposed to bring relief to his sense of sinfulness, actually exacerbated it, leaving him in a state of despair” (1). I believe Luther had to resolve his consternation over Romans 1:17 and come to understand the righteousness of God before he could be properly oriented toward reformation of the church. Following the example of great monastic leaders, Luther frequently punished his body and denied himself even the simplest of comforts in hopes of earning his salvation. Having an a-ha moment, he came to understand it is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, that we become clothed in righteousness (Gen. 15:6; John 3:18; Rom. 3:22). I can understand Luther’s fearful notion that his confession was somehow incomplete or inadequate.

Luther wrote in the preface to his Commentary on Romans, “God judges according to what is at the bottom of the heart, and for this reason, His law makes its demand on the inmost heart and cannot be satisfied with works” (2). He added, “Grace means properly God’s favor, or the good-will God bears us, by which He is disposed to give us Christ” (3). Luther once wrote that many have taken the Christian faith to be a simple and easy matter and have even numbered it among the virtues. This is because they have not really experienced it, nor have they tested the great strength of faith. We see faint rumblings of Luther’s objection to papal indulgences and penance in the following sentence: “If [the servant of Christ] fails in faith, he will prove himself a tyrant who terrifies the people by his authority and takes delight in being a bully” (4). Regarding Romans 1:17, Luther wrote, “God’s righteousness is that by which we become worthy of His great salvation, or through which we are (accounted) righteous before Him… the righteousness of God is the cause of our salvation” (5).

It Begins

Luther initially studied law but decided to pursue a theology degree at the University of Erfurt in 1505. He becoming a monk after the Order of Saint Augustine and was ordained in 1507. Luther began a teaching career at the University of Wittenberg. His professors at the University emphasized free will over reason in arriving at theological truth, placing greater emphasis on free will in initiating salvation. We can see how this school of thought contributed to Luther’s struggle with how to best obtain salvation and righteousness. He began his first series of lectures as a young professor in 1513. He understood how a sinner could be received by a holy God when he grasped the implication of Romans 1:17.

The Reformation dramatically began on October 31, 1517 when Luther published his 95 Theses. When Luther burst on the scene, he was a rather obscure professor at the University of Wittenberg of mixed reputation. Some described him as “the ogre who destroyed the unity of the church, the wild boar that trampled the Lord’s vineyard, a renegade monk” (6). Others considered him a great hero who, through his protestations, took on a corrupt and apostate church and restored preaching of the pure gospel. Much is owed to Luther, who challenged the practice of selling papal indulgences to church members for absolution of their sins and entry into heaven. Although this was the impetus for Luther’s protest, he ultimately questioned the overall authority of the Catholic Church.

The following is Luther’s opening statement to the 95 Theses:

“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place…[H]e asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the in name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen” (7).

Luther’s The Bondage of the Will provides information concerning the age-old debate over free will. Luther believed original sin precludes a true sense of free will, but this writer believes Luther’s argument is a theological one as opposed to a question of yes or no, left or right, up or down, given the circumstance. He said, “Paul, writing to the Romans, enters upon his argument for the grace of God against ‘free-will’ as follows: ‘The wrath of God’ (he says) ‘is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness'” (Rom. 1:18) (8). Specific to Luther’s struggle with understanding the righteousness of God, it would appear he applied a degree of German mysticism, which is rooted in Dionysian spirituality. Although Luther was at times pessimistic of humanity and had a sense of “…an infinite abyss between God and man,” he understood the remedy to be acceptance of God’s imputed righteousness which comes from an inward discovery (9). Heinze indicates Luther’s cohorts likely progressed from an Augustinian view of justification as a process that requires the sinner’s cooperation, to the belief that it was “…a forensic act in which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner” (10).

Gonzalez notes a mounting storm against Luther. John Eck and Luther met in a debate. It was during this event that Luther dared to declare “…a Christian with the support of Scripture has more authority than all popes and councils against that support” (11). The church responded to Luther’s attacks in January 1521 with the papal bull Exsurge Domine, calling for his excommunication. The church demanded that all books and papers written by Luther be burned. Luther was given sixty days to submit to Roman authority. Some of Luther’s supporters chose to burn the books of Luther’s critics. Luther set fire to the bull. He refused to recant at the Diet of Worms in 1521, stating much of what he had written was basic Christian doctrine. Despite his fervent opposition to Catholic doctrine, Luther never intended to establish a new church. He merely wanted to reform the existing church, bringing it into conformity with Pauline doctrine (12). In 1522, Luther released the following statement: “Let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold… together with the universal church, the one universal teaching of Christ, who is our only master” (13). Luther died at Eisleben (Saxsony), Germany, on February 18, 1546.

Relevance Today

The year 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Many believers, and even some notable scholars and church leaders, question whether the Reformation is still relevant. Moreover, the Reformation still matters today because the gospel alone is still the only hope for sinners. Justification is not an “ongoing process” tied to faithful participation in sacraments or any other “work” undertaken by believers. Justification is by grace alone (Sola gratia) through faith alone (Sola fide) in Christ alone (Sola Christus). Any teaching to the contrary is anathema to the biblical gospel itself. Lastly, the reformation is still vital today because the church is still in need of reformation.

Our only authority is the Scripture (Sola scriptura), not an earthly church, office, or papacy. Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, with evangelism and Christian charity losing their dominant influence. To lose sight of the primacy of core Christian fundamentals is tantamount to foregoing the Great Commission and Peter’s apologetics mandate (see 1 Pet. 3:15). Science, scientism, secularism, and moral relativism have collectively conspired to quash any public expression of religious faith. This is a private matter, they say. Roman Catholicism remains the most visible Christian church worldwide. The papacy has drifted far from core Christian doctrine regarding grace, salvation, forgiveness, and other critical matters. Additionally, many who object to “organized religion” cite the Roman Catholic Church (Vatican) for its unprecedented accumulation of wealth and power. According to Zadock Thomas, the Vatican Bank has assets worth approximately $33 billion (14).

Eberhardt (1933-2019) was a former Roman Catholic seminarian who came to know Christ as his Savior and founded Gospel Outreach International to Roman Catholics. Eberhardt’s statement regarding how Catholics perceive salvation in the Protestant Church speaks volumes: “I used to think because the Protestants have no ordained priesthood, the Protestants have no means of distributing the grace of the Sacraments, which are necessary for salvation” (15). Les Lofquist asks us to consider whether the Reformation is all but over (16). He noted similarities between his Protestant beliefs and those of his Catholic friends, such as both faiths promoting the need for grace. However, he believes we must be clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. His Catholic friends insist salvation must involve the Church in some way.

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “It is in the Church that ‘the fullness of the means of salvation’ has been deposited” (17). Sacraments implicated in Catholic salvation are Baptism, Penance and Reconciliation, Eucharist, and Confirmation. The Sacraments (seven in total) “contain” God’s grace only when administered by a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Catechism teaches that these Sacraments are not merely symbolic, but they are the actual channels of grace—the “instrumental cause of God’s grace” (18). Any systematic teaching of the above doctrine falls outside the scope of biblical principles and puts the salvation of countless people at risk.

Concluding Remarks

Scripture teaches a different doctrine regarding salvation. Faith equals justification plus works (the believer must exercise faith, which results in justification, leading to good works), not justification through works. The believer is saved by grace alone in Christ alone received by faith alone (John 3:16,36; John 5:24; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10); the believer must not trust his or her own good works for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-4; Rom. 3:20-22,28; Rom. 4:5); genuine salvation leads to good works (Rom. 6:1-2; James 2:24); the believer can be assured of salvation (John 10:27-29; 1 John 5:13). Despite having occurred over five hundred years ago, elements of the Reformation continue to impact Christianity in the twenty-first century. Ideally, Martin Luther’s reforms should have eliminated precepts that were contrary to doctrine established and promulgated by the Apostolic Fathers of Christianity. Unfortunately, many of these troublesome practices continue today, most importantly the erroneous teaching by the Roman Catholic Church regarding the nature and mechanism of salvation.

Christian apologist Thaddeus Williams, PhD (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Theology Professor, Biola University; Philosophy Professor, Trinity Law School) believes the Reformation reminds us, “We have a big God and salvation is found in Him alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” (19). Williams suggests a “Re-Reformation,” indicating the church in the twenty-first century needs to recapture a sense of the grandeur and the greatness of God. The world needs to learn of the biblical view of His glory; of His desire that people come to believe on His Son, Jesus Christ, for salvation.

It is difficult enough for many new believers to grasp the tenet of salvation through unmerited grace. Luther struggled for some time with Romans 1:17. It is unlikely Luther would have been capable of taking on the whole of Roman Catholicism had he not first come to understand the doctrine of justification through faith in the gift of grace and redemption. If the church were to drop this issue now, it would drastically increase the likelihood that many in these latter days will fall to false teachings or, worse, turn from God completely and forego establishing a “vertical” (heavenward) view between man and heaven.

References
(1) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 3.
(2) Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954), xiii.
(3) Ibid., xvi.
(4) Ibid., 30.
(5) Ibid., 40-41.
(6) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 19.
(7) Luther, The 95 Theses. URL:
https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html
(8) Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revelle Co., 1957), 273.
(9) Urban T. Holmes, A History of Christian Spirituality (New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1981), 125.
(10) R.W. Heinze, “Martin Luther,” in the Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 510.
(11) Gonzalez, Ibid., 32.
(12) Heinze, Ibid., 510.
(13) Ibid., 510-11.
(14) Zadock Thomas, “Ten Richest Churches in the World and Their Net Worth 2021,” Eafeed. URL:
https://eafeed.com/richest-churches-in-the-world-net-worth-2020-2021/
(15) Frank Eberhardt, “We Believe the Same Way, Right?” Voice, Vol. 96, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2017, 11.
(16) Les Lofquist, “Why the Reformation?” Voice, Vol. 96, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2017, 7.
(17)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City, Rome: Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1994), Paragraph 824.
(18) Ibid., paragraph 1084.
(19) Thaddeus Williams, “Is the Reformation Still Relevant Today?” The BLB Blog (Oct. 28, 2014). URL:
https://blogs.blueletterbible.org/blb/2014/10/28/is-the-reformation-still-relevant-today/

Religious Pluralism and Post-Christian Society

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

  • Religious pluralism says all religions are equally valid paths to God
  • The Law of Non-Contradiction says two mutually exclusive claims to truth cannot both be true
  • Religious pluralism fails this Law of logic
  • Two mutually exclusive religious claims cannot both be true

THE VAST MAJORITY OF Americans believe in God or some “higher power.” God is a familiar concept even in twenty-first century America. The 2008 Religious Landscape Report by the Pew Forum, which addressed the religious beliefs of Americans, claimed that 71 percent of Americans were absolutely certain of the existence of “God or a universal spirit.” Seventeen percent were “fairly certain”(1). According to a Pew Research Center report dated May 12, 2015, the Christian share of population in the U.S. fell from 78.6% to 70.6% (2). In a 2019 interview, Robert P. Jones said, “If you go back to just 2008, the country was fifty-four percent white and Christian. When I wrote my book, The End of White Christian America, I was working on 2014 data. And that number had dropped from fifty-four percent to forty-five [which was] a significant drop… we’ve been continuing to track data since 2014, and that number [is] down to forty-one percent now” (3).

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and a plurality of religions have flourished as a result. Is this a good thing? It depends on what you are evaluating. For me, it is good that as Americans we are free to believe however we choose. Moreover, we are free from the tyranny of state-sponsored religion. The Church of England and Islam are two such institutions. Increasing globalization is importing beliefs, faiths, and philosophies along with goods and services. Unfortunately, this diversity has impacted Christianity, causing doubt, apostasy, and defection. The Pew Forum found that 57 percent of evangelical Christians believe “…many religions can lead to eternal life,” while 70 percent of the general public held this same belief (4).

Naturally, adherents to these various faiths claim that their beliefs are objectively true and essential for their spiritual growth and liberation (5). It is not surprising that religious pluralism has led many skeptics to doubt the concept of only one path to salvation. It appears to give much ammunition to militant atheists whose goal is to eradicate Christianity. When Christians, siding with others, decide religion in general is good and no one religion should claim objective (universal) truth, then the biblical worldview will not be taken seriously. Groothuis said, “Religious pluralism therefore poses a significant challenge to historic Christian apologetics, which claims that Christ alone is the way of eternal salvation and that other religions cannot reconcile sinful humans to God” (6).

“It is a daunting task to commend the Christian worldview as the one thing that matters most. To esteem Jesus as the unique and supreme revelation of God is taken by many to be theological chauvinism. The most powerful apologetic for Christianity will be ignored by anyone who simply—and probably ignorantly—accepts all religions as equally spiritual.

Douglas Groothuis

Cultural Impact

We are not fond of being told our existence is not predicated upon our own authority; that we are not free to do as we please. Man has always detested admitting the need for spiritual redemption from his sinful actions; or, that, as a result of the price paid for his redemption, he must turn outward and away, looking to God rather than within. “How can this ‘god’ exist and operate outside the laws of nature?” “There can be no such thing!” These thoughts are the impetus of a gathering storm of disobedience, disorientation, and estrangement that began with the first act of defiance in the Garden of Eden. Such thinking has led to man looking away from God, desiring to be self-sufficient and self-determining, setting his own agenda; deciding the parameters of purpose and behavior for himself. Of course, this sentiment has an impact on one’s religious beliefs. Rampant moral relativism is causing a dilution of “religious proscription” regarding behavior. Religious pluralism has nearly nullified the concept of one way to salvation. Post-Christian culture suggests that Christianity is no longer the dominant religious belief; the citizenry gradually assumes values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian.

Sociologists and anthropologists often use “Post-Christian” to refer to the loss of Christianity’s hegemony in historically Christian societies. Post-Christian culture in the twenty-first century has become increasingly hostile toward Christianity: threatening faith, theology, and the community of believers (see The Angry Atheists for more information). At the core of this post-Christian worldview is the idea that no written philosophical text exists (regardless of its affiliation) that contains ultimate truth, meaning, or purpose. Of course, refusing to fix ultimate meaning in this manner is to refuse God. The resulting secularization of knowledge removes God from the center of reality. Opponents of belief in God have become increasingly hostile toward Christianity, thereby setting the tone for personal attacks on those who hold a Christian worldview.

Although Christian apologetics involves demonstrating the basis for why a believer gives credence to the gospel as truth, it also involves explaining how faith must dominate reason. Faith is far from mere ignorance; moreover, it does not include dogmatic rejection of empirical truth. Rather, apologetics involves a defense of one’s frame of reference.

There is a term in computer science called metadata, which refers to “underlying” or “supporting” information for a photograph, text, or other graphic information often used to identify the time and place of its creation, and the origin of the data. Proponents of a post-Christian society speak out against metanarrative, which is a large-scale theory of transcendent meaning and upward progress of mankind throughout history. Postmodernism denies any single narrative that claims to support or explain reality. Interestingly, the postmodernist believes, instead, in a myriad of micronarratives, any or none of which may or may not be true. This concept reminds me of Sire’s definition of worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move, and have our being” (7). The human heart is the location of one’s bias, preconception, misunderstanding, value, or conviction. Entwistle said, “What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see” (8).

God set the tone for basic design as consisting of a unique distinctness between opposites: light and dark, good and evil, above and below, water and land, and so on. It was on the sixth day that He created the first man and the first woman to carry on with His act of creation. This is often referred to as God’s “cultural mandate.” Adam and Eve were to exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential (Gen. 1:26-28). Indeed, this is the beginning of culture.  Charles Colson believes there is scriptural justification for culture building, stating “it starts with Genesis” (9). Christianity is more than a private belief in salvation of the one. Yes, the believer is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but this is simply the beginning. Christianity is a comprehensive ideology that holds answers to all of mankind’s endless questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have meaning and purpose?

A Matter of Epistemology

Where does knowledge come from? Hart says, “Truth is more than a matter of ‘the way things seem from where I stand.’ For in practice where I stand—the world as I see it—is also where everyone else stands” (10). He adds that the universal categories of human reason function to provide and underwrite an agreed upon perspective from which questions of truth and falsity may be posited and answered and claims of truth demonstrated. Hart indicates that secularism demands of the Christian that before any investment is made in a “claim to truth, or before we can reasonably expect them to do so,” (5) he or she must provide factual or logical evidence that renders such “belief” reasonable. From the vantage point of logical positivism, it is argued that only two types of statements can be true: (i) analytical statements, such as definitions, and (ii) factual statements that are empirically verifiable (6).

“I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.”

James W. Sire

Reformed apologists like Alvin Plantinga have taken an epistemological approach to Christianity. Epistemology concerns itself with the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope; it is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. Plantinga and others argue that secular thought has placed an undue burden on Christian apologetics. It demands that Christians offer proof for their beliefs to the point of being irrational (11). Sire writes, “Human beings can know both the world around them and God himself because God has built into them the capacity to do so and because he takes an active role in communicating with them” (12). The apologetics of Jesus included a well-established epistemology, crucial in supporting truth, that states non-contradiction (see above) is a necessary test for truth; that the truth Jesus reveals has experiential factors; that the imagination is a key for presenting truth (consider parable, allegory, metaphor); and that one’s ability to know truth is closely tied to one’s moral rectitude (13).

And Yet…

Prior to His ascension, Christ presented the church with the Great Commission, telling believers all authority is given to them; commanding them to go forth, making disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching as He did (Matt. 18:18-20). This involves every believer, regardless of calling, gift, talent, or church office. Christians are meant to be salt and light among the post-Christian culture of this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Indeed, the body of believers stands between darkness and light at the threshold between forward progress and cultural annihilation. Believers are instructed by Peter, “[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Apologetics is necessarily paired with theology and evangelism. Because apologetics requires being able to defend what Scripture teaches, apologetics can only be effective when the apologist is well-grounded in Scripture. One cannot defend something without having a firm grasp on its tenets. Further, one would not want to defend something not supported by Scripture. Groothuis, noting the critical importance of being able to defend one’s beliefs whatever they may be (essentially, the investigation of significant truth whether in theology or philosophy) believes a good Christian apologist must be a good philosopher. He or she must possess solid logical and persuasive skills. But there is certainly more to Christian apologetics than giving abstract logical arguments (see Apologetics: Defending the Faith, Part One; and Part Two).

References

(1) Pew Forum, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2008), 116. URL: http://religions.pewforum.org
(2) Pew Research Center, 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. (Washington: Pew, 2015), 3-4.
(3) Robert Jones, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Interview by Benjamin Marcus, The Religious Studies Project, Feb. 28, 2019.
(4) U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Ibid., 58.
(5) Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 567.
(6) Groothuis, Ibid., 568.
(7) James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant, 2nd. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 19.
(8) David Entwistle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd. ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), 93.
(9) Charles Colson, How Then Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 295.
(10) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 43.
(11) Groothuis, Ibid., 64.
(12) James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 36.
(13) See Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus’ Epistemology,” in On Jesus (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2003).

“Identity Politics” in Social and Biblical Justice

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Social justice. We hear about it everywhere. The term seems so “user friendly.” It elicits positive emotions and vibes. Yet, as with so many other things, appearances can deceive.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

HOW DOES SOCIAL JUSTICE differ from biblical justice? Is there room in the gospel for social justice? Are followers of Christ expected to strive for fairness and equality? If so, what should be done to promote these crucial concepts? Biblical “justice” means “to make right.” Justice is a relational term—people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the whole of creation. “Justice” is getting what we deserve, and might be an act of vengeance or force. “Mercy” means exercising forbearance, and it qualifies as an act of grace and compassion.

All secular political options and theories of justice, from “right” to “left” (Libertarianism, Liberalism, Utilitarianism, Progressivism, Relativism) are grounded in reductionistic worldviews. Christians should not ignore any of the rightful concerns raised, but they must not wholly align themselves with any of them. Only biblical justice is comprehensive enough to address the needs of the human condition. But biblical justice is not a mere set of bullet points or a set of rules and guidelines; it is not derived from political agenda. Rather, it is rooted in the very character of God and it is the outworking of that character, which is never less than just.

Social Justice Stands in Opposition to Biblical Justice

In 2013, Dr. Calvin Beisner, of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, wrote an excellent booklet in which he warned about the erroneous and perilous ideas promoted by the social justice movement. Titled Social Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel, the booklet begins with a vivid illustration from Dr. Beisner’s family life, which he uses to explain social justice. The following is an excerpt from that booklet.

Calvin Beisner and his teenage son A. J. frequently play ping-pong. Typically the score is lopsided, with one player beating the other badly. Some observers may object. Isn’t the winner being heavy-handed and hardhearted, callous and lacking compassion? Shouldn’t Beisner and A. J. simply add up the total number of points, divide by two, and assign the same score to each player? After all, both are made in God’s image. Leveling out the score would only be “fair,” rectifying the disparity between players and compensating for the strengths and weakness of both. Pride and feelings of inferiority would be eliminated, gloating and discouragement overshadowed (1).

Social justice involves the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society; individuality gives way to the struggle for social justice.

There are four interrelated principles of social justice: equity, access, participation and rights. Personally, I have never believed it advisable (or helpful) to take from the Haves and give to the Have-nots. First, this is unjust to those who built a net worth of their own. Second, this will not alleviate the problem. Those who work hard to build their wealth will ultimately look for a new way to hold on to their assets. Moreover, those who have not earned assets of their own will never learn to rise above their present circumstances. Lacking motivation, they will remain “in need,” always looking for a handout. Incidentally, I am making no distinction of race, culture, nationality, or gender. We do not need to go on a tangent about the causes of discrimination in this article. I will, however, discuss the biblical guidelines for love, humility, justice, equality, and support, the building blocks of biblical justice.

Social justice does not resemble biblical justice at all. Actually, it is injustice. I do support striving to even the playing field at the level of “equal access” to opportunity. This is different from redistributing wealth. I believe we should make it possible for all citizens to participate in college, trade training, transportation, child care, Internet access, and obtaining the necessary equipment such as a laptop computer. Essentially, providing a path to wealth and success for every citizen. Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society, which, by its very definition, is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges. Those belonging to the social justice camp present themselves as the only ones pursuing justice, to the exclusion of all who disagree with their assessments.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of social justice today it its tendency to mischaracterize Christians: on one side we have “compassionate” Christians who are concerned about justice; on the other are “insensitive” Christians who do not consider injustice in today’s society. A new breed of atheists have formed in the Western world whose fundamental belief is that Christians are elitist and narrow-minded. Although biblical justice is the key to eradicating injustice in society, the New Atheists take every step necessary to eliminate what they see as an archaic Judeo-Christian system of justice.

For generations, we have seen how difficult it is to live in harmony with one another. We are to be loving, supportive, forgiving, and compassionate with one another. Paul wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25, ESV). An apt description of society. For me, if Christians were to consistently strive toward such an attitude—following the exemplar left for us by Christ—the Church would actually represent the gospel. Our “theology” and “philosophy” must be a lamp for the rest of the world. Our actions and words should exemplify our LORD. When people look to us, they should see Jesus. If we walk in harmony with the will of the Father, and strive to present His attributes, our identity will be clear: we are brothers and sisters; members of the Body of Christ.

Identity Politics is the Culprit

We should strive to live respectfully and peaceably with everyone. Who would not want to live in a society rich in equality? But what if “growth” in social justice (the “appearance” of harmony) is actually causing deep divisions; chasms in the very foundation of society? Bauchman writes, “We are right to pursue justice, peace, and unity” (4). The apostle Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18, ESV). But our society is beginning to fracture in a troublesome manner. These cracks lie in believing we can achieve a fair and just society by merely using proper terminology, or from presenting the ideal of justice through lectures and symposiums. From a worldly perspective, it is as though society is saying, “The eleventh commandment is ‘Thou shalt be nice,’ and we don’t believe in the other ten.”

If we look too long and hard at “social justice” without exploring the core elements of societal harmony (or disharmony), we will be sorely disappointed by the lack of improvement in society. We will be continually plagued by theories, schools of thought, philosophies, and a persistent breakdown in our communities. Unfortunately, identity politics demands that we crush injustice by attacking those holding such ideals. We know this to be true. The politics in America during the past four years has led to arguments and violence that has served to widen the gulf between class, political party, religion, and nationality. So-called “true” patriots have resorted to disruption, misinformation, smear campaigns, insurrection, and acts of violence. The foundation on which these actions are established focus solely on “identity.” Today, America is hampered by identity politics, bipolarity, and addiction.

People who subscribe to identity politics tend to form exclusive political alliances according to their religion, race, social background, and other identity, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics. Rather than organizing solely around beliefs, manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination. It doesn’t take much effort to see how identity politics does not foster interaction with groups whose philosophy or suffering is not like their own. Such orientation leads to isolation and a sense of the oppressed versus their oppressors. Identity politics builds on analysis of social injustice. It then suggests ways of reclaiming, redefining, or transforming stigmatized citizens. In many instances, such groups use hundreds or thousands of years in determining identity.

As Sonia Kruks puts it,

What makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier, pre-identarian forms of the politics of recognition is its demand for recognition on the basis of the very grounds on which recognition has previously been denied: it is qua women, qua blacks, qua lesbians that groups demand recognition. The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of “universal humankind” on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect “in spite of” one’s differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different (5).

Indeed, we are all different. Our personal history, culture, religion, status, and struggle is ours alone. Identity is established in relation to a series of differences that have become socially recognized. These differences are essential to its being. If they did not coexist as differences, there would be no distinctness and no solidity. Entrenched in this indispensable relation is a second set of tendencies, themselves in need of exploration, to conceal established identities into fixed forms of thought and lived as if their structure expressed the true order of things. When these pressures prevail, the maintenance of one identity (or field of identities) involves the conversion of some differences into otherness, into evil, or one of its numerous surrogates. Identity requires differences in order to be, and it converts difference into otherness in order to secure its own self-certainty (6).

Mitchell says identity politics is a very loud public affair (7). Further, it is making constructive public life increasingly difficult if not impossible. Consider this: alongside the amazing strides man has made in the visible economy there is an undertone concerned with one thing: weighing and measuring. But in this model, we are measuring transgression and innocence. This orientation has two glaring faults: (i) no balance of payment between the parties is possible; and (ii) there is typically a demand that all accounts be settled no matter how obscure or distant. The invisible task of quantifying transgression and innocence disrupts and mocks the well-measured world of money, time, and materials of the visible world. Under this system of social justice, no effort or accomplishment will ever be satisfactory. Indeed, this concept is plaguing America, and it perpetuates the concept of oppressed and oppressor—victim and perpetrator. A transgression has occurred, and it must be paid for in full (e.g., financial or other reparations to Black Americans for slavery).

Mitchell writes, “…identity politics declares that the deeper cause of the visible imbalance is the systemic racism in the invisible economy of transgression and innocence… identity always maintains the purity of those it considers innocents and the stain of those it considers transgressors, regardless of any visible evidence to the contrary” (8). What evidence? you might ask, then you counter with, There is plenty of “proof” that white heterosexual fundamentalists are the problem. They are either invisible or they are the hidden cause of every visible transgression in the world! But no one wants to have an honest discussion about this paradox; this fixation. The predominant account of identity politics, says Mitchell, treats identity as if it pertains to differing kinds of people. He adds, “…as we become more disconnected and our lives get smaller in the democratic age, the temptation to make distinctions between others and ourselves grows” (9). If democracy morphs into socialism, the individual is completely swallowed by the nation-state.

Frankly, I welcome a diversity of friends and want to feel safe among my fellow citizens, but this is impossible under the current system. Identity politics is about identifying and blaming so-called transgressors. Its reach goes beyond the willful perpetrators, beyond the racist police officers and those who deliberately use the system to oppress others because of race, culture, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender. It tends to blame all “us” for the ills suffered by “others.” It reduces all of mankind to “the stained” and “the pure.” It does not take much to see stained versus pure as an unworkable criterion. God is nowhere to be found in the identity-politics accounting scheme. Neither is forgiveness, which (if sincerely applied) would erase the so-called “score” and leave us with no scores to settle. Mitchell believes Americans have not lost their religion; they have relocated their religion to the realm of politics. Consider the countless prophecies, predictions, justifications, and radical fringe groups prevalent today. We know what it looks like when a national extremist group swoops down on our democratic process!

Biblical Justice

Bad ideas, like ideological social justice, are terribly destructive, ripping the social fabric, exacerbating hostility, and ultimately destroying relationships (10). One such ideology is the Black Lives Matter movement. This simple statement, three words, is inherently flawed in several ways. The most obvious is that all lives matter. To single out one social group and apply this “logic” to them serves to promote identity politics. Blacks are the oppressed, and white heterosexual Protestant men (if not the entire white community) is the oppressor. We have already determined that not all whites are racist. Further, there are no innocents; we all sin; fall short of glorifying God. Indeed, wise and careful discernment has been hard to come by. Allen writes, “In my thirty-five years of working with church leaders around the world, from over seventy-five nations, I’ve never met anyone who endorses in any way the idea that white people were created to rule everyone else” (11).

The word “justice” comes from the Latin (justus), meaning “straight, or close.” Like a plumb line, justus refers to a standard of goodness. It is justice that aids in determining good laws or tenets from bad ones. St. Augustine said, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” It is the moral law that must rule in all matters. It is not morally acceptable to establish any law, regulation, procedure, or tenet that harms any citizen or group, especially on the basis of skin color, nationality, culture, sexual identity, or gender. It violates the Law of God, which Greg Koukl calls “the Law-over-everything-and-everyone.” There truly is a universal standard to which even the most powerful are accountable: even the Pablo Escobars and Governor George Wallaces of this world.

Because God does not change, this standard of justice does not change. God is the immovable Rock whose “…work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4). God is both righteous and just. If He were not righteous, He could not be just; if He were not just, He could not be righteous. God communicates His justice and righteousness to us inwardly. He imprints His Word on our hearts. C.S. Lewis calls this innate moral code “a clue to the meaning of the universe.” As Christians, we strive to obey God not because we can behave ourselves into heaven—this is impossible. We obey Him because we want to honor Him in all our ways. We obey Him to show we love Him. In fact, God’s moral law is one of His greatest gifts to humanity, because it provides the only true, unchanging foundation for justice in human history.

Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Justice also requires that we walk humbly with one another. Genuine humility requires that we put ourselves second rather than striving to be first. Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).

Driving Out a Bad Worldview

Tim Keller (paraphrasing Aristotle),

We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Justice requires recognizing what it means to be human—that we all possess inherent dignity and worth with unalienable rights. To do justice is to treat others as uniquely valuable, and respect their God-given rights. It is loving your neighbor as yourself.

Unfortunately, the current “social justice” model is distorting the picture and taking hostages. I read an expose by a self-proclaimed social justice crusader that sheds light right where it is needed. This individual said he’d decided to find a purpose in his life: membership in a community. He found it exhilarating to call people out on Facebook and other social media platforms, accusing them of racism or sexism. It gave him a “rush.” He received validation through the thousands of “likes” and reposts he received. He decided this was his life’s purpose: fighting against white supremacy, the patriarchy, and toxic masculinity. His life consisted of trolling social media all day long seeking out transgressors. Social justice is, after all, a surveillance culture. He discovered, ironically, that in the world of ideological social justice, there is no justice for those accused of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, once judgment has been rendered against you, everyone starts gunning for you.

Millions of individuals have been swept into the puritanical cult of ideological social justice. Allen writes, “The false religion of ideological social justice lures people by providing them with a source of identity, community, and purpose,” and he counters with, “Our calling is to boldly proclaim the truth that sets people free” (12). Allen believes many of our prominent evangelical leaders have abdicated their responsibility to be salt and light by promoting many of the central tenets of a rather dangerous unbiblical worldview. This distorted, secularized definition of justice distracts us from applying biblical justice to the predicament. What we need is a true story: one that says true identity isn’t found in our skin color, ethnic background, sex, or nationality.

Allen concludes,

“If your story tells you that your primary identity is victim, your life will be marked by bitterness, resentment, grievance, and entitlement. If your story tells you your primary identity is privileged oppressor, your life will be marked by guilt and shame. However, if your story tells you that your identity is sinner, yet loved by God and saved by grace, your life will be marked by gratitude and humility” (13) [italics added].

It is critical that we reject this zero-sum ideology of social justice, where truth and love don’t exist. Instead, I leave you with the biblical passage that defines for all mankind the true sense of love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor.13:4-10, 13).

References

(1) B. Nathaniel Sullivan, Social Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel (Chattanooga, TN: Cornwall Alliance, 2013).
(2) Voddie T. Baucham, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Washington, DC: Salem Books, 2021), 5.
(3) Ibid., 5.
(4) Ibid., 132.
(5) Sonia Kruks, Retrieving Experience: Subjectivity and Recognition in Feminist Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 85.
(6) William Connlly, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 64.
(7) Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time (New York, NY: Encounter Books, 2020), xii.
(8) Ibid., xvi.
(9) Ibid., xvii.
(10) Scott David Allen, Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Credo House Publishers, 2020), 14.
(11) Ibid., 15.
(12) Ibid., 178.
(13) Ibid., 179.

Integrating Christian Theology and Psychology: Part Four

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

Since the birth of psychoanalysis, there has been a disconnect between psychology/psychiatry and theology. Freud’s worldview was that belief in God was nothing short of neurotic.

I HAVE BEEN ASTONISHED for years about the human condition. Too much violence, sadness, depression, anxiety, and angst among the population. For several years now, I have been studying the integration of psychology and Christian theology. Actually, my interest in psychology began with a need to understand my mess of a life. Today, I am embarking on a ministry of reconciliation, determined to help the downtrodden and the oppressed rise above their struggles with mental illness and addiction. From a personal perspective, these two concerns ruled in my life for decades: mental illness triggered substance abuse over and over; active addiction prolonged my mental illness. Although I received insight regarding my behavior, secular counseling failed to provide the right vision and tools I needed to break free. A three-year stint in state prison did not curb my appetite for drugs and alcohol; I continued getting high in prison. I was beginning to see the Groundhog Day quality of my life.

Integrating Psychology and Theology, one of my classes at Colorado Christian University, peaked my interest. Fittingly, I had arrived at the point in recovery when I realized only Jesus could break the chains of drug abuse and mental disease. Moreover, I came to believe (at least for the Christian in crisis) that counseling alone often is not enough. I subscribe today to the adage, Counseling must always include discipling; and discipling must always include counseling. I noticed the fact that many Christians are embroiled in substance abuse, but this does not mean he or she is not saved or does not love God. During a 21-day stay at a rehab, I met a man who was the lead pastor of a church somewhere in the region. He was clean from drugs for 9 years. He relapsed on his drug of choice (crack cocaine) and lost everything. Whenever he shared he would say, “My name is Bill and I am a Christian in recovery.” He led some amazing late evening Bible studies which were well-attended by 5 others, including me.

A Legal Implication

In Nally vs. John MacArthur and Grace Community Church (1), 24-year-old Kenneth Nally committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. His parents filed a wrongful death action against Grace Community Church of the Valley, a Protestant Christian congregation located in Sun Valley, California, and four Church pastors, MacArthur, Thomson, Cory and Rea, alleging “clergyman malpractice,” specifically negligence and outrageous conduct in failing to prevent Nally’s suicide. A member of the Church since 1974, Nally participated in pastoral counseling at GCC prior to his death. The pastors vehemently discouraged him from receiving psychological or psychiatric care (despite a prior attempt at taking his own life by intentional drug overdose), failing to meet a standard of care for pastors, failure to secure proper psychological counseling training, and failure to disclose Nally’s true psychiatric condition to his treating psychiatrist and his parents.

The intent of this lawsuit was to define “duty of care” regarding pastors and their clients. The same dilemma presents itself in addictions counseling. Christian and secular counselors share the same desire—helping people overcome mental illness. Christian counseling is distinct from secular counseling in that it specifically incorporates the spiritual dimension when providing therapy. By using biblical concepts, Christian counselors can provide specific direction and accountability in accordance with core Christian principles. When, however, must a Christian counselor refer a church member to secular treatment? At the heart of most efforts to understand secular versus faith-based counseling is the essential theological and philosophical foundation, the unity of truth. This is often expressed as all truth is God’s truth. Although the unity of truth has been affirmed since the time of the early Christian church, this specific relationship has been classically applied to psychology.

A Persistent Disconnect

Since the birth of psychology, there has been a disconnect between psychology/psychiatry and theology. Freud thought belief in God was nothing short of neurotic. Yet he was curious, warm, and respectful of several clergy, and enjoyed having them as house guests. Entwistle quotes several entries from the private journals of Abraham Maslow that I found upsetting. Since my initial exposure to his Hierarchy of Needs, I have agreed with his theory. I learned later in life that my physiological needs were not consistently met by my then fifteen-year-old mother. There were serious frustrations of my safety and security needs, as well as esteem related matters. I believe much of my trouble was rooted in the frustration of critical elementary needs. Regarding Maslow, I was shocked to read his private bashing of religion. Entwistle warns it is dangerous when someone deliberately conceals his or her anti-religious bias (2). Not surprisingly, the issue of secular versus faith-based counseling falls on a continuum, with “extreme” beliefs at polar opposite. John MacArthur can be found at the very end of the scale toward biblical counseling, with virtually no room for compromise. What of psychology’s roots in philosophy and theology?

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) began his career in psychology with experimental studies, hoping to understand the elements of thought and the mental elements that govern thought processes. According to Wundt, thought is comprised of sensations and feelings. “Sensations” come to us through the senses. In other words, our initial perception is the cause to our effect. All sensations are accompanied by feelings. He viewed the mind as active, creative, dynamic, and volitional. This gives us insight into similarities between psychology and theology. For example, ours is a “speaking” God, and we must be His “hearing” church. God is the cause and our response is the effect. Importantly, there is much that can keep us from hearing God: physical pain, anger, depressed mood, anxiety, selfishness, and so on. It is worth noting that successful ideas, no matter what their source, survive; unsuccessful ideas are cast aside. Even today, we see “schools of thought” labeled behavioristic, cognitive, psychobiological, humanist, etc.

René Descartes began with philosophy, focusing on the mind-body interaction. He noted that only humans possess a mind that provided consciousness, free choice, and rationality. He wrote, “Thus it follows that this ego, this soul, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body and is easier to know than the latter, and that even if the body were not, the soul would not cease to be all that it now is” (3). An aspect of theology presents itself in Descartes’ philosophy; our will can and should control our passions, so that virtuous conduct results. Such control, however, is far from perfect. He attempted to formulate a completely mechanistic explanation of man’s bodily functions. This was the dawn of both stimulus-response and behavioristic psychology. But his comparative study of the instincts of man and animal pulled his theory away from metaphysical and spiritual concepts. Regardless, Descartes is considered to be the father of modern philosophy in general and modern psychology in particular.

Søren Kierkegaard attempted to explain the meaning of human existence, freedom of choice, and the uniqueness of each individual. This is rudimentary existentialism identifies the most important aspects of humans—their personal, subjective interpretations of life and the choices they make in light of those interpretations. To me, this seems like a precursor to understanding worldview. No doubt Descartes’ exposure to his father’s theological teachings provided a foundation. His formal education included theology, literature, and philosophy. Hubben relates Descartes’ interpretation of man’s relationship to God to a lover’s experience. It is “…at once painful and happy, passionate but unfulfilled, lived in time yet infinite”(4). Renaissance humanism had four major themes: a belief in the potential of the individual, an insistence that religion be more personal and less institutionalized, an intense interest in the classics, and a negative attitude toward Aristotle’s philosophy.

Frederick Nietszche took an interesting view of human nature. His Apollonian aspect represents our rational side, our desire for tranquility, predictability, and orderliness. His Dionysian aspect represents our irrational side, our attraction to creative chaos, and to passionate, dynamic experiences. At first blush, these aspects line up with the duality of man’s behavior. Do not “just live” but live with passion; be willing to take chances. Nietzsche considered himself primarily a psychologist. To some degree, he, like Sigmund Freud, wanted to help individuals gain control of their powerful, irrational tendencies in order to live more creative, healthy lives. Nietzsche explored repression, which is a large part of Freud’s psychoanalysis. Nietzsche provided an example: “‘I have done that,’ says my memory.’ ‘I can’t have done that,’ says my pride'” (5). After much wrangling, memory wins out. Of course, Nietzsche gave absolutely no room for God in his theories. He said, “Is man just one of God’s mistakes? Or is God just one of man’s” (6). He famously said, “God is dead.” Perhaps today’s rejection of God and theology has more to do with the current atmosphere of moral relativism, secularism, and atheism than the grassroots relationship between theology and psychology.

In Part Five, I will present the major theories of personality development, comparing them to biblical theories of human behavior, the capacity to care for one another, free will, guilt and shame, and the concept of original sin. Also, I will discuss the similarities and differences between psychology and theology regarding human behavior. Christian theology is, after all, a branch of inquiry that—among other things—seeks to understand what it means to be human. But psychology, for the Christian, is infused with theological beliefs about our place in God’s world. I believe we can gain a more complete view of human behavior by drawing on both Christian theology and contemporary psychology. Yet, the caveat is that our theological and psychological perspectives can easily be hijacked, taking us down a troublesome path. Integration of Christian theology and psychology must be done in the interest of seeking God’s truth, recognizing His sovereignty over all that we do, and determine how best to relate Christianity and psychology.

References

(1) Nally v. Grace Community Church (1988) 47 Cal.3d 278, 763 P.2 948; 254 Cal.Rptr 97.
(2) David N. Entwhisle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd. ed. (Eugene, OR: 2015), 198.
(3) René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, 2nd. ed. (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 21.
(4) William Hubben, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Kafka (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1952), 24.
(5) Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1886, 1998), 58.
(6) Nietzsche, The Gay Science (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 5.

History of the Church Part Three: Islamism and the Crusades

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

Trouble from Islam

Christianity is saddled with guilt regarding the Crusades, defending the false claim that they were unprovoked attacks fueled by religious intolerance. In AD 636, Muslims captured Jerusalem, Alexandria, Egypt, and Spain. Gonzalez says Christians, faced with the safety and order of the state, developed the Just War theory (1). In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II declared that some wars could be deemed as not only a bellum iustum (“just war”), but could, in certain cases, rise to the level of a bellum sacrum (“holy war”). Regarding Just War, Augustine noted “[H]e to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals. And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill (2).'” In any event, it is likely the Crusades would not have gone forth without revolution in Church thinking concerning violence.

The meaning of the sixth commandment must be exegetically determined: the wording is best translated You shall do no murder. In this manner, murder specifically refers to willfully taking a life—e.g., premeditated murder, or killing as an act of revenge. Gonzalez intimates that Augustine condemned any war whose purpose was “to satisfy territorial ambition, or the mere exercise of power (3) [Italics mine]. Islam, for example, has a centuries-long tradition of grabbing land and power in order to dominate neighboring nation-states. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or “daesh”), provides us with a modern-day example. Their quest to form a new caliphate led to immeasurable violence. Augustine was “[A]t his most positive when writing about the right intention required of those who authorized and took part in violence,” adding, “only use as much force as necessary” (4). Just Cause, legitimate authority, and right intention must be followed in determining the use of military might. The Crusades were to be reactive only, not wars of conversion.

Islamism /isˈläˌmizəm/
noun: Islamic militancy or fundamentalism.

Muslims have a not-so-just policy of holy war (jihad), a solemn duty of every Muslim. The Bible forbids blanket use of military might, such as forcing unbelievers to convert or be killed. When Muhammad died (AD 632), caliphs who succeeded him prosecuted a series of wars whose aim was conquest: religious and geopolitical. These invasions had an egregious impact on the ancient centers of Christianity. Gonzalez writes, “Islam presented itself as a constant threat to be held back only by armed force” (5). As a result, Christianity became radically militarized. Expansion of Islam eventually threatened Western Europe. Unwavering violent takeovers by Islamic forces had to be defeated. At the Battle of Tours near Poitiers, France (AD 732), Frankish leader Charles Martel, a Christian, defeated a large army of Spanish Moors, halting the Muslim advance into Western Europe.

Of paramount importance was the need to recover and hold Jerusalem, containing the two most secure locations in Christendom: the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary. Expeditions to the Levant, or to North Africa, were thought to be justified as a “just” or proper response to Muslim aggression. The intent was to recover Christian territory seized through Muslim conquests. These extended military raids stemmed from expansion changes which took place outside Europe before the age of the Crusades, principally the growth and expansion of Islam. Indeed, Christian holy wars such as these bear a striking resemblance to jihad. Out of these conflicts rose the notion of a holy warrior—a crusader, or “knight for Christ.”

Muhammad

Muhammad was born in Mecca in AD 570. Islam teaches that the angel Gabriel called Muhammad to become a prophet of Allah. As Islam spread in Mecca, the ruling tribes began to oppose Muhammad’s preaching and his condemnation of idolatry and polytheism. Going against existing faiths, he preached monotheism. The Quraysh tribe controlled the Kaaba* and drew their religious and political power from its polytheistic shrines. They began to persecute this new group, and many of Muhammad’s followers became martyrs. When Muhammad’s wife Khadijah and her uncle Abu Talib both died in 619 CE, Abu Lahab assumed leadership of the Banu Hashim clan and withdrew the clan’s protection from Muhammad. In AD 622, Muhammad and his followers migrated to Yathrib in the Hijra to escape persecution, renaming the city Medina in honor of the prophet.

After the death of Muhammad in AD 632, Islamism flourished. This seems to have been an unavoidable development given Muhammad’s doctrine of expansionism. Islam has a triple imperative: conversion, subjugation, or death! Spencer writes, “Things will go badly for the non-Muslims who choose not to convert or pay the tax [levied upon non-believers]. Muslims must ‘make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels” (6). Ibn Khaldun, a Maliki jurist, historian, and philosopher, said, “…in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force” (7) [Italics mine]. Muslim forces sacked Jerusalem in AD 636. They captured Alexandria, and prosecuted subsequent conquests in Egypt. They invaded Spain shortly thereafter. Caliph Umar II took up arms in the name of Allah, and began persecution of non-Muslims. Caliph Mutawakki forced non-believers to wear yellow patches; in the same manner, Hitler insisted the Jews wear yellow arm bands. Muslims went on a spree, destroying all non-Muslim churches. Caliph Hakim destroyed the Holy Sepulchre in AD 1009.

There is no period since the beginning of Islam that was characterized by large-scale peaceful existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. There was no time when mainstream and dominant Islamic authorities taught the equality of non-Muslims with Muslims, or the obsolescence of jihad warfare: no Era of Good Feeling; no Golden Age of Tolerance. Spencer writes, “There has always been, with virtually no interruption, jihad” (8). Muhammad boasted, “I have been victorious with terror” (9). The soldiers of Islam went forth in jihad for the sake of Allah (jihad fi sabil Allah) in order to establish the hegemony of the Islamic order: i.e., leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.

At its core the true nature of Islam is, was, and always will be, a hegemonistic inhumane tyrannical political ideology based upon hatred, having the sole purpose to annihilate all other civilisations [sic] using deceit, fear and violence. Islam’s core is martial, expansionist, belligerent and imperialist. It directly threatens the cohesion and culture of any society that it infiltrates. Within Islam there is the core belief that Allah created the religion of Islam in perfect form, it can neither be improved nor modified. In effect this creates a divine dictatorship directed by fixed religious imperatives all aimed at installing Islam into the position of absolute dominance, no matter what. This creates institutionalised [sic] discrimination — an extreme ‘them and us’ dynamic, between ‘believers’ (Muslims) and ‘unbelievers’ (the infidel, the takfir) — namely (but not only) the Judaeo-Christian West. Muslim believers believe they have a divine responsibility and right to subjugate infidel unbelievers by any means (10).

The Crusades

The first Crusade (AD 1095-1102) was undertaken to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim domination. At least to some degree, the First Crusade hardly required a casus belli (act or situation provoking or justifying war). The Holy Sepulchre had been vandalized in 1009 on the orders if Fatimid caliph Kakim. The cave where Jesus was laid to rest had been leveled almost to the ground. Muslims were marching toward global domination, seizing land, and taxing or murdering non-Believers. This is a religious duty built upon universalism inherent in the Muslim mission. Aggression is a matter of Islamic theology. It has been implied that Islam is a religion of peace. However, the word Islam means “submit.” Riley-Smith says the Crusades were not only fought in the Levant and eastern Mediterranean region, but also along the Baltic shoreline, in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Poland, Hungary, the Balkan, and parts of Western Europe, proclaimed not only against Muslims but also pagans, Balts, Lithuanians, shamanist Mongols, Orthodox Russians and Greeks, and Catholics. Riley-Smith says, “The crusading movement generated holy leagues, which were alliances of front-line powers, bolstered by crusade privileges, and military orders, the members of which sometimes operated out of their own order-states” (11).

Among the many developments that captivated the imagination of believers in the early centuries, none was as dramatic, as overwhelming, or as contradictory, as was the crusading spirit. The hope was to defeat the Muslims who threatened Constantinople, to save the Byzantines, to reunite the Eastern and Western branches of the church that Islam had previously taken. Holy places had been in Muslim hands for centuries. Arab conquests were on the rise. Justification solidified under the battle cry, “God wills it” (Deus vult). One cannot help but to compare the battle cry of Christians to the obligation for jihad. Godfrey of Bouillon headed to Jerusalem to take back the city. Those defending Jerusalem were not Turks, but Fatimite Arabs from Egypt—so named because they claimed descent from Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter.

The Second Crusade was incited by the capture of Edessa at the hand of Sultan of Aleppo in AD 1144. Led by Louis VII and Conrad III, an army of nearly 200,000 set out for the Holy Land. Jerusalem barely got off the ground under the Crusading forces when the Muslims began to regroup and, with Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt at the helm, Muslims took Jerusalem in AD 1187. The fall of Jerusalem required intervention once again. A Third Crusade set out for the City of David under the direction of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Richard the Lionhearted, and Philip II Augustus of France. The Crusade failed miserably. This prompted Innocent III to call for the Fourth Crusade. This mission was an even greater disaster. The Byzantines did not accept matters so easily, and stubbornly went about founding various independent states that refused to accept the authority of the Latin emperors. I find it fascinating how religion is capable of completely change the politics and geography of a region. Many of the provinces had broken down into smaller units with ties to individual castles. Knights terrorized their neighborhoods, violent, arbitrary and demanding. The Fifth Crusade (led by the “King of Jerusalem”) accomplished very little. The Sixth Crusade led to peace talks and an agreement between Frederick II and the Sultan. The Seventh and Eighth were major disasters.

Mistakes Were Made

The Muslim invasions, and Christian reaction to them, continued, thereby accelerating the militarizing of Christianity. Gonzalez said, “The earliest Christians, following the teachings of Jesus, had been strict passivists” (12). The events of the Crusades, and the blood spilled, would not be forgotten easily. The consequences are still being felt in the twenty-first century. The “crusading spirit” was used also to confront heresy, which Gonzalez called “…a cosmic struggle between equally powerful forces of good and evil” (13). One cannot deny that many of the crusaders were extremely violent. While trekking to their targeted region, the Crusaders fed on the land, devouring everything like a plague of locusts. They had to fight other Christians who were merely defending their land. The crusaders unofficially added the killing of thousands of Jews to the campaign because of their unbelief regarding the Messiah. Gonzalez writes, “Women were raped [by crusaders}, and infants thrown against walls. Many of the city’s Jews took refuge in the synagogue, and the crusaders set fire to the building with them inside” (14). Gonzalez notes that Christianity had made its way into the ranks of the military. The Crusades focus on stopping Islam’s globalization led to Christianity became radically militarized.

The church-sanctioned targets of the Crusades were the Muslims who had settled in the Middle East.  However, the Crusades also sparked some of the earliest cases of violent anti-Semitism. As they traveled, the crusaders rationalized that Jews were also enemies of Christians.  Despite papal commands, some groups broke away and started attacking Jewish communities in both Europe and the Middle East.  In 1096 crusaders attacked prosperous and peaceful settlements on the Rhine and gave their victims a choice to convert or die.  Many Jews killed their own families rather than convert.  Jews living in Jerusalem in 1099 when the crusaders took hold slaves. At the outset of a new crusade, a new wave of death swept over the Jews. Consequently, the Crusades were responsible for the destruction of over 100 Jewish communities and the cause of thousands of senseless deaths.

Concluding Remarks

As is often true of history, the Crusades are more telling in their failures than their successes. Because of the Crusades, the credibility of the Pope as the agent of God on earth suffered irreparable damage in the Middle Ages, especially when a particular Crusade did not fair so well. Even the ones that did succeed in some respect accomplished little positive change. When the Crusades ended, regional violence of the type associated with this era stopped. Although the Crusades began from a position of defense, many questionable liberties were undertaken in the name of the church. Ranks among the crusaders included Knights Templar, military personnel, opportunists, and “penitent” Christians. The Papacy provided the means through which Christians could “work off” punishments and penalties.

Christians have held diverse views toward violence and non-violence throughout time. Currently and historically, there have been four views and practices within Christianity toward violence and war: (i) non-resistance; (ii) Christian pacifism, (iii) Just War, and (iv) preventive war. The Crusades represented one of the most interesting, yet most controversial, eras in the history of Christianity. Although Islam was not the only reason for the Crusades, I think it can be argued that without Islam there would have been no Crusades. It is difficult for modern Christians to identify with their predecessors during the time of the Crusades. The idea that Christians would consider it their religious duty to slaughter people in God’s Name is an alien concept in current times.

***

References

(1) Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 293.
(2)
Augustine of Hippo, City of God (New York, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890), 13.
(3) Gonzalez, Ibid., 13.
(4)
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2008), 12-13.
(5) Gonzalez, Ibid., 293.
(6) Robert Spencer, The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS (New York, NY: Post Hill, 2019), 13.
(7) Ibn Khaldun, The Muqa: An Introduction to History, trans. by Franz Rosenthal (Princeton University Press, 1967), 183.
(8) Spencer, Ibid., 11.
(9) Ibn Sa’d, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Vol. 2, trans. S. Moinul Haq and H.K. Ghazanfar (Kitab Bhavan: Delhi, India: n.d.) , in Spencer, Ibid., 15.
(10) Eirik Bowman, Islamic Hegemony: The Fact-Based Truth About the Tolerant Religion of Peace (London: U.K., 2015).
(11) Riley-Smith, Ibid., 9.
(12) Gonzalez, Ibid., 293.
(13) Ibid., 354.
(14) 354.

* The Kaaba, also spelled Ka’bah or Kabah, sometimes referred to as al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah, is a building at the center of Islam’s most important mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam.

Referee

The pain of loneliness and

the excitement of adventure

face off, each convinced

of its position, mutually exclusive

of the other.

To what do I owe this honor?

A front row seat to the

fight of the century.

As blows are struck,

drops of sweat fly in my face.

Poignant reminders,

Rude, salty, definitive.

Whom do I root for?

Is that even a sensible question?

Should I hope for a draw?

I cringe with each punch;

on the edge of my seat,

stomach in knots.

I look for the referee.

I look for the time clock.

I listen for the bell.

What round is it?

Who’s calling this fight

anyway?

The room is spinning;

I can feel the pain.

I can sense the desperation of each fighter.

In a dizzying moment of clarity

I realize the referee is me.

© 1997 Steven Barto

Grove of Trees

You said that all of this was yours;

through Your spoken word, the water came;

at your request, land arose. You called up trees.

All this, where I sit and ponder,

is proof: Your words create life and wonder.

As I look about, everywhere, I see Your hand.

Man might be Your grandest work, but there’s

so much more in the seas, in the air, in the dirt.

Who am I to question whether the caterpillar

crawling on my shoe, or the mosquito,

or the cockroach, are part of your plan?

Bugs bite, I itch, and I question

the need for such bother.

My father told me all is of the food chain;

this is true of every creature, every organism.

I sit under this canopy of countless leaves

and I realize that You, God, designed this world

from the very smallest of cells

to this grove of trees.

© 2016 Steven Barto

More Posts Soon!

HELLO EVERYONE, SO SORRY for the delay in posting new articles. I hand surgery on my right hand two weeks ago. I am progressing nicely, albeit not as fast as I would’ve liked.

I have been working on Part Three of my “Church History” series, which will cover Christianity’s battles with Islam and the Crusades. Part Four will cover troubles in the church that led to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic counter-Reformation, and the start of Christianity’s global outreach. I am also planning to continue my series on integrating psychology and Christian theology. This is a topic that is key in my continuing master’s studies and my ministry to Christians struggling with active addiction and mental illness. There are several other projects on the back burner, including “The End of Me” based on Kyle Idleman’s book of the same name.

Steven Barto

Integrating Christian Theology and Psychology: Part Three

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.T.S.

IN PART ONE OF THIS SERIES we discussed the advent of social science, whose practitioners slowly changed the face of mental health counseling. Psychiatry stood as the primary specialty for treating psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. Psychiatrists typically do not engage in meaningful long-term clinical dialog. Instead, they prescribe psychotropic medications. Today, social workers, psychologists, and their ancillary workers, provide the majority of “talk therapy.” Notwithstanding the above, it was psychiatrists who were tasked with compiling data and establish a universal “code” for quantification, research, and billing purposes. Part Two showed the impact of the Enlightenment on virtually all aspects of life, characterized by skepticism toward religious dogma and other forms of traditional authority. Secularism and relativism began to creep into the discussion. Isaiah Berlin established an alternative movement in the late 1800s which he labeled Counter-Enlightenment. He attempted to challenge rationalism, universalism, and empiricism, objecting to these and other isms, saying they identify man as “mere machine” whose quest for reality is drastically limited to empirical interaction with nature.

Early practitioners thought experimental psychology was the best tool for getting at the basics of consciousness, but they believed “laboratory psychiatry” was useless for grasping the aspect of higher cognitive function. Wilhelm Wundt proposed that “sensations” (which occur when a sense organ is stimulated and impulses reach the brain) are are always accompanied by feelings. Arguably, attempting to isolate, grasp, understand, and write about “feelings” has always been a difficult task. Clinics and laboratories for the study of cognition flourished throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, psychology is a discipline rich in historical and philosophical roots. Many evangelical and fundamental pastors have disparaging thoughts regarding psychiatric and psychological treatment modalities. Although many people keep “faith” carefully segregated from the rest of their lives, I believe it is possible to establish and maintain productive links between psychology and Christian theology.

It helps to remember that “worldview” is a fundamental orientation of the heart, which is laid bare by our words and actions. Scripture notes that our heart is the central defining element of us as a person. Jesus said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, NRSV). What we hide in our hearts, what we have sown in its soil, eventually comes to the surface. Essentially, worldview provides a home for our philosophy on life. In its simplistic definition, worldview is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. We all have a worldview—the window through which we view the world, framed by the assumptions and beliefs that impact what what we experience on a daily basis. Without a doubt, our worldview shapes our philosophy of life.

One of the most influential myths of the modern period has been the belief that it is impossible to locate and occupy a non-ideological vantage point, from which reality may be surveyed and interpreted. The social sciences have been among the chief and most strident claimants to such space, arguing that they offer a neutral and objective reading of reality; in which the ultimate spurious truth claims of religious groupings may be deflated and deconstructed in terms of unacknowledged, yet ultimately determinative, social factors” (2).

A Kaleidoscope of Views

Worldview brings with it many implications, which can admittedly muddy the waters regarding integration of psychology and Christian theology. When modernism failed to provide a beneficial philosophy of life in the face of war, poverty, famine, sickness, and unresolved racial tension, postmodernism attempted to replace knowledge with opinion or conviction. However, postmodernism had no advice on how to determine whether any given conviction is in some way better or more accurate than another. Again, our families, religious beliefs, academic experience, and media (especially social media) continue to influence us in ways of which we are unaware. It seems the key to unlocking our assumptions is having the humility and willingness to see them for what they are: that which we accept as true or as certain to happen, without proof. By definition, this “pursuit” of truth is a matter of epistemology (the theory of knowledge, especially how it is obtained). As we move forward in this series, we will explore how sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology are crucial to integrating treatment modalities and Christian theology.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury said, “For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I believe—that unless I believe, I should not understand.” It was thought that we could essentially become our own authority, knowing with absolute certainty (as God) the definition of right and wrong; in other words, the knowledge of good and evil. This is the very essence of our First Parents’ disobedience in the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3:1-5). A hallmark of modernism is belief in the human capacity to function as an independent authority. This orientation gave rise to another aspect of modernism: the myth of progress. Man became convinced that we can know things with God-like certainty (3). The brash disobedience of Adam and Eve caused a cosmic ripple effect for all of mankind. This “fallout” has shown itself in countless vain philosophies, which prove how we all thirst for what went wrong, whose fault it is, and how to fix it.

The philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard plays an important role in our quest to establish a viable integration of psychology and Christian theology. His “existentialism” stresses meaning, accompanied by freedom of choice and the uniqueness of each individual. He likened a proper relationship with God to a love affair, saying, “It is at once painful and happy, passionate but unfulfilled, lived in time yet infinite”(Hubben, 1952, p. 24). Kierkegaard initially rejected Christianity while in college, but changed his mind some time later. However, the Christianity he accepted was well outside the walls of the institutional church. He had no patience for dogma. The ultimate state of being for Kierkegaard was arrived at when we decide to embrace God and take His existence on faith, without needing a logical, rational, or scientific explanation of why or how one makes such choice. He was a proponent of the “leap of faith” approach to religion: the moment Abraham lifted the knife to kill his son on Mount Moriah captures what he meant by religious faith. He advised reading the Bible as we would read a love letter, letting the words touch us personally and emotionally.

These excursions into philosophy are meant to help us discover the roots of psychology. Friedrich Nietzsche considered himself a psychologist. His approach was comparable to Sigmund Freud. In fact, Freudian and Nietzschian psychology shared the goal of helping their patients gain control of their powerful, irrational impulses in order to live more creative and healthy lives. Nietzsche identified urges as das es, which is Latin for the id. He often discussed repression (a later cornerstone of Freudian psychoanalysis). For Nietzsche, internalizing the external standards of others was problematic. Likely, he saw this as counter to being authentic. So-called religious “followers” in his eyes become slaves to the one they follow. I will admit that this is an acceptable tenet of Christianity (see Rom. 6:20-22), but the focus is more on “dedicated follower” than slave. Nietzsche’s remark, “God is dead,” has been misunderstood and misused for generations. Actually, he believed God was dead because “we have killed him.” By we, he meant the philosophers and scientists of his day who stubbornly held on to empiricism, giving no credence to the metaphysical or spiritual realm. This left mankind with nowhere to turn for answers to the four great questions: (1) Where did we come from? (2) What is the meaning of life? (3) What is the basis for morality (right vs. wrong), and (4) Where do we go when we die? With the so-called death of God came the death of His shadow (metaphysics) as well.

This seems to leave mankind in a cosmic tabula rasa devoid of transcendental or spiritual forces to guide us. Yet, amazingly, Nietzsche said conviction is “belief in the possession of absolute truth on any matter of knowledge” (4). But it was his opinion that rationalistic philosophy, science, and the organized church discourage us from having a deep, personal relationship with God. Logic and facts have nothing to do with such a relationship, which must be based on faith alone. In this manner, Nietzsche believed we killed God, at least philosophically. Ultimately, when we accept God on faith, God becomes (for us and our encounter with Him) a living, emotional reality in our subjective experience. Although I believe in the ontological existence of God, I believe it is critical we understand that a “speaking God” needs a “hearing church.” It is our individual faith that quickens our spirit and allows us to experience God.

The Fork in the Road

David Entwistle notes that every branch of learning provides a unique view of God’s world and allows glimpses of His mystery. For the evangelical, fundamental Christian, psychology must be infused with a theological belief about our place in God’s world. Christianity is much more than theology; it is predicated upon a personal relationship with Christ as Lord, as rabbi, as redeemer. Of course, Christianity holds very specific beliefs as to the cause of human suffering. Admittedly, this causes Christian counselors to come to the table with certain assumptions. Pastors and church elders shepherd church members toward a maturity in Christ, as they should. Elders tend the flock in such a way that believers develop from spiritual infancy to full-grown Christ-likeness. Paul wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh” (1 Cor. 3:2-3a, ESV). The word “milk” (Gr. gala) in the above Scripture passage means the basic, elemental teachings of Christianity first learned by new believers; the word “meat” (Gr. broma) denotes a deeper, more complete understanding and application of God’s Word.

What does reason have to do with faith? What does the intellectual have to do with the spiritual? What does philosophy have to do with Christianity? Tertullian summed up these questions when he asked, “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?”(5). Entwhistle noted “individuals who espouse a sacred/secular split in an attempt to preserve theological supremacy actually minimize the scope of God’s sovereignty” (6). This makes perfect sense. We cannot bifurcate God from His creation, or from our everyday existence. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to encounter fundamentalist or evangelical pastors and teachers who claim that Christians must reject in total the “false doctrine” of psychology, and run from all manner of secularism in order to find health and healing in Christ. It is critical to understand the difference between “secular” life issues and secularism. As human beings, we need to avoid an “ivory tower” existence. We cannot deny non-religious, “lay,” or temporal orientations while we remain in an earthly body. Secularism is a worldview that is hostile to Christian theology. Entwhistle helps put this matter into perspective: “To think secularly is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth… to think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God” (7) (italics mine).

In Part Four I will show how counseling provided to Christian believers in crisis by Christian practitioners and clergy must include discipling; and inversely, Christian discipling must include counseling. Further, I will introduce the concept that extremism regarding this continuum is destructive. So-called secular combatants see religion as incompatible with mental health and intellectual discourse. Christian combatants see psychology as an enemy which is opposed by sound doctrine, and they see the use of psychotherapy (and psychotropic medication) as incompatible with, if not unnecessary for, those who live victorious Christian lives. I will provide insight on the theory of “nouthetic counseling” (Gr. noutheteo, “to admonish”), which is a form of evangelical Protestant pastoral counseling based solely upon the Bible and focused on Christ. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, fundamentally opposed to Christianity, and radically secular.

I will present the case of Nally vs. John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. The case presents a variety of issues concerning a lawsuit for wrongful death by the parents of a suicide victim against Grace Community Church’s pastoral counselors. On April 1, 1979, 24-year-old Kenneth Nally committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. His parents filed a wrongful death action against Grace Community Church of the Valley, a Protestant Christian congregation located in Sun Valley, California, and four Church pastors, MacArthur, Thomson, Cory and Rea, alleging “clergyman malpractice,” specifically negligence and outrageous conduct in failing to prevent Nally’s suicide. A member of the Church since 1974, Nally participated in pastoral counseling at GCC prior to his death. The pastors vehemently discouraged Nally from receiving psychological or psychiatric care (despite a prior attempt at taking his own life by intentional drug overdose), failing to meet a standard of care for pastors, failure to secure proper psychological counseling training, and failure to disclose Nally’s true psychiatric condition to his treating psychiatrist and his parents.

The case of Nally vs. Grace Community Church puts at our feet the issue of integrating Christian theology and psychology. Pastors at GCC told Nally that his attempted suicide by overdose was a sign that God was punishing him. MacArthur and his pastoral staff told Nally his problems were rooted in sin, and that his mental illness could be properly treated by relying solely on biblical principles. The irony is not lost on me that psychology literally means “the study of the soul.” I will present the argument that psychiatric care must never be dogmatically withheld from a church member who is contemplating, or who has attempted, suicide.

Footnotes and References

(1) James Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 20.
(2) Alister E. McGrath, A Scientific Theory: Nature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009), 17.
(3) David N. Entwistle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd. ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books), 2015.
(4) Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (Germany: 1878).
(5) Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 7 (New York, NY: London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1914), 45.
(6) Entwhistle, Ibid., fn3, 8.
(7) Ibid., 9.