Freud in Sheep’s Clothing?
Emotional difficulties in the church are nothing new. Over the years, various people in our congregations have had emotional struggles. In this series of articles we would like to examine some possible reasons for this. We will also look at some ways to help people who have such struggles as well as some ways that Satan uses such situations to make inroads amongst us.
In their desire to help the weak and hurting brothers and sisters in our circles, some have gone to “Christian psychology” for answers. In this article we want to examine some of the basic premises for this field of thought. In subsequent articles we will look at Scriptural solutions to emotional stress.
1. Sin and Emotional Stress
Sin and guilt are probably the most common reasons for emotional stress in the world today. Even in the church, this can be the case. “Christian psychology” appeals especially to those professing Christians suffering from emotional stress because they are living in sin. However, if emotional stress is caused by sin, all the counseling and psychology in the world will not avail. Because of this, we want to start this series with this basic question.
2. Christian Psychology?
I can remember clearly the days that various Mennonites began crowding into Bill Gothard’s seminars. It is true that Bill Gothard’s teaching on personal accountability and responsibility have helped some people, especially in modern home school circles, to a more responsible walk with Christ. But a few of his more radical concepts (such as generational sins) are being carried to extremes today. For instance, John Regier’s so-called Biblical Concepts in Counseling are plowing new paths amongst the same kind of people who were so excited about Gothard’s teaching.
Most dangerous of all, these influences are prying open the door to the doctrines of men like Neil Anderson. Already Anderson’s belief in demon strongholds within Christians, and in demon possessed Christians, are making inroads in the fringe areas of conservative Anabaptist groups.
These doctrines are taking the Protestant world by storm. If past history is a truthful indicator, we will soon begin to see a watered down form of these doctrines seeping into conservative groups. The purpose of this article is to warn us of the basic tenets of these teachings. However, to properly understand them we need to go back in history and look briefly at a man that most Christians would refuse to emulate.
3. Freud in a Nutshell
Freud was the father of modern psychoanalysis. He believed that almost all psychological problems are caused by suppressed memories of sexual abuses and desires experienced by very young children. While some modern psychologists downplay parts of his teaching, the concept that psychological difficulties are caused by suppressed memories and attitudes is still a very important part of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
Many of the world’s mental and emotional problems are caused by sin and guilt, as we said. However, a society dominated by humanism, agnosticism, and evolution cannot admit this basic fact. This is one reason why Freud’s ideas have become so popular with modern sinners struggling with the repercussions of their sin.
In fact if you research modern psychotherapy you discover that it is basically escapism. Do you suffer emotional problems? The psychologist will help you to bring to mind suppressed memories of incidents in your childhood that cause these. The theory is that you can then deal with the subconscious influences that are troubling you, and be freed from your guilt and phobias. The assumption behind this process is that your problems are the result of someone else’s actions. The psychologist will seldom admit that his patient might actually be responsible for his own problems.
In reality, however, it has been shown by secular researchers that “suppressed memories” can be the result of the power of suggestion and may exist only in the patient’s imagination. Probably many of these “suppressed events” never happened, even thought the patient (and his doctor) believes they did.
Interestingly, in the last several decades, we have seen the rise of “Christian psychology”, a mixture of psychological and Christian concepts which one writer has aptly nicknamed psychoheresy. Christian psychology utilizes a scenario amazingly similar to Freudian psychology, except it has a sanctified appearance. These men appeal to Christians because often they have a Biblical emphasis in other parts of their theology.
We want to evaluate the doctrinal foundation of this movement in several areas.
4. Generational Sins?
Exodus 34:6, 7 states, in part, “The LORD… will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” In similar vein, Exodus 20:5 states, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”
The Christian psychology movement interprets this as a “generational curse”—a blight on your family bloodline. They use the examples of similar failure on the part of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a proof of their thesis (among other examples).
Many people look at this angle and feel that their teaching makes sense. But we should not stop there in our evaluation. In common practice this concept is used to excuse sin (and eliminate any guilt resulting from it) in the life of a “Christian”. In short, if you have a problem with your temper, it is not really sin on your part since it is a curse that follows your family bloodline, perhaps originating with your grandfather or father.
The other hallmark doctrine of “Christian psychology” is similar.
In 2 Corinthians 10:4, it states, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” One advocate of this doctrine defines a stronghold as an area where Satan has you bound. This area may be in your life because of a generational curse, or it may be an area where Satan has found a loophole in your spiritual armor and has taken control.
It is especially interesting that counselors of this persuasion use personality evaluation charts and other psychological methods to try to isolate these curses and strongholds. Using trigger points discovered in this analysis process, they start to dig for suppressed memories, desires, and attitudes that are (supposedly) at the root of your problems.
6. An Evaluation
What does the Bible say? Ezekiel 18:20 states, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” The entire chapter is worthwhile reading, in light of this discussion. Essentially it destroys the entire doctrine of generational sins (see also Jeremiah 31:29, 30 and Deuteronomy 24:16).
As far as 2 Corinthians 10:4 goes, a close reading of the context reveals that the strong holds are probably not in the Christian’s life at all. They are Satanically inspired spiritual opposition that the Christian faces in the world and sinners around him. There is no evidence in the New Testament that Satan can control an area of a Christian’s life. The Bible teaches Christian victory (see 1 John 3:1-9). God has made provision for the Christian who slips and falls (1 John 2:1-2) and recognizes that a Christian may need to gain maturity, but that is something entirely different from living in a state of defeat or known sin.
You have probably caught the connection by now. These doctrines are a means whereby the “Christian” can escape personal accountability for his sins. His problems are not his fault. Either they are the fault of the curse he inherited from an ancestor, or they are the devil’s fault. Some counselors even suggest praying for the forgiveness of your ancestor, and provide convenient preformatted prayers with blanks for your use in doing so.
The part that should scare us the most about this process is the power of suggestion that is used upon the patient. The search for suppressed memories and desires provides a wide open door for Satan to manipulate our minds. Besides, it is not a Scriptural approach at all. In Philippians 3:13, 14 the apostle Paul stated, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added).
We are accountable for the deeds we do. When we sin, we must admit our sin to God and repent. Then we can forget it and press ahead to greater victories. If we are living in spiritual defeat, we need to confess that sin to God and call on Him for strength to live in victory. Blaming our sin on our ancestors, or on Satanic control, has no Biblical precedent and is just a convenient excuse that Satan uses to keep us from seeking and finding Christian victory.
It is true that we are sometimes affected by the sins of our parents and others. A child with alcoholic parents, who cringed in terror behind the sofa while his father beat his mother, who roamed the streets alone and cold for entire nights while his parents hosted wild parties, who watched in horror while his drunken father abused a sibling, and who finally witnessed the complete breakup of his home, will have emotional repercussions. He will need help to forgive, and to rise beyond the example of his home.
Even those of us who did not grow up in such an environment are in part the product of our past. We have memories of past wrongs, events, and sins. We may have grown up in a background that influences us to make wrong choices, or which influences our attitudes and convictions. It is good for us to evaluate these things and to compensate for them from a Biblical perspective. It is possible that at times we need the help of mature brothers and sisters in the Lord to do this.
But a caring, sharing brotherhood relationship and compassionate Christian church leaders can help us get their eyes off themselves, and on Christ. This will do much more than the intellectual “counseling” of a psychologist (Christian or otherwise) who focuses on a person’s “suppressed” memories and inner self.
7. Demon Possessed Christians?
As I mentioned in the introduction, some teachers carry these concepts even further. The Biblical concept of demon possession shows a person rebelling against God, deciding to follow his sinful inclinations, and deciding to allow Satan to control his life. This pictures an “all or nothing scenario”. But some of these teachers are teaching that innocent children can be demon possessed, and that Christians can be filled with the Holy Spirit in most of their being, but demon possessed in one or two other areas at the same time!
This is the logical outcome of the doctrines we discussed above. Some fringe groups of conservative Anabaptists are already teaching a false doctrine of demonology almost identical to this. We dare not open the door an inch for this teaching but we will inevitably be pressured to do so.
It seems obvious that the “Christian psychology” movement is one of Satan’s methods of entrenching his control over modern Christianity. If we allow the errors associated with this movement to seep into our churches, they will be our downfall.
8. More To Come…
Christian psychology obviously appeals to those who want an excuse to continue in sin, or to blame others for their sin. There is, however, another important side to this whole story, which we want to consider, beginning next month.