Pastor, I Read in This Help Book That...

Pastor, I Read in This Help Book That...

The Problem
No shortage of books exists that promise to offer us 'help' with life's problems.  Marriage, family, children, weight loss, depression, and anxiety represent just a mere sliver of the 'help book' section at most bookstores, even in the Christian ones.  Of course, it's not that books filled with man's wisdom cannot be helpful, as I am thankful for the recipe book with tips and suggestions for my gas grill.  The problem, however, occurs when our well-intentioned human desire to 'help' others begins to follow a path or methodology that wholly excludes God's Word, the Bible. In saying this, more specifically, I am speaking to 'ideas' that lead to a methodology of counseling, whether it be about how to raise children and handle teenagers, improve your marriage, or deal with the problems in your life such as fear, worry, or anger. For godly living, the Christian should turn to God's Word for advice and guidance.  

The Source of Truth
God's word is not only inerrant and authoritative (2 Tim 3:16-17) but sufficient for godly living (2 Pet. 1:3-5). It is the Truth (John 17:17).  The Bible is not like any other book, and neither should it be read that way.  Scripture should be the primary lens by which man's ideas (even the so-called 'helpful' ones) are evaluated. Biblically, how Christians approach their problems matters. When was the last time you asked yourself: Is my selected methodology (how 'help' happens) anchored in man's wisdom or God's wisdom?

How to Test 'Ideas' Claiming to Help
Christians may biblically evaluate any set of 'helping' ideas by asking themselves four basic questions: 1) What does the theory (or its originator) believe about humanity’s origin, purpose, and existence in the world? 2) About sin (i.e., humanity’s chief problem in this world)? 3.) About the authority of Scripture and a clear right or wrong (i.e., the Christian source of absolute truth, the Bible, as compared to the theorist’s source)? 4.) And what solution(s) does the idea or theory offer in terms of genuine hope for future healing and life change (i.e., how does it address man’s true problem, which is sin)?1 

There Is No Neutrality
If any 'helping' oriented person, book, or man-made idea fails to identify the correct view of mankind (a created being), humanity's chief problem (sin), and the true authority in this world (the God of Scripture), then those ideas, books, and people can never correctly diagnose a person's biggest problem, nor can they offer a true and lasting solution.  Renewal of the mind, as spoken of in Romans 12:2, only occurs through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This means that the authority for Christians is found only in the God of the living (Mt. 22:32), the truth of His Word (Jn. 14:6), and upon the reality of Jesus Christ as risen Lord, Savior, and God who has the authority to forgive sins (Mt. 9:6).

Authority for godly living is not found in human beings who declare themselves as the ‘architects’ of their own lives. Unlike humanists who believe in mankind’s ability “to do what is right,” the Bible says human nature is NOT “trustworthy” (Jer. 17:9). Yet those wishing to 'help,' such as providers of human counseling apart from God (i.e., self-help books, talk therapy, psychotherapies, etc.) adopt a form of self-idolatry. The “locus of evaluation is myself,” and “I am the one who determines the value of an experience for me,” psychologist Carl Rogers once said.2

A Warning
Christianity cautions against looking toward oneself for truth or assessing a person based on worldly or human standards. Scripture advises believers to be wary of deceptive appearances, urging them to examine the outward manifestations, as grapes do not grow on thornbushes (Mt. 7:15-20). Ultimately, Christ’s teachings serve as the benchmark for judgment and not man-centered ideas (Jn. 12:48). Sin rarely enters the vocabulary of self-help books, secular counselors, or psychotherapeutic disciplines in terms of addressing people's problems.3 Suffering comes from either a lack of positive emotions, inadequate relationships, pessimistic thoughts, missing or dysfunctional character strengths, limited viewpoints, past experiences, or other worldly reasons—as a personal responsibility that needs to be removed or lessened. Man-centered ideas may even speak of "cognitive behavioral changes" or "emotional well-being" methods designed to eliminate self-stigmatizing thoughts, but these methods usually also reframe the matter at hand for self-serving purposes with non-judgmental empathy and divorced from responsibility for one's actions before God. In short, man-centered approaches claiming to help never address man's biggest problem: sin.

One other man-centered approach that Christians should be on guard against is the idea of self-love. Christians often wrongly make statements such as 'the need to feel love is a primary human emotional need,' referring to people like psychologist Abraham Maslow and his so-called hierarchy of needs.  The problem is that Maslow’s beliefs about psychological needs, self-love, self-esteem, and self-actualization turn biblical truth upside down. Christians do not need more of themselves or more of what their evil hearts desire, but instead ought to deny their flesh (Matt 16:24, Gal 5:16–26).  

The Bible actually speaks of selfless love demonstrated in Christ and by the Holy Spirit in regenerated Christians (1 Cor 13). It is kind, compassionate, keeps no record of wrongs, is not self-seeking, and is desirous of sacrificially serving other people because of the love of God already at work within them (Rom 8:5–6). Never is biblical love about discovering and speaking a ‘dialect’ of one-sided words or deeds to meet a person’s felt needs (1 Cor 13:4–7). Instead, love is about genuine and selfless care for others despite hardships. A person may become upset by their spouse’s sinful behavior(s), for example, but never does unrighteous anger or despair become biblically justified for not having one’s ‘love tank’ filled by their spouse (Jas 1:20). When a helping 'method' is not biblically based (or vetted carefully), it risks offering an implicit license to an already idolatrous human heart seeking to gratify the flesh continuously (Gen 8:21, Eccl 9:3).

In this way, a holy God who abhors sin receives no mention by the counselor, theory, or help book. (i.e., by the very person claiming to help). Uninhibited emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, and anxiety, therefore, do not have sinful origins when God is absent from the discussion. Uncontrolled thoughts, like any day-to-day hassle, must simply be overcome by adaptation and overcoming adversity. How? Through one’s own strength and resilience.  

At best, human ideas about 'helping' apart from God often masquerade as solutions and generate a false sense of well-being. In contrast to the therapist’s quest for the ‘full life,’ God’s Word reveals the true path for our life, saying, “In your presence, there is complete joy; at Your right hand, eternal pleasures” (Ps. 16:11). Truly, the essence of the gospel message, as conveyed by its apostles and prophets, is one of positivity and hope: “Peace [be to you] and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 6:23–4).

Conclusion
Christians should understand that the world of man-made ideas contributes nothing lasting to the spiritual health of the Christian life (1 Jn. 2:17, Phil. 1:21). There is never worth in grafting human concepts, as they offer nothing lasting.  The Word of God is sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:3-5), living and active (Heb. 4:12), and superior to any alternative solution the world offers. Men and women, led by the Holy Spirit indwelling their hearts (Eph. 3:17, 2 Tim. 1:14) and protected by God’s armor (Eph. 6:10–18), truly possess everything needed to lead a rich and purposeful life in accordance with God’s plan (2 Pet. 1:3).

[1] John Babler, Theory-Evaluation Template, 2012.

[2] Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), Ch. 2, 6, 8.  

[3] Albert Ellis, “There Is No Place for the Concept of Sin in Psychotherapy,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 7 (January 1, 1960): 188–92. “If hell exists for human beings, it is the hell of neurosis and psychosis.”


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