Monday, May 09, 2005

Southern Seminary & the Care of Souls

In September of 1996 Christianity Today ran a sidebar titled "Schools Grapple with Sharp Rise in Psychology Students." The story reported the rapidly growing number of Christian graduate schools and seminaries offering psychology or counseling programs and raised the question of what effects this trend might have on the schools themselves. James Guy, then dean of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, noted that in light of this phenomenon seminaries had to ask themselves what profession they were emphasizing: "Are we training mental-health professionals who are Christians, or are we training ministers with knowledge of mental health?"

I am glad to learn that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has opted to emphasize the latter. Beginning in the fall, the school's approach to training in counseling will be founded on the conviction that the Bible is sufficient for conceptualizing about and treating the issues of the heart with which people struggle. According to the Baptist Press News:

The new vision was approved overwhelmingly by the faculty on Feb. 2, distinguishing the seminary’s counseling philosophy from its former “pastoral care” model that seeks to prepare therapists for state
licensure by “integrating” secular psychology and biblical training. According to Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration, the seminary’s vision for counseling embraces a Gospel-centered and church-focused approach.

The new direction is not a new degree program. Rather, it is a wholesale change of emphasis built upon the view that Scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart, Moore said. Its aim is to equip pastors and counselors to work in local churches, he said.
Moore says the church needs:

....pastors and leaders who understand depravity and the Fall to the degree that they are able to see the ways in which fallen human self-interest often masquerades as objective ‘science’ -- especially when this ‘science’ seeks to explain and prescribe a cure for the fallen condition of humanity.
Southern's president, Al Mohler states:

In this psycho-therapeutic age it is really important that we think as Christians -- that we employ authentically Christian thinking, biblical thinking to human life, and that we do this in a way that, without apology, confronts and critiques the wisdom of the age and seeks the wisdom that can come only from God and from God’s Word.

To say I admire Southern Seminary's decision is a gross understatement. I applaud it wholeheartedly and pray that their decision will lead other evangelical institutions of higher theological education to rethink their training. It takes integrity to resist the enticement of offering programs for which there's a sure market. It takes boldness to be willing to lose respectability in the eyes of the psychological establishment by saying "We'll no longer play by your rules." It takes humility for a reputable institution to reflect upon its curriculum, conclude that it is incompatible with its theological convictions, and thoroughly revise it so as to bring it into greater conformity to its profession. Humility is also required to face the ridicule bound to come from both Christian and secular quarters. The latter is reflected in headlines like this one from the Louisville Courier-Journal: "Baptist seminary shifts counselor study to Bible over science."

It puzzles me that in the midst of all the (necessary) clamor about the importance of understanding the Christian worldview and its distinctiveness from competing explanatory stories, the evangelical church is relatively silent when it comes to the hegemony of secular psychotherapeutic theories of human nature. Perhaps this muteness is the result of our having become intoxicated on the strong drink of the spirit of the age. It profits us little if we strain out Darwin yet swallow Maslow, Rogers, Beattie, Bradshaw, or any others all too eager to provide answers other than that offered by the Bible to the question, "What is man?"

1 comment:

Byron said...

Hear, hear, for Southern!!! Good words, Keith!