Christianity Today Guilty of Psychoheresy

by Martin and Deidre Bobgan


We have chosen the term psychoheresy because what we describe is a psychological heresy. It is a heresy because it is a departure from the fundamental truth of the Gospel. The departure is the use of the unproven and unscientific psychological opinions of men instead of absolute confidence in the biblical truth of God. It is a blatant denial of the sufficiency of Scripture for the issues of life now treated with psychological counseling (talk therapy). Psychoheresy is also the intrusion of such theories into the preaching and practice of Christianity, especially when they contradict or compromise biblical Christianity in terms of the nature of man, how he is to live, and how he changes. The subtitle of our book PsychoHeresy is The Psychological Seduction of Christianity, which is a seduction that we document as having already happened and that continues to deceive many professing Christians. Psychoheresy is running rampant in churches, parachurch organizations, Bible colleges, Christian schools and universities, seminaries, and mission agencies.

We begin with the following assumption: The Bible is sufficient to minister to the personal, marital, and family problems of living that are now being taken to psychotherapists. No matter how firmly Christian psychotherapists adhere to the inerrancy of Scripture, they all must deny its sufficiency. We demonstrate in our writings1 that:

(1) Psychotherapy with its underlying psychologies is a worldly, fleshly counterfeit for what God has already provided in His Word. Simply said, the Bible is the wisdom of God; psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies are the wisdom of men about which God warns His people (1 Cor. 2).

(2) Psychotherapy with its underlying psychologies is one of the biggest deceptions in the church today!

Psychology is a vast field. The American Psychological Association (APA) has over 50 divisions representing the various facets of the field of psychology. Our concern has to do with the field of clinical psychology, which provides the training for those who become licensed mental health counselors, such as clinical psychologists and marriage and family therapists, which are the two most popular licenses. These individuals practice psychotherapy, i.e., talk therapy based on secular notions of mankind. In this article we will use the word “psychology” to refer to the theories and therapies of clinical psychology and psychotherapy.

Christianity Today and Psychoheresy

After our book PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity was published in 1987, we paid for ads in a variety of Christian publications. When we attempted to place a paid ad in Christianity Today (CT), we were told that CT would not place such an ad due to an overall disagreement with the message of the book. In fact, CT published articles that were critical of us and others who held the same position regarding Christians using psychotherapy to deal with the issues of life. During the intervening years to the present time, CT has continued to publish articles supporting the use of psychological theories and therapies.2

In 1996, CT published an article that included a graphic titled “The Roots and Shoots of Christian Psychology,” which clearly demonstrated that CT has had no trouble with the roots of secular, anti-God, man-centered humanistic psychology. CT even identifies these roots with the names of Carl Rogers, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, B. F Skinner, and Virginia Satir. Instead of warning believers about the fact that at least five of these individuals were involved in blatant occult practices, whose teachings should be avoided, CT promoted and continues to promote an integrationist position, calling it “Christian Psychology.”3

“Integrationist” is the one word that best describes the CT position on using psychology with the Bible. Integrationists believe that using the best of psychology and the Bible together is better than the using either alone. Probably the best presentation of CT’s integration position is an article titled “The Integration of Christianity and Psychology: A Guest Post” by Sarah Rainer, who holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology (PsyD).

Introducing Rainer’s CT article, Ed Stetzer says: “Sarah has thought deeply on these issues and I think her thoughts are worth your time.” 4 Ed Stetzer is described by Wikipedia as “an author, speaker, researcher, pastor, church planter, and Christian missiologist.” Among his many distinctions is his position as “Executive Director of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence.”  By reading his various past and present positions and activities, one can see that he is among the Who’s Who of Evangelical Christians. Wikipedia notes that “Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today…and is frequently cited or interviewed in national news outlets such as USA Today and CNN.” 5 We will demonstrate that CT in publishing Rainer’s Guest Post and Stetzer in promoting it, have, through their shared ignorance, grievously misled the readers of Rainer’s article.

Rainer’s First Serious Error

Rainer makes two serious errors in her CT article with the second error more serious than the first. In her first serious error Rainer makes a number of claims for secular psychology, but provides no research references to support her claims and to enable a reader to check her source of wisdom. In contrast, we support what we say in PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity (Revised & Expanded) with seven hundred endnotes.

Rainer provides nothing but her personal say-so, absent any proof or evidence as to the veracity of her claims. For example, she says, “Indeed, there are many helpful and positive aspects of psychology to consider, which is why there is integration.” However, Rainer provides zero evidence to support this and her other claims to promote her integration position.

Rainer also says that secular techniques can be helpful. She may not be aware of the fact that there are about 500 psychological therapies and numerous techniques, with some being harmful and some helpful. Distinguished author and researcher Dr. Scott O. Lilienfeld, in “Psychological Treatments that Cause Harm,” reveals that negative effects in psychotherapy average around 10 to 20 percent, with some types of psychotherapies producing up to 40 percent detrimental effects.6

Those who are thoroughly knowledgeable of the field know that there are two camps in the field of counseling psychology. The New York Times reporter Benedict Cary, at the beginning of his report on an annual APA meeting, said, “There is a civil war going on in psychology, and not everyone is in the mood for healing.”7 The civil war is between the scientific researchers and the practitioners. Between these two camps there is often a vast gulf. In the one camp are the psychological scientific researchers and in the other camp the practitioners. CT and Rainer side with the practitioners. We side with the scientific researchers, such as Dr. Robyn M. Dawes.

Dawes was a professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie-Mellon University. He is a widely-recognized researcher and offers much academic research support for his thesis that professional psychotherapy is a House of Cards (the title of his book) and that psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies are built on myths.

In commenting on Dawes’ book, Dr. Donald Peterson, a professor at Rutgers University, says:

What [Dawes] does show, convincingly, is that a large number of studies designed to examine associations between training for psychotherapy and effectiveness of treatment have failed to show any positive relationships. Results as substantial and consistent as these cannot be explained away, and they cannot responsibly be ignored.8  

In his book bearing the subtitle Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth, Dawes says:

There is no positive evidence supporting the efficacy of professional psychology. There are anecdotes, there is plausibility, there are common beliefs, yes—but there is no good evidence9 (italics in original; bold added).

In his introduction, Dawes says:

Virtually all the research—and this book will reference more than three hundred empirical investigations and summaries of investigations—has found that these professionals’ claims to superior intuitive insight, understanding, and skill as therapists are simply invalid.10

As an application of the conclusions of the scientific research, Dawes says, “Every state requires that practicing professional psychologists be licensed.” Throughout his book and particularly in a chapter on licensing, Dawes makes a strong case for abolishing licensing for professional therapists. He says:

What our society has done, sadly, is to license such people to “do their own thing,” while simultaneously justifying that license on the basis of scientific knowledge, which those licensed too often ignore. This would not be too bad if “their  own thing” had some validity, but it doesn’t.11

Syncretism

Psychologists who profess Christianity have merely borrowed the theories and techniques from secular psychology. They dispense what they believe to be the perfect blend of psychology and Christianity. Nevertheless, the psychology they use is the same as that used by non-Christian psychologists and psychiatrists. They use the theories and techniques devised by such men as Freud, Jung, Adler, Rogers, Ellis, Fromm, Maslow, and others, none of whom embraced Christianity or developed a psychological system from the Word of God.

Adding psychotherapy with its underlying psychologies to the Bible is syncretism and contradicts the sufficiency of Scripture. Such compromise and resultant idolatry are the fruit of Adam and Eve’s choice of gnosis instead of obedience to God. At the heart of gnosticism is self as god and syncretism.

Some years back we conducted a survey of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS).12 CAPS members are psychologists and psychological counselors of various kinds, many of whom practice psychotherapy and are committed to the integrationist view. We found in the CAPS survey how eclectic and, at the same time, different from one another these CAPS members therapized.

In our survey we used a simple questionnaire in which we asked the psychotherapists to list in order the psychotherapeutic approaches that most influenced their private practices. We listed only ten approaches, but provided blank spaces at the bottom of the sheet for adding others before final ranking. We found in the CAPS survey how eclectic and, at the same time, contradictory to one another many of these CAPS members were. Psychoanalytic, behavioristic, humanistic, and transpersonal psychologies were all possibilities for CAPS members.

As a result of our survey of CAPS members, as well as information from numerous other psychologists, we state categorically that all of these Christian psychologists (every one of them) claim to use “sound psychological principles” and say they are completely biblical or at least do not violate Scripture, even though they use a variety of the 500 available psychological approaches, many of which contradict one another.

At one of the CAPS meetings the following was said:

We are often asked if we are “Christian psychologists” and find it difficult to answer since we don’t know what the question implies. We are Christians who are psychologists but at the present time there is no acceptable Christian psychology that is markedly different from non-Christian psychology. It is difficult to imply that we function in a manner that is fundamentally distinct from our non-Christian colleagues ... as yet there is not an acceptable theory, mode of research or treatment methodology that is distinctly Christian.13

Although Christian psychological counselors claim to have taken only those elements of psychology that fit with Christianity, anything can appear to fit the Bible, no matter how silly or even satanic it is. Christian therapists individually bring their own combinations of psychological theories and therapies that they borrow from the world to the Bible and rationalize their use with the Word. What they use comes from the bankrupt systems of ungodly and unscientific theories and techniques.

Christians who seek to integrate psychology with Christianity have actually turned to secular, ungodly sources for help. But, because these unbiblical, unsubstantiated theories and techniques have been blended into the dough, they are well hidden in the loaf. Thus many Christians honestly believe that they are using only a purified, Christianized psychology. Instead, they are left with a contaminated loaf, not with the unleavened bread of God’s Word.

Rainer’s Second Serious Error

Not only has Rainer provided her own opinions about secular psychology without proof, but also presented a false profile of how Christian psychologists ply their trade. This is her second more serious error. These two errors double jeopardize the veracity of her article.

The following are claims Rainer makes about what Christian psychologists do: “Our therapeutic practice will utilize Scripture to heal our clients and glorify Jesus…. As Christian psychologists, we should teach, provide, preach, and pray, just like Jesus….The underlying cause of pathology (separation from God) has not been addressed. Therefore we cannot eliminate the Gospel from therapy.14

Contrary to what Rainer says, psychologically trained and licensed counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists are chained to their training and licenses, both of which determine much of their practice. Not only do “Christian psychologists” dip into the same cisterns of psychological theories and therapies; they are also bound by law to practice in a similar manner. What does this mean? This means that licensed “Christian psychologists” and “Christian Marriage and Family Therapists” must follow the codes of their state license. For instance, the “Non-Discrimination” clause from the “Code of Ethics for Marriage and Family Therapists” states: “Marriage and family therapists do not condone or engage in discrimination or refuse professional service to anyone on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, gender expression, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic, or marital status.”15 These restrictions are also espoused by all the national associations for psychologists and psychiatrists, and they are included in much of the state licensing.

Consider the reference to “sexual orientation.” Every state has its own licensing requirements for clinical psychologists and marriage and family therapists, as well as other therapists such as psychiatric social workers. We asked our two state licensing offices here in California questions with regard to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person coming to a licensed counselor. Could the psychologist or marriage and family therapist (MFT) refuse service to such a person? Could the psychologist or MFT attempt to talk the person out of his/her orientation? If the LGBT person desires to live more peacefully as an LGBT person, would the psychologist or MFT be obligated to assist with this objective? Of course the answers to these questions apply equally well to any licensed psychotherapist attempting to convert her client to a religious faith system, as that would violate the professional responsibility to follow the Non-Discrimination clause.

Although we did not use Rainer’s exact words about the use of Scripture or her statement, “We should teach, provide, preach, and pray just like Jesus,” when counseling a client, we did make it clear to the State that we were asking about a licensed Christian psychotherapist plying her faith on a client. In each case the answer from our California State offices was that if an LGBT person filed a complaint because of the refusal of the psychotherapist to serve him/her, or an attempt to talk the person out of his/her sexual orientation, or failure to assist, all of which would violate the Non-Discrimination  clause, an investigation would surely follow. Although we were not told what the outcome would be, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that at minimum there would be a reprimand and a need on the part of the licensed Christian psychologist or MFT to follow the “Non-Discrimination” section of the “Code of Ethics” or risk losing his/her license!

These Non-Discrimination rules also apply to university psychology and counseling programs, which are subject to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. There have been at least two cases of students being dismissed from counseling programs, one because of referring an LGBT individual to another counselor and the other because she expressed her biblical beliefs about sexuality and refused the university’s “remedial training,” which she contended would be against her beliefs.16

Other requirements for licensed Christian psychologists and MFTs, about which we will not elaborate, have to do with abortion and same-gender marriage. In addition, Christian psychologists and MFTs would be required to assist atheists, occultists, satanists, and individuals of all faiths without being able to proselytize, persuade, or dissuade in matters of faith and practice. In summary, Christian licensed counselors are obligated by license and profession to operate within the bounds of using their psychological training, techniques, theories, and methodologies within the framework of a professional code of ethics, which includes the Non-Discrimination clause, absent their Christian beliefs, no matter how contrary to the Bible their counselees’ beliefs and practices are! That is one more reason why we recommend against Christians becoming licensed as psychological counselors of any kind.

In addition, there was a recent ruling that prohibits licensed counselors to help an LGBT teenager conform to a “straight” sexuality. A news article reported, “A federal appeals court sided with California on Thursday and upheld the first law in the nation banning a psychological treatment that seeks to turn gay youth straight.”17

Interestingly, the law says that “therapists and counselors who practice the therapy would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards.” However, the article noted that “the activities of pastors and lay counselors who are unlicensed, but provide such therapy through church programs, are not covered by the law.”18 In other words, by law a pastor and fellow believer is more able to help other believers build their faith according to Scripture than any state-licensed counselor. For this and other reasons related to the anti-discrimination clause, churches should not refer out or have licensed psychological counselors on their staffs. The final responsibility lies with the pastor, but with Christian publications such as CT promoting psychotherapy and publishing articles such as Rainer’s and every level of the church enchanted and infatuated with and exalting psychotherapy, it’s no wonder that it happens. However, as we said earlier: It is a blatant denial of the sufficiency of Scripture for the issues of life now treated with psychological counseling (talk therapy).

Litigious Invitation?

Finally, Rainer’s article, which represents the view of CT, would place licensed psychotherapists in litigious harm’s way. Imagine lesbians, gay men, or transgendered persons coming to Rainer or some other Christian who is a licensed psychotherapist following her advice. With the number of such cases of licensed medical doctors and other professionals either failing to provide service or attempting to proselyte a person leading to litigation, one would think that Rainer would know better and that CT would do better than to run her naïve article, which could easily lead to litigation that the LGBT community has been successful at winning.

Endnotes

1   Martin and Deidre Bobgan. PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity (Revised & Expanded). Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2012; The End of “Christian Psychology.” 1997.

2   Tim Stafford, “How Christian Psychology is Changing the Church,” Christianity Today, May 17, 1993, p. 26.; Mark Yarhouse, “Understanding Gender Dysphoria,” Christianity Today, July-August, 2015, pp. 45-50; Margaret Philbrick, “Loving My Sister-Brother,” Christianity Today, July-August, 2015, p. 56.

3   Christianity Today, September 16, 1996, p. 77.

4   Sarah Rainer, “The Integration of Christianity and Psychology,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/september/concerning-psychology-and-christianity-guest-post-by-sarah-.html.

5   Ed Stetzer, https://en.wikipedai.org/wiki/Ed_Stetzer, 10/6/2016.

6   Scott O. Lilienfeld, “Psychological Treatments that Cause Harm,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 53-70.

7   Benedict Cary, “For Psychotherapy’s Claims, Skeptics Demand Proof,” The New York Times, Aug. 10, 2004.

8   Donald R. Peterson, “The Reflective Educator,” American Psychologist, December, 1995, p. 976.

9   Robyn M. Dawes, House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth. New York: The Free Press/Macmillan, Inc., 1994, p. 58.

10 Ibid., p. 8

11 Ibid.

12 Martin Bobgan and Deidre Bobgan, “Psychotherapeutic Methods of CAPS Members,” Christian Association for Psychological Studies Bulletin 6, No. 1, 1980, p. 13.

13 Sutherland, P and Poelstra, P “Aspects of Integration.” Paper presented at the meeting of the Western Association of Christians for Psychological Studies, Santa Barbara, CA, June 1976.

14 Rainer, op. cit.

15 American Psychological Association, Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, General Principles, Principle E, http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx?item=3.

16 Maggie Hyde (RNS), “Christian Counselors Claim Discrimination Over Religious Beliefs on Gays,” Huffington Post, 5/25/11, www.huffingtonpost.com; “Jennifer Keeton, Anti-Gay Counseling Student Who Refused Remedial Training, Lawsuit Dismissed, Huffington Post, 6/27/12, www.huffingtonpost.com.

17 Paul Elias, “Court Upholds First Ban on Gay Aversion Therapy,” Santa Barbara News-Press, 8/30/13, pp. A1, A13.

18 Ibid.

 

(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January-February 2017, Vol. 25, No.1)

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