Alasdair Groves sits down and talks about psychology with David Powlison.
Additional Resource: Ten Way Ordinary People can Help Those with Psychiatric Disorders by Ed Welch
Use the coupon code: podcastView Article
Alasdair Groves sits down and talks about psychology with David Powlison.
Use the coupon code: podcastView Article
It is hard to imagine, but try slowly dismantling your resume. What personal achievements have some importance in your life? Include health, education, weight, fitness, general attractiveness and unique abilities. If you were to boast, what might you boast about? Now, toss these out one at a time. Do some hurt more than others? What is left when the achievements are gone?
Some people don’t have to imagine. They have lost jobs to a shrinking economy, lost abilities to a body and brain that are less and less competent, or lost children, who were once their pride and joy but are now living in ways that no longer enhance a parent’s reputation. Yet—all those who live long enough will suffer losses. You will watch your resume gradually go up in smoke as no one remembers your vocational contributions, no one cares where you went to school, your physical appearance will win no prizes, and the world is gradually forgetting you.
In other words, let’s enter into the Apostle Paul’s dismantling of his own resume.
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil 3:4-8)
In ancient Israel, horses, chariots and secret pacts with foreign powers were things that people would trust in rather than trust in the Lord. From Roman times to the present, we cling to achievements that can enhance our individual reputations because we can cash them in for power, sex, love, respect, money, or just some fleeting self-worth. Paul knew that achievements can so easily become our confidence, and he wanted none of it.
If we were asked to identify the primary hazards of daily life, we would first consider the ever-present possibilities for pain and failure. But Paul disagrees. Pain and failure have their challenges, but they are not the biggest threat. It is our successes that pose the greatest danger. Our human tendency is to find something that we have done that can prop up our identity. For that, we don’t need an endless resume, though we might prefer one. We will usually settle for one achievement that is a bit more impressive than someone else’s.
Paul invites us to burn those resumes now rather than have them burned later—to burn those achievements that we account as our righteousness. Only then can we know something—someone—of surpassing worth and what we receive in him will survive the refiner’s fire.
How many times today have you been irritated? Frustrated? While you might not think about it often, if you look closely at any day most everyone can find anger in their actions and attitudes. Something spills or goes missing, we get stuck in traffic or someone cuts us off on the road, or we feel like the people we live and work with are only making our lives more difficult. And while no one wants to get angry, what happens when our irritations and frustrations rise yet again?
Anger is so common—yet it also hurts. It not only leaves a mark on us, but it also leaves a marks on others. The wounds we inflict on ourselves and others because of anger—loss of intimacy, trust, security, and enjoyment in our closest relationships—give us compelling reasons to look closely at our anger and think carefully about how to grow in peace and patience.
But if you, like many others, have just gotten irritated for the umpteenth time today, you might wonder if change is possible. Can anyone truly find peace? The answer is yes, but you will need a plan. Biblical counselor and psychologist Ed Welch invites readers to take a fifty-day journey that unpacks anger while encouraging and teaching readers to respond with patience to life’s difficulties. Readers will also be introduced to Jesus, the key to any plan for change. Known as the Prince of Peace, he is the only one who can empower his people to grow in patience, peace, and wholeness.
Sign up for 8 weekly videos delivered to your inbox as you work through this 50 day devotional with author Ed Welch.
The book is called A Small Book about a Big Problem.¹ It’s fifty devotionals about anger. The question is whether or not it is impolite to give it as a gift.
To give this book to someone is akin to giving a breath mint to the person sitting next to you in church, which happens to me most Sundays when I am sitting next to my wife. So it is okay to give it. We are still happily married.
But there is actually more to this analogy. If I have bad breath, I am the last one to know. Others notice it. I don’t. Those who don’t know me well would never say a word. They would only take a step back. All people-pleasers would remain silent too, because an offer of a breath mint might cause offense. Only the one who loves me the most—and is most affected by it—brings it to my attention.
These are also the ways of anger. Other people are affected by it; the angry person is unaware. Only when a loving person speaks out is there hope for growth and change. Where the analogy breaks down is that unlike bad breath, anger is deadly. It tears down relationships and, left unattended, can take the soul of the person given to anger. So it is okay to give this book to someone, but it is best done with wisdom and love.
Here are some possibilities.
If you have seen a friend head toward anger, you can be sure that you are only seeing a small piece of something much larger. If you are the spouse of an angry person, then that anger, no matter how infrequent, is tearing down the relationship and time will not change it. In other words, anger is not a problem that we overlook. Those who love do something. Perhaps this book, even if it meets with some initial resistance, could be a way to raise a matter that can be sensitive and even frightening.
¹ The full title is A Small Book about a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace, and yes, I am the author.
² I hope this doesn’t seem sexist. I actually think it is a cute-looking book.Buy from WTSBooks
We recently sat down with CCEF Executive Director, David Powlison, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. What was the reason behind CCEF choosing family as the topic for the conference this year?
For previous conferences we have usually picked an individual issue, something people struggle with on their own – for example, anger, shame, emotions, suffering, or addictions. But family is a bigger topic, and that intrigued us. Family makeup is one of God’s core purposes–and his family embodies all the same blessings and brokenness as other families. For example, we were all born into some version of family–whether good or bad or a mix, whether whole or broken. Family affects each of us as we come into adulthood and come to terms with the family in which we grew up.
New families grow even while we still relate to the one we started in. And families shrink through empty nest, divorce, and bereavement.
The topic is so much bigger than just marriage and kids and parenting, and we want our conference to reflect that.
Family includes concerns such as how to care for aging parents. My mother passed away a year-and-a-half ago at the age of 94. The last three years of her life were very challenging for my brother and sister and me. Why is it that we were so involved in her care? Because she is our mom.
Of course, we will talk about parenting, as well as many other family concerns such as adoption and how one even thinks about what a family is in a culture that has radically redefined family just in the last 20 years. So family is always a key topic. It seems timely for us to address it.
Q. What you’re describing is the expansion of what we might be assuming that a family conference is?
Right. Look at my situation for example. Nan and I are in our 60s. Our youngest child turned 30 last summer. Does that mean we no longer have family issues? As parents, you never stop caring about your children, even when they are adults. We are parents of independent, adult children. How do we relate to them, to their spouses, and to our grandchildren? How do you relate to a grown child who is experiencing singleness or is disabled or is struggling with a drug problem? All these issues are basically ageless when it comes to family.
In Scripture, leaving and cleaving did not mean creating isolated nuclear family units. Leaving and cleaving simply meant there was a new sexually-engaged couple, but it was within the extended family. Family always has these abiding, enduring aspects relationally, financially, and so forth.
Here’s something else that makes this topic so fascinating. The 1950s picture of a mom, dad, and kids with a white picket fence—a “Leave it to Beaver” image of life—is foreign to Scripture. Instead, family is a context of mutual defense, of mutual support economically, of hope for the future, of conflicts, of betrayal, and even of violence. There are no ideal families depicted in the Bible.
Family is so significant in Scripture and so intimate to how God conceives of who we are as people. It always has troubles that need to be addressed; and it can bring blessings like no other social institution.
Another aspect of family is how it can create a vision for the larger family of God. As our three children grew up, we were almost never alone as a family in our house. Our kids grew up with students, missionaries and other visitors living with us most of the time. Space was tight, but one of the results of having a lot of unrelated people living together was a really deep sense that the body of Christ is a family, and that other Christians truly are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. The kind of closeness and connection that happens with brothers and sisters in Christ can be profound. So when you talk about this larger view of family, it touches on how the church is the family of God.
Q. What are some of your own hopes for us as we engage this topic with those who come to the conference?
In all our conferences, as in our teaching and writing, we hope to disabuse people of the iconic images of what they think something is or ought to be whether that image is of the Christian life, or marriage, or family, or church. We aim to be faithful to Scripture’s portrayal of life. The Bible is very gritty and realistic. Life is never idyllic. There are always problems to face – and at the same time spectacular ways in how Christ personally addresses our troubles.
The grace and glory of God appears in the midst of troubles. It’s never an Edenic state of bliss, there’s always something much more interesting and dynamic happening in individual lives and in families. God’s at work in all things. We want to align our hearts, our actions, our purposes, and our words with his purposes.
My hope is that this conference will simply equip people to live better, to love better, to trust God, and to move toward problems more constructively, with more true hope.2017 National Conference
Why did you write Descriptions and Prescriptions?
When it comes to issues of psychiatric diagnoses and medications it is too easy for Christians to go to one extreme or the other. That is, to either grant too much authority to psychiatric classifications and solutions for people’s problems as though Scripture is irrelevant for issues of mental distress. Or to dismiss them altogether as though medical science is irrelevant for issues of mental suffering in Christians. I wrote this book to present a nuanced “third way” between those two extremes that is grounded in Scripture, does justice to human beings as embodied souls, respects the role of scientific inquiry, and suggests compassionate and wise ways to minister to those who are struggling with mental illness in our churches.
How do you think your medical background and ministry training/experience contribute to the shape of this book?
My training and experience in both medicine and gospel ministry means that the book is first and foremost grounded in Scripture while also giving careful consideration to the medical research that contributes to the discussion. The book is marked by both biblical and scientific inquiry.
Who is your target audience?
My primary audience includes helpers and leaders in the church–pastors, vocational counselors working in a church setting, lay counselors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, and others involved in one another ministry. I trust the book will be helpful also for Christian psychiatrists, Christian psychologists, and Christian professional counselors.
What are the takeaways of your book?
For readers who come skewed to one extreme or the other regarding psychiatric classification and psychoactive medications, I hope they leave with a more balanced and nuanced approach. For readers who already have a more balanced approach, I hope they leave more clearly informed and equipped with biblical and scientific perspectives to undergird their ministry. Ultimately I want the perspectives of the book to provide helpers with guidelines for compassionate, wise, gospel-saturated care to those who are struggling with issues of mental health.
What imbalances have you seen in the way Christians think about psychiatric diagnoses and medications?
Regarding psychiatric diagnoses, I have encountered people who embrace a psychiatric label as an all-encompassing explanation for their struggles. Their diagnosis becomes the identity around which their lives orbit. They may seek only medical means of help and believe that biblical and pastoral realities are irrelevant to their problems. On the other hand I have seen people who resist a particular diagnosis when it might provide a helpful way to bring some clarity and order to their experience. These people may over-spiritualize their problems and resist appropriate medical interventions. Since God has made us both body and spirit creatures, it is important to consider both aspects of our personhood as we seek to understand the struggles of others.
What are some limitations and benefits of a psychiatric classification of people’s struggles?
The main limitation of a psychiatric classification is this: it is a description of the person’s experience but it is not an explanation for it. A diagnosis describes the person’s disordered thinking, emotion, and behavior but doesn’t tell you why the person is struggling in this particular way. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) acknowledges this limitation. This means that a diagnosis becomes a starting point (not an endpoint) for careful inquiry, biblical understanding of this person as a body-soul image bearer, and ongoing pastoral ministry. At the same time, certain psychiatric diagnoses (for example, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) alert us to patterns of severe suffering that may well require additional intervention, including medication.
How does Scripture give us a framework for understanding various forms of mental suffering?
Our starting point is Scripture because we cannot understand ourselves apart from God’s revelation to us. God created us as body-spirit image bearers who perfectly reflected His design for abundant and fruitful life (Gen 1:26-28; Gen 2:7). Body and soul worked seamlessly to honor and glorify God. The fall of Adam and Eve into sin affects us holistically—we are fallen, body and soul. Sin and suffering (physical and mental) become two ever-present realities for us as a result (Gen 3:16-19; Gen 6:3-7; Rom 5:12-21; Rom 8:22-23; 2 Cor 4:7-12).
There is no doubt that our cognition, our affections, and our will to act must and do reference the living God—we are by nature worshippers, according to Paul in Romans 1. The human heart is always active (Gen 6:5; Exod 25:2; Lev 19:17; Deut 6:5; Prov 13:12; Prov 14:13; Ezek 36:26-27; Matt 15:10-20; Luke 6:43-45; Eph 6:6; Heb 4:12). So while mental illness is suffering, it is also demonstrative of an active posture before the Lord—we remain image-bearers, after all! Our thoughts, emotions, and actions reveal an orientation toward or away from him, moment by moment. To ask, as Scripture urges us, “What does the call to love God and others look like in the midst of your suffering?” is a profoundly humanizing question.
At the same time we must recognize the mystery involved in the interface of body (brain) and spirit. Scripture doesn’t slice and dice people into bodies and spirits per se, but approaches God’s people holistically as saints who need confirmation of their identity in Christ, sufferers who need the consolation of God, and sinners who need loving correction of their wayward ways. Ministry to anyone with a psychiatric diagnosis always involves these elements in various measures (1 Cor 1:1-9; 1 Thess 5:14).
How does Scripture guide our thinking about the use or non-use of psychoactive medications?
Clearly, Scripture does not provide explicit instruction about the use or non-use of medication. However it provides a wise and balanced framework for considering such questions. For example, here are several biblical perspectives that offer guidance: (1) Relief of suffering and growth in Christian character in the midst of suffering are both important; (2) Medications are a gift of God’s common grace and medications (like any gift of God) can be used idolatrously; (3) Motives are important—a person can have wrong motives for wanting to take medication and a person can have wrong motives for not wanting to take medication; (4) Attention to the interplay between the spiritual and somatic aspects of the person’s experience is important. In the end, the use or non-use of medications is not a “right or wrong” issue but a “wisdom” issue. We ask, “What seems wisest for this particular person with this particular constellation of struggles and strengths at this particular time?”
If the local church embraced the ideas in your book, what would change?
My hope is that leaders in the church would have increasing confidence to pursue those in their congregations who are struggling with mental health issues. And that they would do so in a balanced way, being attentive to both spiritual and bodily aspects of these struggles. I want them to have a growing conviction that Scripture speaks broadly and deeply to the disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with psychiatric diagnostic categories, and that Scripture provides fundamental ways of understanding people that are much more full-orbed than a diagnosis can capture. At the end of the day my goal would be a restoration of the local church as the central locus of care for those who are troubled, while recognizing there are times when we must wisely partner with those in the medical community.
How can leaders in the church become better equipped to minister wisely to those diagnosed with psychiatric disorders?
The most fundamental starting point is to listen deeply to people and to Scripture. Both are critical. Listening to people’s stories without an accompanying biblical perspective will result in truncated, imbalanced ministry. Listening to Scripture without listening to people’s experiences will also result in short-sighted and imbalanced ministry. Always ask, “How does Scripture provide clarity and coherence to this person’s struggle as a body-soul image bearer?” But do so, making sure that you have sought to understand the struggler’s experience as well as possible.
Can you tell a story that illustrates the balanced approach you are advocating in the book?
I knew a man in my former church who struggled with paranoid schizophrenia. Despite the use of multiple medications, he continued to have bouts where accusatory voices filled his head, telling him that he was worthless and that he ought to kill himself. What did he need? Fine-tuning of his medications? Certainly that was something important to pursue, given the complexity of his psychoactive medical treatment. But I think what he also (and perhaps especially) needed at those times was a friend. A friend who would listen with compassion and patience. A friend who would take seriously the impact of those demeaning and frightening voices in his head. A friend to remind him of God’s favor, care, and presence in his experience of isolation, confusion, and loneliness. A friend who would pray for him and read the Psalms with him. A friend who would highlight that, in Jesus, nothing could separate him from the love of the Father (Romans 8:38-39). A friend who expected both personal and corporate benefit from having this man as a part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). You can be that friend. I can be that friend. And that’s apart from having any particular medical expertise with schizophrenia (which of course he needs as well). There’s the balance: by all means seek psychiatric input/medication when it seems justified but approach the person with biblical categories in mind, confident that God speaks into the experience of suffering.More info here
We recently sat down with CCEF Faculty Member, Julie Lowe, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. Would you share one of your conference topics and why you chose it?
Nurturing Family is one of my topics. I chose it because I think we need to consider how we can proactively pursue relationships in our family life. My goal is to talk about what inhibits that pursuit. All of us should be asking “What’s getting in the way of me communicating with my spouse or my kids or my extended family? Why is this not a priority anymore?”
The most obvious inhibitor to family relationships is the lifestyle we live and the culture we are buying into. Whether it’s materialism or success, or …fill in the blank, these things suffocate real loving interaction with people. Perhaps unwittingly, we have dismissed the need for authenticity and relationship, but for what? For things that do not satisfy—like getting ahead, having a big house, nice cars, and getting our kids into the best schools. We spend so much time and effort running after these things, that we end up living in superficial ways with each other. And after a while, it becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Q. You have a large family. Does this topic impact you?
Absolutely! We are a two-parent working family with six kids, and the demands feel endless. It’s easier to deal with the tyranny of the urgent rather than the meaningful and the eternal. To move beyond the day’s activity and the crazy schedule toward that which is long-lasting—fostering relationships with my kids—is hard. It doesn’t always come naturally. It’s easier to focus on the immediate demands that I’m facing rather than on relating to my kids.
So I’m convicted every time I speak about this topic. But when I feel this, it helps me to remember what is most important, and I hope, in some way, to pass that on to other parents.
Q. No one plans to have a disconnected family. Yet we end up there anyway. Where are we tripping up?
It’s so common now to have both parents working outside the home. Combine that with multiple activities and the belief that busier kids are better off, and you have the beginnings of the problem.
I think there is also social pressure for parents to be overly involved, whether it is at your kid’s school or at your church or in your career. We give the impression that we can “do it all.” When you value these things, it reduces the family’s time together. And how much harder would all this be in a single parent home?
Relationships are hard work. I think we want the payoff of a close family without all the little moments of effort to get there. And now, through social media, we have more and more opportunity to have pseudo-relationships in ways that require no work. It’s tempting to replace meaningful family interactions with less costly ones. Checking my Facebook page is certainly easier than engaging with my kids.
Q. How can the church be a support to nurturing relationships?
First of all, the church should be encouraging families to invest in one another before investing in the work of ministry. The irony is that when we are nurturing family relationships, we are inherently doing ministry—we are building the church one relationship at a time.
And I believe it’s also important to stop segregating groups according to their status in the church. There is a great need for singles, families, and the elderly to be involved in each other’s lives. There is so much richness each has to offer the other, but it takes time and work to cross these lines. We need the church to cast a vision that values these relationships.
Q. Is there a place in Scripture you’ve found that is helpful to the goal of working on family relationships?
In his epistles, Paul uses imagery of the body to represent the church, but it also applies to the family. For the different parts of the body to work together, they need to be in unity rather than disconnected— even though they are very different from each other. Additionally, much like every family, every church addressed in Paul’s epistles had different issues that needed to be worked through. They weren’t all called to be formulaic and uniform. They had different struggles. These examples give liberty for individuality, but always at the root is the call for us to live for others, to live beyond ourselves. In an individualistic culture, these words are all the more important to hear, as we can be a people consumed with ourselves rather than living sacrificially for others.
Q. What would you want people to take away from this time?
I hope that we all walk away with a greater conviction to evaluate our lifestyles and priorities, assess what they reveal, and then do the hard work of changing them where change is needed. My hope is each of us will be challenged and committed to the work of relationships no matter how hard it is. With God’s help, we can make changes that really matter.