BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the fourth in a multi-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Scripture and Counseling. In today’s post, Bob Kellemen explores The Sufficiency of Scripture and Psychotropic Medication. You can read Part 1 by Jonathan Holmes at: Counseling from Isaiah, Part 2 by Kevin Carson at Advice, Advice Everywhere, and Part 3 by Steve Viars at Counselors As Friends.
What About the Complex Mind/Body Connection?[i]
I believe that the supremacy of Christ’s gospel, the sufficiency of Christ’s wisdom, and the superiority of Christ’s Church provide us with all the treasures of wisdom we need to develop a comprehensive biblical theology and methodology of biblical counseling.
But does the Bible address the complex mind/body connection and issues of medication?
I’m convinced it does. Paul highlights Christ’s sufficiency over and for all things in Colossians 1:15-17.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
As Abraham Kuyper reminds us:
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”[ii]
Paul’s words and Kuyper’s echo Genesis 1:26-28 and what some have called the “Creation Mandate” or the “Cultural Mandate.”
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:26-28).
The Creation Mandate
I define the Creation Mandate as:
The God-given, repeated command that image bearers subdue and rule the earth as God’s vice-regents, under-shepherds, and under-scientists.
We are to love God with all our being, including our physical brain and body, thus exalting God by exploring, enjoying, and expanding the physical realm. The scientist analyzing rocks can glorify God just as much as the preacher preaching about the Rock of Ages or the song writer writing Rock of Ages.
God created us in His image with the capacities necessary to relate and rule as He relates and rules. When God commanded us to subdue and rule the earth, He was encouraging us to exercise our under-sovereignty over the entire physical universe. We are to be co-creators who tread and knead what God has created—advancing civilization, regulating natural forces, and exploring natural resources. The Creation Mandate is our calling, our vocation, to work like God works—in His power for His glory.
Friends of Good Science
God created and ordered the material universe. Science investigates the material universe and affirms that order. Logically, then, as Christians we should embrace science, research, and medicine as disciplines that examine God’s creation in obedience to the Creation Mandate. As Steve Viars states:
“…those ministering the Word through counseling should be friends of good science and desire to promote the research and development of hard data in every area of human existence.”[iii]
Studying and treating the complex mind/body connection is part of the Creation Mandate. Neurological psychology, rightly undertaken, involves the scientific study of the physical brain, its normal functioning, abnormal functioning, and physical cures leading to a restoration of normal functioning. Such scientific research done in submission to the Creation Mandate has great potential for addressing these complex mind/body issues.
The Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement nuanced the complex mind-body issue as follows:
We believe that biblical counseling should focus on the full range of human nature created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). A comprehensive biblical understanding sees human beings as relational (spiritual and social), rational, volitional, emotional, and physical. Wise counseling takes the whole person seriously in his or her whole life context. It helps people to embrace all of life face-to-face with Christ so they become more like Christ in their relationships, thoughts, motivations, behaviors, and emotions.
We recognize the complexity of the relationship between the body and soul (Genesis 2:7). Because of this, we seek to remain sensitive to physical factors and organic issues that affect people’s lives. In our desire to help people comprehensively, we seek to apply God’s Word to people’s lives amid bodily strengths and weaknesses. We encourage a thorough assessment and sound treatment for any suspected physical problems.
A Comprehensive Biblical Counseling Approach
A biblically-based, holistic approach to counseling respects all dimensions of personhood created by God in the full context of the Bible’s grand narrative. It is naïve and potentially harmful to treat people as one-dimensional beings.
While this means that we must take into account possible physiological contributions to life struggles, it also means that we should never view psychotropic interventions as the sole solution for life issues. Sadly, in a fallen world fallen scientists tend to see us simply as material beings, soulless machines. Thus, what could be part of the curative process can become an excuse to ignore the inner life issues that may well be connected to various emotional and mental struggles.[iv]
In addition to legitimate concern with a materialistic worldview, it is also wise to acknowledge that psychotropic medication is still in its infancy. We would be naïve not to take into account their side effects and the rather low current success rate in actually helping troubled people.[v]
Still, as part of the Creation Mandate, psychotropic medication and neurological psychology as part of a comprehensive, whole-person approach has biblical legitimacy. Psychotropic medication is an issue of Christian liberty and wisdom—all under the Lordship of Christ.
Join the Conversation
Does the Bible address the complex mind/body connection and issues of medication?
[i]No brief blog post could ever fully address the issue of sufficiency of Scripture and medication. This post is excerpted from a more expansive study of sufficiency in the forthcoming book: Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, Zondervan, Septenber 2014.
[ii]James Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.
[iii]Steve Viars, “Brian” and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” in Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, eds., Counseling the Hard Cases (Nashville: B&H Academics, 2012), 65.
[iv]These concerns are not limited to the biblical counseling world. Psychiatrists such as Allen Frances Edward Shorter believe that the right medication prescribed in the right dosage at the right time can save a life. But we’ve convinced ourselves that a variety of merely human experience—temporary bouts of sadness or excitement or distraction—are in fact pathologies that need to be blasted at with drugs. See, Allen Frances, Saving Normal (New York: William Morrow, 2013) and Edward Shorter How Everyone Became Depressed (Cary, NC: Oxford University Press, 2013.
[v]For a nuanced perspective on the state of psychotropic interventions, see Charles Hodges, Good Mood Bad Mood (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2013).