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Written by Sam Logan Tuesday, 27 March 2012 00:00

Sometimes, I find myself wishing that the Lord had made more use of the colors black and white in His creation and had utilized fewer of the many shades of gray that seem to be present in our world.

The March 19, 2012, issue of Time Magazine stirred those wishes yet again.

In an article entitled , “What Counts as Crazy?” (pp. 42 – 45), Time health writer John Cloud explores the controversy raging through the American psychiatric community over the upcoming (in 2013) publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, for short).  Apparently, this is the volume which, more or less “officially,” defines what is regarded as “normal” and what is regarded as “abnormal” behavior.  Among the many ways in which these definitions matter, according to Cloud, it is only for treatment of “abnormal” conditions that psychiatrists are able to bill health insurance companies.

So far, so interesting.

But as I read the article, questions far more significant than mental health insurance coverage popped into my mind.

Here is an example -  one of the primary changes made between the second edition of the DSM and the third edition of the DSM (the third edition was published in 1980), was that, in the third edition, homosexuality was no longer regarded as a “disorder” (it had been so regarded in the first and second editions of the DSM).  And, according to the Time article, this determination was made on the basis of a vote commissioned by the American Psychiatric Association in which “being gay was deemed sane by a vote of 5,854 to 3,810.”  Even Cloud interprets this fact to mean that “Over the years, the gray areas  have allowed many forces beyond science to shape the DSM” (emphasis added).

So far, REALLY interesting but it gets even better (not the article but my own {“normal?”; “abnormal?”} interpretation of the implications of the article).

Is a crazy person (don’t blame me; that’s the term used in the Time article) guilty of sin if, while insane, he does things which Scripture forbids?

If, for instance, a person diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome uses the Lord’s name in vain, should he come under church discipline?  Why or why not?

Should an individual diagnosed with severe depression be regarded as guilty of a lack of faith?  Don’t laugh – shortly after a very dear and deeply Christian individual I knew was prescribed Triavil (one of the older tricyclic antidepressants), the President of the Christian college where I was teaching at the time spoke to the college faculty and assured us that “anyone taking an antidepressant should stop that and just learn to trust the Lord.”

Most of us might  quickly dismiss the comments of that college President as ridiculous . . . I know I did when I heard those comments.  But the shades of gray get more and more pervasive.

According to the Time article mentioned above, three of the “new disorders” which are likely to listed in the fifth edition of the DSM are binge eating, internet addiction, and sex addiction.  Are these behaviors normal or are they abnormal?  Is binge eating a disorder?  Really?  If I say that it is not, that it is simply the “gluttony” which Scripture prohibits, am I doing the same thing which the college President did?  But if binge eating IS “abnormal,” is the person who engages in that activity guilty of anything (other than an unhealthy lifestyle)?

Well, binge eating is one thing.   What about “sex addiction?”  Now, the issue gets really troubling!

But there is more trouble (make that more “gray”) of which we need to take account.

When you read above that the voters in the APA poll determined that being gay is not abnormal,  what was your reaction?  I will bet you a dish of haggis that you reacted negatively.   OF COURSE, being gay is abnormal!  Be careful!!  If a behavior is abnormal, does that make it a sickness?  And if it is a sickness, is the person acting out of that sickness any more guilty than the Tourette’s child who screams out obscenities?

In some ways, modern medicine, including modern psychiatric medicine, has made amazing progress for which we all should be grateful.  But should we be grateful that, whereas, in 1917, there were only 22 available officially recognized psychiatric  diagnoses, there are now 350 available?  This is financially helpful to many of us who have health insurance.  But what does it do to the shades of gray as we seek to make – and to help others make – critical moral distinctions and decisions?

And, of course, “normal” does not necessarily equal “moral” any more than “abnormal” necessarily means “immoral.”  A certain behavior may “normal” but still “sinful,” right? 

So where – and how – do we draw the lines of “moral responsibility” when discussing behaviors which may or may not be caused by internal conditions over which we may or may not have complete control?

What do you think?

And I’ll suggest tomorrow what I believe Jonathan Edwards would think about all of this.


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan

 

Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Monday, 26 March 2012 00:00

Last month I wrote this post about abuse in the church. If you want more training on this topic, check out this link for our upcoming abuse in the church course.

There once were two churches who found out that a leader had engaged in pastoral sexual abuse. Each church convened a committee to handle the painful process of deciding what to do. The committees needed to act quickly as it was Thursday and the leader was scheduled to preach on Sunday. What would they do? What would they say to the congregation?  The situations in each church were quite sticky since the victim of abuse was well-known to be manipulative and demanding (and not liked) while the leader was respected and considered a gifted, visionary leader.

Committee A began to take up the matter of whether or not they could ever foresee the leader returning to a ministry position. They also considered what they might say to the congregation so as to tamp down anxiety and gossip. Should they send him away to a treatment center? Should they ask the victim to attend another church? A few on the committee were concerned about legal liability exposure. One member wondered whether the leader’s heartfelt written apology should be made public on Sunday. Another wondered whether they could send the leader away on “retreat” for 2 weeks due to the upcoming groundbreaking ceremony on the new church wing. In the end, the committee decided to have one of the elders read a short letter stating that the leader is in need of some personal care over a matter of sexual integrity and has willingly sought help. Part of the letter included the leader’s confession. The congregation should pray for the leader and family but should not engage in gossip or conversation about the matter.

Committee B faced all of the same pressures…and raised many of the same concerns. Yet, one of the members of this committee suggested that they take a few minutes to explore the values they want undergirding all decisions. As they deliberated, a few key values rose to the top: protection of all, love and truth, and pastoral ministry. They determined that legal liability, determination of fault, reputation in the community, and desired outcomes should all be secondary values in comparison to protecting and ministering to victim, offender and congregation as well as speaking the truth in love. The rest of their meeting focused on developing ministry strategies for each party, their families, and the congregation. On Sunday, this committee informed the church of pastoral sexual abuse admitted to by the leader, chose not to report the pastor’s confession (unsure of its actual depth), acknowledged the many confusing and painful questions, and gave pastoral directions on how to handle this period (e.g., why leader abuse is such a serious matter, how to pray, who to talk to, how to use this as an opportunity for self-reflection). In addition, this committee informed the congregation as to the goal of restoration of broken things while being clear that the leader might not return to the church in a leader capacity. 

Abuse always rocks our world and upsets community life. If we fail to identify what core values we want to cling to in a time of crisis, we’re likely to fall prey to reactionary decisions based on self and system protection rather than on truth, love and ministry.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.

   

Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Monday, 26 March 2012 00:00

Several years ago I heard a sermon preached on Hebrews 11:8-22 and Abraham's journey to the promised land. During the sermon I thought of this application to my own Seminary's quest to teach and train missional church leaders and counselors for the 21st century. A little background: not everyone has been happy with our move to reach the emerging leadership of the church—or at least with our tactics. The emerging church has been willing to criticize sharply the prior evangelical style of church. In their effort to try new things, some have tried on theological positions that run counter or at least perpendicular to conservative Christian doctrine. Because we at the Seminary haven't led with our criticisms of emerging church, some have criticized and attacked us. One criticism leveled is that the emerging church and Biblical Seminary don't know where they are going. We're on a journey that can only lead to heresy and rejection of the Gospel--or so it is thought by some.

Enter Hebrews 11.

Notice that Abraham travels with much uncertainty. He surely knew that God called him and so he left family and homeland at an elderly age. I wonder if he grew tired of saying, "Here, Lord? This looks like a good spot. No, you want me to keep going???.” My guess is that he probably second-guessed his calling a time or two along the way. However, the writer of Hebrews does tell us that Abraham did look expectantly to one thing: heaven (v. 11). Notice that the promise of heirs as numerous as of sand and land was never fully realized in his lifetime. As the preacher reminded us, he even had to buy some land to bury his cherished wife. At age 100, he had yet to receive the promise of Isaac. Then a few years later he is asked by God to sacrifice Isaac.

We who have the entire canon seem to forget that we too do not know where God is taking us. We have a clearer picture of heaven and clear calls to seek and serve God's kingdom. And yet we do not know exactly to what God is calling us. We, like Abraham, may try to bring about God's promises (these usually lead to bad consequence). God is faithful none-the-less.

So, in answer to those who ask whether Biblical Seminary knows where it is going, I say, No, not fully.” We do know that God is faithful, the land is foreign, we own nothing, but we trust in his goodness both now and in eternity. We seek to live faithfully in worshipful service to God and in loving our neighbors as ourselves. It would be more comforting to think we had it all figured out. It is tempting to do so since that would make our vision planning much easier. Certitude might attract more students and donors. But, we believe a more faithful response is to ask the Lord to send us into the harvest and use as He wills.

One last point. Our lack of knowing just where we are going is NOT to say we have NO idea, nor to say all viewpoints are valid and everyone's expression of faith is good. Those interested in knowing more what we do seek and believe are welcome to check out our President's Missional Journal.


Phil Monroe is professor of counseling & psychology and directs the Masters of Arts in Counseling program. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his counseling blog here or read his faculty bio here.

 

   

Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Wednesday, 21 March 2012 00:00

The morning after Linda and I spent the night with the homeless, our responsibility was to ensure that both families got off by 7:00 AM. That meant we carried car seats out – and I actually ended up carrying one pre-schooler out who was still sound asleep – at about 6:30 AM. It was cold that morning, too, so car windows had to be defrosted and scraped on top of everything else involved in the morning routine.

That all got Linda and me talking when we got home later that morning. We both remembered how difficult those days of diapers and diaper bags, car seats and crying kids were for us. That was years ago for us now, yet we still remember those days as “hard” – but we were a “stable, two-parent home,” we lived in our own house, and, though finances always feel tight, we’ve never been in danger of being evicted. We talked about all this over flavored coffee we’d brewed in our own coffee-maker in our kitchen, with our white picket fence literally forming the background to our conversation out our back window.

Jesus talks about the Kingdom being like a treasure or rare piece of jewelry that, once someone finds it, they’ll give up everything to get. But what if you’d inherited that rare piece of jewelry, and wore it every day.  After a while, wouldn’t you just sort of take it for granted, and forget about just how valuable it is?    

Linda and I were both raised in strong Christian homes. Likewise, our three boys grew up in a home where love and commitment to one another, and to God, has just never been in question.

I don’t want to paint an overly idyllic picture here. I like to tease friends and family way too much. Linda and I have had more than one spat over who gets the remote. And, I remember one whiffle ball game ending with one of the boys throwing the bat at his brother.  But that’s about the height of the conflict we’ve experienced in our home.

It would be, literally, unimaginable for our family to contemplate, much less face, the kind of instability, challenge and lack of resources experienced by the single-parent homeless families we spent that one night with.

In reflecting on that, part of what I realize is: the benefits and blessings that God often gives to His people are rich and deep, but can be kind of subtle, too – like the family heirloom a woman wears everyday of her life since high school but that turns out to be worth thousands of dollars, which no one suspected until the estate sale revealed its real worth after she died or something.

Linda and I are now in, well, late middle age. We have three boys, the youngest of which will soon be driving – the other two have grown and left the house already. But all three, and our daughter-in-law, too, clearly love us and love the Lord. Not only do we love one another, we enjoy one another.  And, for Linda and me, “happily married” is not just a cliché.

And, we realize, when we think about it – which we too often don’t – that this is precious and rare. And that so, so many people would give all that they have to enjoy what we simply take for granted. And that what is truly valuable is too often traded for something shinier, maybe, but counterfeit.

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Tuesday, 20 March 2012 00:00

Last week (by the time you read this, it will be “last month”), my wife, Linda, and I spent a night with the homeless. It was part of a ministry our church offers in cooperation with other churches – kind of a “divide and conquer” kind of strategy. Each church hosts some otherwise-homeless families for a month; people in the church provide the evening meal; and provide someone to come over later in the night to offer welcome, simple human warmth, conversation, help of  any miscellaneous variety -- and give some added security by staying the night in another room in the building. That’s what Linda and I did. 

It cost us a night. Truth is, we talked about not doing it – it’s never “convenient” and we keep up busy lives without this. But, in the end, we couldn’t come up with any reasons for not doing it as good as the reasons we knew for doing it, from what God says so clearly in His Word about how important it is to Him to take care of the poor, the vulnerable, the indigent.

You never know what you’ll actually do when you get there – other than the less-than-satisfying night’s sleep, which is the one “given.” Besides that, you could be confronted with nothing or a lot. Last year, my wife ended up serving as “moderator” between two mothers who got to fighting over how one of their kids was being treated by the other one’s kids. Except for that drama, though, the rest of the night was spent having casual conversation with the adults, while the kids (mostly teenagers) watched TV.

This year, the oldest child of the three there (between two families staying the month) was six – so two pre-schoolers and a first-grader. I’d actually brought a book along to read, in case the evening turned out to be a quiet one not involving us much. I never got to the book. The moment we walked in, the kids’ faces lit up as they came running to us – “Can we play?!”  “Sure!,” we said, “what do you want to play?”  “How about ‘tag’?!”  Me: “Um – you mean, like, . . . running?”  . . .

So that night we played “tag,” and “sharks and minnows,” and soccer, and hide ‘n’ seek, and ended the playtime with “chicken races” – where I had a four-year-old boy on my back, and Linda a six-year-old girl on hers.  We boys won.   

Turned out our night’s sleep wasn’t so bad after all. . . .

Now, from September through February, I’ve taught four Master’s level courses – in postmodern apologetics, in soteriology, in trinitarianism, in pneumatology; all important stuff, exploring with students headed to ministry some of the deep things of God, the missional character of God and how that character forms the goals of the Kingdom, and informs and impels our ground-level attitudes and practices, and forms communities of faith the serve His will, to endeavor to please Him, and, by His grace, to forward His Kingdom goals and missional objectives in the world.  All important stuff.

But here’s a question that’s sort of haunted me over the last month. That night with the homeless cost us a night. And, Linda and I almost didn’t do it – not because we’re apathetic or lazy, but because our lives are already heavily invested in important things. But I have to wonder: in God’s calculus of what is important, I wonder if that one night with the homeless wasn’t worth more than many days and nights of contemplation, reading, and talking about His will?

I once heard someone say that, if a good lumberjack is given five minutes to chop down a tree, a wise one will spend the first four minutes of the five sharpening his ax. Wisdom in that, for sure.  But, of course, if getting the tree chopped down is the goal, there better be at least a minute of actual chopping, right?    


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

   

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Monday, 19 March 2012 00:00

These three nouns are used by Lesslie Newbigin to describe the church, particularly at the congregational level, in its relationship to its surrounding culture (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society [Eerdmans, 1989], p. 233). It is an inspiring and challenging vision.  

Think of it!  Local churches that so embody the grace of Jesus in word and deed that they are an effective sign-post pointing to the truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Churches that are the instruments through which God answers our prayer for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. And congregations where people actually get a taste of the new heavens and new earth.

 Yes, it is exciting, uplifting, and hopeful!  And then there is the reality.  This was brought home to me Sunday after teaching an adult class at church where we talked about this beautiful vision. I could sense that many folks were stimulated by our discussion.  This is something the hearts of many of us long for.  But then one of my more thoughtful students said, “Dave, I love studying this stuff, but then I ask myself if I am ready to make the changes in my life that kind of church requires.”

 Indeed!  That is the question that all of us must face honestly. Business as usual will not lead to congregations that are the sign, instrument, and foretaste of the coming kingdom.  Like my friend, I too find it easy to get excited about the idea of a vibrant church, but I am actually much less enthusiastic about how such a church would disturb my comfort zone.

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.

   

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00

In recent blogs I have been reflecting on Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011).  He believes that “pervasive interpretive pluralism” among Evangelicals proves the un-workability of our hermeneutic:  because we cannot agree on what Scripture teaches, we inevitably find ourselves in warring theological camps.  How should we address the problem?

Smith offers two proposals that taken together could provide a greater degree of unity within the church.  First, he argues that the Bible must be read Christocentrically:  Jesus Christ is the true subject matter of the whole of the Scripture.  “If  believers today want to rightly understand scripture, every narrative, every prayer, every proverb, every law, every Epistle  needs likewise to be read and understood always and only in light of Jesus Christ and God reconciling the world to himself through him” (p. 99). Few would deny what Smith affirms, but in practice Christ gets side-lined in our teaching and the resulting interpretations (particularly of the OT) are often little more than religious moralism.

Second, he argues that we must make value distinctions in our interpretation.  Not all truths are equally important.  We should avoid “flat” readings which value all biblical content equally.  Smith adopts the threefold distinction of dogma, doctrine, and opinion used by the Baptist theologian Roger Olson.

Dogma refers to those teachings which are nearly universally agreed upon by believers.  Doctrine refers to beliefs that are held not universally but by substantial groups of Christians and which may justly be considered important to the life and witness of the church.  Opinions are those beliefs which are less central and more idiosyncratic.

Smith is persuaded that Evangelical Biblicism makes this three-fold distinction difficult.  As a result much that is really just opinion gets moved up the ladder to the de facto status of Dogma.  The result is theological warfare and the loss of Evangelical catholicity.  The solution must be found in “. . . Christians actively agreeing on a short list of dogma, actively building bonds of Christian communion across their doctrinal differences, and deflating the importance of many of their own beliefs [opinions] to the levels at which they appropriately belong” (p. 138).

What I find particularly attractive in this book is the author’s repeated emphasis on the interpretive center (Christ) rather than the boundary markers (denominational distinctives).  Focus on the former more than the latter is critically necessary for the missional effectiveness of the church, as is the humility that must mark our interpretive efforts and our relationships within the body of Christ.


Dave Dunbar is President and Professor of Theology at Biblical Seminary.  He is married to Sharon, has four adult children and six grandchildren.  See also http://biblical.edu/index.php/david-dunbar.

   

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