Tag Archives: faith

Spiritual Competencies for Clinicians


I will be presenting a 2 hour seminar at Penn Foundation today on Spiritually Informed Practitioners: Exploring Challenges and Opportunities. Over the last year or so I have been part of a multi-faith working group, Standing on Sacred Ground, that has been thinking about how to educate mental health practitioners to recognize, value, and work with the faith of clients (rather than see it as something automatically pathological or insignificant). Given the historic divide between mental health and faith communities (there have been haters on both sides) few clinicians have much training in understanding faith, religion, and spirituality beyond “be respectful.” Thus, religiously committed individuals often have had their faith marginalized or pathologized.

This presentation will look at roots of the historic divide, explore the complex relationship between faith and recovery, provide opportunities for MHPs to examine their own biases, and examine several key spiritual competencies needed for adequate provision of care.

Interested in the slides, check them out: Spiritually Informed Care.

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Free CEs! faith and trauma in the public sphere


On April 23, 2014, I will be the keynote speaker for the 8th annual Faith & Spiritual Affairs Conference put on the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). The conference theme: Trauma and Healing: Faith Communities Respond. My particular talk is geared to illustrate the necessity of engaging the faith community in trauma recovery efforts. Trauma almost always challenges a person’s faith and when mental health professionals do not pay attention to spiritual matters, treatment will likely stall. I will highlight several faith founded trauma recovery interventions being used today in church settings. 

The conference is free to all who register. But registrations are limited. Held at the Philadelphia Convention center. The breakout speakers list includes the Director of Place of Refuge, Dr. Elizabeth Hernandez.

To register click here. NOTE: enter fsac2014 as the redemption code to get into the conference website. CEs provided for SW and PC. Biblical Seminary, an NBCC approved provider, is the co-sponsor to offer counseling CEs. Other CE providers offering CEs as well.

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Suffering for Christ? How should we respond to discrimination due to faith?


In 1 Peter 2: 12 we are commanded to, “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Peter goes on to tell us that our good deeds include showing proper respect for everyone. And still later he reminds us to follow the actions of Jesus who did not retaliate when he was insulted and mistreated at the cross.

Recently, a friend was mistreated due to her faith. Actually, the mistreatment was based on assumptions rather than facts. The one doing the mistreatment made false allegations about my friend’s beliefs and attitudes. This was in a professional setting where my friend expected to be treated as any other and not singled out like this. Thankfully, the episode was brief. But what if it wasn’t? How should we respond to mistreatment for reasons of faith?

Some things we shouldn’t do:

1. Sarcasm and biting back. One of the things that bothers me in the political arena is the amount of sarcasm and belittling used against each other. Not that this behavior is new–it isn’t–but it does seem more intense than before. It would seem that the goal for liberals is to catch conservative family values defenders not living up to their standards.  And conservatives put down liberals for being open to anything and everything (except conservatives). When attacked for reasons of faith, let’s not spend our time making public comments about the missteps of our accusers.

2. Say nothing at all. Silence isn’t always wrong but it may not be right either. It can be good to overlook some mistreatment as a mercy to the attacker. Sometimes when we know someone is having a bad day or is themselves a recipient of mistreatment, we may choose to overlook hateful comments. However, saying nothing as a matter of course may also eliminate an opportunity to speak truth in love to the offending party.

What can we do?

1. Deserved or undeserved? First, we can check to see if we have brought an attack on by our own behavior. If we have, we ought to address the matter right away. If the attack is not the result of our own foolish actions, then this is not about us but about God. Hopefully, this little bit of assessment can take the personalized part of the pain out of the equation.

2. Work to understand. Where are these comments coming from? What might be revealed behind the hurtful statements about our attackers experiences? It is possible that their attack comes from a bad experience from another person of faith who did not represent well the true meaning of Christianity. We can then validate their pain even if not their expression of it.

3. Speak the truth in love via a point of contact. Look for the value that you share together. Speak to that issue first. Often, some issue of respect, justice or shared concern can be a point of contact to engage an attacker. MLK wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, AL to white evangelicals who had written to ask him to stop raising tensions via nonviolent protests. He begins with a point of contact–their shared faith, their genuine good will and sincerity regarding their concerns. He attempts to speak their language first about the necessity of prophetic voices among God’s people. Surely he moves on to accuse them of inaction and maintaining the status quo–thus not caring for all of God’s people. But he ends with invitations to dialogue more and even requests that they forgive him if he has overstated their complicity in the problem of Jim Crow. In professional worlds, we may begin with discussions of shared ethical standards. We may want to point out failures by our accusers to keep their own standards, but first we need to establish common ground.

4. Bless, do not curse. Look for ways to bless and/or encourage an accuser if at all possible. Find reason to offer mercy rather than retaliation.

5. Activate, do not withdraw. In professional settings, use the existing system well so you can to gain a hearing,  and not just for yourself. Remember, the Apostle Paul uses his Roman citizenship to seek justice against false accusers and abusers. Using his right to appeal to Caesar enabled him to speak to numerous individuals and groups that he might not otherwise have met. It was this simple act that God used to spread the Gospel to Europe and then to the whole world.

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Integrating Faith and Psychology: Listening to God


Having read chapters by L. Rebecca Propst, Everett Worthington, and Siang-Yang Tan (in Integrating Faith and Psychology, IVP 2010), I am seeing an initial pattern–how important experience of God is in the development and outlook of the person–especially through the trials and tribulations of life. Worthington points to it in his work on the  topic of forgiveness (his mother was violently murdered). Propst speaks of integration as the product of her daily struggles and walk with God. Tan points to a burnout experience plus subsequent healing that led to his move toward psychology.

As one who reads and sometimes writes about the relationship between faith and psychology (and the fact that we cannot separate these two concepts–faith and psychology are always linked for everyone), I find these stories useful. They remind me that much of our practical integration is seamless and emanates from the gut. It doesn’t mean that we ought not have critical thoughts about our gut or that we ought to supply theory to our practice. But, try as we might to focus on the logic of our work, our integrative work is in the moment affective work I think.

Tan and Propst are right. You want to do good integration? Don’t make it your primary focus. “Instead, seek the Lord and his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33), and always see the bigger picture of God’s will and God’s kingdom with loving obedience to him, even as we are graced and blessed by him.” (Tan, p. 88) “Follow hard after God. Cultivate a daily habit of prayer and Bible study. As much as possible, understand and try to grasp a truly supernatural view of the universe.” (Propst, p. 64)

Let us be reminded that there is something more important than getting the right view of Christian counseling–that of knowing and being sensitive to the Spirit of God. It is possible, to be right in one’s view of psychology and theology and fail to be sensitive to the Spirit of God.

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Backsliding?


I’m planning a series of writings on issues that Christians often bring to counseling; where they bring unique and significant questions that are difficult to answer. One of those issues is the topic of backsliding. We all know that the word backsliding carries the meaning of slipping away from a habit, identity, belief, etc. In Christian circles it means that one who was once active in their faith has stopped living it out or altogether moved away from said faith. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Tolstoy,

Quite often a man  goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him. (Confession, 1983 reprint, p. 15)

When someone is in this position, they often ask questions about how it happened or what the future will hold. I’ve just run across a sermon by G. Campbell Morgan on the topic (The Westminster Pulpit, v. 1, 1954). The full text can be found here.

There are several things I found helpful:

1. His take on Deuteronomy as the law of love and containing the treatment of the disease of backsliding.

2. His take on how backsliding happens.

What is this process [of backsliding]? Mark three things…. The first is purely personal, perhaps hidden from men, the corruption of the self. The second is the sequel to self-corruption, the making of a graven image. Finally, the overt act of evil.

What is self-corruption? It is the devotion of the life to something lower than the highest. The first movement of backsliding may be accomplished without committing any sin which the [present] age names vulgar. In the moment in which a man takes his eye from the highest and sets it upon something lower, be the distance apparently never so small, he has set himself upon the decline which ends in the desert and in the agony of rejection. (p. 100)

3. His conception of idolatry.

You say….”I have set up no graven image.” Remember, the graven image is always the figure of that which lies behind it. When a man has corrupted himself, the issue is always that he thinks falsely of God. Man is so linked to deity in the very essential of his being that he will form his conception of God upon what he is in himself….He is forever projecting his own personality into immensity, and calling that God. (p. 101)

4. His closing on the promise: If you seek him, you shall surely find him…

If you seek him with all your heart and soul you will find him….Will he come with flaming and flashing glory? In all probability, no. Will he come with some new sense of his coming, making you thrill in every fiber of your being? In all probability, no. It is far more likely that he will come with a still small voice…. Trample your pride beneath your feet, Crucify your prejudice….

One of the struggles I hear in “backsliding” or relapsing sinners is that they (and me too!) look for Christianity to provide the same stimulus as an addiction. We look for God to give us the high, the excitement, the freedom from pain. He may, but never in the way that an addiction or a sin pattern might provide (in the short run). The struggle I hear is that when God does not supply an equally exciting substitute for the addiction then the person wonders if God is real or if the fight for freedom from addiction is really worth the effort in the end.

If you know someone with this struggle, send them the link to the chapter. It may provide a bit of relief.

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What should Christian counseling look like?


 I posted this little item for my last guest blog at www.christianpsych.orgfor the month of July. In it I mention “Christian Counseling: An Introduction” by Malony and Augsburger (2007).

And no, I don’t say what it should look like–merely a comment that we still need to figure out how we handle the faith/science dichotomy that we’ve been handed all these years.

Those who have been around wisecounsel for a while will remember I blogged through each chapter. If you are interested in seeing those posts, just use the search engine on this page to find posts mentioning Malony.

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Filed under Christian Apologetics, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling science, Doctrine/Theology, History of Psychology, philosophy of science, Psychology, teaching counseling

The God I don’t understand 3: Chapter 2


Christopher Wright tackles “The Offence of Evil” in this chapter of his book. He begins by reminding the reader that even though she may need to accept the mystery of evil she cannot accept evil itself. No, “There is something within us that reacts to evil in the way the body reacts to a “foreign body”–with rejection and protest.” He tells us the point of this chapter is to say that we are absolutely right to react the way we do and that, “the Bible not only gives us permission but even gives us the words to do so.” (p. 44)

Natural disasters, says Wright, perplex us because these lack “moral or rational explanation.” While some natural disasters may have human agency as partial cause others do not. Wright cites the disasters brought on by movements of tectonic plates. Why? How can such things happen when God is supposed to be in charge?

Are these disasters God’s judgment? A result of the curse? Wright suggests that while both have elements of biblical truth,”both seem to me dangerously misleading when pressed into service as full explanations.” (p. 45). If you take these events to be the result of the curse, then if you follow the cause back far enough, you have to level the charge at human sin. Is this fair, Wright wonders. He finds this explanation “improbable” for several reasons. First, he disagrees that Gen 3:17 is a curse on the whole planet. Rather it describes the struggle relationship humans have with earth and the hardship encountered in trying to make a living from it. He sees it as a functional curse. If you take the curse of the ground as curse of the whole planet then you have to believe that our planet behaved differently before the fall. Wright doesn’t think so.

There is no evidence that our planet has ever been geologically different from the way it is now, or that animals were ever nonpredatory, or that tectonic plates in the earth’s crust were somehow stationary before the human species emerged and sinned. (p. 47)

So, in Wright’s mind, God placed humans on a planet with geological activity that seems rather precarious at times. He muses, “I don’t pretend to understand why…I might wish that it could be otherwise. But I don’t think I can be presumptuous enough to tell the Creator, “you should have thought of some other way of making a home for us.” (p. 47)

But what about these disasters being God’s judgment on a people? While all humans are judged to have fallen short are the victims of natural disasters worse sinners than those who live where no disaster has happened?

It is one thing to say that there may be elements of God’s judgment at work in the natural order as a result of prolonged human wickedness. It is another thing altogether to say that the people whose lives are snuffed out or devastated by a natural disaster are the ones deserving that judgment directly. (p. 48)

He likens those Christians who declare these disasters to be God’s specific judgment on a people for their sin to be no different than the Muslim cleric in Britain declaring that the Tsunami in Thailand was Allah’s judgment on sex tourists–even though most of those killed were families at the beach and not those seeking sex with minors. “The sheer crass arrogance of such responses staggers the imagination.” (p. 48)

This illogic happens, Wright says, because “we so easily take some aspects of what the Bible teaches, then invert the logic, and apply it quite wrongly.” (ibid) Yes, God sometimes uses natural disasters to punish or judge. The biblical account give a few examples. But Wright tells us that when we attempt to speak for God, to speak authoritatively, we err. He gives examples from Job, John 9 and Luke 13 that counter the believe that disaster always equals specific judgment. Also, while these disasters do cause some of us to reconsider life and to repent of sin, Wright believes it is “grotesque” to suggest  that God did this just to warn us.

Wright believes that there isn’t any one answer or explanation for the cause of natural disasters.

Science can tell us their natural causes, and they are awesome enough. This is the achievement, but also the limit, of scientific explanation of “what really happened”. But neither science nor faith can give a deeper or meaningful reason or a purpose for a disaster. Thus we are left with the agony of baffled grief and protest.

When we run out of explanations or reject the ones we try, what are we to do? We lament and protest. We shout that it simply isn’t fair. We cry out to God in anger. We tell him we cannot understand and demand to know why he did not prevent it. Is it wrong to do this? Is it something that real believers shouldn’t do, just like “real men don’t cry”? Is it sinful to be angry with God?” (p. 50)

Wright finds in his bible that the answer is NO. For the rest of the chapter he explores Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Psalms and finds that “those who loved and trusted him most” (and not God’s enemies) were frequently angry, questioning, lamenting, and protesting God’s seeming inaction. Wright tells us that there are more lament psalms than there are praise psalms and yet he finds the church unable to lament in corporate worship. Why? Why do we turn to other explanations (judgment, curse, God’s sovereignty, Rom 8:28, etc.) instead of engaging in public and corporate worship characterized by lament and despair?

We are to “file our protests before God….within a framework of faith that has hope and a future built into it. For the present state of creation is not its final state, according to the Bible.” (p. 54) But for praise to have “integrity”, we must be able to pour out our “true feelings before God”.

Wright ends with some choice quotes from Nicholas Wolterstorff and this,

But if that were all [that we accept the mystery of evil that we cannot understand and that we lament and protest it to God], life would be bleak and depressing in the extreme, and faith would be nothing but gritting our teeth in the face of the unexplained and unrelieved suffering. Thankfully the Bible has a lot more to say to lift our hearts with hope and certainty. That is where we are headed in chapter 3.

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The God I don’t Understand 2: Chapter 1


Chapter one of Chris Wright’s The God I don’t Understand (Zondervan, 2008) is the first chapter of his section entitled: “What about evil and suffering?” He reminds us that everyone struggles with the existence of evil in the world but that it is a particular struggle for the Christian  given our view of a good and sovereign God.

We Christians believe that there is one living God, the creator of the whole universe, who is personal, good, loving, omnipotent, and sovereign over all that happens. (p. 27)

He asks,

What help does the Bible give us in holding these jarring contradictions together in our minds in such a way that, even if it does not give us an answer we can fully understand, it does give us hope that we can fully trust? Or to put it another way: Whereas we often ask, “Why?” people in the Bible more often ask “How long?” (ibid)

So chapter one explores the mystery of evil. The Bible, he says, “compells us to accept the mystery of evil” (p. 29) in terms of its origin since the Bible does not explain its ultimate origin.

Despite the mystery, Wright tells us the origin of the “vast quantity” of evil can be known–the result of human sin and wickedness. So he distinguishes moral from natural evil. Moral evil is both intentional and unintentional acts (or failure to act) that cause human suffering. Of these Wright says,

Somehow, we manage to live with such facts, simply because they are so common and universal that we have “normalized” them, even if we regret or resent them and even if we grudgingly admit that humanity itself is largely to blame. (p. 31)

But, when we think of natural causes of suffering, “the cry goes up, “How can God allow such a thing? How can God allow such suffering?…Our gut reaction is to accuse God of callousness or carelessness and to demand that he do something to stop such things.” (ibid)

He muses that God might respond to such an accusation (especially those who don’t believe in God) with,

Well, excuse me, but if we’re talking here about who allows what, let point out that thousands of children are dying every minute in your world of preventable diseases that you have the means (but obviously not the will) to stop. How can you allow that?

If the large majority of sin is from human wickedness then Wright says we have to admit that none of us escapes the judgment. We both do evil and are complicit in evil. We benefit from the evil done elsewhere (think cheap clothing made in Asia). However, Wright doesn’t want us to wallow in guilt:

I say that not to turn all our enjoyment of life into guilty depression. Rather, as we enjoy the good gifts of God’s creation, we must at the same time accept the Bible’s diagnosis of how radical, pervasive, and deeply ingrained sin has become in all human life and relationships. (p. 35)

At this point in the chapter he steps back to ask where evil comes from even though he already stated we have no answer. “Evil seems to explode into the Bible narrative , unannounced, already formed, without explanation or rationale.” (p. 35) What can we say about evil from the Biblical record. Wright says, (a) It was not God, (b) it was not another human being, but (c) it was something from within creation. “Whatever the serpent in the narrative is, then, or whatever it represents, it is out of place, an intruder, unwelcome, incoherent, contrary to the story so far.” (p. 36) We have warrant from elsewhere in Scripture to see Satan as a fallen angel. Wright then asks about Satan. He reminds us that Satan isn’t God, isn’t omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnipresent. Wright suggests that we, “should take Satan seriously, but we should not dignify him with greater reality and power than is proper for a creature.” (p. 36)

Wright goes on to explore the differences between the devil and humans and gives us this pithy little statement, “The Bible calls us not so much to believe in the devil as to believe against the devil.” (p. 38.)

In summary, Wright reminds us that we cannot understand the presence of evil. This, he says, is a good thing.

“…we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not, “make sense” of evil. For the final truth is that evil does not make sense. “Sense” is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us. So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.” (p. 42)

Instead Wright tells us that we are to grieve, weep, lament, protests, scream in pain and anger and cry out, “How long …” And he ends the chapter with the bible’s answer, “That’s OK. Go right ahead. And here are some words you may like to use when you feel that way.” (p. 43) What Wright doesn’t say is that our Savior uses these same words to communicate to the father.

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