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The Theology of Experience: The Deceptive Support of Psychiatric Medications
Today we post the second of two articles by Dr. “Ab” Abercrombie of the Biblical Counseling Institute.
In a recent blog on the CCEF website, faculty member and author Dr. Ed Welch asks an important question for all biblical counselors: “Can We Be Positive About Psychiatric Medications?” (Welch, 2012). In answering this critical question, one would assume the author’s first reference would be Scripture. Regrettably it is not. Secondly, one would assume a review of scientific research. But again, this does not exist.
To answering this question requires a biblical and theological position that is confident and sure in its formulation. This position must be built from Scripture, supported with empirical data that should confirm the truth God’s Word reveals. Good science cannot prove the Scriptures wrong!
Unfortunately, Welch does not begin with a scriptural exposition. In fact, the article doesn’t reference a single passage anywhere. Further, the author does not offer scientific findings to support his answer, even in a primary position. Instead Welch shapes his conclusion on the subjective experience of others and the wisdom of his personal observations.
Experiential theology is dangerous indeed. It allows one to define God, and therefore God’s Word, according to what is observable, emotional, and loosely measurable. “If I see it, touch it, feel it, or judge it as correct and beneficial…then it must be so.” From here it is an easy leap to the belief that what one experiences must be what God intended.
In keeping with this, Welch states that the choice to use and/or advocate the use of psychiatric medication is a matter of “wisdom.” He goes on to say “wisdom about these kinds of decisions can take different forms in different situations.” In other words, wisdom is adjustable according to the circumstance to which one is responding.
Welch goes on to deny the relevance of Scripture on the matter stating: “A divine directive would be nice: ‘do this or take this and everything will be fine.’” In this sarcastic statement he discounts the instructions in Scripture concerning the sources of depression, anxiety, madness, etc. and disregards the spiritual remedies so readily outlined in God’s Word for overcoming such ailments. The absence of Scripture’s direct reference to “medication” is not an endorsement of the world’s remedy and ignore the biblical wisdom that speaks clearly of another way.
In collecting wisdom, Welch suggests: “We confess our neediness, consider relevant biblical teaching, seek the counsel of others, make the hard decisions, learn from what helps, avoid those things that hurt, and know God-with-us.” Certainly we all must seek biblical teaching, know our neediness, and rest with God’s presence. But it suggests none of this will be clear and definitive, leaving the biblical counselor to “learn from what helps” (experience), “avoid what hurts” (observation), and “make the hard decisions” (self-determination).
In this experiential presentation of “wisdom,” Welch cites two cases from which he draws two conclusions. One man taking Ritalin found the drug to be “helpful.” His wife also noticed a “difference.” Since he considers the man to be “biblical, thoughtful, and insightful,” Welch rendered the report credible without further evidence or exploration. And what was Welch’s conclusion about the use of a stimulant medication in this case: “That’s great!” As a result: “Biblical counseling can be positive about psychiatric medications.”
Welch then offers another experience of a man he believed to be “overmedicated” with a negative response. He then suggests that our conclusions should be based on the group we are dealing with. If there is a positive outcome (even small) we endorse. If however we observe a negative result, we must withhold our support. But: “If medication is helping, even a little, here is what we should say: ‘That’s great.’”
This entire article is strikingly lacking in biblical and/or theological references. There is not one passage of Scripture noted, nor even a reference to a biblical story, character, framework, or truth…for or against medication.
This is how psychology is practiced. Diagnosis and outcome are dependent upon subjective observation, report, and treatment response. Welch places great reliance upon the report of others and upon his own capacity to judge what truly is in the heart of the counselee along with the spiritual and physiological responses taking place.
Welch seems to have forgotten the instructions of Scripture pertaining to wisdom, discernment, and spiritual assessment:
One has the sense Welch is filled with doubt. Endowed with the wisdom of the world he seems to vacillate and avoid a strong biblical position on the matter. He has included sources of wisdom not in keeping with this instruction, thereby confusing and confounding the conclusions reached. Like so many others writing on this issue, Welch is tossed to and fro by the winds of secular humanism, which never provides a definitive answer because every experience is relevant.
Of the world’s wisdom, James wrote: “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jas 3:15). James continues: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17).
The observational and experiential wisdom of Welch is defiled by worldly emotion and discernment and is far from pure. Peace and stability has not been its outcome. Does it not seem hypocritical to claim biblical adherence while looking for alternative justifications to partake of an aberrant source of relief?
Finally, Welch concludes he must be positive about psychiatric medication with at least two groups:
I cannot argue against the short-term use of medication when there is an immediate risk of death (suicide, homicide, inability to sustain life). Even the demonic in the tombs was “chained” so he would not harm himself (Mark 5:1-5). But recognize in Scripture that eventually the chains could no longer bind the disturbed man as the “chains had been torn apart by him…” (v 3).
Chemical restraint is at best temporary…just like the chains and shackles that bound the demonic. But the cure came when the “lunatic” (Matt 17:15) encountered Jesus.
Our faith, as disciples and Biblicists, must not be little. When our faith in the power of Christ and the revelation of His Word falters, we venture our reliance on temporary restraint and worldly relief over true transformation. And even if one submits to the short-term restraint of self-destructive behavior, he/she must be in pursuit of the true spiritual need, rightly assessing the battle at hand.
Is it remotely possible that some of these individuals feel guilty because they are guilty? How can Welch give permission to embrace the medical treatment and ignore the conflict it stirs in the heart? Is it not possible he/she has a heart condition that is stirred and conflicted when Scripture is referenced? Could it be that the individual knows he/she is in discord with Christ and relying upon a substituted and inferior remedy?
I agree and do not strive to make one feel guilty about using medication…but if they do, I seek to understand the source of their discomfort rather than simply assume they have no reason to feel guilty and ashamed. And again, the fact that one is helped “even a little” by taking the medication does not validate its appropriateness.
Very often the help one seeks is not necessarily the help one needs. By supporting chemical remedies the biblical counselor might well become a stumbling block in the work of the Holy Spirit who may be convicting, correcting, or disciplining the believer, or drawing the unsaved to redemption.
Welch’s encouragement to parents who feel guilty for giving medication to their children is even worse. He rebukes parents for their discomfort and assumes the parent medicating his/her child has already “worked harder at your parenting than ten other parents combined.” What a dangerous assumption to make, especially when writing to the masses. Even within the intimacy of counseling and having a more complete knowledge of family dynamics, spiritual realities, and parental limitations, such a blanket release of responsibility is alarming.
Many parents will read Welch’s proclamation and conclude their idea of working harder has been sufficient…now it is acceptable to medicate. There are many more ingredients in this soup than meets the observational eye of Welch.
Welch then completes his administration of guilt free parenting by suggesting parents not compare themselves to parents with a successful child who “sits quietly, gets all A’s, does homework” etc. With regard to successful outcomes with children he concludes: “Parenting probably had little to do with any of that!”
With that statement Welch conveys his truest adherence…the genetic and physiological basis of suffering. It is preordained and unaffected by biblical living, scriptural parenting, and the pursuit of sanctification. The remedy is shaped by the problem: since this must be a physical problem it requires a physical remedy. Therefore scriptural truth and the working of the Holy Spirit are insufficient…in his experience.
Scripture does not support Welch’s positive position on drugs. Science has repeatedly failed to prove the existence of the biochemical imbalances which are claimed and treated by the medical profession. But Psychology and Humanism finds any and every experience relevant, valid, pragmatically useful, and justified. There are no absolute truths about anything.
In his devotion to human wisdom, experience, observation, and discernment Welch sees himself as an expert in making relevant whatever works, to whatever degree…according to the opinion of man.
W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie is the Founder and Director of The Biblical Counseling Institute which offers training in biblical care, counseling, evangelism, and discipleship throughout the U.S. For information regarding his background and ministry, visit the BCI website: www.BCInstitute.com
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