This article was written by Dr. Heath Lambert, Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College.
More Heat Than Light
I was so disappointed when David Murray posted about me on his website after some blogs I wrote last week on mental illness. I heard about his post from several people who read it, and who found it to be a harsh mischaracterization of my position about mental illness. When I read it I felt the same way.
His blog balanced light and heat with all of the subtlety of a Molotov cocktail—very hot, a lot of damage, but no enduring illumination.
David characterized my views as scary and potentially deadly and insinuated that I don’t think the physical body is important, and that an equation of mental illness with spiritual issues means I ignore suffering, and that such positions would keep troubled people from getting the help they need. I don’t believe any of those things. And have never, ever said them.
His response was also characterized by a certain immensity that I don’t think one blog in a series deserves. It may be a little early to have “Dashed hopes for biblical counseling.” I hope we can at least wait until the other blogs in the series are posted before we declare the sky to be falling.
I have written several blog posts that address these concerns and have edited a book (with several doctors and psychiatric professionals) that demonstrates how to care physically and spiritually for those diagnosed with mental illnesses. I am working on a couple of other blogs due out this week in the same series David commented on. I love people diagnosed with mental illness. I have done ministry with folks who struggle with these problems. They are in my family. I have never before been accused of believing the things David imposes on me. Mostly that is because I really don’t believe them.
As true as that is, I don’t desire a back-and-forth with David on the Internet. We’ve done that before, and I don’t find it helpful. Here I want to address a larger issue. That issue concerns how Believers ought to disagree with one another in an Internet age of blogs and Tweets. A tit-for-tat about mental illness will not be helpful until we’re coming at the issues in the right way.
I’ll mention three things that I believe should characterize us.
1. Listen first, blog second.
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19)
Jesus loves relationship more than a fight. Disagreements might lead to more hits on a blog, but Jesus wants better things for his people. There is a time and a place for a public response to public statements. A loud, strong critique is often appropriate. But where did we ever learn that a spasm of publicity should precede hearing a matter out?
Perhaps David didn’t know that last week’s posts were only half the blogs in a larger series. He couldn’t have known that Part 3 on the importance of the body will release tomorrow. That is precisely why he should have checked with me first.
This isn’t about Matthew 18. D.A. Carson has written helpfully about the inapplicability of that passage to public discourse like David is engaging in. For me, this issue is about how we love one another well. David knows me a bit, and has spent some time with me. He has my phone number and email. It’s just wrong for me to learn from a church planter in Vermont that he used his blog to rebuke me for views I don’t hold.
We need conviction and caution here. We need conviction to respond to error. We need caution to be sure that we have perceived real error. This requires a willingness to listen. When you disagree with someone you know, it’s worth the effort to listen to him before lashing out in public.
2. Tell the truth about your brother.
Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices. (Colossians 3:9)
If we are going to have integrity in our disagreements we must tell the truth about our brother’s positions. That usually means restating their position in terms that they believe are fair. I simply do not see my own views reflected in what David Murray wrote about me.
You do not have to make something up out of whole cloth to tell a lie. Half-truths are every bit as deceptive as complete fabrications. Both misleading statements and blatant dishonesty disable the cause of truth.
The part that David got correct was that I took exception to how our culture understands and deals with mental illness. I stand by that. Our cultural understanding of this topic is defined by ignorance. Everything after this point in his piece is a distortion. How will that advance the cause of truth?
For example, you would not know from David’s piece that a massive collection of secular professionals actually agree with my assessment of the problem. In fact, in the blogs I’ve written on this topic I point to psychiatrists and psychologists who contributed to the DSM who say the same thing I do. David never mentioned this aspect of my post.
You also would not know from David’s piece that I believe there are important physical dynamics that must be addressed in helping struggling people. Tomorrow’s blog will address this in part 3 of the series I’m working on. My blog that David referenced in his critique didn’t emphasize this physical aspect of caring for people, but I still addressed it briefly. David didn’t quote that part.
3. Believe the best about your brother; don’t jump to conclusions.
Love believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:8)
It is an act of loving care to believe good things about your brother until you have evidence to believe otherwise. This means we should read and listen to folks charitably and extend an assumption of good motives to them for as long as we can. In the Kingdom of Christ, relationships are too important to think the worst of people.
In his blog David did not make many assertions. He did ask a lot of questions, however, assuming the worst, scariest, and deadliest answers from me.
Here’s one example: David asks about my position on medication. He cannot know my position since he has never spoken to me about it, and I’ve never really written about it. I certainly didn’t address it in the post. If he were to ask me, he would have found out that I’m all for medicinal interventions when it comes to physical problems. But David didn’t ask. He could have asked. He also could have thought the best of me, or he could have forestalled judgment. He didn’t do any of those. He jumped to the worst possible scenario.
That’s unloving, and as Believers I think we can do better than that.
Another way to frame this would be to treat others with the charity you would like to be treated (Matt 7:12). David has previously written another blog where he praised Steve Wellum and Justin Taylor for pushing back on one of his positions in a way that was, “A fine model of how important theology can be debated in a humble, respectful, constructive manner. There’s no attempt at point-scoring, no name-calling, and no impugning of motives.” I wish David had dispensed more liberally to me of the treatment he enjoyed receiving from others.
Speaking Truth in Love
I’m in the middle of a series on Jesus’ healing and mental illness. I’m also reaching out to David and trying to have a personal conversation. I’m praying that by the time the dust settles there is more light shed on this issue than heat. I’m praying that David will believe he has some answers to some of his good questions.
Until then I’m praying that all of us Christians in the digital age can learn that the biblical message first written on parchment with quill pen has relevance for what we write about one another on our blogs. Paul informs us that Speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph 4:15).
I know David wants the church of Jesus Christ to grow up in the way we think about mental illness. I’m so thankful for this good desire of his. I want the same thing.
God’s Word tells us that the only way we can have that maturity is to speak truthful content in a loving way.