|Dr. Heath Lambert: A Failed Biblical Counseling Case|
|by Martin and Deidre Bobgan|
The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship (IBCD) has a Core & Discipleship Certification (CDC) Program, which is “designed to help churches develop one another care in the life of the congregation.” One can be certified by IBCD, and “The CDC process also brings one along towards the ACBC [Association of Certified Biblical Counselors] Certification if further certification is desired.”1 The IBCD offers the IBCD Observation 12-Disc Set and also a 3-disc observation set by Dr. Heath Lambert counseling “Jeremy” & “Crystal,” titled “Counseling Care for Pornography.” We critiqued the prior 12-disc set2 and now review the 3-disc set.
Dr. Heath Lambert is the “Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors,” which is “the largest biblical counseling organization in the world with certified counselors and counseling training centers in 17 countries.” Lambert “also serves as Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and their undergraduate institution.”3
The following announcement precedes the beginning of the three recorded sessions of counseling:
The following observational sessions are fictional but based on real life scenarios. The participants did not have a script but are reacting and improvising in much the way they would in a real life setting.
True, the participants did not have a word for word script, but the counseling was structured in advance and play-acted predictably to a successful conclusion.
“Jeremy & Crystal”
The accompanying booklet describes the counseling case as follows:
These three videos focus on “Jeremy,” a church-going, hardworking husband and father of four [sic] whose long-standing enslavement to pornography is tearing his family apart. His wife “Crystal” is threatening to move out following a recent incident in which their daughter walked in while her father was viewing inappropriate material on his computer. “Jeremy” has come for counseling as a last ditch effort to save their marriage.
Additionally, we learn that “Jeremy,” who is 37, first looked at porn when he was 9 and 10 and then regularly watched porn since he was 15. He admits that he has been watching porn for 22 years.
Joseph J. Plaud, a private, clinical, forensic psychologist who has studied the effects of pornography, warns about how the need for more stimulation increases the more a person watches porn. He says, “The more you do [it] and the greater degree of access, the more explicit [it is], you seem to need more and more,”4 “Jeremy” admits to watching movies of porn which are visual, active, and auditory. Thus, we conclude that “Jeremy” has been viewing hardcore pornography for most of his life.
“Jeremy’s” 11-year-old daughter caught him not only watching porn movies, but Jeremy confesses, “I was covered up, but I was doing what guys do when they look at porn.” “Jeremy’s” wife, “Crystal,” who is pregnant with their fourth child and is expecting soon, has threatened to move out unless “Jeremy’s” problem “gets fixed.” The first counseling is with “Jeremy” alone; the second and third recorded counseling sessions are with “Jeremy” and “Crystal.”
Lambert shows compassion and portrays the issues and problems with some appropriate biblical references in Part I. However, although Lambert recognized that “Jeremy” had a questionable testimony as to his salvation, there was no real effort to find out Jeremy’s understanding of salvation. This is a serious omission on Lambert’s part. Even though Lambert may have felt it necessary to go gingerly with “Jeremy” and not confront him directly, he could have asked questions about the necessity of the cross and his understanding of human depravity, the goodness of God, and the new life in Christ.
A survey conducted by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries indicates:
One of the most troubling findings in the survey is the lack of understanding Americans have regarding sin and the total depravity of human beings. Actually the majority of Americans perceive goodness to be a better description of people.... 67% agree “Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good.”5
Lambert spent most of his time in the first session in a teaching mode. Human depravity should have been uppermost, because this is where a person may get a glimpse of the depth of his own sinfulness and the vast magnitude of God’s love. Considering “Jeremy’s” superficial testimony and his 22-year relationship with hardcore pornography, Lambert should have probed this one serious doctrine or at least mentioned the importance of doing this in future sessions during his “Final Recap.”
To his credit Lambert rightly assigned Ephesians 2:1-10 as homework with instructions to read and interact with this passage every day. However, there is no indication of any follow up by Lambert to see whether he pursued the content and intent of these verses with “Jeremy” regarding the depravity of man and the goodness of God. Later, when Lambert asked “Jeremy” about the high points of the preceding months of counseling, nothing was said about this Ephesians passage or this essential doctrine.
Although “Jeremy” admits that he had always felt dirty and that John 1:9 was helpful, we wonder if he ever understood the depth of his own depravity, how much he had offended God, and the extent and great cost of forgiveness he had received. There seemed to be far more emphasis on fixing the problem than on honoring and glorifying God.
The counseling in Part 2 with “Jeremy” and “Crystal” deteriorates as Lambert usurps the biblically required authority and responsibility of the husband (“Jeremy”) by choreographing the words for “Jeremy” to say to “Crystal.” As we have said in an earlier critique of Lambert’s counseling: There is something terribly demeaning to have the counselor engineer the whole process rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to do what He does best. When a counselor confronts any sin that a person has committed against anyone but himself, choreographs what is to be said and done, and then oversees the operation, there is a greater possibility for superficiality than sincere genuine confession and repentance.6
Also, we have shown both biblically and practically why a man should not be counseling a woman, as Lambert does and has done, even if her husband is present.7 It would have been far more biblical and effective if Lambert had counseled “Jeremy” alone and had a woman like Caroline Newheiser, who counsels at IBCD, minister to “Crystal.” This will become very transparent as we review Lambert’s third recorded counseling session.
The counseling continues and at the beginning of Part 3 Lambert says, “Well I cannot believe how far we have come in just a few months actually.” To convey to other biblical counselors that in “just a few months” Lambert succeeded in transforming a 22-year hardcore pornography user, who is doubtfully a Christian and who has had slips during the “few months” of Lambert’s counseling, into a recovered case is an egregious error that should not have been play-acted for others to believe and follow.
The most practical part of Part 3 is Lambert suggesting that “Jeremy” have a post-natal plan to serve “Crystal” and being specific about what can be done instead of focusing on his own sexual desires. This third play-acted session then deals with the subject of “Crystal’s” upcoming post-birth condition, which was said to make her unavailable for sexual intercourse for six weeks, and the impact that may have on “Jeremy’s” perceived dire necessity for sex possibly precipitating a return to pornography. Lambert says, “As far as sexual intimacy is concerned, why don’t you look at Song of Solomon, Chapter 2.” Lambert then reads verses 3-7 from the English Standard Version (ESV):
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
After reading the Song of Solomon, Lambert explains:
What the woman is saying here is that—using very poetic imagery—she’s saying that in their intimate relationship there was an entire banquet of things that they were doing together. And she is saying, “I enjoyed all of them. I enjoy being with my husband sexually in all the ways that you can be.” So I think this is a passage of the Bible that teaches us poetically that there’s all kinds of things that married couples can do to enjoy one another in the context of sexual intimacy (bold added).
Lambert later says:
This is a picture of a woman who is loving the buffet of sexuality with her husband and in the context of that she delights to be embraced by him (bold added).
The meaning of “all the ways” as in “I enjoy being with my husband sexually in all the ways that you can be” is “in every way.” The meaning of “all kinds of things,” as in “there’s all kinds of things that married couples can do to enjoy one another in the context of sexual intimacy,” is “an unlimited number of things.” The word buffet, as in “loving the buffet of sexuality” means a tempting variety of sexuality. In no way is it possible to infer or imagine that the woman in Song of Solomon would be interested in or expecting pornographically inspired sex, but Lambert fails to explain this to “Jeremy” and “Crystal”! This is a serious omission as Lambert euphemistically describes the possibilities:
You don’t have to have sexual intercourse in order to be able to be sexually fulfilled during this season of your marriage.
A little later Lambert explains:
And so, this can be a time that is really sweet for both of you. She’s going to be—she’s going to have some limitations on her physical body as to how she can serve you in that way—but she can still serve you. But you [“Jeremy”] are going to be unlimited in your ability to draw near to her to embrace her, to rub her arm, to rub her hair until she falls asleep (bold added).
The word unlimited, as in “But you [“Jeremy”] are going to be unlimited,” simply means that there will be no limit to “Jeremy’s” “ability to draw near to her.”
Though all of the above seems well-intentioned, it is ill advised and is an egregious error and sets an unbiblical example for counselors to follow, which any hardcore porn user can capitalize on. “Jeremy” confessed in Part 1, “I don’t ever ask her to like act out the porn scenes or whatever. I would never ask her to do that” (bold added). But he then says, “There are things I would like for us to do, but she’s just not—I guess—as willing to do” (bold added). Now Lambert opens the door for “Jeremy” to have “unlimited” kinds of non-vaginal sexual activity with “Crystal.”
While “Crystal” may hear tender loving care, such as embraces and having her hair rubbed, “Jeremy” is no doubt hearing permission to act out and experience the kind of pornographic sex acts he has looked at and pleasured himself with on the internet. Because of his heavily promiscuous (22 years) participation while watching pornographic acts and his “slip-ups” during the few months of counseling, “Jeremy” needed restraint, but Lambert gave none!
Two other egregious errors to note: First, there is an innuendo in this play-acted scenario that puts the burden on “Crystal” to serve her husband or else he may resort to pornography. Second, “Jeremy,” through over 12 years of marriage, has had sexual intercourse with “Crystal” and at the same time used hardcore pornography to pleasure himself. It is an egregious error on Lambert’s part not to know that “Jeremy” will likely do the same during the six weeks after the birth of their fourth child, where he has been promised unlimited sexual possibilities with “Crystal.”
More Egregious Errors
Lambert again usurps the husband’s (“Jeremy’s”) God-given role and becomes a surrogate husband to “Crystal.” He asks “Crystal”:
…would you feel comfortable being with him sexually and even satisfying him in a way that did not include the kind of sexual activity that you can’t have because of your physical condition?
In response to Lambert’s leading question, “Crystal” naively agrees. This is another egregious error on Lambert’s part.
Lambert is familiar with postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum psychosis (PP),8 which can occur after giving birth to a baby. Mayo Clinic describes both:
Many new moms experience the “postpartum baby blues” after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks.
But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth.
Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth.9
In fact, some PPD can last up to 2 and 3 years.10 Also some mothers experience breastfeeding pain.11 All of the above could dramatically affect “Crystal’s” availability for sexual intimacy for some time! And yet Lambert in no way brings up the very facts of which he is well aware to alert “Crystal” and “Jeremy” of these possibilities. “Crystal” not only has limitations on her physical body as to how she can serve “Jeremy,” but she may have other postpartum occurrences that should have been explained by Lambert, but tragically were not! Lambert has glossed over “Crystal’s” post-birth needs, which are to be sacrificed on the unbiblical altar of pleasing Jeremy’s sexual needs as a possible protection against his pursuing pornography. Lambert’s counseling is a prime example of why we recommend against men counseling women, as this reveals how severely sympathetic Lambert is to “Jeremy’s” sexual “needs” and how seemingly unsympathetic he is about “Crystal’s” possible postpartum condition when he opens Pandora’s box of euphemized sexual possibilities in reference to serving “Jeremy.”
From all the material we have read and the various Christian pornography-recovery websites we visited and called, we conclude that this a deviously deceptive and seductive play-acted case that should not be believed or followed. In his book. Finally Free, Lambert says, “For the past decade, I have spent thousands of hours talking with hundreds of people who struggle with pornography.”12 Based on his many years of experience and many individuals struggling with pornography, Lambert should have known better and certainly should have done better!
Lambert is one of the major leaders in the biblical counseling movement. He is sure to be trusted, trumpeted, followed, and imitated. All three recorded sessions were predictable because the elements were surely structured and play-acted toward a successful conclusion. However, they should not be taken literally as a prescription or plan to follow in counseling men who are enslaved to porn; i.e., Lambert’s play-acted case should not be re-enacted by counselors with their counselees. Lambert’s unbiblical example of marital counseling and his extremely egregious errors in Part 3 should not be emulated. This is a failed counseling case for Dr. Heath Lambert, which once more proves our contention that the practices of present-day biblical counseling reveal the unbiblical errors of the movement. The various examples of the unbiblical practices of the leaders in the BCM, such as Lambert, should discourage all Christians from signing up for any of the certificate/degree programs.
We repeat from our past writings: The biblical counseling movement is a recent phenomenon in church history. The certificate/degree training programs are entirely unnecessary to minister effectively to individuals, couples, and families. These were not necessary before the latter-day invention of the biblical counseling movement and they are totally unnecessary now. The certificate/degree-oriented biblical counseling organizations act as intimidators and disablers of mature believers who would, with a little encouragement, minister to fellow believers in need. This smacks of a one-up-one-down relationship where the one-ups should step down.
From our many years of experience, we know that there are numerous Christians who are mature in the faith who would be blessed to minister to others in the fellowship, but who do not do so because they feel blockbustered by degree or certificate granting, one-up training organizations and educational institutions that promote training followed by more training. While we are opposed to Christians enrolling in any certificate or degree biblical counseling program to learn such systems and methods of counseling, we do encourage those who wish to minister to others to increase their Bible knowledge, to attend Bible classes, or to enroll in a biblical studies degree program rather than a biblical counseling degree program.
“Lambert: A Failed Biblical Counseling Case” Endnotes
1 The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship website: www.ibcd.org.
2 Martin and Deidre Bobgan, “The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship: A Critical Review,” Psychoheresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 23, No. 6, www.pamweb.org.
3 “Heath Lambert,” www.biblicalcounseling.com/about/staff/heath-lambert.
4 Joseph J Plaud, quoted by Tia Ghose, “Bye, Bye, Playboy Bunnies: 5 Ways Porn Affects the Brain,” LiveScience 10/13/2015, http://www.livescience.com/52469-how-porn-affects-brains.html.
5 Ligonier Ministries, “The State of Theology: Theological Awareness Benchmark Study,” Research Report, 10/24/2014, p. 4.
6 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Counseling the Hard Cases: A Critical Review. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2016, p. 140.
7 Ibid., Chapter 5, “Cross Gender Counseling.”
8 Heath Lambert, “‘Sarah’ and Postpartum Depression” in Counseling the Hard Cases, Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, eds. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012, Chapter 4.
9 “Postpartum depression,” www.mayoclinic.org.
10 Julie Revelant,”The depression moms don’t talk about,” Fox News, www.foxnews.com.
11 “Breastfeeding pain linked to postpartum depression,” Fox News, www.foxnews.com.
12 Heath Lambert with Joshua Harris. Finally Free. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, p 12.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, July-August 2016, Vol. 24, No. 4)
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