Bible Teaching Newsletter

of Biblical Doctrine & New Testament Assembly Life

Volume 2, No 6 November 1, 1995

Recovery Movement?

by David Dunlap

         The recent marriage of psychology and the Bible has troubled many Christians. An ever growing number are asking themselves, "Where is the Christian psychiatric industry taking the church of the 1990's?'" To even the most casual observer the rising influence of psychology in the church is unmistakable. A plethora of books with titles such as "Toxic Faith", "Addicted to Love", and "The Dysfunctional Church Family" have become best sellers and stock the shelves of Christian bookstores. An increasing number of Christians are becoming more familiar with the names "Minirth and Meier Clinic" and "Focus on the Family" than, in many cases, that of the writers of Holy Scripture. Over a relatively short period of time a strange new terminology has cropped up in the vocabulary of the church.
Words such as "dysfunctional family","felt-needs", "Recovery movement", "low self-esteem" and "addiction" are becoming more and more commonplace. A recent report states that there are over 140 different recovery support groups in the United States, both Christian and secular, with almost 45 million members. (1) Recently even among the assemblies, recovery programs have sprung up. At "His Mansion", a ministry to troubled youth, a recovery program called "Pressing Onward" has been developed, which is currently being used by many assemblies in the U.S. There are recovery groups for almost any problem one can imagine. Groups include Compulsive Shoppers Anonymous, Child Abusers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous. Between 1978 and 1984 caseloads for residential centers and counselors increased 350%. (2) Was this increase due to a sudden unprecedented rise in mental disorders among the American people or might it be due to the marketing savvy of the Recovery industry? More importantly is the question of what the Recovery Movement teaches and why Christians should be cautious about it.

         In all fairness we must, first of all, clearly state that many of the men and women involved in the Recovery movement are godly and sincere Christians. They truly believe that they are serving the Lord whom they know and love. Further, most recovery writers affirm the essentials and doctrines of the Christian faith. I do not desire in any way to impugn their motives or character. Yet I have a number of reservations about their writings and teaching. I will attempt to examine these under the searchlight of scripture in fairness and love. It must also be said that there are legitimate cases of emotional and mental illness in which one could consider seeking professional care.

Roots of Humanism
         A problem among Recovery writers is that, without discernment, they have based much of their thinking on the writings of humanistic psychologists. Recovery literature is replete with concepts from men such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow. It has been widely reported that both Jung and Rogers have practiced necromancy, contacting spirits of the dead through the use of spiritual mediums. (3) The effect of the subconscious mind on present behavior, the past-present connection in behavior, and self-esteem are all teachings emphasized by these secular psychologists. This is not to say that secular leaders cannot stumble unknowingly upon biblical principles. (I say "unknowingly" because they all were outspoken concerning the "evils" of Christianity.) Unfortunately larger theories of these psychologists have been uncritically accepted by many Christian writers.

The Re-Labeling of Sin
         There are a number of broad areas of Recovery teaching that should be of concern to every Christian. The fIrst of these is the mislabeling of sinful behavior. When should the church cease calling sin "sin"? Of course, the reply must be given, never! The Bible uses many different terms to describe wrong behavior, such as "sin", "transgression", "iniquity", "evil works".
Nevertheless there is a growing trend to call sin by other names. More and more we are hearing of terms such as "character defects", "addiction", "compulsive behavior", or a "disease". It has often been noted that Christian recovery leaders and psychologists have failed in their writings to give the doctrine of total depravity the suffIcient attention that it deserves. Calling sin a "disease" can only lessen one's sense of personal responsibility for engaging in that behavior. This creates the impression that one is a victim rather than a sinner. Sinful behavior thereby becomes a medical/emotional problem which can only be dealt with by a health care/psychiatric professional, thereby removing our own spiritual responsibility.
Adultery is sin, homosexuality is sin, drunkenness is sin and we could add many more to this list. This modern trend of re-labeling sin turns the simple statements of the scripture into a hopeless maze of psycho-jargon. Furthermore this trend elevates the psychologist to the role of interpreter of scriptural truth, and thus undermines the roles and spiritual gifts God has given to the church.

         In a brochure for the (Christian) Rapha Hospital Treatment Centers it is stated, "At the core of all emotional disorders. and addictive behaviors is low self-esteem." Is the re-establishment of self-esteem the solution to all our problems and the key in "recovery"? Without discarding the importance of a healthy dose of self-esteem, the answer to this question must be an unequivocal "no". Recent scientifIc studies have not proven a cause and effect relationship between self-esteem and behavior. (4) Feeling good about ourselves will not change our spiritual need. Men will continue to suffer the results of their sinful nature regardless of their enhanced levels of self-esteem.
The sad result from all of this is that individuals descend deeper into the endless maze of psychology in a futile search for solutions to their spiritual problems. A careful reading of the Bible will reveal thatgreater attention is given to the use of "self-denial" and genuine "humility" than to self-esteem. (Mark 8:34-35; Rom. 12:3, Phil 2:3, 1 Tim. 1:15) We would do well to follow the well-worn paths of the writers of Holy Scriptures.

Focusing on the Past
         One would be very hard-pressed to deny that past-present relationships affect our behavior. Children of divorce are clearly affected by that sad experience; the children of alcoholics are affected by their childhood memories. Its of their sinful nature regardless of their enhanced levels of self-esteem. Yet I must question whether a return to our childhoodmemories and such in-depth self-examination of the past is required as a "pre-condition" for solving these problems. Has the Lord ceased to be the "Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God"? Have the problems of the 1990's proven too difficult for the once strong and all-powerful God? Of course not!
The scripture states, "The Lord God, behold...there is nothing too hard for thee; thou showest loving kindness to thousands...the Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of Hosts is his Name" (Jeremiah 32:17-18). We must refuse to accept the often repeated and cavalier condemnation, "we are bound to repeat the family experience we remember" or "unresolved issues in childhood will doom the emerging adult to repeat, recreate the experiences of the past" (5) Furthermore our own memories often fail us and we find that it is virtually impossible to paint an accurate picture of what has happened in our childhood. The words of the Apostle Paul sounds like better advice. "Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 13). Might not this be a more excellent example for us to follow?

A Substitute for the Church?
         Many who attend recovery groups soon consider therapy as a replacement for the local church. The doctrine of the church, biblical principles of gathering together, spiritual gifts, and God-ordained roles for men and women in the church are often brushed aside. Unconditional acceptance, love, and mutual support become the new foundation blocks of the church. Some Evangelical leaders and psychologists are even encouraging this distressing trend. Our concern becomes even more urgent when we hear statements like that of Psychologist Henry Cloud, "The Recovery movement makes for a much more biblical church than we have seen so far." (6) Certainly the church is not without its problems, yet the church must remain the central place for the gathering and helping of God's people. The Church must not become a treatment center which charges thousands of dollars even for minimal treatment. A Christian inpatient psychiatric treatment often costs $1,000.00 a day? (7) One assembly in New England has spent $100,000 on one Christian psychologist for his services and it is reported that the counselees are still not whole. (8) The church is at the center of God's design for dealing with the problems of His people.
The biblical principles of dependence on the Holy Spirit, the sufficiency of God's grace, a knowledge of God's word, and an active prayer life will prove invaluable in becoming victorious over the many problems that burden the people of God. God has clearly indicated that believers within the local church, not paid professionals and experts, are to be the ones who are the primary "caregivers". God has given the church the pastoral responsibility, not necessarily to solve, but to comfort one another in every and any problem or situation. May the church of the 1990's recover this truth and actively pursue this mandate in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:4, "the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble..."

(1) Alice Dowd, "Making Room for the Recovery Boom", Library Journal, 1 May 1992,49
(2) Melinda Blau, "Adult Children Tied to the Past", American Health, July-August 1990,61
(3) Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Psycho-Heresy (Santa Bamara, CA:Eastgate Publishers, 1987), 14-15
(4) Andrew M Mecca, Neil J. Smelser, and John Valsconcellos, eds., The Social Importance of Self Esteem (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989).
(5) Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth, Paul Meier, Love is a Choice (Nashville, TN:Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990).27.135
(6) Tim Stafford, "Franchising Hope," Christianity Today, 18 May 1992,26
(7) Ibid
(8) Letter, John Ryan, August 24,1992, Waipole,NH



"I believe Jesus was phallic with all the inherent phallic passions we experience as men. If temptation means anything, it means Christ was tempted in every way as we are. That would mean not only hetrosexual temptation but also in homosexual temptation. I have found this insight to be very helpful for gay men struggling with their sexuality."

Dr. Robert Hicks, psychologist associated with Promise Keepers, "The Masculine Journey", Navpress, 1993.



"The next great heresy will come from within evangelicalism. Christianized Psychology is the likely candidate for the 'next great heresy'".

Dr. David Powlison, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theo. Sem., Phila. Power Religion - the selling out of the evangelical church, Moody Press, 1993



"The Church must not become a treatment center which charges thousands of dollars even for minimal treatment. A Christian inpatient psychiatric treatment often costs $1,000.00 a day. One assembly in New England has spent $100,000 on one Christian psychologist for his services and it is reported that the counselees are still not whole."




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