A Book Review of 'Mental Health & the Christian'
Secular humanism has made great inroads into every strand of society and has enjoyed significant success in removing reference to God and His Word within most societies throughout the world; this is most noticeable within academia and the UK judicial system, where previously held moral standards have been all but decimated. Laws that once reflected and upheld the moral principles of God’s Law have been replaced with manmade laws that reflect corrupted human thinking and are accommodating to the vilest of sins. Those who dare to proclaim God’s moral standards as set forth in His Word are currently being legislated against and Christians who do not conform and hold firmly to biblical standards are often subjected to abuse and even treated as common criminals.
Sadly, humanistic philosophies have been imbibed by many Christians and as a consequence, erroneous psychological philosophies are infiltrating churches that were previously sound in doctrine and practice. How any church that professes adherence to New Testament and Reformed teachings can permit humanistic psychological therapies and interventions to be promoted within their churches is extremely difficult to comprehend; when humanistic ideologies become acceptable, it will quite naturally follow that Christians will end up doing that which is right in their own eyes, which is very much in keeping with God denying humanistic philosophies.
Some Christians argue that acceptance of psychological theories or accessing psychological therapies is a matter of personal opinion but this is yet more evidence of the influence of humanism, which regards every individual as intrinsically good and capable of resolving problems, forming opinions and making decisions through the employment of science and reason apart from the restraints of religion and moral absolutes. When Christians begin to proclaim that their beliefs and the practice of their faith are a matter of personal opinion, then it is almost certain that a departure from the Faith once delivered to the saints will ensue. Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it very aptly when he said, “….Do not say of any error, "It is a mere matter of opinion." No man indulges an error of judgment, without sooner or later tolerating an error in practice.” Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, 4th July (AM)
The Christian who is walking with the Lord will never place any confidence in their personal ideas or opinions but will be solely guided and directed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105.
It is our prayer that this book review will clearly prove that psychological theories and interventions are contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures. We also hope that it will enable Christians to be alerted if and when these false teachings begin to infiltrate their Churches and embolden them to do all in their power to resist such grievous error.
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:16
A Book(let) Review of:
‘Mental Health and the Christian’
by Dr Nigel Campbell & Rev Colin Mercer
(Foreword by Dr Ron Johnstone)
Published in 2021 by the Publications and Media Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster
Mental wellbeing has been brought to the fore of public attention with the onset of the Covid19 pandemic. The accompanying societal lockdowns and associated losses are being attributed to the surge of people presenting with depression and anxiety. Subsequently, the above mentioned booklet has been published in an effort to address mental health issues experienced by Christians from a medical and a pastoral perspective. It has been written in a simple, non-jargonised style with the stated purpose of making it easy to understand.
Within the second page of this booklet under the title of ‘Problems Speaking About Mental Health’ the following statement appears, “Mental illness is a disease like any other and, just as Christians are not exempt from infection or cancer, so they are not exempt from anxiety or depression.” Categorising a mental condition on a par with a physical condition can easily be undermined due to the fact that a mental problem can be faked and such feigning cannot be disproven by any credible diagnostic test; on the other hand, it is well nigh impossible to fake physical ailments like cancer, an infection, a broken bone or a heart attack. King David is a prime example of how easily this can be done when he convincingly feigned insanity before the King of Gath (1st Kings 21:13-15).
Viewing a mental condition as the equivalent of a physical illness is a relatively recent development; the very word ‘psychology’ indicates that this has not always been the case because it is based on the combination of two Greek words, ‘psyche’ meaning the mind or soul and ‘logos’ meaning discourse or to study; despite his many perverse theories about human thinking and behaviour, Sigmund Freud rightly identified psychology as the study of the soul, that unseen and eternal part of every human being that pertains to their feelings, emotions, desires, motives, thoughts and resultant behaviour. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7a.
The authors of this booklet seem to favour a ‘holistic’ approach to diagnosing and treating mental health problems with the apparent use of the biopsychosocial model of health, an assessment tool used by an ever increasing number of health practitioners. Subsequently, the booklet recommends quite a wide range of solutions from a medical perspective for a Christian who is experiencing mental distress that can be classified under each of the biopsychosocial sections:
· BIO - medication (page10-11)
· PSYCHO - relaxation & talking therapies (page 10)
· SOCIAL - lifestyle changes (page 10)
Holistic assessment models are essentially humanistic in nature and therefore do not take into account that every person is a living soul who needs to be spiritually born again; more recent biopsychosocial models have added in a ‘spiritual’ component within the social section but this would have an extremely wide application and its inclusion is not intended to be conducive to Christianity, which is utterly despised by secular humanist groups who are currently very active trying to remove every trace of Christian/Biblical influence from within society.
Given that the authors of this booklet regard a mental health problem to be the same as a physical health problem, it is unsurprising that they censure anyone who would dare to suggest that a Christian’s mental anguish may at times be caused by sin or a lack of faith. (page 8). Scripture is very clear that anguish of soul may be caused by disobedience and could have a very serious impact on a Christian’s mental wellbeing because it deprives them of the infilling of the Holy Spirit whereby they are enabled to live spiritually fruitful lives that exhibit joy, peace and longsuffering (Galatians 5:22-23); even in the midst of life’s inescapable tribulations, the Spirit filled Christian is assured of the enjoyment of this blessed fruitfulness (John 16:33). Contrary to what the booklet suggests, it is entirely possible for a Christian who lacks faith as a consequence of disobedience (sin) to become extremely cast down and anxious in their souls because without faith it is impossible to gain benefit from the promises contained within God’s Word that are able to encourage and uphold the Christian undergoing distress within their souls. King David experienced great turmoil of soul as a consequence of his sinful behaviour in respect of Uriah and his wife Bathsheba and gained no relief or peace until he confessed his sin and repented towards God (Psalm 51).
Anxiety can of course be caused by the onset of some physical health problems but of late many Christians appear to be stressed and anxious due to an overabundance of care (e.g. Martha). This can result in them not taking the time to sit at Christ’s feet (e.g. Mary) in blessed communion with Him whereby they can be strengthened by His grace. There really is no substitute for the strengthening of a Christian’s mind and spirit other than partaking in the Divinely appointed means of grace (i.e. Prayer, God’s Word, Baptism & The Lord’s Supper); talking therapy, mystical mediation or relaxation techniques do not have the power to bring about a remedy to the anxious or cast down soul of a Christian.
Within the booklet (page 13), anxiety is attributed to the ‘flight or fight’ theory that was founded on the study of animals by an atheistic American physiologist called Walter Bradford Cannon in 1915 and this was developed further by two psychologists in 2010. Cannon believed human ‘flight and fight’ responses were evidence that human beings evolved from animals, hardly a legitimate Christian viewpoint to adopt as an explanation for Christians experiencing anxiety of soul. God created animals with an ability to act instinctively but human beings are markedly different from mammals because man was created with an eternal soul: “…the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7. God also gave man a conscience along with an ability to think logically and make rational decisions although these have been somewhat undermined as a consequence of sin. Additionally, He gives His redeemed people the Holy Spirit and His precious Word to be as a lamp unto their feet and to direct their paths so that a Christian’s responses and behaviour is very different from that of an animal and should always be in conformity to God’s Word; to liken man’s behaviour to that of an animal is an insult to the Lord’s glorious creative power.
The booklet commends ‘talking therapy’ or counselling courses (i.e. psychological counselling) as a means of help for Christians experiencing anxiety of soul but on a positive note it issues a caution, albeit very non-specific, that only those therapies which conform to the Christian viewpoint should be utilised. The Bible has much to say about ‘talking’ and the vast majority of these verses warn us to exercise restraint over our tongues; it is a great blessing to have good Christian friends with whom we can share our burdens. Nevertheless, this always needs to done discreetly and in accordance with God’s Word as disclosing sordid details or tarnishing the reputation of others, a commonplace occurrence within the Roman Catholic confessional box and professional counselling sessions alike, would be harmful to the hearer and teller and therefore talking therapies have great potential to be a most sinful practice. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19; “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” Proverbs 29:11; “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” James 1:19.
There is a wide range of counselling services available on the NHS and privately, including ‘Christian’ counselling services but the greatest number of these are based upon humanistic counselling/therapeutic models that have been developed by atheists or agnostics, many of whom have been deeply influenced by occultism, (eg. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung).
The use of ‘relaxation techniques’, which are taught within most, if not all counselling services, are also recommended for anxiety within the booklet (page 14); although no relaxation techniques are specifically named, a warning is issued to avoid “the more involved techniques based on yoga, which has its origins in Zen Buddhism.” Avoidance of yoga, which incorporates Eastern mystical practices like Taoism and Buddhism is of course very good advice but because this booklet is advising Christians to access counselling services (page 10) without specifying what techniques should be avoided, vulnerable Christians will almost certainly be introduced to Mindfulness, which not only incorporates the occult/Gnostic practice of Zen Buddhism but is in actual fact, an exact replica of this increasingly popular method of meditative relaxation.
Mindfulness is currently being promoted throughout every setting within society as a therapeutic relaxation technique to address anxiety and mood problems and is taught by the vast majority of counsellors of every shade and hue, including so called Christian counsellors. Given its rapid growth and huge popularity, it is extremely difficult to comprehend why the authors of this booklet have not included a very explicit warning to Christians against the use of the mystical practice of Mindfulness.
There is also a recommendation on page 10 for Christians to access ‘short counselling courses’, which by the description provided, appears to refer to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This ‘talking therapy’ is also widely promoted by most counselling services. The booklet describes CBT as follows: “There are short counselling courses that emphasise the need for recognising stressors in our lives and dealing with these in an organised way. They challenge negativity and encourage greater self-knowledge and taking control of our thoughts more proactively.”
CBT is a behavioural therapy based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of ‘operant conditioning or ‘learnt behaviour’, which effectively likens man to a dog that can be trained to behave in a certain way. It encourages individuals by their own ability to identify their negative habitual emotional responses (e.g. stress, anxiety etc) and to work out what changes they need to make within their lives to stop these negative, habitual responses. Stress, anxiety and low moods are a natural response to loss, pain, disease and adversity within the context of a fallen world but they can and do become very problematic when the Christian becomes overwhelmed by these emotions. It is the height of folly for a Christian to attempt to exert self-control over their habits or sinful behaviour via therapies based on the instinctive behaviour of a dog because the Holy Spirit can provide them with the victory needed by giving them the fruit of temperance (self-control). CBT and similar psychological therapies also encourage independence and autonomy but the Christian who understands anything about the great price Christ had to pay in order to secure their redemption, gladly relinquishes all of their ‘rights’ and surrenders every part of their lives unto the Lord.
Under the heading of ‘Bereavement’ the booklet refers to the stages of grief developed by a psychiatrist called Elisabeth Kubler-Ross although her name is not referenced anywhere within the text. This may be because Kubler-Ross was not a Christian and on the contrary, she had an extremely ominous interest in out of body and near death experiences and claimed she had two out of body experiences. She was attracted to Spiritualism, Mediumship and said she had a conversation with the ghost of one of her patients. She also boasted about having a spirit guide called Salem. Following a series of strokes, Kubler-Ross was confined to a wheelchair and faced with a slow death, she expressed a desire to determine the timing of her own death. Frustrated that her death was not coming quickly enough, she is quoted as blaspheming God by calling Him “a damned procrastinator”.
It hardly needs to be said that Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief have no Scriptural warrant and no useful application for anyone seeking to support a fellow Christian undergoing deep distress of soul. Like so many psychological theories, their development has been influenced by someone who had a macabre interest in the occult. Every human being has to face grief, losses and death; whilst there may be many common life experiences, the Christian’s responses should not be like those of an unsaved person when faced with adverse circumstances and loss. This booklet attempts to afford credibility to Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief by relating them to Job’s fleshly reactions to his continued sufferings in the later chapters of the Book of Job, sinful responses that earned Job the Lord’s rebuke from which he humbly repented; however, this godly man’s responses (Job 1) to the loss of his health, his wealth, his children, his reputation, the support of his wife and his friends are an example of how a Christian will respond to loss when they are walking in the Spirit. The latter two of the following points demonstrate that Job’s initial responses to his multiple losses are in stark contrast to the responses to grief conjured up by a godless psychiatrist including questioning, anger, bargaining, denial and finally acceptance:
In common with most of humanity, Job mourned and grieved when faced with a catalogue of dreadful losses. “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground.” Job 1:20a.
Job worshipped the Lord and uttered a prayer that indicated his acceptance and complete submission to God’s dealings in his life. “…..and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20b-21.
Job did not display any anger nor did he question or seek to bargain with God. On the contrary, he held his peace. “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Job 1:22
Scattered throughout this booklet there is some sound Scriptural and practical advice for Christians who are experiencing anxiety and other emotional difficulties but this is seriously undermined by the inclusion of advice for Christians to access psychological counselling services that will, without a shadow of a doubt, lead to the employment of relaxation techniques (Mindfulness) and so called ‘talking therapies’, that incorporate Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, all of which seriously undermine Christ’s matchless ability to effectively minister to the maladies of a Christian’s soul.
Psychological interventions are an affront to the all-sufficiency of God in matters pertaining to the soul. Christians overwhelmed by the burdens and cares of life insult the Lord when they turn to Mindfulness and other unscriptural interventions because they are bypassing mercies purchased on their behalf by Christ at an enormous cost. A Christian's dependency must always be placed firmly upon the Lord on matters relating to their souls and in all things pertaining to life and godliness. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;” 2nd Corinthians 3:5; “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Matthew 6:27; “….for without me ye can do nothing.” John 15:5.
Psychological counselling is based on human reasoning and earthly wisdom, which is described as devilish and sensual in James 3:15. Combining psychology and its humanistic counselling methods with Christian teaching is tantamount to mixing the precious with the vile, a concoction that is obnoxious to the Lord and should be equally repulsive to all those who love Him and His precious Word. Sadly, the Christian’s old fleshly nature has always had a tendency to mix God’s Word with earthly wisdom and vain philosophies.
“Beware lest anyman spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ,” Col 2:8.
Humanistic reasoning is but evidence of man’s innate opposition to God and His Word; it is not a recent phenomenon as it is an error that has been repeatedly committed by people since the Fall. It can be accurately described as rebelliousness and this is synonymous with the lawless spirit of Antichrist that can be traced throughout this earth’s history. Secular humanism and atheism will intensify as time progresses and God’s Law will continue to be rejected in favour of humanistic standards; this will lead to an ever increasing lawlessness that will usher in the perilous days predicted for the closing years of this age, finally culminating in the appearance of the man of lawlessness himself along with an intense period of great tribulation prior to the Lord’s return.
The writer of the foreword of this booklet commends the absence of medical terminology throughout its pages but the lack of any specific details regarding the counselling and psychological methods being promoted throughout its pages is extremely disconcerting and could be interpreted as a clandestine attempt to disguise the true nature of what is actually being recommended as a means to address mental distress experienced by Christians. Given that one of the authors of this booklet is a General Practitioner, he would almost certainly know that referring a patient to professional counselling services would result in them being introduced to Mindfulness/Zen Buddhism as a relaxation technique yet there isn’t a single word of caution within the text to warn Christians against accessing this occult method of meditation.
It is shameful that pastors, who have been ordained of the Lord as His under shepherds to feed and care for His sheep, farm them out to a hireling, who has no capacity whatsoever to care for the souls of the Lord’s sheep. (John 10:15). To direct Christians away from the Fountain of Living Waters unto broken cisterns that can hold no water is a most serious matter. (Jeremiah 2:13) The Lord pronounces a dreadful woe upon those pastors who scatter the sheep and in doing so expose them to many dangers. “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:1-2
Whilst the Lord often uses means developed by sinful men to provide people with relief from physical suffering, He will not and cannot bless the use of psychological therapies, which are intrinsically humanistic and godless, to relieve mental distress experienced by His children; this is because such interventions dishonour the Lord and rob Him of His unique role as Counsellor to the souls of His people. The innermost thoughts of any individual cannot be retrieved or comprehended by themselves let alone by humanistic therapists and counsellors who foolishly think that a person experiencing mental anguish can find relief by spewing out their innermost thoughts and emotions. The Lord alone has the power to search and discern the souls of men from where their thoughts and emotions originate. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:9-10. (emphasis ours) “Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;)” 1Kings 8:39. (emphasis ours)
Without forfeiting His sinless perfection, Christ shared in our human experience of sorrow, pain and grief so that he could be touched by the feelings of our infirmities and this enables Him to minister effectively to the needs of the souls of His own people. However, the Lord often uses another Christian to draw alongside a downcast brother or sister in Christ but that person must be equipped with a good knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and above all, they must be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit if there is to be any real benefit. Such counsel will be blessed of the Lord and because the Christian who is walking in the Spirit is but a sanctified vessel through whom the Lord is working and being conscious of their inability to do anything without the Lord’s power, it is certain that they will attribute all of the glory and praise to the only Counsellor who is worthy of it.
The booklet aptly presents Charles Haddon Spurgeon and William Cowper as examples of godly men who suffered greatly during periods of deep melancholy but as a consequence, great things were accomplished through the lives of these two godly men. CH Spurgeon declared that it was good for him to have been afflicted by his frequent bouts of melancholy because it made his ministry more affective. Only a Christian walking in the Spirit could utter such sentiments when they are undergoing intense physical suffering or anguish of soul. The Apostle Paul, when subjected to physical suffering, gloried and took pleasure in his infirmities knowing that his physical weakness would cause the power of Christ to rest upon him and empower Him to labour effectively in the Lord’s work. (2nd Corinthians 12: 9-10) The Lord purges a fruitful branch to make it more fruitful and the gold has to be tried in the fire to be made purer; these painful processes are necessary and sovereignly appointed by the Lord for the good of His children; what benefits and encouragements we would have missed out on if a record had not been made of the sufferings of the many saints who endured much pain and anguish in their bodies and souls (e.g. Job, Jeremiah, the Apostle Paul, the Reformers and the Covenanters etc). It is impossible to envisage that any of these great men of God would have countenanced the use of humanistic psychological interventions or eastern mystical meditation as a means to relieve their anguish of soul even if such interventions had been available to them during their lifetime.
As one would expect from a booklet written by Christians, there is some very good spiritual advice for Christians who are experiencing mental difficulties. In reality only a Christian possesses a spiritual dimension within their lives because, unlike the unconverted sinner who is dead in trespasses and sin, the Christian is spiritually alive having been regenerated (born again) by the Spirit of God; as a new creature in Christ, a Christian views their troubles from a different perspective than that of unconverted sinners and regards trials and troubles as Divinely appointed; they find great support through God's Word during suffering of body or soul and even though they may fall and experience deepest melancholy within their souls, they know that they will not be utterly cast down because the Lord upholds them with His hand (Psalm 37:24). Through the merits of Christ’s redemptive work on their behalf, a Christian is provided with infinitely superior solutions for the malady of their souls compared to the erroneous and unscriptural psychological interventions recommended within this booklet. For example, the Christian has among many other blessings:
direct access to God’s Throne of Grace through prayer
strength and guidance through God’s Word
the comfort of the Blessed Holy Spirit and His power to live victoriously and serve the Lord with joy
a great High Priest in heaven to Whom they can take their burdens and Who continually intercedes on their behalf before the Throne of Grace.
A Christian’s response to the trials and tribulations of life should be poles apart from someone who is spiritually dead in their sin because they are unable to access God’s help in respect of their needy souls until they repent of their sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. It is understandable that an unsaved person should seek solace for their troubled souls through humanistic psychological counselling or through mystical meditation for they do not have access to the infinite supply of riches stored up in Christ. On the other hand, it is incomprehensible that a Christian should seek out a solution for their malady of soul from anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ, considering all that He has provided for them through His perfect life, His atoning death, His resurrection and His ongoing mediation on their behalf.
Many problems arising within the Church can be traced to the undeniable fact that the love of many has waxed cold; hence there is little incentive amongst the Lord’s people to run in the way of His commandments or to avail of the means of grace whereby they are enabled to grow in grace and in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; subsequently, many Christians are weak, sickly and susceptible to the inclinations of their old nature, thus rendering them susceptible to deception that can result in them doing things that bring dishonour to the Lord.
The chronic lack of discernment amongst the people of God at this time means that the Bride of Christ is extremely unprepared for the perilous days that will shortly befall mankind; while the Church is slumbering, the enemy is taking advantage of this by stealthily infiltrating previously good churches with leavenous teachings that will undoubtedly destroy their testimony and usefulness. The Lord has provided His people with everything needed for the wellbeing of their souls, to keep them alert and to provide them with an ability to escape the snares of the devil. However, knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ is essential along with the fruit of faith to take hold of the great and precious promises whereby God’s children can be partakers of the divine nature by being conformed more and more to the image of Christ.
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2nd Peter 1: 3-4
May the Lord be pleased to awaken His slumbering bride and bring His people to feel their need for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, Who will enable them to discern between the precious and the vile. Such discernment is greatly needed to help Christians identify weak and beggarly elements like the ‘talking therapies’ (CBT/psychological counselling) and ‘relaxation techniques’ (Mindfulness/Zen Buddhism).
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:1-3.
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Galatians 4:9.
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting or drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Romans 13:11-14.