Counseling

Tenacious Biblical Fellowship

Tenacious Biblical Fellowship

Paul Tautges in his Counseling One Another observes that one of the affects of relying on secular psychology has been the internalizing of the faith, thus leading to a departure from the Church. He writes that the early church would never have entertained such a strange notion. The Church was tenacious about its biblical fellowship. He observes:

Whichever surface motivations are involved, what should be of great concern are the immature, fleshly priorities that seem to drive too many of today’s Christians.

Instead of running from fellowship, Christian counseling draws the individual to the body where soul care and soul cure are the transforming features of the church. Therefore, to depart from church is to depart from healing.

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon. The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week.  I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocatea–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners.

While in seminary, I once heard a Presbyterian pastor preach the equivalent of three sermons in 55 minutes. I remember thinking, “If he finished now it will be a great sermon.” 40 minutes went by, and I thought, “If he finished his sermon now it will be all right.” After almost an hour I turned to my wife and said, “I pity his congregation.” Mistakes happen. Preachers lose track of time and people are generally very forgiving. But when this is a frequent occurrence it becomes a detriment. Preachers may turn into apologists for the Puritan era when they preached two-hour sermons. My response to this is very simple: “You are no John Owen!”

Question #4: Will my people hear a message about a great God or a convenient God? Sermons that do not lead people to serve God more faithfully have not fulfilled their purpose. The sermon needs to urge people to live more like their Lord and God. They can contemplate God, study or learn more about God (these are important), but if they leave uncertain as to how to serve their God more faithfully, the sermon has not pierced deeply enough. God’s people need to be consecrated by the Word of the Lord, pierced by the sword of the Spirit into action. Communicating only details about God can leave parishioners with a convenient God that demands knowledge but no sacrifice.

Question #5: What can I teach that will increase my people’s knowledge of the Bible? Every preacher must know: your people will remember between 1-5% of your preaching ministry throughout their lives. There is no statistic about this, the evidence is borne by daily experience. Exegesis of a verse in Hebrews will be forgotten perhaps before the sermon is over, but hermeneutical principles will remain if they are communicated succinctly. One common interpretational phrase I have used in many of my sermons is, “The Holy Spirit does not waste his breath.” This phraseb communicates that every detail of the text matters. I want my people to know in every sermon that every word in the Bible is meaningful and put in there for a reason. Many other principles will encourage God’s people to love their Bibles and learn more about it in their own studies and meditations. They may not remember my careful exegesis, but they will remember that the text is to be cherished.

Question #6: Do people follow me from point A to point B and C? I have heard my share of disconnected sermons over the years. Sermons need to have a message that is connected throughout. Themes and illustrations need to be connected to the central message. If illustrations have no purpose in the development of a sermon or if they are only used to get a laugh, people will inevitably leave confused and uncertain of the illustration’s purpose. Preachers need to be very aware of how point A connects to point B. Paragraphs need to smoothly transition, otherwise, you are beginning a new sermon altogether, and people are left wondering what the main point is. This is why manuscript preparation can help with transitional statements. On my last sermon, I repeated this phrase several times, “The future belongs to the child.” In fact, I generally title my sermons after my main point.

Question #7: Is this sermon going to connect to particular concerns of my people? I firmly believe that sermons need to connect in some way to everyone, from the young convert to the university professor. The more you preach, the more you begin to see people in your congregation with unique needs. When a pastor says “I have no one in mind when I preach,” he is likely ineffective in his preaching. Pastors are shaped by their conversations, counseling, and context. People I pray with and meet each week come to mind when I make applications. Of course, we need to be careful not to use the pulpit to deliver a privatized homily. A sermon on divorce the week after a congregant was divorced is unwise. Preachers need to consider the need of his own flock. For instance, “Does my congregation have a tendency to pride in their intellect or status?” A preacher is always preaching locally, though he can minister broadly. New Christians need to see their pastor’s words as applicable and rich to their own unique situation and this requires a good dose of wisdom and knowledge of particular needs in the congregation. Pastoral application becomes richer when there are pastoral encounters and engagement with the people. It is important to note also that we have our failures and shortcomings, but these should not keep us from addressing them corporately.c

Question #8: Is my argument persuasive? The sermon ought to leave the listener convinced that the Bible’s claim is right and true. Arguments can be phrased differently in every sermon. Some arguments will be demonstrably more persuasive than others. The preacher’s role is to give enough context and substance, so the main point becomes attractive. Persuasion is a difficult skill and needs to be considered again and again, which is why sermons need to be revised several times before they are delivered. One common problem is pastors trying to persuade people to death. Sermons are not commentaries. A preacher does not need to make his congregation turn to several Bible passages. A sermon is not an informal Bible study. Make your point. Make it desirable and succinct and move on.

Question #9: Where is the Gospel? A Gospel-less sermon is no sermon at all. Ask yourself, “Where is the Gospel?” Will my people be saved from their sins and misery after hearing this word? Will they find hope in Messiah Jesus? Will the broken-hearted see Jesus with greater joy? Will the single mom find refuge in Jesus and his Kingdom? Preachers cannot end a sermon in the desert. The Gospel is promised land. The sermonic journey takes the parishioner from darkness to light; death to resurrection.

Question #10: Is my application too general? Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” My closing question is a question about how my applications speak to my congregation. There are a thousand ways to speak the truth, but not many ways to speak the truth in love. Application is truth in love. Love your congregation by applying specifically and carefully. It is one thing to say Trust God, it is another to say, Believe his promises in the middle of your cancer. Generalities sometimes are inescapable, but try to escape them as much as possible when applying the Word. If there is one part of the sermon that deserves great concentration, it is in the application of the Word to God’s people. Pastors should read good counseling books. Pastors should know their people well in order to apply God’s truth in love (see #7).

You may consider each question every Sunday, and after some time these questions will be a natural part of your sermon preparation each week. Not all sermons are created equal. Just delivering content is not the goal of preaching. Preaching is an art, and we can all learn to grow.

  1. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)
  2. I think first used by James B. Jordan  (back)
  3. I hope to address pastoral fears in another post  (back)

Angst in America’s Adolescents

Time Magazine’s new edition entitled: “Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent” is a fascinating journey through the angst of this millennial generation. While they are easily stereo-typed as undisciplined and shallow, the story and the psychology behind it are rather complex. The author offers solutions, even helpful ones, but forgets the centrality of internalized religion in the formation of healthy adolescence. One author states that we are “the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all.” Problems range from “hyperconnectedness” to “overexposed.” These are real problems which I have tried to address in other environments. The further dimension to the angst of our age is the excessive expectations placed on our children, the author asserts. The college application process has become more demanding forcing many teens to abandon real face-to-face interactions to virtual relations in order to keep up with the demands of education and the need to qualify for scholarships.

Parents fail to provide the kind of psychological support to provide adolescents the mental assurances that their worth is not found in their grades but in something else. The author, however, fails to incorporate the ultimate rationale for the modern adolesccence angst; namely, the absence of Christ Jesus in their formational years.

As Christians we need to create an environment for our children where proper pressure is placed, but not abused; where grades play a role in their formation, but not the essence of their identity. We need redeemed intellects and beautiful hearts. Therefore, we need to re-analyze the expectations we have for our children and ask if such expectations meet the standard Jesus set for his own disciples: “What profit is there if someone gains the world (academic, athletic, etc.) but lose his own soul?”

Our society is undergoing a general angst. Technology, academic and social pressures exist, but the fundamental angst of our teenagers is a distorted view of their own reality and identity. We need to remind them of who they are daily, continually, lest their problems consume them and they lose sight of whom they serve.

PostScript:

My friend Carmon Friedrich adds this insightful note to my original post:

There was a very sad case here of a young woman whose parents ran a Christian camp. She worked there from childhood, heard many good talks about faith and life. She was gifted and beautiful and got a scholarship to college, where she went to live in a dorm and was under a great deal of pressure to perform, both in sports and in her classes. She was a perfectionist, comparing herself with others and feeling like she needed to live up to the expectations of others, who praised her for her gifts and beauty. The first semester she had a psychotic break, and her parents were so surprised and saddened and went to help her as best they could. Because she was over 18, they were limited in what they could do, but she agreed to go to a treatment center. She went back to school after that for a time, and went as an outpatient for continued work on her mental instability. One day they were to pick her up from an appointment and when they arrived, the center said she had walked away after being dropped off. She disappeared. For weeks, the family and friends searched for her, especially looking around the area of the camp run by the family, suspecting she may have gone there. Finally, the mother discovered her daughter’s body hanging in a tree, where the girl had killed herself.

This Christian girl heard the truth about who she is in Jesus, but somehow those other messages and pressures to perform were so strong and overwhelmed her. Combined with genetic predispositions and environmental factors, some people struggle to make sense of it all and it’s important to address every aspect of their anxiety or depression. Your assessment of the fundamental need for getting priorities straight and removing those pressures to perform and conform to the wrong standard is so important. Augustine talked about a proper ordering of affections, and sending messages to our children about their value coming from what they do rather than who they are in Christ are very destructive.

Counseling and the Spirit

Counseling and the Spirit

Theology is intensely intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God.” We have deeply engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a particular type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has mostly become a rarely pursued journey by the typical parishioner, has fallen into the hands of armchair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be used at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not bear fruit unless applied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God.

Counseling is necessary for theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Trinitarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter and our advocate. When others drive us to madness, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above, and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

To a great measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to enter the process. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have to be transformed from glory to glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit. It is there we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
How can I understand unless someone guides me?

How can I understand unless someone guides me?

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

In Acts 8, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The wealthy Ethiopian had been worshipping in Jerusalem.  Upon his return home he began to read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah. Intrigued by them, he sought the help of someone who was capable of interpreting that text. The Ethiopian found an interpreter of Scripture, but also an interpreter of life. Philip’s interpretation was not only a Messianic interpretation but also a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:14-15, which promised that Yahweh would sprinkle the nations. The Ethiopian was sprinkled/washed clean from his transgressions. He began to see that Messiah suffered so that he might have life.

This passage establishes in many ways the need for biblical counseling. Counselees are asking Philip’s questions. Their lives torn by a host of events have clouded their understanding of life, and sometimes even the Bible itself. It is incumbent then, for counselors, to come alongside the hurting and the needy and provide an accurate view of their lives through the lens of the Bible.

Jesus is the starting point of all healing. He is the suffering servant, who received no justice, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. The interpreter/counselor begins by pointing to Jesus. He guides the counselee to see that Jesus is the answer to his despair. But he is not simply pointing him to a concept, but to a Person. Jesus, as Person, died and suffered. Jesus, as concept, offers no hope.

Notice that Philip ran to him. Philip understood the pain and despair of the eunuch. Philip was troubled by the eunuch’s lack of knowledge. The Spirit guides us to those who are most troubled, whether rich or poor. Philip, the counselor, then asked a question.

A few observations concerning the text above:

Notice that Philip asked him a question. Counselors are in the question-asking business. A porn addict may benefit from a stern rebuke, but the porn addict has already been rebuked by his own conscience, which is why he is seeking interpretation. A porn addict needs to probe his motivations and his justifications behind seeking his sinful habits. He needs to think through his worldview before he can see that it is deeply flawed. Questions will bring these assumptions to the surface.

The counselee needed help. Counselors cannot help those who do not wish to be helped. The counselee acknowledged that his answers, his attempts to be good, his efforts to get away from certain habits were not paying off. He realized that unless someone guides him his efforts will all be in vain.

Guiding someone is a form of life interpretation. The counselor needs to take the counselees’ assumptions about the world and dissect them so that the counselee can see the context surrounding his sins. He may be oblivious to his own environment. He may not know that the culture he is imbibing is causing a greater urge to immerse himself in those sins. He needs guidance to see that his interpretation is flawed.

Finally, notice that the eunuch invites the counselor to come and sit by him. This is not always the case. The work of the Spirit, of course, was already humbling the eunuch. His worship experience had already softened his own mind to seek wisdom. In some cases, the counselor needs to make aware to the counselee that he needs help and guidance. At times pride will keep the individual from seeking any help. He is certain that his lack of knowledge of the text and of his own life is not a problem and that in time he will learn to deal with it. This is where community life becomes crucial to the individual. If sins are simply seen as separated acts from the community, then they bear no weight on anyone else besides the individual. If, however, sins are communal by nature, then making known to the addicted man that he needs guidance becomes a necessary component of community life. The hurting has little hope of finding a right interpretation if he has no one willing to point out his need of one.

The eunuch was baptized. Philip’s interpretation offered him a perspective that changed him and caused him to act upon it. Counselors offer interpretation that will change the course of action of the counselee. Counselors, by God’s grace, will offer a message of hope. Jesus is that hope. The One who received no justice offers justice in the sight of God to those who humble themselves and seek his guidance. Jesus sat with us and offered us an interpretation of our lives that made us whole.

Mother’s Day and Child-Birth

“The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the servant.”

It was through the seed of a woman that Messiah came and bound evil. Our hope did not appear out of nothing. The Virgin Mary conceived our hope. In I Timothy, we have the cryptic words of St. Paul, who said, “Women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This is a re-telling of Genesis 3: Women will be saved through the new Adam birthed from a mother’s womb. However, this salvation comes through faith, love, and holiness.

Moreover, I cannot think of a richer way to express the self-giving nature of motherhood, except through this triad of faith, love, and holiness. A mother’s faith is her salvation. Her love is her armor, and her holiness is her perseverance. Salvation comes through the glory of self-giving, even in the act of childbirth. It would demand the faith and love and holiness of millions of women through history to have confidence that a Messiah would arrive on earth through one of them.

We live in a day where motherhood is despised. We take a day to honor them, but truly what meager attempt to honor those who offer so much? Being a mother is now considered by many to be an interference in world economy. The United Nations began a decade ago an assault on motherhood saying that having children is keeping women from finding their fullest potential. As the world, the flesh, and devil go so go the United Nations. We need to realize that in our day any role that has been established by God will be confronted by evil, and such is the role of motherhood in our society.

So how shall we then live on this Mother’s day?

First, we live honoring our mothers. We rise and call her blessed day after day after day. Children, if you want to live a long and fruitful life, honor your mother with your words and actions.

Secondly, we care for our aging mothers. We have seen several examples at Providence of sons and daughters caring for their aging mothers until her last breath. This selfless act is refreshing in an age where many mothers die alone in their homes or nursing homes.

Thirdly, I encourage those of you whose children are no longer at home to function in a motherly role towards our young, soon-to-be mothers and wives. If there is ever a time when young ladies need the wisdom of our mature ladies, it is now.

Fourthly, for those who grieve today because of the recent/past death of a mother or a mother/figure, we grieve with you. When the ancient Israelites grieved the loss of a loved one, they told stories; be refreshed by the memories of your mothers.

Fifthly, for those who grew up without mothers, this can be a difficult day as they watch everyone celebrating their moms.  On this day, find comfort in the love of God. He spreads his wings over you as a mother cares for her own.

Finally, let’s together honor mothers and their love of Christ and the Church, our heavenly mother. Let’s sing their praises and shout at the mountaintops. Providence Church desires to be a place where diaper changing, doing the dishes, educating, singing while cooking a meal, writing a letter of thanks, kissing and hugging children, disciplining children, equipping younger mothers are all activities that are praised and not mocked. Happy Mother’s Day: Your labors in the Lord are not in vain!

 

How Can I Understand? Thoughts on Counseling from Acts 8

How Can I Understand? Thoughts on Counseling from Acts 8

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

In Acts 8, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The wealthy Ethiopian had been worshipping in Jerusalem.  Upon his return home he began to read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah. Intrigued by them, he sought the help of someone who was capable of interpreting that text. The Ethiopian found an interpreter of Scripture, but also an interpreter of life. Philip’s interpretation was not only a Messianic interpretation, but also a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:14-15, which promised that Yahweh would sprinkle the nations. The Ethiopian was sprinkled/washed clean from his transgressions. He began to see that Messiah suffered so that he might have life.

This passage establishes in many ways the need for biblical counseling. Counselees are asking Philip’s questions. Their lives torn by a host of events have clouded their understanding of life, and sometimes even the Bible itself. It is incumbent then, for counselors, to come alongside the hurting and the needy and provide an accurate view of their lives through the lens of the Bible.

Jesus is the starting point of all healing. He is the suffering servant, who received no justice, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. The interpreter/counselor begins by pointing to Jesus. He guides the counselee to see that Jesus is the answer to his despair. But he is not simply pointing him to a concept, but to a Person. Jesus, as Person, died and suffered. Jesus, as concept, offers no hope.

Notice that Philip ran to him. Philip understood the pain and despair of the eunuch. Philip was troubled by the eunuch’s lack of knowledge. The Spirit guides us to those who are most troubled, whether rich or poor. Philip, the counselor, then asked a question.

A few observations concerning the text above:

Notice that Philip asked him a question. Counselors are in the question-asking business. A porn-addict may benefit from a stern rebuke, but the porn addict has already been rebuked by his own conscience, which is why he is seeking interpreation. A porn addict needs to probe his motivations and his justifications behind seeking his sinful habits. He needs to think through his worldview before he can see that it is deeply flawed. Questions will bring these assumptions to the surface.

Notice that the counselee needed help. Counselors cannot help those who do not wish to be helped. The counselee acknowledged that his answers, his attempts to be good, his efforts to get away from certain habits were not paying off. He realized that unless someone guides him his efforts will all be in vain.

Guiding someone is a form of life interpretation. The counselor needs to take the counselees’ assumptions about the world and dissect them, so that the counselee can see the context surrounding his sins. He may be oblivious to his own environment. He may not know that the culture he is imbibing is causing a greater urge to immerse himself in those sins. He needs guidance to see that his interpretation is flawed.

Finally, notice that the eunuch invites the counselor to come and sit by him. This is not always the case. The work of the Spirit, of course, was already humbling the eunuch. His worship experience had already softened his own mind to seek wisdom. In some cases, the counselor needs to make aware to the counselee that he needs help and guidance. At times pride will keep the individual from seeking any help. He is certain that his lack of knowledge of the text and of his own life is not a problem and that in time he will learn to deal with it. This is where community life becomes crucial to the individual. If sins are simply seen as separated acts from the community, then they bear no weight on anyone else besides the individual. If, however, sins are communal by nature, then making known to the addicted man that he needs guidance becomes a necessary component of community life. The hurting has little hope of finding a right interpretation if he has no one willing to point out his need of one.

The eunuch was baptized. Philip’s interpretation offered him a perspective that changed him and caused him to act upon it. Counselors offer interpretation that will change the course of action of the counselee. Counselors, by God’s grace, will offer a message of hope. Jesus is that hope. The One who received no justice offers justice in the sight of God to those who humble themselves and seek his guidance. Jesus sat with us and offered us an interpretation of our lives that made us whole.

Responding to Bob Jones University’s Response to G.R.A.C.E

Bob Jones University has been in the spot-light in these past several months. After hiring and firing and hiring again G.R.A.C.E, Bob Jones found itself in the middle of a firestorm. The multitude of responses came immediately from local pastors in Greenville, SC to well-known figures in the media. BJU finally offered the green light, so that GRACE would finish its report.

The report released on December 11, 2014, offered 300 pages of meticulous accounts and recommendations for the well-known fundamentalist university.  The recommendations were specific. The university asked for 90 days to respond to the report. The response came recently through BJU’s president, Steve Pettit. You can read the entire transcript here. a

Though some were pleased with the university’s response, those who were directly affected by the poor and irresponsible counsel given to victims of sexual abuse and those who understand that abused victims need more than theological propositions to heal from the profound belittling of one’s humanity that occurs in sexual abuse, found President Pettit’s response to be a disgraceful attempt to rescue the reputation of BJU. Rather than reaching out compassionately to those who were damaged by the university’s dangerous counsel, BJU’s response proved that there is no inherent interest in following GRACE’s detailed recommendations. There was no attempt to offer a systemic undoing of the university’s overarching counseling narrative.

What follows are the testimonies of three such people who felt betrayed by BJU’s response and understood the response to be nothing more than beautifying the dead:

Almost two years ago, BJU asked people like me to take an online survey.  They told us that they wished to learn about the experiences of those whom, during their time at BJU, received counseling for sexual abuse.  BJU told us that they wanted hear our stories to assist them in evaluating their counseling program.  And almost two years ago, I went online and took that survey.  Then I was asked to travel and meet with some people who wanted to discuss my experiences in greater depth.  So I went and met a team of 4 people.  Four strangers.  And I told those four strangers my very darkest secrets; memories that I had tried very hard to forget.  It shredded my soul to revisit those parts of my life.  But I believed I was doing something helpful. I was helping BJU to evaluate and improve their counseling program. The counseling that misapplied scripture and shamed me.  The counseling that sent me back to my abuser to make sure he knew he needed God’s forgiveness.  Interviewing with GRACE was a painful experience from start to finish.  But I had no regrets.  I felt that what I was doing was important.

I read the GRACE report, and was proud of the work they had done.  They compiled our stories.  Many voices, from different generations.  Yet our voices echoed each other.  Our stories were similar.  Some so similar, that I wasn’t sure if I was reading my own words or someone else’s.   And those stories clearly showed that BJU did need to make changes.  And I believed that the University would listen to us.  When many others didn’t, and when cynicism abounded, I still believed.

Then, the apology.  An apology from a person who was not guilty of anything other than being the president of BJU on March 10, 2015.  He, personally, had no reason to apologize.  He read his scripted statement.  Told me that they had listened; that they were sorry that we had been hurt.  That we didn’t receive adequate “comfort and guidance.” Please forgive them.  And I continued to believe that the cynics were wrong.  But as I continued to listen, I slowly began to grasp that I was the one who had been fooled.  According to him, BJU had already put in place changes.  They were already doing things the right way.  They had their lawyers go over everything; all of their files and papers and notes, and everything was ship-shape.

BUT, they want to meet with me.  They want to hear my story personally.  They want me to call them and share my experience.  Why would I do this?  They asked me to meet with GRACE and share my experience.  And I did.  At a very great price, I did what they asked.  And they have said that they did everything according to Biblical standards, and in compliance with all laws.  What would be the point of meeting with them?  I’ve told my story already.

Now I sit and watch from the sidelines – the armchair commentary.  Every kind of opinion.  Some, upholding that the University can do no wrong.  An attitude of complete and total idolatry.  Others, that the University can do no right.  An attitude of anger and revenge.  And I feel lost in the middle of it all.  On the one side, I feel scorn.  On the other I feel pity.  It’s said I must be a tool of Satan to destroy God’s school.  It’s insinuated that I must be a needy desperate soul whose entire life has been derailed by the trauma I suffered.  I’ve been called brave.  I’ve been called bitter.  I’ve been accused of being in such poor spiritual condition that I have no right to instruct BJU on any spiritual matters.  Some nod along, some shake their heads.  The cynics still tell me I should have known; they knew how it would turn out and I’m foolish for not seeing it too. It’s easy to try to “paint me by numbers;” to determine what kind of person I must be.  Because I’m faceless.  I’m nameless.  My story, detailed in the GRACE report, is easily torn apart and dissected.  Each side for their own purposes and motives.  My story, pieced together with the stories of others; resulting in opinions, and more opinions, and even more opinions.

And today, one day after BJU’s response, I can only think of one word to describe my current feelings.  Regretful.  I wish I had never taken the survey.  I am told that “they” are sorry, but not by the ones who have something for which they should be sorry.  I’m patted on the hand and assured that they are doing better.  Which I suppose should please me, except that I’m told they were already working their way there long ago. They were already getting it right.  Without me.  My voice, just one among many, wasn’t needed after all.  And both the scorn and the pity, they have tugged at me.  Scorn coming from ones who don’t realize that they know me.  From critics who don’t realize, while they look down on me, that they sat at dinner with me many years ago.  They were my friends.  And now they assume the worst of me.  Pity coming from people who mean nothing to me, who assume I need it because it benefits them.  I am a useful tool in a vendetta that has nothing to do with me.

I can’t say, exactly, what Dr. Pettit could have said yesterday that would make me feel satisfied.  I’ve struggled to come up with the “right answer.”  I’m not writing this to figure all of those answers out. I’m weary of trying to figure it out.  I’m writing this to say – I wish I had never taken the survey.  I wish I had never interviewed.  My voice has been heard, but not valued.  If they didn’t truly want to hear it, why did they ask for it in the first place?  I’m quite certain I would have been better off had I never been involved.  But I wanted it to mean something. And, ultimately, it didn’t.  An extravagant waste.

–Anonymous

 

I believe that Steve Pettit’s apology was basically a non-apology because only external things have been changed.  The heart of the problem is the way they SEE people and how they SEE themselves, and that has not changed.  I don’t know how they can say with a straight face that they want victims to come to talk to them and that they want the university to be a place of solace when they continue to offend by holding onto their pride and refusing to submit to deep change at the level of the heart.

I am heartbroken over their stance, but I still have hope. My hope is in Christ, not an institution of flawed people.  I think the GRACE report has exposed their condition, so the report was not in vain from that standpoint.

–Kristi Wetzel

 

“Over the years, we have had a number of students come to BJU who had experienced sexual abuse prior to their association with BJU. Many of these victims reached out to our faculty and staff for help and were lovingly served and comforted. However, there were some who came to us and did not experience the loving and comforting environment they deserved in their time of need.”b

But he doesn’t mention what we received instead.  In my case I received blame from Jim Berg for my problems of flashbacks and dissociation. I was told the reason I had the problems I did was because I wasn’t thinking on things that are lovely.  I was at fault for not appropriately applying Phillipians 4:8.  He told me I was choosing to dwell on the past and think about those things and that’s why I was there like I was in a TV show that was playing.  I didn’t have the word for flashback and Jim Berg never told me there was a word for what I was describing to him about what was happening to me.  At the time he was counseling me I also described to him my experiences in leaving his office after counseling and “waking up” somewhere way on the back side of campus.  There is a word for that too, “dissociation”.

I really want to write out a well reasoned response to how BJU has responded to the GRACE report. I don’t know that I can. I am still reeling from their claim that their counseling is not the problem and they don’t intend to change it. How in the world can they have read the GRACE report and come to that conclusion?

I filled out the questionnaire and later interviewed with GRACE. It took me almost two years to get back to a place of stability. Right now I am reeling and am still basically in shock, even though I expected them to do nothing substantial or to truly own up to the damage their counseling causes. Maybe way down deep I did have hope for change. Maybe that’s why this hurts so much.

When Steve Pettit said, “I know many of you are saying to yourselves that what I’ve said about our discipline culture and counseling response isn’t a fair reflection of BJU as a whole. I know it’s not. But we have to own this problem, and we have to have the courage to deal with it in the right way for God’s glory.” They aren’t owning the problem. The counseling at BJU is woven throughout the entire school. The things said to me in private counseling by Jim Berg were also said in chapel and also appeared in his book Changed Into His Image. This is the same counsel that caused me such incredible harm. And they are keeping it. They aren’t following the recommendations to remove all of Jim Berg’s, Walter Fremont’s and Bob Wood’s counseling material and books.

I’m out of words, I’m left with shaking and sweating hands. Just this attempt to corral my thoughts that are flying a thousand directions, in order to express my reaction, is emotionally exhausting and I’ve even found myself sobbing uncontrollably.

–Anonymous

  1. You can watch the video here  (back)
  2. Quotation from Steve Pettit  (back)

Dear Sister: Response on Forgiveness

Dear sister,a

You have stated that the common view of forgiveness indicates that you are supposed to forgive the man who harmed you physically, psychologically, and perpetually as you go about your day. Though you are no longer under his control–thanks be to God–you still suffer the immense pain and agony by re-living those moments every time–or almost every time–someone uses certain language, when someone jokes about abuse, when someone sounds like an abuser, and when someone trivializes that abuse. So, you are told, suck it up! Live with it! Move on and forgive him.

My responses to these requests are meant to be brief, but to the point. Forgiveness is not a dispensing machine. An abuser cannot simply press a button and demand that you act accordingly. So, principle number one is that if the abuser demands forgiveness from you and acts as if he deserves it, tell him that you are a human being and that you will not be treated like a machine. Forgiveness, if you wish to be theological, is covenantal.

Forgiveness is complex at this level. Not all relationships are created equal. At the very least, this conversation between victim and abuser can only be initiated if said abuser has changed his ways, proven that he has suffered the consequences of his actions, has placed himself in a community where his sins are known, and if the case involves sexual abuse, that he not be working near any children. If those conditions are met, then by all means begin the conversation if you are prepared. But though he may be ready to proceed and though the conditions are met, make sure that you are surrounded by a safe community, with a pastor (s) that understand the severity of the damage done and have agreed to walk with you through this process.

Dismiss any comment from counselors who make you feel guilty for suffering such abuse. Better yet, run away from them.  You may think you have found an advocate, but you really are dealing with someone with little capacity to understand the depths of human pain. I pray you will find a voice of reason in a sea of miserable counsel.

Yours truly,

Uri Brito

  1. These names will remain anonymous  (back)

Everybody Needs Counseling

I sat to counsel someone recently. And he stated the obvious to me: “If everyone,” he said, “really thought about it they would be sitting right here.” The truth was pure and simple. It was refreshing to hear it. We all need counseling. I need counseling. You need counseling. We may need professional counseling from trained individuals, or we may need a shoulder to cry from our neighbor. God has given us two or three friends in a lifetime to fulfill that role. It is a powerful role. I am grateful if you have that function in someone’s life or if someone has that role in yours.

If that is the case, and if the biblical record affirms the “one-anothers” again and again, what keeps us from seeking counseling? Basically, pride. What Augustine referred to as the first and last sin to overcome man. We are too big to need others or the counsel of others. Most of us will rather endure the pain of day-to-day by ourselves than open ourselves to others. This is remarkably inhuman. God created us to need others, to depend on others, to serve others, to be faithful to others, to submit to others, to be humbled by others, to confess our sins to others. In short, God created us to never face anything alone. Yet, again and again, many do. Many prefer to do it this way. They prefer to suffer the agony of pain in the high of self-absorption.

The individual I met recently was very aware of his need. His self-awareness made him an easy person to counsel. His attentiveness and lack of need to defend himself or his own actions made him an easy target for the Spirit of God to work. His life is finding redemption. It is a slow process, but that’s ok, because in counseling this person sees that his sins were many, so time is the least of worries, rather the individual wants to know that he is re-structuring his thinking after the thoughts of God. He doesn’t want to miss a point. He wants to hear every angle and every perspective. It matters to him. His assumption that he needs counseling is the key to his success.

New Year Resolutions

If 2015 is going to be successful, and I pray it is, seek counseling. If your marriage is in trouble, abandon your pride and seek help from a pastor or a qualified Christian counselor in the area. If your pornography problem has been knocking at your door daily or consistently and you no longer fear opening the door, seek counseling. Seek confession and help. If relational problems are overwhelming, seek reconciliation. Do not allow this new year to become another year of self-absorbtion, self-pity, and self-help. Seek and you shall find.

Make your new year’s resolution to be a resolution of repentance; repentance for believing the lie that you can self-medicate your problems without others; repentance for trusting your expertise and your sophisticated ability to justify before a court of your imagination your sins and to continue in them. Here’s the honest truth: you and I need counseling.