The Cure of the Psyche

Roger at A-Team Blog recently posted a summary of J. P. Moreland’s paper that he presented at ETS. The paper was called “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.”

Some comments were made on the blog about the adequacy of Scripture. Someone posted an essay from Greg Koukl that they said was the paper they wished Moreland had given.

Koukl’s paper is called “Is Biblical Counseling Biblical? Insight from Scripture and Classical Readings to the Current Anathematizing of Psychology”

The person who posted the essay called it a masterful case for the right use of natural theology. I was disappointed with the essay. So disappointed that I keep feeling the need to write out my objections to it. So here it is, comments welcome.

Disclaimer: I am not defending BCF. I have not read their publications. I am merely responding to Koukl.

Koukl’s paper is divided into two sections:
1) “the Bible itself does not teach ‘Bible only.’”
2) “Man is not so distorted by the fall as to lose his ability to discover true things about his broken world or about his fallen condition and to develop ways to improve both of those circumstances.”

I recommend reading Koukl’s paper before reading my objections so it will make a little more sense.

Psalm 19:7-11
Koukl claims this passage says the Word is valuable, but that it doesn’t say anything about other “material.” He writes it off with one sentence, offering no explanation. Throughout the paper, Koukl reminds us that the Reformers (plural) agree with him. Although he implies they all agree with him, he cites only one, Calvin. Let’s see if Calvin actually does agree with Koukl’s interpretation of Psalm 19:

“The first commendation of the law of God is, that it is perfect. By this word David means, that if a man is duly instructed in the law of God, he wants nothing which is requisite to perfect wisdom. In the writings of heathen authors there are no doubt to be found true and useful sentences scattered here and there; and it is also true, that God has put into the minds of men some knowledge of justice and uprightness; but in consequence of the corruption of our nature, the true light of truth is not to be found among men where revelation is not enjoyed, but only certain mutilated principles which are involved in much obscurity and doubt. David, therefore, justly claims this praise for the law of God, that it contains in it perfect and absolute wisdom.”

Koukl seems to have a problem with understanding the concept of revelation. BCF argues that Deuteronomy 4:2 says we should not add psychological counseling to God’s Word. He says Deuteronomy 4:2 could not possibly mean that we should not add to God’s Word (in the sense BCF argues) because 61 books of the Bible were written after the Pentateuch. Fair enough, Deuteronomy 4:2 does not refer to the close of the canon of Scripture. But is that what BCF was arguing? No. They are arguing that we should not try to live our lives according to God’s law and according the teachings of men. Koukl performs a slight of hand here, and he does it again with the 2 Timothy passage.

If Deuteronomy 4:2 does not refer to the close of the canon, then what is it talking about? It is talking about adding any human laws or traditions to the laws that Moses is giving. 4:1 says that by doing these laws, men will live. If Israel wanted to live, all they had to do was follow God’s law. No additional teaching from men was required and no additional teaching from men was allowed.

The worst part of Koukl’s paper is his handling of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He uses the same argument Romanists do to attack the adequacy of Scripture by saying the Bible doesn’t really mean sola or only when it says adequate, every, etc.

It goes something like this.

1) God’s word is adequate

a. Therefore we do not need anything else and we shouldn’t trust anything else. (BCF’s claim)

2) In 2 Tim. 3:16 Paul is referring only to the OT

a. Therefore we do not need and should not trust the NT

Koukl says this second conclusion makes Paul’s claim self-refuting if we understand it to mean the Bible alone is sufficient. However, in footnote (5) Koukl recognizes his problem. His argument would refute the inspiration of the NT. Koukl defends himself by saying “Paul’s statement here was a statement about Scripture, which at the time included the Old Testament. He did not assert that no more “God-breathed” Scripture would be forthcoming. The corpus of Scripture was expanded by the New Testament writings and therefore they’re included under the claims of this verse.”

3) Paul is talking about all God-breathed Scripture, which includes Scripture that is yet to be written

a. Therefore 2 Tim. 3:16 refers to OT & NT

Do you see how the conclusion of 3) destroys the premise of 2)? Koukl contradicts himself and destroys his own argument.

Koukl uses several examples of how natural man supposedly discovers truth, and how we should therefore trust him. He quotes a Dr. John Coe:
“Consider this scenario. When a city is plagued by violence, the people decide to execute murderers. Immediately the murder rate drops and peace is restored to the city. These people used their fallen, human wisdom to employ a biblical solution – government bearing the sword to mitigate the impact of evil. They accurately assess and solve a human problem, even with no knowledge of Scripture. This kind of thing happens all the time”

Then Koukl explains how many of the Proverbs originated in the Wisdom Literature of the Amenomope. He says this means that natural man can discover truth and that we should trust him to do so.

The problem with these examples, and his others, is how we can know these things are true. In the first example, was that society correct because their methods worked? Or were they correct because they were following the law of God revealed in the Bible? Other societies think the solution is to rehabilitate criminals. Who’s to say they are wrong? Do we judge them based upon which one works better? Utilitarianism has not proved helpful, and is actually one of the greatest problems we face today.

Not all of the Wisdom Literature of the Amenomope is found in Proverbs. Does that mean not all of it is true and trustworthy? How do we know if the rest of it is trustworthy? Were the sayings considered trustworthy by Israelites prior to God’s revelation of the book of Proverbs? How do we know which parts to trust?

Another example could easily be created. Divorce rates are incredibly high in the U. S. It causes a great amount of problems for children of divorced parents. Some people who are not Christians recognize this as a problem and they endeavor to remain married despite their troubles. Does that mean we should look to them to solve our marital problems? Does that mean we should take their tips and advice? What about those who’s solution is to just not get married and have abortions instead. Should we follow their advice?

The answer to all of these questions has to be that we know what is true by determining which of the positions advocated is either expressly stated in the Bible or is properly deduced from the Bible. Koukl thinks that finding “true and useful sentences scattered here and there” (to use Calvin’s words) means that we can and should trust natural man to deal with our personal (spiritual) problems. Simply showing that natural man can stumble upon truth does not answer the question “How can we know what is true?”

I think these are enough reasons to render this masterful defense of natural theology useless. But what do you think?

Wikipedia defines psychology as:
Psychology (from Greek, Literally “to talk about the soul” (from psyche (soul) and logos)) is both an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. Psychologists study such phenomena as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including issues related to daily life—e.g. family, education, and work—and the treatment of mental health problems.

Psychology is derived from the Greek word for soul. Coincidentally the NT was written in Greek. Let us consider a few verses that mention the soul, the healing and understanding of which is the purpose of psychology.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (psyche). 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Hebrews 4:11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul (psyche) and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

(consider that passage in light of Jeremiah 17:9)

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (psyche).

James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (psyche).
1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls (psyche) by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Update: Martin Bobgan has also written a critique of Koukl’s essay.

2 thoughts on “The Cure of the Psyche

  1. Pingback: Spectacles Prescribed: A Review of VanDrunen’s “A Biblical Case for Natural Law” « Contrast

  2. Pingback: Cure of Souls (and Modern Psychotherapies) « Contrast

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