The Upcoming Psychologized Generation





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by T.A. McMahon

Most Christians, including many who claim to look to the Bible as their authority in all matters of living their lives in submission to the Lord, give only lip service to the sufficiency of God's Word. In other words, they contradict their professing belief in biblical authority by looking elsewhere for solutions to solving life's problems, primarily by turning to so-called authorities or "experts"--and particularly to psychologists.

by T.A. McMahon

When Dave Hunt and I wrote The Seduction of Christianity more than 25 years ago, the conservative evangelical church was more than pleased that we were addressing some of the erroneous teachings and practices of the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, particularly those that promoted the unbiblical prosperity and healing doctrines. Yet that enthusiasm was short-lived when many such readers got to chapters 12 and 13. Why? Those chapters addressed the biblical problems with psychological counseling in the church, a phenomenon that had installed itself within evangelical Christianity in a major way.

That was more than a quarter of a century ago, and one might guess (or hope) that the body of Christ would have become aware of the preponderance of studies from some research psychologists who demonstrate that psychotherapy is not only practically worthless but is even quite harmful in many situations. Few, however, have taken notice. As a consequence, psychotherapy has become so accepted among evangelicals today that rarely is anyone aware of the dangers.

How did the evangelical church slide into such an astounding lack of discernment? The fundamental reason is shockingly simple: most Christians, including many who claim to look to the Bible as their authority in all matters of living their lives in submission to the Lord, give only lip service to the sufficiency of God’s Word. In other words, they contradict their professing belief in biblical authority by looking elsewhere for solutions to solving life’s problems, primarily by turning to so-called authorities or “experts”–and particularly to psychologists. This is a tragic mistake because God’s Word is sufficient: “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” (2 Peter 1:3). The Word of God is the Manufacturer’s Handbook, with instructions for humanity regarding “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” What exactly are the “all things”? Certainly everything that pertains to or involves moral issues and anything that is sin related–either how to avoid it or how to repent of it. Clinical psychology cannot deal with sin–although most if not all of the issues for which people turn to psychotherapists are due to sin. The outcome of seeking psychotherapeutic help is always destructive for the faith of the believer for what should be obvious reasons.

Psychological counseling is an anti-biblical replacement program for the Manufacturer’s Handbook. Its essential doctrine is that self, which is declared to be innately good, is the key to solving all of life’s problems. Therefore, foundationally, it stands in direct opposition to the Scriptures, which declare that self, i.e., man, is innately sinful (Jeremiah 17:9). If self, also known as the heart of man, is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” as the Bible declares, then self is the problem rather than the solution. Just as a leopard cannot change its spots, there is nothing within self that can change its sinful nature. Nothing in the theories or practices of psychotherapy can change this fact. So why would psychotherapists, in view of all of the horrendous evil that we see demonstrated daily throughout the world, hold to a premise that simple observation denies? They have no choice. Without God, only self remains. And so the delusionary charade based upon the innate goodness of man goes on (as well as the terrible consequence) for people who have turned from God to a deified self.

The good news is that God knows the problem that besets humanity and He has provided the solution through His Son–a solution that will change the heart of every human who will turn to Him and accept His offer. Christ’s full payment for the sins of humanity not only makes those who receive His payment for themselves new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but they are also sealed with the Holy Spirit of God, the only true Counselor and Comforter of all believers. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the One who enables the born-again Christian to understand the Manufacturer’s Handbook and live out its instructions (John 14:26; Zechariah 4:6). That’s what the Bible declares; so why would those who profess to believe in the Bible forsake its wonderful claims? Jesus announced that He came that those who believed in Him “might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

So why do believers look elsewhere? One of the major reasons is simple–and therefore correctible. If a believer is not reading his Bible and is relying on other sources for his biblical intake, he will have only a vague idea of what’s in it, and much of his thinking about it may be deluded or distorted. That contributes to one’s having a serious lack of confidence in God’s Word. Such a person is rendered incapable of recognizing what’s biblical and what’s not. Yet the condition is hardly hopeless. Biblical discernment doesn’t depend upon scholarship or knowing Greek and Hebrew or attending seminary or having an apologetics degree from a Bible college. It’s simply a matter of a believer’s disciplined reading (meaning every day!) of the Word of God, followed by a willingness to apply what one is reading to one’s life. How can a believer expect to recognize truth from error if he or she is not disciplined in reading and doing what the Scriptures teach? Biblical discernment is basically a matter of comparing what’s being promoted or taught in the world or the church with what the Bible teaches. A person cannot make that assessment if he is doubtful about biblical content. What is needed is the very thing that the Jews in the synagogue of the Greek city of Berea were commended for: they searched the Scriptures daily to see if those things that the Apostle Paul was preaching were true to the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11). If those Jews were so commended, how much more important it is that believers today follow their example.

Sadly, from my observation over more than three decades, the evangelical church has succumbed to nearly every seductive device the Adversary has dished out, all in support of his major strategy: to destroy the effectiveness of God’s Word in the church, as well as in the world. The seductive program began in the Garden of Eden with Eve: “Yea, hath God said…?”–a ploy to get her to rethink God’s commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had indeed declared to Adam, “…for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Satan then denied God’s command by telling Eve, “Ye shall not surely die…” (Genesis 3:4).

It is important to note that the sowing of doubt followed by the denial of the truth of God’s Word has been the Adversary’s tactic in his quest to destroy mankind ever since. His chief strategy is to undermine the Scriptures. To the degree that a believer turns from the Word of God–whether through apathy, laziness, being spoon fed, having a self-serving interest, turning to outside sources, being deceived, listening to extra-biblical misinformation, etc.-t-o that degree his ability to discern has deteriorated. Without biblical discernment, a believer is ripe for any and all of Satan’s deceptions, which brings us back to what may be the Adversary’s most effective contemporary scam: “psyching out” the evangelical church.

It began, as most seductions do, in small doses and influences, all of them somewhat subtle and appearing to make sense. In the mid-20th century, psychologists such as Erich Fromm began writing about love, and in particular the value of self-love. Abraham Maslow, in the 1940s, included self-esteem near the top of his “hierarchy of needs.” Evangelicals took note. Norman Vincent Peale and psychiatrist Smiley Blanton early in the 1950s established the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry. The Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), took root at the same time. Also, at that time, the American Psychiatric Association set up luncheons around the US, in which psychiatrists suggested to the religious community that working together to meet the needs of their flocks would be a match made in heaven. As that relationship grew, it was gradually impressed upon the pastors and priests that they were ill equipped to deal with most of the issues of their congregations’ problems of living. Many pastors fell into that erroneous idea and returned to school to earn degrees in psychology.

What began as a trickle turned into a flood from the 1970s through the 80s. Psychologist James Dobson released his book, How to Build Self-Esteem in Your Child: Hide or Seek. Robert Schuller’s book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation was sent out gratis to 250,000 pastors. Toward the end of the 1980s, the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), an organization that strongly endorses the integration of psychology and the Bible, had its beginning. Today it boasts on its masthead: “Nearly 50,000 Members and Growing Stronger Every Day.” The list of leaders who have spoken at AACC conferences consist of a Who’s Who? of the evangelical community. My Middle Eastern friends would characterize what I’ve described early on as “the camel getting its nose in the tent.” It should come as no surprise, then, that years later the camel is right at home within the tent. That “beast,” however, has displaced God’s way and His truth and is causing much destruction within the body of Christ.

Unless there is a dramatic recognition of the antibiblical nature of psychological counseling and its “spiritualized” counterparts (inner healing, Theophostic Counseling, Bethel’s Sozo, etc.), the worst is yet to come. What makes me think so? It has to do with our upcoming generation of evangelicals. Many are aware that evolution is a false science–a pseudoscience–thanks to the teaching and influence of organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis and individuals such as Carl Kerby, Jobe Martin, and many others. Psychological counseling, however, is also a pseudoscience (which we have documented in numerous articles and books that we have offered for years). Can you name any ministries equivalent in influence to that of ICR or AiG that are pointing out the pseudoscientific nature of psychotherapy? Not that there aren’t some out there, but they are small voices crying in the wilderness.

Now here is the really bad news. Our evangelical young people are being led by the pied pipers of so-called Christian psychology and through the greed of professing Christian universities to become practitioners in an antichrist field. It’s tragic enough that the upcoming generation is functionally biblically illiterate–they know how to read, and they have Bibles but don’t read them (See this issue’s NewsWatch), but add to that grievous condition the fact that they are being ushered into psychology. A survey by the prestigious Princeton Review noted that psychology was listed as the number-two major among college students. It’s very likely that the percentage is even higher for Christian students at professing Christian colleges because of their belief in the myth that psychology is a scientific way of helping people and that jobs may be available for them as counselors at evangelical churches. There is also other encouragement for them to seek such careers.

Dr. James Dobson is one of the many highly influential evangelicals ushering this next generation into psychotherapy. He writes: “Christian psychology is a worthy profession for a young believer, provided his faith is strong enough to withstand the humanistic concepts to which he will be exposed” (Focus on the Family, Dec. 1988). Dr. Dobson couldn’t be more wrong in his counsel to young believers. To begin with, “Christian psychology” is a misleading term. According to CAPS, “there is no acceptable Christian psychology that is markedly different from non-Christian psychology…as yet there is not an acceptable theory, mode of research, or treatment methodology that is distinctly Christian” (From a paper presented at the Western Association of Christians for Psychological Studies, 1976, cited in Psychoheresy by Martin & Deidre Bobgan, Eastgate Pub., 1987, p.5). As noted, scarce is the young believer today whose faith is strong enough and whose discernment level high enough (because of his study of the Word of God) to withstand the onslaught from such a pursuit. And finally, it isn’t merely a matter of being able to stand against some of the humanistic concepts in psychotherapy. No, the entire field of psychological counseling is rooted in the humanistic concept of self.

It is also rare that a Christian academic institution would reject psychology for biblical reasons (although there are a few). Some offer psychological counseling for the same reasons that they teach evolution in their so-called science departments–they accept it by faith. But it’s also a matter of “filthy lucre,” i.e., it’s an economic proposition: students keep the school afloat financially. If the school does not offer psychology, “the number-two most popular major,” the students will go elsewhere; if they go elsewhere, the school sinks economically.

What all of this leads up to is a generation of evangelicals who will have been heavily psychologized and further conditioned against the belief in the sufficiency of the Word of God. And because most of the church is supportive of the psychological way, there will be few warnings regarding the spiritual disaster that lies ahead.

Is there any hope of averting such a tragic end result? Yes…but the term “hope” may seem a bit optimistic. Nevertheless, we have a potential remedy and encouragement from the Book of Nehemiah. Upon returning to Jerusalem from Babylon, Nehemiah was confronted by a development that outraged him: the Jewish leaders had given to Tobiah, the servant of the wicked Sanballat and enemy of Israel, a “chamber in the courts of the house of God.” Nehemiah’s response, as a man of God, as a type of the Holy Spirit, as a watchman who oversaw the building of the wall surrounding Jerusalem for protection, was God ordained: “And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber” (Nehemiah 13:7-8).

Unless today’s men of God, shepherds of God’s flock, those whom God has privileged in leadership positions do likewise with the “psychological stuff” that is in the church, they are unwittingly contributing to the last days apostasy (2 Timothy 3:1-2). And by failing to warn this and the next generation, their “blood,” i.e., the resulting spiritual destruction, will fall upon those who will be held accountable–those who could have done something but did nothing. It doesn’t have to be that way.