“RTV” Counseling. Part Two

Continuing from Part 1. “RTV” Counseling is that type of so-called “Biblical Counseling” that is the least Biblical. It stands for “Read This Verse” Counseling.

#3. “RTV” Counsleing often devolves into bad hermeneutics on two levels. On the first level, there is often bad hermeneutics (process of interpretation) of the Bible. For example, a common RTV passage for counseling is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This seems like a great verse for people who feel unable to do something. And yet it really isn’t. The passage is about Paul lacking the ability to do some things. But in Christ, he has the ability to endure all things. That is often quite encouraging… for me I find it greatly encouraging… but very much in a different way than it is often used. But of course this passage is not the sum total of what the Bible says about enduring challenges, any more than Matthew 18 is the sum total of what to do about church conflict, or Matthew 5:32 is the sum total of the Biblical message on divorce. Even if the right verse is used for the right situation, it will almost always be sub-biblical because the guidance in the Bible is much broader than what is contained in one passage. On the other side, there is often bad hermeneutics of the client. Anton Boisen describes people as “Living Human Documents.” as such, they must be “read” and interpreted. Until one has carefully listened and clarified, one has not truly read the person. Cutting out this process just deals with the superficial.

I bring this up because we have a Christian Counseling center. I have heard people say things like, “Oh… I heard that you don’t use the Bible when you do counseling.” Frankly, that is far far away from the truth. For a long time I was curious at that. Of course, even in Christian counseling there can be competition, and one way to make a charge that is almost completely unverifiable is to say, “They are unbiblical.” Still, I was curious if there was truth to this. I think it is because when they are thinking of Biblical Counseling, they are really meaning RTV Counseling. Unfortunately, the Biblical Counseling movement, going right back to Jay Adams and at least some of his followers embraced a certain superficial and limited use of Scripture with a bit of Job’s friend methodology.

If one wants to call one’s counseling Biblical, it should have the following qualities:

  1. It should utilize a thoughtful use of the whole of Scripture, not a list of encouraging or challenging verses. This is not easy, and such an integration probably should be described as Theological, to avoid the temptation to verse-drop or verse-bomb.
  2. It should be modeled after Jesus Christ in character and practice, and demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  3. It should come from a position of humility and mutuality. The counselor is, at best, a wounded healer (drawing from Henri Nouwen). The counselor is never an expert or perfect model.

For me, I like the fact that people in my denomination are gravitating toward the use of the term “Biblical Counseling” rather than “Spiritual Counseling.” I think their avoidance of the second term is because of its new-age connections. Still, “Spiritual” is a word that can mean anything… or nothing. Even though people misuse the term “Biblical,” in my opinion, at least it is a word that means something. On the other hand, I don’t like the term “Biblical Counseling” as it is used in my denomination as a weaponized term. Just a week ago, a person from my denomination came over to the Philippines to promote Biblical Counseling, and the first thing she did was to put it in conflict with Psychology. There is much wrong with Psychology… but when it is wrong, it is wrong because it is wrong.

I know that last sentence sounds non-sensical. However, Psychology is wrong when it does not correspond with truth. The same is true of (so-called) Biblical Counseling. A lot of what is called Biblical Counseling needs to be challenged by Psychology because a lot of Biblical Counseling is far less than Biblical (far less than good theology). And Psychology needs to be challenged by Biblical Counseling… but both must be challenged by truth (God’s truth).

I fear that another problem with the use of the term “Biblical Counseling” in my denomination is because of its reluctance to attach itself to the historical church. My denomination likes to link itself to the primitive church. I like the term “Pastoral Counseling” because it links the Bible to the Historical church in terms of counseling. However, I understand the term “Christian Counseling” as useful the Christian Counseling movement embraces more of an integrationist stance (all truth is God’s truth). Still, I prefer Pastoral Counseling as my term. However, all counseling associated with Christians should be Theological.

“RTV” Counseling. Part 1

I used to be a mechanical engineer working for one of the larger defense contractors in the world. Sometimes we would have short-cut solutions to problems. In people’s homes, one of the big shortcuts is duck tape (also spelled duct tape, incorrectly, at times). We did not use duck tape however, but one of our short-cuts was RTV.

RTV stands for “Room Temperature Vulcanization.” If you go to the hardware store you may see it marketed different ways. A common way is “Silicone Sealant.” It commonly comes in a tube, and one can squeeze it out as a clear (or sometimes colored) gel. It will harden (vulcanize) over the next few hours becoming silicone rubber. It is useful for many things. It can be used as a sealant (obviously), but can also be used to cushion, support, and help components pass various tests like drip-tests, shock tests, and vibration tests.

Using RTV isn’t cheating per se, it is durable and resistant to chemicals and other things meaning it can be a long-term solution. Still, sometimes RTV can be used to “put a patch” on something that should have been designed or manufactured differently. In other words, it is a short-cut… and sometimes a short-cut is not the best way to do things. In fact, at its worst, it is used more to hide problems rather than truly solve them.

In Christian counseling, I do consider there to be a type that could be called “RTV Counseling.” In this case it stands for

Read This Verse” Counseling

I suspect you have come across this before. Perhaps you have seen something shared on Facebook or Instagram or whatever is your preferred online form of information—- perhaps it is a list of problems and associated with each problem is a verse to read.

Maybe it lists a problems like “FEAR” and then it has the verse Isaiah 41:10. When you look it up, it says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” It is a good verse… a comforting verse (even though it is actually comforting words to Israel… not to you). And then there will be other problems and associated verses. Other problems might be things like “Temptation” or “Anxiety.” I rather suspect that most of you all reading this would have no trouble guessing what verses would be associated with these.

But when does the short-cut undermine the solution? I will use fear as an example.

#1. RTV Counseling involves a lot of guessing. Why does the person feel fear? The RTV counselor does not know. The counselor appears to assume that the only answer could be “Lack of Faith in God,” or perhaps “Lack of Assurance in the Benevolence of God.” Did the counselor guess correctly? Maybe. Maybe not.

#2. RTV Counseling, even if the counsellor guesses right typically does not address the underlying issues. For example, suppose the counsellor did choose a good verse regarding fear. Suppose the client really does struggle with the benevolence if God— Why does the person struggle with this? Maybe the client has suffered loss in the past. I have met people who seem to do fine where there is lack of reconciliation between their faith beliefs and their personal experience. Many, however can’t. Giving guidance that seems to violate one’s values or experiences can be viewed as not only not helpful, but insulting.

Suppose someone is suffering grief due the loss of a loved one, and an RTV counselor comes along as says Read This Verse…”For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I have certainly heard this used before… but why? I suppose my best guess is that the counselor is guessing that the bereaved is thinking, “I am so sad because, and only because, I think my loved one is gone forever and in a horrible situation. If only I had reason to think that my loved one is fine, I will lose all sadness and radiate joy…. despite losing the presence of my beloved.”

Is that a good guess? Probably not. The sadness is most likely because the beloved is gone from them now. There is something missing… there is an attachment severed. Grieving is very appropriate rather something to squelch.

Sadness is not a problem to fix. In many ways the same goes for fear. We were designed that way. God gave us the ability to feel fear for our own protection. Feeling fear is not the problem. The problem is when fear crushes our spirit, stunts our growth, dominates our minds, or steers us on the wrong path. There are good reasons to feel fear, just as there are good reasons to feel sad. But we need to explore those reasons.

And that we will do… In Part 2.

Christian Missions and Pastoral Care

Christian Missions seems so opposite to Pastoral Care. Christian Missions is usually linked with proclamation and apologetics. Pastoral Care is more tied to listening and eductive learning. Christian Missions usually seeks to change others. Pastoral Care is usually more focused on empowering others to change themselves— or at least understand themselves better.

But there are a lot of areas where Christian Missions overlap with Pastoral Care. I have written on this before. However, there are clear areas of overlap.

Missionary Member Care. This one is obvious. MMC is, in many ways, pastoral care for missionaries.

Interreligious Dialogue. This is less obvious. However, living in a pluralistic world, with many cultures having a worldview that is decidedly not Christian, the ability to understand, learn, and build relationships with those of other faiths is critical. Incompetence to do IRD is likely to lead to incompetence in engaging with people of other cultures.

Christian Missions. Okay, this is a bit funny. I am suggesting that Christian Missions exists completely within the bounds of Pastoral Care. Perhaps this is a bit much. However, I would suggest reading the book, CROSS-CULTURAL SERVANTHOOD: SERVING THE WORLD IN CHRISTLIKE HUMILITY by Duane Elmer (IVP Books, 2006).

Much like books on Servant Leadership books that have popularized a radically different view of leadership, “Cross-cultural Servanthood” makes the case that the Servant model is ideal for Missionaries (especially in the context of cross-cultural settings, at least in the context of the book). I believe that the book makes a strong case that Servanthood is the ideal, most effective, best way to serve as a missionary.

Fine… but when one reads the book on what it means to be a servant missionary, the book reads like a Pastoral Care book. Consider the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that did a study as to who is most effective in serving overseas (cross-culturally). The three top things were found to be (described in pages 96 and 97 of Elmer’s :

  1. “… Ability to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships with the local people.”
  2. “… A strong sense of self-identity, which allowed people to be real with each other.”
  3. “… Positive, realistic predeparture expectations.”

If one looks at these three— the first two are very much tied to Pastoral Care and Counseling. Perhaps the third one isn’t, but definitely the first two fit.

Back when I was going to seminary, I focused on missions courses while my wife focused on pastoral care courses. I think that as a couple, that worked out well. However, I later found the need to try to “catch up” in the pastoral care area. In retrospect, pastoral care is vital to missions, and I was disadvantaged with the presumption that pastoral care did not have much to do with Missions.

Take away: While language learning is important (I wish I had taken it more seriously), as are the skills of contextualization, Pastoral Care and Counseling## is probably the next most important thing in Christian Missions.

##Pastoral Care and Counseling here does NOT refer to formulas of counseling, or of verse-bombing. I am referring the the art of Pastoral Theology and Care that has been passed down from the Original founders of the church, through church history until today. Sadly, Pastoral Care has been messed with on both sides— those who have most to an overly secular model, and those who have embraced a Biblicist (arguably SUB-Biblical) model.

Other Links:

7 Rules of Pastoral Conversation

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 1

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 2

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 3

Theological Abuse and St. Jerome

I have been reading a book— Jerome: His Life, Writings and Controversies, by J.N.D. Kelly. Jerome is… complex. He has done some great things, such as recognize and support the importance, especially in the Western Church, to take Biblical languages (1st Century Greek, and ancient Hebrew) seriously in both translation and interpretation. However, in his book, Kelly summarizes a letter from Jerome to a woman named Paula. Paula was a disciple of Jerome, alone with her daughter, Blesilla. Jerome felt very close to both of them. However, Blesilla died and Paula felt great grief. Quoting Kelly regarding Jerome’s letter to Paula,

Jerome, who seems to have regarded Blesilla as now belonging at least as much to himself as to Paula, was shocked by her distress, and took her to task in no uncertain terms. The letter, which he intended as a threnody, and which starts off as a eulogy of Blesilla, soon becomes a rebuke for her mother’s excessive grief, and at the same time a terrifying exposure of his own religious attitude. First, he concedes that tears have their place (did not Jesus weep for Lazarus?), but protests that his own agony is no less than Paula’s. But the Christian should be able to bear the most shattering blows with meek thankfulness, knowing that God, who controls all things, is good. Secondly, however, the dead man for whom mourning is appropriate is the sinner who has gone down to hell; Blesilla deserves congratulation, for she has passed fro darkness to light to meet Christ face to face. Thirdly, Paula should recall that she is not only a mother but a Christian, and a dedicated ascetic at that. The truly Christian reaction to death was that of the heroic Melania: when she lost her husband and two of her sons in quick succession, who shed no tear but, prostrate before Christ, exclaimed with a smile, ‘Now I shall serve You, Lord, all the more readily, since You have freed me from this burden.; Finally, Paula’s grief is disgraceful to the point of sacrilege. It must be sheer torture to Blesilla, as she consorts with blessed Mary and the saints, to see her own mother behaving in a manner so displeasing to Christ.

Kelly, J.N.D., JEROME: HIS LIFE, WRITINGS, AND CONTROVERSIES (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1975), 99.

Jerome had a position of authority over her as her discipler. As such, his is in a position to abuse. This form of abuse is often described as “spiritual abuse.” In this case, I would categorize this form of spiritual abuse as theological abuse since the method of abuse is linked to expressing a form of theology that is harmful/coercive. Here are a few things that Jerome gave a theological guidance to Paula.

#1. Jerome did not, positively, that Jesus did shed tears at the death of Lazarus. However, based on the broader context, it looks like is was shared as a sort of innoculent. The reason I am saying this is that in the letter, it appears to be saying that crying is bad, and that sadness is wrong, and so acknowledges the most well-known counterargument before ignoring its ramifications later.(I don’t have Jerome’s letter— Letter 39, 384 AD— and so I am responding to the summary by Kelly.)

#2. Jerome seems to be saying, “I love Blesilla as much as you, and so if I am not grieving like that, neither should you.” This is pretty classic. One of the classic responses to the grieving is, “I know EXACTLY how you are feeling.” This is often meant well, but does have the sting of saying, in effect— “Don’t share with me how you feel, because I already got it.” This is not a good pastoral response. First, it is not true. Jerome does NOT know what it is like to lose a daughter, and he is not in a position to figure out who is struggling more. Second, even if two people, theoretically, had the exact same amount and quality of attachment to someone who has died, that does not mean that the grief response will be (or should be) identical. God created individuals, not clones.

#3. Jerome implies that if one cannot be thankful to God while grieving. Another, bad response to grieving is, “You really should be counting your blessings!” As one reads the Psalms of Lament in the Bible, one finds songs that express deep sorry along with both thankfulness and hope. We are complex beings. Sadness and thankfulness are not mutually exclusive.

#4 . Jerome suggests that we shouldn’t really grieve because everything that happens is good, because God is good. This relates to a gripe of mine… the responsive formula— “God is good…” “All the time.” “And all the time…” “God is good.” We may say that God is loving. We may say that God is benevolent. However, when we say, “God is good” I think the vagueness of the term requires us to ask the perspective. From a phenomenological or anthropocentric viewpoint, God is NOT always good. That is the point of the Lament Psalms, as well as some of the various prophetic complaints to God in the Old Testament (particularly). We learn and grow through dealing with the challenge that “God is good… but NOT all the time. Not all the time, but God is STILL good.” But even if God is good all the time (on all levels of interpretation), God created us with deep attachments. We were designed to hurt from loss. Grieving doesn’t undermine this. In fact, one could even argue that grieving is a God-given gift to help us deal with deep loss.

5. Jerome states that Blesilla is in a better place so we should be celebrating this. I know some Christians like to talk about funerals as “Celebrating Life” rather than seen as memorizing one lost to death. I don’t suppose there is anything wrong with this. However, grief is not based on where the person is at but where the griever is with respect to the other. One has lost something precious regardless of where that precious one is. We may not grieve as those who have no hope, but we still grieve… and should grieve.

6. Jerome argues that a true Christian reaction is to find joy in the loss. He uses the example of Melania, a Roman Christian who lost husband and two sons and then left for Palestine to found a monastery. The story of her thanking God (seemingly) because He took away impediments to her serving Him, sounds pretty monstrous. I assume the reality is more complex, but if one takes it as Jerome presented it, I suggests an attitude about family and relationships that appears to be far from a Christian ideal.

7. Jerome claims to read Blesilla’s mind in heaven and thinking that she would be “tortured” to see Paula grieving. This is tied to a well-known response to the grieving that, “_________ would not want you to grieve.” Of course, these respondents have no idea what the dead want. Most commonly, what is really meant is “I have gotten tired of seeing you grieve.”

8. Jerome finally claims that Paula’s grieving displeases God. This is just a variation of the previous argument with “God doesn’t want to see you grieve.” Essentially, grieving is seen as a sin by Jerome.

This expresses the theological perspective of Jerome and it is pretty abusive. Of course, this theology comes partly from the times he is in. Starting in the second century there was a gradual growth of asceticism in Christianity. Asceticism is a religious perspective and series of behaviors that exist across many different religions. Denial of physical pleasures, and sometimes even physical needs, can lead to feelings of closeness to the divine, and it certainly is understandable that rejecting material things makes one feel that one is uniquely embracing ‘heavenly’ things. There is nothing inherently ascetic in Judaism or Christianity. Despite this, both have sprung ascetic movements. A presbyter (according to Tertullian) wrote an apocryphal work ascribed to St. Paul called “The Acts of Paul and Thecla.” It was written a bit before 160AD. It espouses chastity/virginity is greatly glowing terms. It shows that this aspect of asceticism was already idealized in the 2nd century. This could have come over from ascetic Jewish groups like the Essenes. However, Greek dualism of material versus spiritual certainly could be seen as a source. Asceticism had a big boost in the 4th century with the moral decline of the church as it went from a persecuted remnant to a popular and governmentally supported faith. Monks and Anchorites began to spring up espousing ascetic beliefs as an ideal form of Christianity. With this perspective, phrases in the Bible such as “absence from the body means presence with the Lord” or “Deny thyself and take up thy cross” can be taken to extremes where normal human emotions and desires are seen as being in conflict with God (who actually designed us that way).

Of course, I am not suggesting that everything we want to do is good. However, the Great Commandment makes it clear that loving God is not in competitiion with loving others. We love God AND others, and we express our love for others in some small way as a response to God’s love for us.

Caring about others is not inherently at odds to loving God. While God may be our highest love, grieving does not draw that love into question. It shows that we do, indeed, love.

I feel like this letter from Jerome expresses a certain theological perspective that is not only not sound, but is also harmful. It reminds me of an article I am reading now that tries to make the argument that the the election of God is immune from the charge of unfairness because of how deeply our sin goes against God’s holiness. I don’t quite see that. If I walk up to five people and give one of them a million dollars (a completely fanciful story here) the other four may say that i am unfair for giving the money to the one and not to all of them or another of them. I might argue that all five of them are completely undeserving, but does IN NO WAY undermine the concerns about fairness. In fact, I suspect growth would come from reflection— perhaps in understanding the idea of grace, or rethinking my presumptions of what election is (or is not).

Perhaps it is better not to be too dogmatic with someone struggling. Questions may be better than answers. So, with that in mind, I will say that these are my thoughts and hope you will meditate on this and decide for yourself.

The Potato Blight and Pastoral Theology

My wife is a certified pastoral counselor, so I sometimes get pulled in on CPE (Clinical Pastoral Training/Education) groups to lead a small training session. This weekend, I led one in Pastoral Theology. I utilize the definition for Pastoral Theology used by Margaret Whipp, in her book “SCM Guidebook: Pastoral Theology,”

PASTORAL THEOLOGY IS THE STUDY OF HOW AND WHY CHRISTIANS CARE.

Several times (too many times?) I made the statement that good pastoral care depends on good pastoral theology. I also made the statement that how we carry out pastoral care points to our pastoral theology. Thus, if we don’t have a reflected on pastoral theology, we will simply have a tacit (and typically bad) pastoral theology.

This seems a bit ridiculous, especially considering how busy people seem to be in Christian ministry who appear to have no time to worry about such unnecessary things as theology or theological reflection.

But I found a nice little example of tacit pastoral theology in a Youtube Video I watched from a strange source. The channel is “Tasting History” and the particular video is “Irish Stew from 1900 & the Irish Potato Famine.”

It is not a religious or theological channel. But it is quite relevant.

Starting around 1845, Potato Blight hit Ireland hard. People were starving and different people responded differently.

Charles Trevelyan. This man was placed in charge of the relief work by the British government for those starving in Ireland. In the youtube video (link above) it quotes Trevelyan as saying,

“The judgment of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated… The real evil which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse, and turbulent character of the people.” (Charles Trevelyan)

Admittedly, Trevelyan’s views reflected the views of many in power in England. Those in power commonly do see those without power as unworthy in some way… presumably because that implies that they with power have somehow earned their position. However, Trevelyan’s perspective does have an underlying theological perspective. Bad things are happening to the Irish because God wants bad things to happen to them. They have earned what they are getting. And to help people under the judgment of God is to work against God. This is a bit akin to what happened in the 1980s and 1990s when many saw the AIDs epidemic as a judgment of God against homosexuals (particularly). The thought of some was that to work on a cure was to undermine God’s good work.

So what was Trevelyan’s pastoral theology? It is hard to say, but by appearance it seems to be that Christians should care for those who appear to be cared for by God. In other words, we should provide care only for people who don’t require care. This may not be true. Perhaps he was simply an ethnic or religious bigot, and simply justified his prejudices with theological language. In the end, however, it doesn’t matter. In practice this was his theology within this specific context. Pastoral theology is highly contexstual.

Bible Societies. Tasting History noted that many Bible Societies (essentially parachurch mission organizations) provided food for the Irish who were starving…. BUT ONLY IF THEY CONVERT TO THE SOCIETY’S DENOMINATION. Since the vast majority of the Irish were staunchly (religiously and culturally) Roman Catholic, care was only given if people left the Roman Catholic Church.

So what is the pastoral theology here? Since conversion (at least change of denominational affiliation) was a prerequisite for receiving care, they were in essence saying, “Christians care for people only if they are like us Christians. If they are different, they can starve.” This sort of thing has happened a lot in Christian (and non-Christian) societies. There has been many times where the “Cross or the Sword” form of evangelism has been active going back to at least Charlemagne. Again, other groups have their own versions, such as the “Shahada or the Scimitar.” Essentially, the idea is that converting to our faith (or in some cases converting to our denominational perspective) is such an inherent eternal good, that pretty much any means to make that happen is a good thing.

Sometimes, it can go the opposite way a bit. As noted, my wife is a pastoral counselor. Usually, she counsels Christians. Sometimes, however, she counsels non-Christians. Some pastoral counselors say that one can only counsel Christians— for all others, the only thing one can do is Evangelize. That is quite a statement if one thinks about it. Probably, they don’t mean this. Probably what they mean is that Conversion to Christ is such a totally important and good thing, that any other good thing we might be able to do with and for this person pales in comparison. That seems a bit dubious. After all, if someone is suicidal and a Christian counselor talks that person out of committing suicide, that hardly pales in comparison to salvation. In fact, not being dead is an essential prerequisite to conversion. Regardless, it is likely that the refusal to help (except evangelize) a non-Christian is likely to be interpreted as “You have NOTHING to offer me that I presently see as valuable.”

This view tends to lend itself to the perspective of the “Ulterior Motive.” We don’t provide care because we love all people. We don’t do it because Jesus commanded us, and modeled it for us. Rather we do it, to get because we expected a quid pro quo. Quid pro quo can be initiated by either side. When a typhoon hit our area, a mission care provider came to the Philippines to provide resources for those hurt by the landslides. The local missionary he was working with began to plan out all of the places they would visit to help. However, the mission care provider had no interest in that list. He only wanted to go to places where there were churches tied to their denomination to provide care. If one of their churches wasn’t there, that was someone else’s problem. While I understand the logic of it, I still must say that it is a sub-Biblical perspective.

Society of Friends. The video noted that one group that did things differently was the Society of Friends (Quakers). There may have been others, but this is one that was singled out by the video. They gave based on the need of the people… regardless of anything else. This has a very different underlying pastoral theology— of how and why Christians provide care to others. In my mind, this is the one

Caught Being Weak in the Garden

Okay, it happened again. I was reading some commentary on a Biblical passage. This one was from when Jesus said to His disciples in the garden,

“My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

The commentary argued that Jesus was not under great stress. After all, expressing a wish to have “this cup” removed might suggest that Jesus wasn’t fully committed the Father’s will and plan. The same commentator suggested that when Jesus on the cross expressed “My God, My God. Why hast Thou forsaken Me” He was simply quoting Scripture to (allegedly) fulfill prophecy.

I have a lot of problems with this, and it makes me have a few questions:

  1. Is it possible that Jesus was fully committed to the will of the Father, while still being absolutely horrified at the path ahead? I mean, do we ever commit to something because we know it is right while overcoming the fear and stress associated with the plan?
  2. Did Jesus need the support of friends in a time of psychological and emotional stress? Is asking for help a sign of weakness…. or a sign of strength?
  3. Could it be that Jesus in time of great pain and distress felt a sense of abandonment from the Father… much as many of us can feel abandoned in times of great trials? And if this is so, does admitting this demonstrate a lack of faith, or show emotional honesty?
  4. Is it possible that the story of Jesus in the Garden was placed there to help us understand that the path of God is not easy, but we have the example of one committed to faithfulness no matter the cost? Would the story be more inspirational if Jesus was immune to sorrow, dread, stress, and pain?

I struggle understanding the motivation of undermining the pathos of the Crucifixion story. What is gained (logically, exegetically, narratively) in suggesting that Jesus did not feel the pain He quite understandably would feel, but was instead quoting lines of Scripture that were disconnected with His situation?

Generally, I think it comes from the discomfort many theologians or expositors have with feelings. Feelings are unreliable, untrustworthy. Weakness is to be denied. Many a Christian Theologian appear to prefer a Gnostic Jesus– one who is disconnected from humanity, human emotions, and physical pain.

I am reminded of the quote by B.B. Warfield

Our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:20), was weary (John 4:6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred his soul… Not only do we read that he wept (John 11:35) and wailed (Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), and groaned (Mark 8:12), but we read also of his angry glare (Mark 3:5), his annoyed speech (Mark 10:14), his chiding words (e.g. Mark 3:12), the outbreaking ebullition of rage (e.g. John 11:33 and 38), of the agitation of his bearing when under strong feelings (John 11:35), the open exaltation of his joy (Luke 10:21), the unrest of his movements in the face of anticipated evils (Matt. 27:37), the loud cry which was wrung from him in his moment desolation (Matt. 27:46).”
-BB. Warfield

Paul said in II Corinthians 12 that God allows us to remain weak so that we can experience God’s grace. Strength is found in overcoming the weakness, not denying the weakness.

I have likewise heard similar words on Elijah where a commentator expressed shock that God would call such a “weak” man as Elijah… one who WHEN THREATENED WITH DEATH… runs away. I wonder whether that is the point. God works with lots of weak people. I don’t think God created any strong people, and if He did, I doubt He ever would work with them.

God only works with weak people.

Roles of the Chaplain

I know that people tend to think of chaplaincy as decidedly different from missionary. However, both come from a missional spirit, as one embraces the calling to serve others outside of the church setting. Well, I was supposed to give an commissioning address for some chaplain trainees at our center a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, our neighborhood was locked-down due to illness, Thefore, I could not speak. I decided to share the first draft of my message here. It is more finished at the beginning than the end. Hopefully, I will finish it soon… but what I have done is pretty useful, I think.

CPE has been found useful for many people in Christian ministry, as well as people in other forms of service. However, there has been a tradition of CPE used for chaplains. Chaplains are ministers whose congregation is not the church. This can include the military, a hospital, a jail, a community, a corporation, a government agency, at iba pa. So I will tell my first experience with chaplains.

Many years ago, I graduated from college and I decided to join the United States Navy. I went to Officer Candidate School (OCS)

During the fist week is Indoctrination Week. Our heads our shaved. We have to get up early for exercise, we do everything as a group. We have almost no individual freedom. We C.I.s yell at us and give us orders and emotionally abused. This is supposed to develop a group identity and a feeling of belonginess. I am not sure that that worked for me. All I could think of was that I completed a bechelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and now I am being treated like people treat a stray dog.

However, during Indoc week, we were scheduled to meet the Navy Chaplains. I think that one was Southern Baptist, another United Methodist, and a third Roman Catholic. We were marched to the Navy chapel (“Chapel of Hope”), and told where to sit. The chaplains welcomed us. They thanked our company instructors (our motivational abusers). Then the chaplains told the instructors to leave the sanctuary. After the instructors left, the chaplains went back and ceremoniously closed the back door of the sanctuary.

At that point, the chaplains told us to relax. The chapel is a refuge, a chapel of hope… there is no rank in the chapel. Chaplains will talk to us as people… not rates, paygrades, divisions, and ID numbers. They will also do their best to minister to everyone… even those of a different faith.

This is a liberating concept. My experience with Navy chaplains has been that they practice what they preach (a good thing). I enjoyed going to the Chapel of Hope on Sundays. Later, on my ship we had a chaplain. He was Southern Baptist. When he left the ship, he was replaced by an Assembly of God chaplain. Truthfully, I never met a chaplain I did not like. In the military, we were separated from our home churches, and often could not connect with a church group. Chaplains helped in this situation.

Chaplains have numerous roles. There have have been some attempts to describe these roles. I will describe some of these roles here.  See the Table at the bottom of this post.

First. A Chaplain in a sense embraces the role of an Apostle. An apostle was one who went out from the church to share God’s message of hope to those who are not part of the church.

So a chaplain does exactly this. A chaplain serves outside of the church being the carrior of hope to the hopeless and grace to hurting.

But a chaplain is not an apostle. A chaplain is not really a proselytizer… A chaplain is not a churchplanter. A chaplain’s ministry is much broader… serving those who accept the message of God and those who reject the message of God.

Thinking of Chaplain as Apostles, I think of St. Francis. He served in the streets not the cathedrals. And like St. Francis, preaching the gospel through actions… if necessary, use words.

Second, A Chaplain in a sense embraces the role of a Prophet. A prophet preaches the word of God, The Prophet served God, but also served the people by being an advocate for the people. Commonly, a prophet sought to express God’s role as an advocate of the people against the government.

As such, a positive role of a chaplain is that he or she can act as an advocate of the people— hospital patients, inmates, military personnel, and so forth— to help the institution.

But there is a bad side as well. A chaplain may serve as an advocate of the people, but is also a servant of the institution. A chaplain should never become a pawn of the institution (a “court prophet” in the worst sense)  but should not see him/herself as an enemy of the institution. He or she must work with institution, seeking to transform it, not overthrow it.

The metaphor of the “Wise fool” applies. A chaplain is like a jester, who works in the court, but is also an outsider. He can say what needs to be said, when others cannot.

Third.  A chaplain may be seen as Pastor.

The chaplain can provide a church (or church equivalent) for cannot be with their church (such as in hospital, jail, military, etc.) The chaplain can provide a community of faith where there is none.

Negatively, a chaplain may make the error of simply becoming a churchplanter. The role is much broader. It is not simply to provide a church for those away from home.

The image related to this role is the Shepherd.

Fourth.  A chaplain may be seen also as a Deacon.

A chaplain is meant to be a servant. He or she should serve all those who are in need. Frankly this draws from the earliest images of chaplaincy. Chaplains were those who helped travelers on their pilgrimmages.

However, chaplains are not just do-gooders. It is nice to be nice. But a chaplain must do more.

At it’s best, it is as Jesus who humbled Himself and served, or Martin of Tours— the founder of chaplaincy

Fifth. A Chaplain may be seen as a Priest

A chaplain serves as a priest in the sense of one who brings the holy into the mundane or secular setting.

However, much like the rest, this can be taken too far. A chaplain should not simply be the purveyor of symbols— a professional pray-er, or a dispenser of wafer and wine.

The related metaphor for this is “Circus clown.”  He or she connects the people (the audience) with that which is stunning or awe-inspiriring, while still being ordinary.

Sixth.  The final one is the Chaplain being a Monastic. Back in the 4th century, Christianity became a favored religion and finally a State Religion in the Roman Empire and in Armenia. The church became popular and as people flooded the churches and small gatherings became great basilicas, some were repulsed by what was happening in the churches. They left the church and moved into the deserts and wastelands to be alone with themselves and with God. Strangely, they started meeting other people who had experienced the same thing. These people who were trying to be alone began to gather together, and eventually started reaching out to others who were outside of the church.

A chaplain works with people who rejected the church or who were rejected by the church, or those who have rejected God. There is a pretty well-known story of a chaplan who served in a university. As chaplain he was scheduled to meet with all of the new students one at a time. Over and over again, a pattern would happen. The chaplain would meet with a student. He would introduce himself to the student and talk about the programs and services available through the chaplain’s office. The student would respond with, “Well, it is nice to meet you Chaplain, but you aren’t likely to see me very much.”

“Why is that?” asked the Chaplain.

“Oh because I don’t believe in God.” replies the student.

“Okay. Tell me about it.”

          Good. The chaplain can provide a church for those who rejected the church or those for whom the church has rejected them.

             Bad. The chaplain can become a Cultist. Just as the the chaplain challenges the secular institution without going to war with it, the chaplain challenges ones own church or denomination without rejecting or going to war with it.

Chaplain As Is Is not Example
Apostle Sent out to Give Hope Just a proselytizer St. Francis
Prophet Advocate for the People At war with institutions. “Wise Fool”
Pastor Church for the unchurched Just a Churchplanter Shepherd
Deacon Servant of All Just a Do-gooder Martin of Tours
Priest Bringing the Holy into the Mundane Just a Religious Symbol “Circus Clown”
Monastic Ministering to those who rejected the church or the church has rejected. A “Cultist”– rejecting or replacing the church Jesus

In conclusion, __________________________________________

The Murky Waters of Ministerial Restoration

I chose not to name names here, but as the stories/charges from my former school have multiplied since I first wrote this narrow somewhat even-handed post, I invite you to read more on your own… https://rightingamerica.net/rape-sexual-harassment-and-more-the-cedarville-stories-are-multiplying/?fbclid=IwAR3w4PvmDPtu5fcnddvHU_EtiR1P534Vdd3PsOu0NVUvx5ZfJlSsFNt5CUQ

A Christian college I attended years ago has been in the news lately. It recently fired a professor (I will call him “Dr. Smith”) for sexual misbehavior. Technically speaking, it wasn’t for sexual misbehavior— there had been no documented sexual misbehavior during his time as professor. Rather, it was discovered that some of his sexual misbehavior that was known from the past had been covered up. The college had accepted Dr. Smith as having made “one mistake” when later it was discovered that he had actually had a pattern of misbehavior, at least in the past. Essentially, he was accepted “warts and all.” However, he intentionally allowed things to be kept undisclosed during the hiring process, so such a cover-up can suffice as a basis for being let go.

The professor is a married man but had videotaped one of his assistant (male) ministers taking a shower in the nude. The school had accepted this as an admitted area of struggle for Dr. Smith and something he was repentant of and seeking to grow beyond. The school gave him a list of probationary limitations, as well as disciplinary and accountability actions, towards restoration. However, when the school found out that the problem was much bigger with past actions closer to stalking and coercing over a long period of time, the school felt they could not accept this and let him go.

I can understand the school’s position. If someone (we can call him Tom) told an employer that he once stole $10 dollars from a neighbor when he was in college, that employer can accept this information and address it. But if it was later discovered that Tom had been a habitual thief for years, the employer may be perfectly justified to let him go, even if he hasn’t been found to have stolen during his employment there. The justification would not be because of theft, but because of lying/deception.

There are so many issues that come up in this tiny little story.

First… Many people have called for the resignation of the president of the school— we can call him “Pres. Jones.” I personally can’t call myself a supporter of the president. He is a Complementarian and I am not, so I must admit that I don’t like his actions that have continued to move my former school more in that Complementarian direction. However, it seems like the school was already well along moving in that direction without the help of Pres. Jones, so I am not too motivated to hold that strongly against him. I do, personally, respect a leader who supports forgiveness and restoration (with appropriate discipline and accountability measures inplace). I don’t think ministerial roles should only be given to people with zero marks against them from the past (either because of no major moral failings, or because the failings have been well-hidden). Paul and David were given second chances ministerially after sinful activities that most everyone would have trouble ignoring. Peter denied Christ (much in line with the activity decried during the Donatist controversy. Two disciples of Christ wanted to ask God to call down fire on people who refused to show them hospitality.

I like the fact that President Jones was willing to give Dr.Smith a chance. I also like the fact that there were disciplinary limitations put in place. Of course, there are still reasons for concern.

  • Concern #1 was that it sounds like the issue wasn’t well-researched. It even sounds like the school did not speak to the victim. If that is the case, it is hard to say that Dr. Jones applied due diligence to the matter. If this is true, then the situation is, indeed, partly his fault.
  • Concern #2 was that there was some suggestion that the decision of Pres. Jones to hire Dr. Smith was because of Smith’s connection to “Pres.. Johnson” the former boss of Pres. Jones. Pres. Johnson has a bit of a spotty record known by many for an attitude that could be described as “Boys will be boys, and girls should just keep quiet about it.” Was the decision to hire based on old boys network or based on genuine concern for restoration. I have no idea.
  • Concern #3. If one reads all of the things the school set in place to provide disciplinary support and accountability for Dr. Smith… well, they sound a bit fake. When I say fake, I am not saying the list was not actually drawn up. It might have existed. However, I have seen this sort of list made before, and rarely if ever are they actually carried out. Often the list is little more than a cynical way to “cover one’s own back side.” I would prefer to be wrong on this concern (as well as the others). I want to think the accountability/disciplinary structure was set up to EQUALLY protect the student body, and help the professor. But that might not be the case.

The Second issue is about whether one should hire a person who has sexually acted out in the past at all. For some, sexually acting out is a greater sin than other sins. As such, it can’t be overlooked. Others may see sexual sin as pointing to problems that simply do not go away. Recidivism is so high that one cannot take the risk on the person ever again.

I don’t really see sexual abuse as greater than other forms of abuse. Many bosses and teachers abuse emotionally, or maintain abusive power dynamics in their leadership. Or they cheat, or are unforgiving, or are corrupt. Churches and schools often give these a pass while see sexually acting out as being beyond restoration ministerially.

And you know what? I get it. I long felt that way. One of the articles I read included the comments of a sex abuse expert in Christian ministry. I will call her Dr. Wilson. Dr. Wilson seemed to hold the view that once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator. As such, there should be no restoration ever. I can understand this opinion, and can even give anecdotes that support this. I have a colleague who had done counseling with a minister who had sexually acted out (I won’t share details here for many reasons) with a number of women in his youth group. The church decided to cover it up (the usually response, frankly). The women decided to cover it up as well either due to pressure from family, or because of fear of public shaming. My colleague did counseling with him, but because of the church’s unwillingness to act, the counseling could be no more than advice listened to voluntarily. There were no teeth in the discipline. That minister went to work in a Christian school (one that did not background check). The minister, now serving as a teacher, sexually acted out. Then he left and went to another school, also with no background check done, and repeated the same behavior. I don’t know where he is now.

From stories like this and Donn Ketcham scandal (you can look that one up if you want), it is easy to see why some would say, “Never do restoration…. it traumatizes the victims and gives the minister a new opportunity to start acting out again.” Since many people who have failed sexually (or in other ways in the past) do not in fact repeat their actions, I am guessing the views is really “They could act out again, and we can’t take that risk.”

But what failings are so bad that one cannot be restored ministerially? Abuse involving Sex? Money? Power? It is hard to draw the line.

I rather like the standards in the Missions Community that have circulated in recent years. It applies a ZERO TOLERANCE policy to sexual misbehavior, and a REAL referencing policy for new work. That is, if a person applies for a new job, the former employer will give a real report of why that applicant was let go. This seems reasonable. In the end the new potential employer has the freedom to decide what to do about this. The new employer should make an informed decision… but ultimately it should be their own decision.

In the end, as to this second concern, I can respect two different views. If a Christian ministry says, “We can’t risk our membership or students by hiring this person,” I can actually respect that. If a Christian ministry says, “We have researched the applicant’s past fully, and we have decided to bring them in but under well-controlled circumstances,” I can respect that as well. I can’t respect the middle ground that ends up making decisions based on how one “feels” about the situation, based on rumors rather than on what is merciful AND just, and based on good research.

My Third concern was something that was said by Dr. Wilson. She said something to the effect that even if Dr.Smith did not act out again, it would be based on the external limitations placed upon him rather than internal controls. I am not sure one can say that definitively, but I hardly see why guilt should be the only social motivator that is found acceptable, not valuing shame or fear. Frankly, pretty much everyone has areas in their lives in which they don’t do what is wrong because of fear (of punishment) or shame (reduction of social capital). It seems to me to be bad Evangelical theology to see guilt as the only one that should be considered valid.

I have dealt with a number of ministers who have struggled with sin (sometimes sexual and sometimes not). They can be separated loosely into three broad categories.

  • Category #1. This group feels great remorse/guilt over what they have done as well as shame for what they have done. They express openly what they have done and desire to live out a full repentance. This is a very small group. It is possible that this group does not actually exist. This type of person is exactly the type of person who should be restored. Sadly, they can be hard to identify. Geneerally, however, they don’t miimize their own role. They don’t try to shift blame. They tend to accept discipline and want to have accountability. They want to change, or be changed.
  • Category #2. This group feels great shame that they have been caught. They want the situation to go away. In some cases, they do want to not return to their past sin. Ultimately, however, they don’t want to make any major changes to bring this about. In other cases, any statements on repentance are just words to get people off their backs. These people are often (but not always) easy to identify. They tend to minimize their role and shift blame. They will agree to a lot of steps for restoration but then find ways to get out of doing them.
  • Category #3. This group is like Category #1. This group feels great remores/guilt over what they have done as well as shame for what they have done. They express openly what they have done and desire to live out a full repentance. In all of this, the group sounds like Category #1. The difference is that there are seeds of destruction in them. It is like an alcoholic who really really really wants to step away from his addiction— but then a trigger comes along and the person falls again into the addictive cycle. This category of person can be restored, but needs outside help. This person needs external accountability support and rules to keep from falling back into past mistakes. This category is a large number of people. It is hard to say whether Category #2 or #3 are larger. In my experience, they are close to the same size.

So if category #2 should not be in ministry, what about #1 and #3? #1 and #3 should be treated the same. Unless the individual tells us, we cannot know for sure which one has triggers or situations in which they cannot help backslide into. In fact, the individual may not know either.

But when you think about it, everyone of us is in one of these three categories as well. We all sin in one way or another. The wall of separation between “us” and “them” is porous, separated only in terms of seriousness, scope of, or type of sin. We all need accountability and social restraints.

That is my problem with Dr. Wilson. Fallen pastors are not a unique category of person that cannot be restored. They are like us— that is a good thing and a bad thing. If they need outside social motivators to keep them doing what is right and not doing what is wrong… that is not a valid condemnation.

Ft it was a valid condemnation, pretty much all of us will have to join in being condemned.

…..

So should Dr. Smith have been fired. Well, by now it has long since shifted from being an ethical issue to being a political issue. Politically, he had to be let go. If it is true that Dr. Smith covered up and minimized much of the wrongdoing, this may well point to the fact that he is racked by public shame more than embracing his own responsibility and need to change. Those that cover up tend to repeat the same thing later. But that is a lot of guesswork on my part. Obviously, I am not privy to the what on behind closed doors… and even less what is going on in different people’s hearts and minds.

Can You Do Good Pastoral Counseling With Bad Pastoral Theology?

I decided to move some articles from an old blog of mine on Pastoral Theology. That is why some of my posts here are more about pastoral counseling and theology rather than “classic” missions. But since I am in missions and am an administrator at a pastoral counseling center, it is not NOT missions. 

I think this is a good question. I believe the answer to this question is YES!! I have certainly seen people who do a good job with pastoral counseling whose pastoral theology seems… inadequate. Pastoral Theology is Cyclic, Reflective, and founded on a good Theological base and on Experience.

So what are a couple of risks to pastoral counseling when one has poor pastoral theology?

  1. One’s pastoral counseling role is limited. This is if the reflection side is limited by poor or limited theology. Consider the case of Naaman the leper in the Bible. In the story, the servant girl of Naaman was able to give some wise guidance to him through his wife that there was a man in Israel who could help him. It seems as if she did not know much more than this. She did not know his name, or location. Possibly she did not know that much about the Mosaic Law or of ethics… but she knew what she she needed to tell in that specific occasion. Later in the story, other servants of Naaman also give some wise counsel. They were not even people of the Jewish faith, presumably, but they drew from good sagely wisdom that was well established in the Near East at that time. If Naaman was willing to do great tasks on the uncertain hope to be healed, why not do something easy if asked (that may take just a wee bit of humility)? These people were able to give good (pastoral) counseling but most likely their range of effectiveness would be limited.
  2. If one was doing something wrong in pastoral counseling, it is likely that one would perpetuate the mistake over and over again. The inability to learn and grow in this case would be due to poor reflection. One does not learn and grow. The story that comes to mind was a church I used to attend where at the prayer meeting, different ill people would be brought up to be prayed over. Many of them were considered to be “terminal cases.” However, in the prayer the request was that they be fully healed (not healed through death, but healed from death). The prayers were actually not so much a request but a demand. “God you said that you would do whatever we ask you to do, so we declare _________ as healed by the power of your name.” Ironically, several of these prayers were followed in a matter of days by that person’s death. I kept waiting for the members of the group to dwell on the fact that their seemed to be a powerful disconnect between their theology of God (the idea that God has obligated Himself to subvert His will to our will whenever we choose) and what God actually did.

So, Yes, good pastoral counseling can be done by those with poor pastoral theology. However, I believe that good pastoral theology increases the range of one’s pastoral counseling skills, and decreases the amount of repeating the same errors.