Category Archives: Church

Wrestling with Counseling Models

Years of pastoral ministry has led to scores of counseling sessions. Bible college and seminary both taught what is typically called “Christian Counseling.” Basically, this is putting a Christian spin on secular counseling theory and practices. Years ago, I even went through the American Association of Christian Counselors‘ (AACC) “Caring for People God’s Way” course on VHS. While I have found great value in Christian Counseling, I have grave reservations about the secular components of its foundation.

Though I never completed the degree, I did take several courses in the behavioral health program at a secular university. I gleaned a lot from the role-playing sessions in the basic counseling skills course and enjoyed learning about a wide variety of counseling theories. The ethics course, on the other hand, was a little tougher – not due to the coursework, but as a result of seeing how powerful cultural influences are on the field. It was in that course I realized how difficult it would be to maintain a faithful witness to Scripture and be a counselor licensed by the state. It was also in that course that I gave up my desire to pursue a secular counseling degree and abandoned any plans of counseling outside of the pastoral ministry context. To further pollute my views of secular psychology, the APA has come out with some controversial statements about masculinity – this in a society so desperate for authentic men and not the boys in men’s bodies we so commonly see masquerading as the real thing. Thankfully, there are voices of reason out there that are pushing back against the progressive onslaught.

Moving on…

Through the years I have read various Biblical counseling texts, but have not been overly impressed with them. It wasn’t the notion of Biblical counseling that I had trouble with, it was the practical application – what did it look like in actual practice? Recently, however, I began listening to a Biblical Counseling podcast and have been impressed with it thus far.  I appreciate the focus on Scripture and how the podcaster gives practical examples of application.

If you are unfamiliar with Biblical counseling, take a look at this article.

This is not to say that I have abandoned Christian Counseling. Indeed, I think there is much to commend in the approach. For one thing, a lot of research has gone into the various therapeutic models. Furthermore, I think some models have an underlying foundation that is rooted in the Scriptures, even if this was, and is, unknown or unrecognized by its modern proponents. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy reminds me of Paul’s exhortation,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 ESV)

Similarly, Paul says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9 ESV)

You can also take a look at Colossians 3:1-11

While I have very serious reservations with certain aspects of secular psychology, I also think we need to be careful to avoid throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. We need to be able to chew the meat and spit out the fat and gristle.

This post is getting rather long, so I’ll wind it down. At the end of the day, I think both Christian and Biblical counseling models have tremendous value and people who are interested in the ministry of counseling can learn a great deal from both.

The Shocker in St. Louis

I did not think it would happen, but it did: the UMC took a conservative stance on a social issue at a General Conference. Much to my surprise, the Special General Conference passed the Traditional Plan – the one I had hoped they would. With the bishops throwing their weight behind the One Church Plan, and throwing in a big name like Adam Hamilton to speak on their behalf, it looked like the fix was in. But, thankfully, many brothers and sisters in Christ took a stand and upheld what the United Methodist Church already stated in its Discipline. Yes, you read that right. Despite some out there claiming that something new and sinister was passed at the General Conference in St. Louis, the truth is that the church voted to affirm and actually enforce what is already codified in The Book of Discipline. So, when you read a news story like the one produced by a Florida news station, just know that there may be a spin and more investigation is warranted.

It should be pointed out that the plan still has to go before the Judicial Council, which meets in April. However, there is certainly reason for traditionalists in the United Methodist Church to celebrate. The Church should be about the business of transforming culture, not being transformed by it. The UMC took a stand. Praise be to God.

It’s time for the UMC to Split

It is time… In fact, it is past time for the United Methodist Church to go through an amicable separation. For far too long we have been playing the game of trying to stay together and pretend everything is well. The reality, however, is that everything is not well.

I believe it was at the 2008 or 2012 General Conference that mention of an amicable separation was mentioned, only to have the typical knee-jerk spasmodic reaction that we typically have when someone mentions the idea. People were up in arms, calling for unity, and speaking about how foreign such an idea was. Garbage. The idea was not foreign. Indeed, many of us have thought about it for a number of years. The reaction of  many of the representatives at General Conference reminds me of the way the media reacted to the 2016 election: we never saw that coming. No kidding. To see something like that coming you have to get out of whatever ivory tower you are in and visit the commoners that populate the churches on Sunday morning. There you will find a wide range of folks. There will be everything from people who abhor the idea of a split to those who have their metaphorical “bug out” bags packed and ready to go.

If we would have taken seriously the words spoken at that General Conference years ago, a lot of heartache and ill will within the denomination could have been avoided. The new denominational structures would already be up and running by now and we could all focus on ministry instead of figuring out how we can muck up things for a while longer.

If you have been following all the chatter around the special General COnference this year, then you have probably formed an opinion about which plans you like and don’t like for moving forward. For me, the Traditional Plan is the way to go. Now, I understand a split will undoubtedly follow this move, but it will be good in the end. The Bishops seem to be obsessed with the One Church Plan, but unless following the PCUSA down the same path they took is your idea of good plan, then I would avoid this like the plague. The other plan they have been tossing out there, where we essentially have different jurisdictions of the church based on theology overlapping geographically, is the ecclesiastical version of a house of mirrors – you never know what you are looking at.

I think I’ll leave it at that for now.

Can the United Methodist Church Survive?

The United Methodist Church is rapidly approaching a fork in the road that has enormous consequences regardless of which direction it chooses.  For years the church has been embroiled in a controversy of its own making.  On the one side are traditionalists who want to turn the church back toward its theology of origin.  On the other side are those who wish to set aside traditional ways of thinking for more progressive.  And, in the middle are those with their heads in the sand hoping the denomination can continue pretending that all is well.

Those in the middle are in a hopeless situation to say the least.  That leaves the traditionalists and progressives to determine the future of the church.  Can the two sides be reconciled? Let me answer this with a clear and emphatic “no!”  When one side or the other speaks of reconciliation in matters of theology, what they are actually saying is, “Come over to my side and we will be reconciled.”

I, myself, am counted amongst the traditionalists.  And, I do think the church needs to split.  Staying together like we are is helping no one.

Now, let me speak briefly to something I typed in the opening paragraph.  I wrote that this controversy is of our own making and I mean every word of that.  Refusing to stand firmly on beliefs only leads to the degredation of those beliefs.  The old syaing goes, “If you let the nose of the camel intio the tent, you let the whole camel in.”   In the same way, when the United Methodist Church refuses to enforce its own Book of Discipline, it cannot help but to collapse under the weight of all that soon follows.  This is where we are now: a camel is in the tent.  It is time to either move on, or learn to live with a camel.

Happy Reformation Day!

In honor of this 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day, I am posting some photos relevant to the occassion.  Enjoy!

The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Of the original, only the four walls remain.  The church has been destroyed multiple times since Reformation.

Sculptures of Luther and Melanchthon inside the Castle Church.  Also in this picture are the graves of the two men. Yes, there are a lot of people buried inside some of those old churches.

Pictures inside the church in Wittenberg that Luther actually preferred to attend.  He spoke at the Castle Church as part of his employment contract.  The Castle Church was, in fact, a private church.

The church in Erfurt, Germany, where Luther was ordained.

An original Luther Bible.  I only wish the picture was a little clearer and did a better job of showing the size of this volume – it is massive.

An original indulgence and various coins that would have been used at the time frame to pay for indulgneces.

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And, finally, what you have been waiting for… “the door.”  Unfortunately, it is something of a letdown since it is not original.  The actual door was destroyed quite some time ago.  This is the site of that famous door, and the one you see here memorializes the event by including the 95 theses in its design.

Have a blessed day!

A Denomination’s Descent Into Irrelevance

I have been a staunch defender of my denomination (The United Methodist Church) throughout my life as a Christian.  However, that being said, I have also been a witness to that very same denomination’s continuous descent into irrelevance.  I get daily emails from our News Service detailing all the trendy projects that we have gotten involved with or how we have joined in with issues that are celebrity causes.

I am saddened by what has happened, but I cannot say that I am surprised.  What, you might ask, has led this descent into irrelevance?  In my humble estimation there is no clearer answer than that the church has become obsessed with being culturally relevant.

What do I mean by this?  To me, it’s simple.  The church has chosen to alter or set aside it doctrines and discipline in an effort to be more acceptable to the mainstream culture.  While this sounds all well and good there are some serious difficulties that accompany such a strategy.

  1. The church was never supposed to conform to the culture.  From its inception, the church was countercultural.  The membership of the body of Christ is to “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” (Matt. 6:33 KJV) not to seek approval of the prevailing culture.  The church is to be in pursuit of holiness.
  2. By pulling up its theological anchor and allowing itself to be blown about by the winds of worldly culture, the denomination has diminished its identity and become just another unstable institution in an unstable world.  There is a longing out there for something that is consistent, steady, and willing to stand against the currents of our world.  The church has always been a rock that people could stand on during turbulent times.  But when the church seeks to appease the world by forsaking its doctrinal integrity, what you are left with is something built on shifting sands.
  3. Cultural appeasement is a slippery slope.  If we acquiesce to the whims of worldly culture at points A, B, and C, is there a point at which the process can, and will, stop?  Looking at other examples from mainstream Protestantism the answer appears to be, no.

This is something of a gripe session and it is late in the evening here, but it hurts me to see the way we have become obsessed with chasing after all the latest trendy projects while never looking back to make certain that we have not lost our way.

In the pursuit of relevance, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Let us return to our roots and consider our theological foundations that we may be better equipped to engage a hurting world.  After all, if we lose our identity by tossing to the side our doctrine and discipline, then we are just another social group.  And that is not what we have been called to be.

My Top Ten Books for Christians

It seems that there are a lot of “Top Ten” lists of books that every Christian should read.  So, as I sat down this morning, I thought to myself, “Why not make one of those lists?”  With that in mind, here goes my top list:

#1. The Bible.  This may be the most obvious of them all, yet it is strangely missing on a lot of lists.  Without a doubt or hesitation, I can say that every Christian should read the Bible.  All too often people will read books about the Bible while never having read the Bible itself.  I understand you may have to read a book about a time or country that you are unable to visit, but getting your hands on a Bible in most places is not that difficult.  The Bible is the sacred text of the Christian faith and, as such, should be read by adherents of the faith.

#2. Mere Christianity.  This classic by C.S. Lewis is an excellent, understandable defense of Christianity.  Lewis was a remarkably articulate writer who seemed to make difficult concepts very accessible.

#3. Christianity 101.  This book, by Gilbert Bilezikian, was one of the first I read after deciding to get serious about my faith.  I still recommend it to others as a great introduction to the faith. In particular, I like that Bilezikian exposes the reader to different views within the church on a variety of doctrines.

#4. Know What You Believe.  I read this little gem by Paul Little while working on my undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute.  To this day, I still think it is one of the more useful books that I have come across.  Between this book and Bilezikian’s, you should be able to get a grasp on the major doctrines of the church.

#5. Know Why You Believe.  This is another book by Paul Little that I think is worth reading, especially for those who are in the early stages of their Christian walk, or those who simply have not thought about why they believe what they believe.

#6. Disciplines of a Godly Man.  I was recommended this book, written by R. Kent Hughes, years ago, and I am grateful that I took the time to read it.  Now, I should note that between the author and his wife, they have books that relate specifically to men, women, and the family, so they have you covered.  While there are many who will put Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I find this book to be far superior.  In particular, I found it to be the most practical book I have read relating to spiritual disciplines.

#7. Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic by John Bunyan is another that I read soon after deciding to take my faith seriously.  I am just as impressed today, as I was then, with how Bunyan managed to intertwine the Scriptures into his book.  The man is masterful in that regard.

#8. Evidences of Christianity.  Another classic on the list, this one was written by William Paley.  You may be more familiar with Paley as he relates to the design argument.  This book, however, is a rich treasure trove of information as the author sets out a case for the Christian faith.  His argumentation is methodical and well supported. And, as a bonus, the book is in the Public Domain so you can read it for free.

#9. Reasonable Faith.  William Lane Craig does a superb job of laying out his case for the Christian faith in this book.  For those who might think the content is a little too advanced, his book, On Guard, is more accessible, while still covering much of the same information.  Of the modern apologetics books, this is a great place to start.

#10. The Space Trilogy.  Before there was Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy of books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.  The books can be purchased individually, or as a single bound collection.  The Books are real treat to read even while dealing with heavy spiritual ideas.  While I particularly enjoyed the first and third books, they are all worthwhile and I can heartily recommend them to any Christian looking for some quality science-fiction to read.

Now, I should close this post out by saying that you can always check out my books 😉

Happy reading!