Looking at the Biblical Counseling program at Chris Boucher’s Pleasanton Evangelical Free Church in Pleasanton, Nebraska. The Wondering Eagle believes this is a dangerous program that could result in exacerbating someone’s mental health situation, or possibly in someone’s death. Its time for the modern evangelical church to reject Jay Adams and Biblical Counseling and embrace psychiatry, psychology and science.
“I believe that every congregation is a counseling center. Whether it is a good one or not, or whether it is opperative or not, is another issue.”
“Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 NLT
Let’s think through Pleasanton Evangelical Free’s Biblical Counseling program.
Pleasanton is a small town in Buffalo County, Nebraska. The town was founded in 1890 by the Union Pacific railroad. The population of the town today is about 340. But when you have a small church in an area like this it draws people from a wider area. If I were to take an educated guess the people who attend Pleasanton Evangelical Free come not just from Buffalo but but probably also nearby Hall, Kearney, Adams, Phelps and Dawson counties. Pleasanton Evangelical Free began as a home Bible study in 1981. The first pastor the church had was Ralph Larson who came from Kearney Evangelical Free. In 1983 the congregation purchased land for the building and Roger Ellis became the first full time pastor. In the course of time other pastors would be Brian Ellis, Walter Watts, Tim Pearson, David Oldham, Bob Pier, and finally Chris Boucher. Chris Boucher was born in Salt Lake City but moved around quite a bit. He graduated from Washington Bible College here in the Washington, D.C. area and then went to Capitol Bible Seminary. Chris worked for CSX Transportation which is where he met his wife. Chris came to Pleasanton from Belleville, Kansas. You can read his story and testimony in this link right here. Today I am going to analyze the Biblical counseling program at Pleasanton Evangelical Free. I came across it while I was studying the Midwest District of the EFCA. You can read the analysis of the district in “Analysis of the Midwest District of the Evangelical Free Church of America” and the rate of Neo-Calvinism in “Analyzing the Growth of Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism in the Evangelical Free Church of America: Midwest District.”
The Story of Jay Adams and Nouthetic Counseling
Jay Adams was born in Baltimore in 1929. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity from Reformed Episcopal Seminary, a BA in Classics from John Hopkins University, a Masters in Sacred Theology from Temple University, and a PhD in Speech from the University of Missouri. Jay became the “founding father” so to say of the Nouthetic Counseling movement. What earned him that role is a book he published in 1970 called “Competent to Counsel.” That particular book influenced John MacArthur and allegedly became the foundation for the counseling program in Grace to You. Adams counseling views the Bible as the source for all medical treatment and discourages psychological or psychiatric treatment I believe. Jay Adams founded the Institute of Nouthetic Studies which is used to advocate his Biblical counseling program. Nouthetic counseling is based around three ideas – confrontation, concern, and change. Here is how it is described from the counseling page.
Because the New Testament term is larger than the English word “counsel,” and because it doesn’t carry any of the “freight” that is attached to the latter term, we have simply imported the Biblical term into English. In that way, the full force of the Biblical concept of counseling may be set forth while avoiding the many contradictory connotations surrounding the English one. The three ideas found in the word nouthesia are confrontation, concern,and change. To put it simply, nouthetic counseling consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires.
By confrontation we mean that one Christian personally gives counsel to another from the Scriptures. He does not confront him with his own ideas or the ideas of others. He limits his counsel strictly to that which may be found in the Bible, believing that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction and for disciplined training in righteousness in order to fit and fully equip the man from God for every good task. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
The nouthetic counselor believes that all that is needed to help another person love God and his neighbor as he should, as the verse above indicates, may be found in the Bible.
By concern we mean that counseling is always done for the benefit of the counselee. His welfare is always in view in Biblical counseling. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to counsel you as my dear children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14) Plainly, the familial nature of the word noutheteo appears in this verse. There is always a warm, family note to biblical counseling which is done among the saints of God who seek to help one another become more like Christ. Christians consider their counseling to be a part of the sanctification process whereby one Christian helps another get through some difficulty that is hindering him from moving forward in his spiritual growth.
By changewe mean that counseling is done because there is something in another Christian’s life that fails to meet the biblical requirements and that, therefore, keeps him from honoring God. All counseling—Biblical or otherwise—attempts change. Only Biblical counselors know what a counselee should become as the result of counseling: he should look more like Christ. He is the Standard. Biblical counseling is done by Christians who are convinced that God is able to make the changes that are necessary as His Word is ministered in the power of the Spirit. It is their hope to help every interested church develop a nouthetic counseling program that will be a blessing to all of the members of that congregation. The importance of such counseling in churches is underscored by the words of Paul as he described his ministry in Ephesus:
Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years, night and day, I didn’t stop counseling each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:31)
The regularity and intense nature of Paul’s counsel during his three-year ministry at Ephesus is emphasized by these words. If Paul found it necessary to counsel nouthetically for that entire period, as he said, surely our churches need it, too.
If you want to read more about this program from the Neo-Calvinist viewpoint you can read “Interview with Jay Adams” , “Competent to Counsel: An Interview with Jay Adams” and “Two Sides of the Counseling Coin.” Having explained all that let’s look at the Biblical counseling program at Pleasanton Evangelical Free Church. I lifted the program from the webpage and will do analysis on the program. My comments will be in red below.
What is Biblical Counseling?
- Biblical counseling is gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, compassionate burden-bearing through the sufficient Word of God within the authority and structure of the local church, empowered by the Holy Spirit and prayer.
- Biblical counselors are committed to sharing the wisdom, truth, hope, comfort and encouragement of the Word of God to re-shape perspectives, clarify life’s purposes, teach biblical principles, and equip others to rightly respond to circumstances for God’s glorify.
Is it me or are many of these questionable programs in evangelicalism addicted to the use of a hyphen? While the church is important I don’t believe that it is the end all be all. Many people make “the local church” an idol and that is what I am seeing here.
Are Your Counselors Licensed?
- Our counseling is based on the conviction that God’s Word (the Bible) contains wisdom that is superior to any other source to help you deal with the practical, everyday circumstances of life. Therefore, our counselors are not licensed clinicians, psychotherapists or mental health professionals. As biblical counselors we do not offer advice based on psychological philosophies, even though some of our counselors may have been trained in those disciplines. If you believe that you would benefit from psychological counseling, psychotherapy, or from other mental health professionals, please consult with your current health-care provider for a referral.
So every answer in life, every single answer comes from the Bible? Here’s a question I have…I am trying to decide if I should purchase a 2016 Nissan Sentra or a 2016 Honda Accord. Will the Bible give me an answer as to which car to choose? I would be fascinated to know what Pleasanton Evangelical Free can do to help in “practical, everyday circumstances of life?” What does this counseling program specifically do? Here’s another question I have as well. This counseling program will not offer advice based on psychology. In researching this post I know of the debate about whether psychology is a science or not. However, in my book I believe that it is, and a specialty that is helpful. But why turn down other means of help that could actually help someone? Why be skeptical of that effort? I see the last sentence as more of a loop hole to cover Pleasanton’s rear end. I believe Pleasanton Evangelical Free is aware of how controversial Biblical counseling can be and I think this is just a means to cover and protect themselves.
Why Biblical Counseling?
- Our counseling approach is based upon the belief that the Bible has fully provided the answers we need to respond to all of life’s problems. We believe God’s Word is infallible and is therefor superior to any other source of wisdom for counseling. We desire to skillfully and practically apply biblical answers to the difficulties people face.
Does the Bible have the answer to all life’s problems? Does it have an answer for how one should pursue schizophrenia treatment? Does it have an answer for how one should deal with the psychological side effects from chemotherapy from breast cancer? Part of the problem in this section is that it reveals the problem of infallibility. You don’t need faith at all when you believe the Bible is infallible. I would like to explain this more below, but the reality is that fundamentalism is counter to faith. This also shows that Pleasanton doesn’t believe that the Lord is sovereign enough. If they did then they could understand the Lord would use professionally trained mental health counselors from the University of Nebraska system or beyond. This is sad for in the end it reveals the lack of faith in Pleasanton Evangelical Free.
What Can I Expect?
- Your initial appointment may last 75-90 minutes; normal sessions are generally 60 – 90 minutes. The total number of sessions will vary from person-to-person, depending on needs. You will be required to invest from 1-6 hours per week with assignments for practical application.
- Our Biblical counseling ministry is primarily a counseling training ministry, therefore you can expect to have one or two trainees observing and possibly participating in the counseling process. Please be assured that all trainees are committed to respecting you and guarding your privacy (please see our confidentiality statement below), with one exception: if your counselor violates biblical principles or is not acting in your best interest as a counselee and does not respond to biblical confrontation from the counselee and/or trainees, the trainee will go to the immediate counseling supervisor to seek a resolution.
This shows that Pleasanton doesn’t believe in privacy and that when there are issues you will be forced to resolve them. Think of George Orwell on steroids and you can understand what they mean they say the counselor violates Biblical principles. Plus here is another aspect…that alone shows how questionable and shoddy this program is. Can you imagine a physician or a psychiatrist say ” I have a partner here who is here to monitor me and see if I make a mistake…” If a physician who has been practicing for 30 years says that then really that is not a person that should be in that line of work. That policy shows that Pleasanton Evangelical Free like many parts of evangelicalism for for the cheap, shoddy version.
Why are Trainee’s Involved?
- Our primary commitment is to train counselors so we will ensure a growing, long-lasting presence in the community. We cannot provide free counseling without continually training more counselors. Only under rare exceptions will we counsel without trainees present.
- Trainees normally observe and do not actively participate in sessions, however you will benefit as they pray for you throughout the week as well as during sessions.
- Depending on circumstances, your trainees may be available to mentor or disciple you between sessions, and in some cases mentoring or discipleship can continue for a time after ‘graduation’.
- We believe that your counseling experience will be greatly enhanced with the involvement of trainees.
This isn’t about training couselors for the betterment of the community of Pleasanton and surrounding Nebraska area. Instead this is about indoctrination and having a willing supply of Kool Aid drinkers who will greedily reach for more Kool Aid to keep themselves indoctrinated. To have unqualified people who will be trained to deal with serious issues is deeply troubling for me. Again I see a lot of George Orwell principles and lessons in this program The trainees is about enforcing the protocol and following the “state”.
What About Cost?
- Biblical counseling is completely free, however you may be asked to purchase pertinent materials at your cost. If you are unable to cover the costs we offer scholarships on a case-by-case basis. We do accept donations to help us with these expenses.
Translation of the above section. Make sure you give money. They say its free but the reality is that they expect you to give generously. Books need to be sold, and the Reformed Industrial Complex needs to be fed.
Can I DeFray the Costs?
- Since biblical counseling is simply the ministry of sharing God’s Word we do not charge for our counsel. However, there are expenses in our ministry to maintain our facilities, cover costs for training and materials. These costs are currently covered by community of faith at Pleasanton Evangelical Free Church, as well as other faithful friends and supporters who stand with us through on-going prayers and financial support.
- If you would consider joining our family of supporters (Galatians 6:6), we would gladly welcome your partnership in prayer and financial support, however you are under no obligation to do so.
See what is said above in the previous section.
What do we Expect of You?
- We will ask you to invest daily time and hard work throughout your counseling experience. Our goal is for you to encounter lasting life-change, which will not take place without a serious, whole-hearted investment in the process. We do ask you to keep your appointments, complete homework assignments, and attend worship services weekly. If you do not have a church home, we may require that you attend our church and one of our adult Sunday School classes during your counseling relationship.
Translation, they want you to attend Pleasanton Evangelical Free. That is what this section means. Given this churches theological bent, they are the only ones who get the Gospel right. So in order to do this program you better abdicate your church home and come here. What do other churches in the area know anyhow?
What About Confidentiality?
- Because our counsel is spiritually based, we do not have the same, broad confidentiality privileges of licensed mental health professionals. It is possible that our records may be subpoenaed and/or that we could be required to testify in judicial proceedings if you’re involved in litigation. If you have concerns about the confidentiality of any information you intend to share with Pleasanton Evangelical Free Church you should consult your attorney before speaking with us. Please be assured that we strongly prefer not to disclose your personal information. We will make every effort to protect your privacy and confidence within the limits of the law and with the following biblical mandates for confidentiality, as we understand them.
Translation there is no confidentiality in this program. If you go and attend and share about how you are depressed or your OCD situation be prepared for the rest of the community to know about it. No one can gossip better than evangelicals. And what you share in “confidentiality” will be soon discussed in church activities and more. Small towns are small and word gets around fast. That is the nature of small town life. In this case they will get around much faster. The loophole in this section is the last part of the last sentence. “As we understand them…” gives them a lot of leeway to do whatever they want to do.
What is Biblical Confidentiality?
- We are committed to guarding your information with the greatest of respect and confidence; however, we believe that in the following situations it may be necessary to share certain information with others:
- a. When the counselor is uncertain of how to address a particular problem, he or she may need to seek advice from another counselor, pastor or elder in this church, (this will be done without disclosing your personal identity).
- b. If you are not a part of Pleasanton Evangelical Free Church, it may be necessary for your counselor to talk with a pastor or other leader from your church (the counselor will only disclose necessary information for them to effectively and biblically fulfill their responsibility to shepherd you, but this will be up to the discretion of our counselor).
- c. When there is a clear indication that someone (including yourself) may be harmed unless others intervene, we will contact appropriate authorities. This includes when there is reasonable cause to believe child abuse is occurring, the counselor will act in accordance state guidelines.
- d. For Christians, if there is persistent refusal to respond to biblical truth by renouncing particular sin(s), it is our biblical obligation to involve others within the Body of Christ to encourage repentance and reconciliation (see Proverbs 15:22; 24:11 and Matthew 18:15-20 for further information on the matter of limited confidentiality).
This section is absolutely awful. Bullet point A exists because the people in this program are not properly or medically trained to begin with. This is a program that is doomed to fail. It blows my mind that in critical issues like schizophrenia or depression some people think that a pastor or elder has the information to respond. With some mental health issues this is out right dangerous. This would be akin to the following, you have a brain tumor in the frontal lobe of your brain and you go to your pastor and say, “can you remove it.” Why the heck would someone do that? And this also doesn’t take in to account that the person may have spoken with the pastor before the “counseling.” So in a small town like Pleasanton the pastor could also figure out who the person is because of the small nature of the town. I’ve been in smaller communities before and know how this can adversely play out.
Section B also reveals that there is no such think as confidentiality. This is going to end up badly for the person who shares information. By the way what is discretion of the counselor? If you counselor drools at every word John Piper says and finds out you read Greg Boyd is that going to be a situation that they break confidence for “theological purity?” In section C what is the appropriate authorities? Is it the pastor of another church or is Nebraska law enforcement? And finally we get to what this program is really about. Church discipline! Its my suggestion that this program is all about church discipline. The fact that this would even be a part of a counseling program is deeply disturbing in my book. Also how do they define sin? Is the sin “gossip” or not submitting to church theology? This is one warped counseling program.
The Problems with this Program and Its Time to Embrace Psychiatry, Psychology and Science; Plus The Wondering Eagle Would Like to Know, Could This Program Leave Someone Dead?
When I read all this at Pleasanton Evangelical Free I was dismayed to see such a program in the EFCA. This program is nothing but fundamentalism 2.0 . Fundamentalism really requires no faith in the end, you just follow a program in an extreme version. In fundamentalism there is no wrestling with the material or even God. Fundamentalism tears down and destroys while leaving wreckage in its place. I am certain that if you spoke with people in the community that Pleasanton Evangelical Free resides you would find such stories. The problem with nouthetic or Biblical counseling (I know some people will say each one is different, I really don’t see it like that) is that it heaps shame and a burden on a person. Could you imagine dealing with depression and seeing a Biblical counselor who will confront your sin instead? So you try the program and the depression is still there, perhaps its getting worse and you go back and see the counselor who then tells you “Jack, you never committed your heart to the Lord are you sure you are a Christian?” And off you go beating yourself up. If that is the case then Pleasanton Evangelical Free does the same thing the Mormons do when they talk about the burning of the bosom and feeling the spirit. Many people who are converting to Mormonism will lie to say they feel it when they do not. Or they were like me in college who said “I don’t feel it…” And then in response the Mormon missionaries would say that you haven’t properly converted. This is a program that will harm. It also begs the question…what sin does a person commit to get schizophrenia, bi-polar, depression, OCD, etc…? What sin did a person commit that brings about such mental health conditions? Its one thing to say that the world is fallen and disease and all that is a result of the fall. That is not my concern my beef is over what sins do people commit that makes someone having a schizophrenia?
I also have to say that its time for the modern evangelical church to embrace science, psychology and psychiatry. It is overdue and is greatly needed. By rejecting those fields many evangelicals show that their faith is small and that they do not believe the Lord is sovereign. Can’t the church understand and realize that the the Lord can use a medically trained psychiatrist to bring about healing? Can’t the church comprehend how a psychologist could help a person’s faith by dealing with their anxiety? Really in the end it compliments each other. Science is crucial and essential in the 21st century. Why do Christians see a doctor for cancer, stomach problems, heart disease, vasculitis, arthritis and more only to reject seeing a doctor for a chemical imbalance in the brain? The brain is an organ no? Its an organ like the heart, liver, or pancreas. Its long overdue that Christians embrace science. I would venture to say that many evangelicals are still fighting the same battles and wars that the Catholics stopped fighting in the 1500’s (Credit to HUG for saying that frequently, that is his original thought…)
But here is the single most concerning reason why this program at Pleasanton Evangelical Free is deadly in the opinion of The Wondering Eagle. At the blog SGM Survivors which documented the issues and problems in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries they talked from time to time about programs similar to what Pleasanton Evangelical Free is doing. People who were dealing with mental health issues were encouraged to have Biblical counseling. People who were suicidal and dealing with depression were discouraged from seeing proper medical authorities. Some even said that it is sinful to see a psychiatrist, psychologist or even take medicine. As a result I believe there were people in SGM who committed suicide or had severe mental health crisis. That is despicable and questionable. Let me ask this question…is God honored when a person who is following a Biblical counseling program goes and hangs themself in a closet? Is God honored when a person with schizophrenia who is confronted by a counselor goes and shots themself in the head in the woods behind the church? No none of that should be accepted. And that is why this program at Pleasanton Evangelical Free is so dangerous. This post is personal because I am close to someone that went through a mental health crisis that worked for years with a psychologist and psychiatrist. All that work which was hard and frustrating did in time work. But I am grateful that the person I love is Catholic. If they were in an organization like Sovereign Grace Ministries or Pleasanton Evangelical Free, in all likelihood I believe they would be dead today. I would have participated in their funeral. This is hard to say, but it must be said.
For a good reflection on the problems with Biblical counseling programs like the one at Pleasanton Evangelical Free or elsewhere make sure you read the following articles.
- John Fea “The New Fundamentalism.”
- Warren Throckmorton “Should Christian Counselors Talk Only About The Bible And Jesus?“
- Warren Throckmorton “Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology: Tim Allchin Reacts to McConnell and Throckmorton.”
- Warren Throckmorton “Biblical Counseling and Sufficiency of the Bible.”
- Warren Throckmorton “Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology at SBTS (UPDATED with Apology from Heath Lambert)“
- Warren Throckmorton “How Would a Biblical Counselor Handle this Case?”
- Warren Throckmorton “Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology: A Biblical Counselor Responds to a Case of School Refusal.”
- Warren Throckmorton “Christian Psychology v. Biblical Counseling: A Christian Psychologist Responds to a Case of School Refusal”
- Warren Throckmorton “Why We Need Science in Counseling: Another Look at a Case of School Refusal.”
- Warren Throckmorton “Christian Psychology v. Biblical Counseling: A. J. McConnell Reacts to Allchin and Throckmorton.”
- Warren Throckmorton “Series: Evaluation of 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling.”
That is it for the day, please know that I love you guys!