Counseling/Pastoral Issues

Pastoral Counsel, Maturity, Caution, Alcoholism, and Ten Theses: Some Further Reflections

{Note: I am sure I will be updating and editing this piece for greater clarity. I hope this discussion proves helpful. Thanks to JP & John Anselmo for your thoughts}

My topic is rather broad, which conveys my conviction that this topic deserves greater attention. This is a rather debated topic and naturally it brings with it highly emotional responses.

MacArthur’s thesis is not controversial at all in fundamentalist circles, but since MacArthur has purposely become a national (media) figure in both evangelical and reformed circles, his anti-alcohol stance naturally draws the attention from the broader Protestant community.

I am thankful for the numerous responses to our piece. It is a fact that pietism and prohibitionism still lingers in the modern evangelical scene. I say all this as a former fundamentalist who shared MacArthur’s dissent. However, as one looking back in those days I find the image offered incomplete and in need of greater clarity.

As I read through some of the comments I found myself uniquely grateful that this topic can be discussed in a civil manner. This is not always the case. On a particular website, one comment made explicit that those who deny MacAthur’s thesis are anti-christ. Fortunately, these lunatics are few and absent from this blog.

It is undeniable that much of this discussion really and truly centers around pastoral counsel and concerns. JP and John Anselmo–in the comment section–have brought a few points to my attention that should be addressed. I believe that MacArthur’s concerns stem from the heart of a pastor who has seen his share of lives destroyed by alcoholism. In this light, allow me to offer a few thoughts: More

Pastoral Work and Depression

I am thankful that in my few years of pastorate God has placed godly men in my life. Men like Mickey Schnider, Randy Booth, and many others have really shaped my thinking. Paul Tripp’s latest post is a post I intend to read often in the years ahead because it challenges the basic assumptions that young pastors-like myself-may have about pastoral work. Tripp writes:

The reality is that the God who the pastor serves has no allegiance whatsoever to the pastor’s little kingdom of self.

The entire article is worth reading…

Reconciliation

Paul embodies the life of reconciliation. But reconciliation is not devoid of tact and graciousness. In Paul’s appeal to Philemon he begins with grace and greetings, rather than accusation and forceful terms. Paul’s reconciliatory letter is a mediatorial letter. Pastors–in one sense–and parishioners–in another sense–carry this mediatorial role.

Reconciling Philemon and Onesimus requires wisdom; a wisdom that we need to exercise in reconciling brothers and the world. Like Jesus, reconciliation first demands death before life can be breathed into brokenness.

Assurance and Counseling

I have been reading through Jay Adam’s 1975 The Use of the Scriptures in Counseling. I have interviewed him at Trinity Talk (See interviews here), and beyond that, I have also sought his counsel in a few counseling situations in my flock. In discussing a section on assurance, Adams offers a sharp critique of pastors that use I John to destroy what they perceive to be false assurance (28). Adams sees a new kind of legalistic Gnosticism that teaches that “only a small group of persons has a right to assurance.” He elaborates:

” Characteristically, such preachers use I John not to bring assurance but to destroy what they believe to be false assurance. God’s purpose in the book is positive, theirs negative(28).”

This is probably at the heart of Jay Adams’ critique of the Puritans in the book, and in the interview (though, I find much to commend in Puritan literature). For Adams, preaching that is continually tempting parishioners to doubt their salvation is actually offering a message rarely stressed in the Scriptures. Of course, doubting occurs, and we are called to examine ourselves, but when this becomes the overarching theme of our preaching and counseling, then Christians lose their joy. They enter the abyss of introspection; an introspection that is largely unhelpful.

Living Publicly

Ed Welch offers a beautiful vision of living publicly. He focuses mainly on addiction as a hindrance to living publicly.

Welch observes:

If there is one ecumenical feature of most theologies it is this: God sees and hears. He is omnipresent. Yet if there is one feature of most theologies that quickly slips from conscious awareness, it would be this one. Most sin is a temporary denial of how we live publicly. Addiction is the classic example. Most addicts will not indulge their addictions when a spouse, boss or parent is present. It’s amazing how much self-control we can have when people are watching. Most men who hit pornographic sites don’t do it when their kids are in the room.

This communal understanding of living publicly is also expressed in the great Alexander Schmemann who spoke consistently of “living for the sake of the world.” Just as you live publicly, so too, you sin publicly. Life in God’s family is a public matter; the covenant demands it. This is a lesson we need to hear again and again.

Dignified Death?

David Mills at First Things offers powerful and sobering thoughts on what the death of his father taught him. He writes:

“Death with dignity” seems to offer not only an escape from pain and humiliation but a rational and apparently noble way to leave this life. You look death in the eye and show him that you, not he, are in control. All “dying with dignity” requires is that you declare yourself God. Make yourself the lord of life and death, and you can do what you want. All you have to do, as a last, definitive act, is to do what you’ve been doing all your life: Declare yourself, on the matter at hand, the final authority, the last judge, the one vote that counts.

Moving Towards People

Ed Welch writes that in times of trouble and distress, we are called to move towards people not away from them. He writes:

We were created to be a people. The created intent of human beings was that we would move toward each other – not against and not away from. In this present era, in which selfishness and cruelty are still apparent, there are risks in moving toward other people, but we are guaranteed isolation and grief if we wall ourselves off. When we follow God’s created intent for us, life feels a bit more right and good. It feels more like home.

Finding Hope in Grief

Paul Tripp offers some profound insights into death. One of the more important observations was the following:

God doesn’t call you to stifle your grief or put on a happy face when you are crushed. He doesn’t expect you to hide behind religious clichés and theological platitudes. God approves of your tears! But he welcomes you to look at death through the eyes of Christ. The comfort and hope he provides does not remove your grief, but they allow you to grieve in a brand new way. And he promises one day to take you to a place where you will never cry again.