Why Christians Can's Trust Psychology
By Ed Buckley
: Harvest House
Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
6.2 (Fall 1995) : 236-241
A review of these two books is not out of place in this journal, given the keen interest The Master's Seminary has in equipping its students to do biblical counseling as shepherds of the flock. The publication in 1995 of Introduction to Biblical Counseling, edited by John MacArthur and Wayne Mack, attests to the school's interest in that objective. Ed Bulkley's two books provide an exposé of that Christian counseling that willingly integrates the error of secular and humanistic psychology with biblical truth.
To present his material Bulkley opted for a mixed genre: facts, comments, quotations, and evaluations interspersed by a story. This story of a pastor sounds an all too realistic note. Here is a man "in the trenches," with whom the reader readily identifies. He is in the throes of trying to deal biblically with a difficult situation both outside and inside his home. Yet he must face the scornful comments of colleagues caught up in a strong integrative approach. One wonders finally if the story is not perhaps better viewed as a case-study based on real-life.
What surfaces continually throughout both books is the realization that integration invariably leads to a loss of scriptural authority and a severe limiting of the sufficiency of Scripture. Using the interplay of story/case-study and facts, comments, and evaluations, Bulkley captures this denial of authority and sufficiency in action. None of the situations are farfetched; indeed, this reviewer has heard of similar stories from close friends and ministerial colleagues.
The biblical counseling hero in the story endorses that for which The Master's Seminary stands: "I would recommend that seminaries return to teaching theology, biblical languages, hermeneutics, prayer, holiness, and principles of biblical counseling. Seminaries should be graduating pastors—not psychologists" (Why Christians 206). Since a growing number of psychologists and psychiatrists are warning churches that they have bought tainted goods and should go back to biblical wisdom, Bulkley concludes: "What the church needs at the end of this second millennium are leaders, pastors, seminaries, and Bible schools that will regain their confidence in the sufficiency of the Word of God" (222).
The reader must keep in mind the clearly stated purpose of the first book which carries over into the second:
My purpose is not to attack the Christian integrity of any individual, but to show in specific detail that much of what is called Christian counseling has conformed to secular psychology, and as a result has lost its spiritual perspective and authority (Why Christians 33).
Despite the straight talk evident throughout both books, an irenic attitude also prevails. Bulkley is not out on a witch-hunting crusade but has embarked upon the task of graciously confronting others and sounding a warning about the dangers of integration. It is the voice of one speaking from the depths of studied conviction, not mouthing off because of a shallow, emotional reaction. Indeed, Bulkley issues a word of balance lest one tends to write off everyone with psychological training: "One must be careful not to lump all psychologists under the label of pagan incompetence" (Why Christians 79). But he also quickly appends a caution: "Yet the fact remains that while there may be an occasional trustworthy psychologist, Christians cannot uncritically trust a counseling system that is based upon nonbiblical foundations" (80).
The author has anticipated someone asking, "Why make such a big deal over counseling philosophies?" His reply is, "Because the consequences of this issue are enormous. It determines for many people their ultimate source of truth and authority for daily living" (Why Christians 59).
Part Two of the first book addresses the myths of psychology. The chapters follow one another like the consecutive blows of a hammer so that the reader begins to understand that psychology is not scientific, is not effective, is not motivated by compassion, is not trustworthy, does not provide meaningful labels or categorizations, and finally cannot heal the past. Marshaling critical citations from both secular and Christian psychologists only adds to the force of the hammer blows and leads well into the question dealt with in Part Three: "Are Psychology and Christianity Compatible?" It comes as no surprise that Bulkley finds the two quite incompatible. Once again psychologists, Christian and other, provide much of the evidence for this negative answer. What comes out is integration's inherent danger of subtly redefining the Christian faith.
Any reader familiar with what biblical counseling really is will also recognize immediately the false caricaturing of what the biblical counselor does, as though all the pastor can do is throw verses and a prayer or two at the counselee. It is always the expert counselor pitted against the poorly trained pastor who is simply out of his league because all he knows is the Bible. One can hear echoing behind the words of the psychologists in the story and behind their own factual statements the condescending exclamation, "Poor pastor! Incompetent but sincere!"
Some readers, undoubtedly, will frown at what they might perceive to be an unjustified caricature of Christian psychologists in both books, but if they listen to the facts provided, they will have to ask at the end of the reading: "Is this really a caricature? Given their own statements it seems a rather kind presentation? Is not their consistent failure to view prayer and worship and to use biblical truth in their counseling an indictment of their Christian sincerity?"
The second book responds in more detail to what is already in a chapter of the first book, namely memories of the past, repressed and forgotten, but lurking beneath the surface, having to be exorcised and healed. Bulkley shows how coupled with the therapy of digging up repressed memories is the growing tendency to require as part of the therapy, that the victim/counselee cut off all links with family who do not and will not understand their pain. Every counselee, it appears, is never anything else but a victim. Something is decidedly wrong in such therapy. Deliberately aiding and abetting in the creation of false memories so as supposedly to heal one's life but devastate the lives of others must rank as the crime of the century. Citing specific cases in support thereof, Bulkley shows how the others who are now confronted and then cavalierly dismissed are always presumed guilty—the recovered memory carries far more weight than factual evidence! It is alarming that several States have passed legislation allowing for repressed memories to be used as substantial and primary evidence in their law-courts. It is somewhat reassuring that psychological research is beginning to call into question such therapies and has highlighted what has come to be known as FMS, false memory syndrome. What also alarms is that in this environment MPD, multiple personality disorder, is being increasingly diagnosed
. This frightening scenario is one that pastors may face increasingly in coming days, so they must be prepared to comfort, encourage, help, and counsel with truth those caught in the trap of plumbing the depths of pain-racked memories.
Comments based on Scripture occur at pertinent points throughout both books. Bulkley displays the mark of a biblical counselor—he knows where to go in the Scriptures and he knows how to bring it to bear upon the life of the counselee. A second reading of the books, concentrating only on this aspect, would be helpful. This would yield an appreciation of what to say and what to do in certain situations. The reader will find it hard to fault Bulkley's use of Scripture.
References from his own experiences in counseling also abound, but it is not always and only stunning successes, but also the heartache of seeing folks leave without resolution. Citations from newspapers, magazines, journals, books, and research papers provide a depth of documentation backing up Bulkley's arguments and conclusions. Having footnotes would be better than endnotes because the reader will find he has to know the name of who said that or did this, or from where the information came. Unfortunately, there are instances where the reader looks for documentation and finds none. Why not? To say, "A well-known Christian psychologist . . ." or "A certain therapist . . ." or "A well-known author wrote . . ." and then to give information without citing a source creates frustration. The reader wants to know who and where. Naming others in less than positive light from their own writings and statements should not preclude naming these who apparently were just as wrong in what they were saying.
Toward the end of the second book, Bulkley anticipated the displeasure of some victims of abuse: "If you have read this far, you obviously are interested in genuine healing from God" (296). Ah! How one hopes that all would read that far! It would truly be an education for most. By this time the Scripture used should have impacted the heart and mind; by this time, the consistent emphasis on trusting the Lord and doing good and on actually obeying not just reading the Word of God should also have motivated aright and convinced of the need to get back to truth. It should have convicted of the need to be careful about talking to those 'experts' who slyly shunt that truth aside.
Since church members will undoubtedly buy and read the much touted books of Christian psychology, it behooves any pastor who wishes to stay abreast of what is impacting his people's thinking to read both books by Bulkley. They cannot but motivate him (1) to turn earnestly to his Lord and his Word to help him in his ministry, (2) to seek out those more formal textbooks which would increase his knowledge and skills in true biblical counseling, and (3) to alert him to books which his Sunday School or Bible-study classes ought not to entertain as study-guides without much advance preparation and modification.
For those who notice such things and might be irritated thereby, beware in the second book of the abundant use of a dash, which in size is no different from a hyphen. It makes for jerky reading at first until the eye adjusts to what is happening on the page. Also, several times hyphens appear where one is not needed—in the middle of a normal word. Did page reformatting shift an-end-of-the-line hyphen into the middle of a word on the next line? More careful editing is needed before the next printing.
At the end of Appendix B "A Special Word for Pastors" (Why Christians 355), Bulkley confidently asserts, "You can counsel your people!" To which must be added a hearty Amen!