Article Review: A Discussion Among Clergy: Pastoral Counseling Talks with Secular Psychology (January 1, 1995 Journal of Biblical Counseling – Volume 13, Number 2)

March 26th, 2018 by posted in Counseling

Of all the journal articles I have read in the past five years, this may be the best written, and most helpful of them all. Welch does a masterful job of explaining biblical counseling in language that both the layman and the experienced counselor can easily comprehend. His posture is calm, caring, and fair. At the same time, Welch is clear from the beginning, that he is dogmatic and resolute in his convictions concerning the worldview from which he counsels. He makes it clear that, “… The paradigms of the Old and New Testaments, especially from the constructs of good and evil, can bring new life into psychotherapeutic thought.” (page 23).

The Article Proper

Dr. Welch begins with a series of propositions regarding secular therapists and therapy. His propositions are interesting and thought-provoking to say the least. This would be especially true to the secular psychologists to which he is speaking. The first proposition is that these therapists are actually secular clergy. I immediately had trouble with this statement. A general definition of clergy is that they are members either ordained or not ordained yet perform pastoral or sacerdotal functions in a Christian church, or in a non-Christian religion, such as Buddhism. Defining secularists as clergy, seems like an oxymoron. How can a nonreligious, medical model therapist, be defined by a religious definition? Welch claims it is because, “…all psychology practitioners are dispensing a worldview, a set of fundamental beliefs about the nature of people.” (page 24). He goes on to quote Thomas Kuhn in suggesting that all sciences, not just psychology, consist of observations that are viewed through nonscientific assumptions and paradigms. In other words, all facts or interpreted facts. Thus, they are interpreted through grids that are provided by metaphysics and religion, not systematic observation. Since this is true, Welch claims that, “Psychology, especially as seen in personality theories and therapeutic models, is simply not scientific.” (page 24). I am still not sure I buy it.

Dr. Welch’s second proposition states that psychotherapeutic worldviews are unverifiable. While I understand Welch’s proposition, I think he leaves out some basic truth. He discusses that theories label a person as normal or abnormal, about their motivation, and about what is right or wrong. He claims that these theories, for the secular therapist, are influenced by culture and external influences, including presuppositions. This in many ways is true of the biblical counselor as well, since we all have our own idiosyncratic assumptions. Our worldviews define, and may even taint our observation and interpretation of facts. I understand that we all are working with the same set of facts, but due to our presuppositions, worldviews, and experience, we may interpret those facts through different lenses. Welch ends the proposition with the statement, “The court of your system cannot discern the difference between my worldview and yours.” (page 24). What I think Welch fails to include is that the secular therapist often does a much better job in data collection and observation than the biblical counselor. I make this statement strictly from anecdotal experience in talking with other biblical counselors. Thus, take my opinion for what it is worth.

Welch’s next proposition is that therapists rarely examine their faith commitments. I would agree completely with Welch on this area. Because secular psychology works from a medical model, their worldview must remove any reference to God and, thus, sin. Not only does this remove any responsibility of behavior from man, it is an incomplete worldview, limiting anthropology. The biblical counselor is more of a worldview specialist according to Welch. This, if for no other reason, then the fact that we see all sides of life yet from a truly accurate worldview. Welch spends a lot of time making this point. He points out that all counselors at some point must see how their beliefs are historically and culturally informed. For the biblical counselor however this means that he will be willing to question his interpretation through the lens of Scripture. Thus, the biblical counselor has a truth resource/grid that the secular counselor is not afforded. Welch looks, as an example, at Heinz, Kohut, and shows while his theory may appear to be empirical, when doing a deeper dive, his assumptions are found to be not scientific at all. Kohut’s theories were found to be products of late 20th century culture. “In other words, Kohut is not offering a timeless theory. He is capturing the mood of the day and dressing it in psychodynamic garb.” (page 26).

Welch’s final proposition is that therapists want conversions. The secular therapist might argue that they want results, but in fact they want followers. Welch goes on to describe this process, even in the lives of the therapist, “First, you were converted. Then you study the doctrines of your church. Finally, he began to preach to others, hoping for conversions. Is this the way change comes about in psychotherapy? Is that successful therapy defined, in part, by your client working comfortably with your beliefs?” (page 26). Welch explains that the theories of psychology are so pervasive, that they are, “the very air we breathe”, and no one is immune to their pervasiveness. If Welch is correct, then all of our counselees will come with some level of being “psychologized”. While I was not ready to admit this truth at first reading, after much thought about the many I have counseled over the past 30 years, I find it indeed is true (again anecdotal evidence based solely on experience). This is why Paul warns of such a thing even as far back as the book of Colossians.

Welch them contrasts the secular therapy theories with those of the Christian therapist. He begins with the fact that the Christian worldview is unique in that it begins with God. This starting point makes us different than the secular therapist because we become dependent on God and live because of his grace toward us. Our focus is not on man’s performance, but what God has done for us.

Welch also proposes that our worldview adds depth to the observations of modern psychology. He uses fear and anxiety as an example and notes that all psychological theory has accounted these two problems because they are central to human experience. The difference is that we see these issues as having to do with our relationship with God more than chemical disorders and oppression from outside forces. Because of God’s sovereignty, Christians can have peace in the midst of this suffering knowing that indeed God works all things together for good, and that because he is sovereign, he providentially cares for us even in the allowing and bringing of suffering. This gives the Christian great peace and hope. It also makes the believer look at their responsibility and possible sin in the midst of suffering. When the secular view removes moral responsibility it treats people as simply animals and tends to, “… rob them of hope for change.” (page 30).

Welch’s final thesis is that the Christian worldview can offer more complete observation of man’s problems than secular theories. This would be true simply because the secular world is so limited in its universe of possibilities.

Conclusion

Welch’s propositions and arguments are well-founded, and well explained. He is clear in his explanations of secular psychology, giving him credibility to his audience. At the same time he is clear to bring them along step-by-step to see the truth and value of a Christian worldview that focuses on the glory of God in reliance to him. I was fascinated that at the end of his presentation he presented the gospel, putting his “money where his mouth is” loving and caring for those he loves, yet have never met.


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