The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

You can't climb the mountain if you're paralyzed

My friend is vehemently opposed to Christian psychology. So, I ran across this book and read two good chapters that have helped me to think through some of the issues with spirituality and psychology.

The big issue has to do with psychology as simply a method for making people feel better versus faith in Jesus which makes us into "new creations." My friend argues that to do anything less that convert an unbeliever is to be uncaring because it fails to meet their true need (redemption from sin and death) whether they are aware of it or not. I take a less hard-line approach and advocate an allowance for and acceptance of the choice and will of the client in the whole matter.

Dr. McMinn, in this book, offers some good basic ideas to help think about these matters. The first chapter I read was "Toward Psychological and Spiritual Health." In this chapter, he discusses the process of healing, recognizing that a similar theme applies to both psychological and spiritual healing. It begins with the sense of self-sufficiency, bottoms out in brokeness (both as a concious awareness and as a emotional sense), and begins to mend in a healing relationship. But this three-piece process is too simple, so we must not understand it as merely a linear progression but as an ongoing interactive triangle. Thus, this translates for the individual into developing three elements: (1) a sense of self, (2)an awareness of need, and (3)a healing relationship.

I resonate with this triangle of ongoing interaction. I am continually "making my rounds" moving from one of these to another. At some points in my life I am more aware of my brokeness and my need, at other times I am learning to better understand myself, and still other times a healing relationship (most often found in my relationship with God) is moving me out of brokeness into that promised "new creation."

This understanding was helpful to me in understanding the dabte with my friend. Dr. McMinn points out in the book that Biblical counseling proponents (which my friend is) emphasize the awareness of need or sense of brokeness as the first step before anything else can begin; for them it is paramount.

Brokeness is certainly necessary, but it need not be (indeed sometimes, cannot be) the first step. McMinn simply promotes a balance of emphasis between the three elements. In his view, there are some who must first be counseled to an understanding of self before they can accurately understand their need. A faulty awareness of self that is not address prior to an awareness of need can lead to harmful, maladaptive behaviors that leave the individual with more problems, not less. Perhaps that argument would be that What's more problems psychologically? At least they're saved. However, does that argument stand up? An inaccurate sense of self can leads to a misunderstanding of need, which in turn may lead to a faux conversion. This is certainly not caring most for the person. A false salvation and a false assurance is quite the opposite!

For example, an individual may come to counseling who is continually seeking acceptance in all forms. They are looking for affirmation from the counselor. If the counselor tells them they need to be saved before anything can happen, they will immediately acquiesce, get on their knees and confess whatever the counselors tells them they've done wrong.

Is this a real conversion? Has this people-pleaser been made right with God by the blood of Jesus? S/he did it not because s/he understood his/her sin but because s/he wanted to make the counselor happy.

This event is detrimental to the whole process. The counselor needed to address these feelings of codependence or insecurity or whatever the cause in order to improve the individual's sense of self. It's not a self-esteem issue, it's about having an accurate understanding of self and of relationships.

In this case, as it may also be with others, counseling toward a sense of self needed to precede any awareness of need/brokenness. Telling a people-pleaser s/he's broken would meet with an affirmative, "You're right. I am!" in the effort to be agreeable and avoid conflict. There was a journey that needed to be taken before brokenness made sense and the individual could clearly understand what s/he needed Christ for.

Still, developing an accurate sense of self is not always the first step. Sometimes an awareness of need is, maybe a healing relationship is even the first step. We must discern which it is. We must be flexible enough to help them in the right manner, following the right path. All are necessary, but the inflexibility of adhering to a single pattern will paralyze the counseling, leaving it ineffective.

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to push through the crowd to Jesus, but they couldn't reach him. So they went up to the roof, took off some tiles, and lowered the sick man down into the crowd, still on his mat, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
"Who does this man think he is?" the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to each other. "This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins?"
Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, "Why do you think this is blasphemy? Is it easier to say, `Your sins are forgiven' or `Get up and walk'? I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have the authority on earth to forgive sins." Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, "Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!"
(Luke 5:18-24, NLT)

Jesus could've used many words, but he chose the simple ones. Our strategies shouldn't limit how God chooses to work. Sometimes climbing the mountain means going around it.

Next up: Dealing with Sin