MASTER'S SEMINARY JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEW

The Heart of Man and the Mental Disorders: How the Word of God is Sufficient


By Rich Thomson
Alief, Tex : Biblical Counseling Ministries, Inc. (2004). xxiii + 1049 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
16.1 (Spring 2005) : 183-185

The pastor of Grace Bible Church in Mission Bend near Houston, Texas, devoted more than thirty years to study for this distinctly Christian encyclopedic theology of biblical counseling. He is the leading instructor in the Bachelor of Science program in Biblical Counseling at the College of Biblical Studies, Houston. Some former professors at Talbot Theological Seminary, who now teach at the Master’s Seminary—Robert L. Thomas and this reviewer—had Thomson as a student. John MacArthur, president at the Master’s Seminary and Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, endorses the book at its outset. He says that Thomson “takes the concepts of the ‘mental health’ world and defines them in Biblical terms. The author emphatically defines the importance of the sufficiency of God’s Word and how even the church is in a psychological strangle hold. I would recommend this great reference for the shelf of any pastor or minister who wishes to protect God’s flock from the lies and falsehoods that the ‘mental health’ world puts on unsuspecting parishioners, and to point them to the complete sufficiency of the Scripture and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.”

In the late 1990s, Thomson’s son, Jon, graduated from The Master’s Seminary and now serves on the church staff with his father. Thomson himself, since seminary, has pastored and counseled on mental disorders of great span and variety. Here he focuses at the beginning on why Holy Scripture is sufficient (xiv–xxiii), then in the rest of the book on how it is. He reasons that God revealed through His Word all that people need to know to understand their inner being (xiv). Readers will agree or disagree, Thomson realizes. Certainly those will react negatively who use more of the normative secular approach in counseling, sometimes seeing man as really an evolved animal essentially explained by psychology. That bypasses the Bible, or has it fit at points with secular reasoning, methodology, and research. And some Christians will differ whose orientation is impacted by aspects of knowledge outside Scripture that they see as valid, but who view the Bible as in harmony with these. In Thomson’s view, data from other fields should be appraised through Scripture’s “bureau of standards” for the immaterial, inner aspects of people, not Scripture in some way squeezed into conformity with conclusions allegedly established through the world’s secular methodologies, reports, testings, and perspectives. He agrees that biblical counselors can learn from things in any field that are true and in line with the Bible. Seeing God’s Word as superior to man’s reasoning, he lays out basic concepts in Chapter 1. He argues that mere human thinking, at times fallible, can be embraced as right, yet lead one astray, citing such verses as Isa 55:8-9 and 1 Cor 1:21, 25 and 3:20. He reasons that God’s truth can help a counselor be sure of the truthfulness of what he thinks about mental disorders (xviii).

The author allows that in physical, material things, men can, apart from Scripture, grasp right ways. Examples are in surgery, plumbing, and auto mechanics (xix). Later, other qualifications become clear. One section argues in twelve points that God’s Word covers all that is needed for mental soundness (xx–xxiii). An example is God’s promise to give inner peace (Isa 26:3; Phil 4:7), another is the offer that only in Christ can a person be assured of full, divine forgiveness and freedom from guilt (1 John 1:9). To build his case, Thomson follows a seven-page Table of Contents with twenty-seven chapters of explanation.

The book lists nine pages of counseling problems (987–95). It counsels audible prayer where necessary to help a person turn his thoughts to God to gain a solution (cf. 1 Pet 5:7, 997). Nine paragraphs enlarge on this. A bibliography (1009–26) lists at least ninety commentaries on biblical books and many works of theology, lexicons, medical books, works in psychiatry and psychology, prescription and non-prescription drugs, encyclopedias and dictionaries of medicine and nursing, neurology. An index of subjects at the end is a guide (1027–49).

The writer reasons on many points with copious biblical evidence. Some examples are arguments to support conscious life after death, identity of the self after death, and separate destinies for believers in Christ and non-believers (cf. 9 n. 9). He deals at some length with Scripture passages he feels are key, offering insight from respected commentators, linguistic scholars, theologians, and other writers.

Thomson sees a person who is capable as responsible to God for things which are root causes of mental disorders. In his view, such a person will find a true solution only in a proper adjustment with God through Christ, and in obedience to God’s Word through help of God’s Spirit (14). He reasons that people are not responsible to God for happenings over which they have no control. He cites Job losing his wealth through disasters or the apostle Paul suffering hardship and persecution as he preached Christ’s gospel (14-15). People are responsible to God, he says, for their inner responses so that they live in accord with God’s will, for example, in dealing patiently and purely with trials. They are accountable when tempted to do what Scripture shows is wrong (15-17). Thomson sees man’s personal choices to commit sin as the root of most mental disorders (27). But he sees a self-justifying society trying to feel good while turning its back on God will. Such people oppose what He says (27).

Some strengths of the book for those seeking to counsel biblically include the fluent writing, the attempt to discuss thoroughly and use scholarly sources, full listings and definitions on many of the disorders, a constant biblical focus on God’s sufficiency to enable, Thomson’s awareness of secular reasonings about many issues, yet his studied articulation of his own approach, and a rather thorough topical index.

Besides the book’s subjects listed above, others treated are sinful anger in moral choices, love, forgiving others, peace, confidence, how to draw near to God, fear in various scenarios, and fleeing from sin or from God due to a sense of guilt, or fleeing to God by trusting Christ. Still more of Thomson’s subjects are self-esteem, selfish self-love, being anti-social, being narcissistic, stuttering, autistic disorder, dementia, personality change due to a medical condition, drunkenness, substance-related disorders, and demonic activity. Further issues are anxiety, worry, panic, homosexuality, problems in eating, sleep, matters from dreams, and others. Thomson also deals with ramifications for various mental disorders, listing several hundred kinds.

As in many works, especially of monumental length, errors here evaded proofing and can be corrected if there is a later edition. Examples are spelling Hendriksen as Hendricksen (7) or Aalders’ as Aalder (21, 23), and saying “on wonders” where “one wonders” is meant (175).

Readers will differ on the work’s validity and value. For pastors and others wanting to counsel from a thorough stance of biblical adequacy, Thomson’s life effort will be much help. This is true for readers who agree with what the book’s author said in an e-mail to this reviewer, “The issue is not whether human wisdom can make observations or theorizations that are correct in some instances concerning human nature, motivation, and living. The issue is whether what human wisdom has to offer outside of Scripture is necessary in order for a person to be mentally sound in his inner, immaterial being—not driven by strange inner motivations, but experiencing peace, joy, confidence, and open loving relationships. Indeed, in some instances, human wisdom is correct in its psychological teachings. But the reason we know this is that these teachings are already revealed as true in the Word of God. For the same reason, we know that some teachings of human wisdom are not true. . . . Once we begin to operate in the inner person realm on principles that are not taught explicitly in Scripture (even if they appear to ‘work’), then we find ourselves on shaky, changing ground indeed (Prov 14:12; 16:25; cf. Prov 16:2; 21:2) and even in violation of God’s will for the believer (Col 2:8; Ps 1:1, cf. Introduction of book).”

The work is available by e-mail at www.BiblicalFrameworkCounseling.org or at the publisher above, P.O. Box 1852, Alief, Tex., 77411.