The Theology of Experience: The Deceptive Support of Psychiatric Medications

By: Dr. W.P. “Ab” AbercrombieMan holding head b & w

In a recent blog on the CCEF website, faculty member and author Dr. Ed Welch asks an important question for all biblical counselors: Can We Be Positive About Psychiatric Medications?” (Welch, 2012). In answering this critical question, one would assume the author’s first reference would be Scripture. Regrettably it is not. Secondly, one would assume a review of scientific research. But again, this does not exist.

To answer this question requires a biblical and theological position that is confident and sure in it’s formulation. This position must be built from Scripture, supported with empirical data that should confirm the truth God’s Word reveals. Good science cannot prove the Scriptures wrong!

Unfortunately, Dr. Welch does not begin with a scriptural exposition. In fact, the article does not even reference a single passage anywhere in it’s text. Further, the author does not offer scientific findings to support his answer, even in a primary position. Instead Dr. Welch shapes his conclusion on the subjective experience of others and the wisdom of his personal observations.

Experiential theology is dangerous indeed. It allows one to define God, and therefore God’s Word, according to what is observable, emotional, and loosely measurable. “If I see it, touch it, feel it, or judge it as correct and beneficial…then it must be so.” From here it is an easy leap to the believe that what one experiences must be what God intended.

In keeping with this truth, Dr. Welch states that the choice to use and/or advocate the use of psychiatric medication is a matter of “wisdom.” He goes on to say “wisdom about these kinds of decisions can take different forms in different situations.” In other words, wisdom is adjustable according to the circumstance to which one is responding.

Dr. Welch goes on to deny the relevance of Scripture on the matter stating: “A divine directive would be nice: ‘do this or take this and everything will be fine.’” In this sarcastic statement he discounts the instructions in Scripture concerning the sources of depression, anxiety, madness, etc. and disregards the spiritual remedies so readily outlined in God’s Word for overcoming such ailments. The absence of Scripture’s direct reference to “medication” is not endorsement to now partake of the world’s remedy by ignoring the biblical wisdom that speaks clearly of another way.

In collecting wisdom, Dr. Welch suggests: “We confess our neediness, consider relevant biblical teaching, seek the counsel of others, make the hard decisions, learn from what helps, avoid those things that hurt, and know God-with-us.” Certainly we all must seek biblical teaching, know our neediness, and rest with God’s presence. But the true tone of this statement suggests none of this will be clear and definitive, leaving the biblical counselor to “learn from what helps” (experience), “avoid what hurts” (observation), and “make the hard decisions” (self determination).

In this experiential presentation of “wisdom,” Dr. Welch cites two cases from which he draws two conclusions. One man taking Ritalin found the drug to be “helpful.” His wife also noticed a “difference.” Since he considers the man to be “biblical thoughtful and insightful,” Dr. Welch rendered the report credible without further evidence or exploration. And what was Dr. Welch’s conclusion about the use of a stimulant medication in this case: “That’s great!”  As a result: “Biblical counseling can be positive about psychiatric medications.

Dr. Welch then offers another experience of a man he believed to be “overmedicated” with a negative response. He then suggests that our conclusions should be based on the group we are dealing with. If there is a positive outcome (even small) we endorse. If however we observe a negative result, we must withhold our support. But: “If medication is helping, even a little, here is what we would say. ‘That’s great.’”

This entire article is strikingly lacking in biblical and/or theological references. There is not one passage of Scripture noted, nor even a reference to a biblical story, character, framework, or truth…for or against medication.

This is exactly how psychology is practiced. Diagnosis and outcome are totally dependent upon subjective observation, report, and treatment response. Dr. Welch places great reliance upon the report of others and upon his own capacity to judge what truly is in the heart of the counselee along with the spiritual and physiological responses taking place.

Dr. Welch seems to have forgotten the instructions of Scripture pertaining to wisdom, discernment, and spiritual assessment:

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (Jas 1:5-6).

One has the sense Dr. Welch is filled with doubt. Endowed with the wisdom of the world he seems indeed to vacillate and avoid a strong biblical position on the matter. He has included sources of wisdom not in keeping with this instruction, thereby confusing and confounding the conclusions reached. Like so many others writing on this issue, Dr. Welch is tossed to and fro by the winds of secular humanism, which never provides a definitive answer because every experience is relevant.

Of the world’s wisdom, James wrote: “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jas 3:15). James continues: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17).

The observational and experiential wisdom of Dr. Welch is defiled by worldly emotion and discernment and is far from pure. Peace and stability has not been it’s outcome. And does it not seem hypocritical to claim biblical adherence while looking for alternative justifications to partake of an aberrant source of relief?

Finally, Dr. Welch concludes he must be positive about psychiatric medication with at least two groups:

  • Psychotic people and their families. With this group Dr. Welch argues the success of medication in treating hallucinations, delusions, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. Yet again he cites no scientific evidence or biblical principle to support his stance. Then he adds: “Medication is not always successful with these symptoms, but so what.” So what! Is that really the best a scholar and counselor can offer? He then encourages family members to take such an individual to a psychiatrist and “take the medications” recommended.

I cannot argue against the short-term use of medication when there is an immediate risk of death (suicide, homicide, inability to sustain life). Even the demonic in the tombs was “chained” so he would not harm himself (Mark 5:1-5). But recognize in Scripture that eventually the chains could no longer bind the disturbed man as the “chains had been torn apart by him…” (v 3).

Chemical restraint is at best temporary…just like the chains and shackles that bound the demonic. But the cure came when the “lunatic” (Matt 17:15) encountered Jesus.

And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?”  And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith…”(Matt. 17:18-20).

 Our faith, as disciples and Biblicists, must not be little. When our faith in the power of Christ and the revelation of His Word falters, we venture our reliance on temporary restraint and worldly relief over true transformation. And even if one submits to the short-term restraint of self-destructive behavior, he/she must be in pursuit of the true spiritual need, rightly assessing the battle at hand. Such a process is described in another article written by this author and available on the Internet: Are Psychology and Psychiatry Medicine? (Abercrombie, 2010).

  • Those who feel unsure, guilty or ashamed because either they are taking medication or their children are taking medication. Dr. Welch encourages this group to cast off their shame and keep taking their medication if it is helping “even a little.” Then in a stroke of arrogance, the author blames “comments from biblical counseling” for making these individuals “feel worse.”

 Is it remotely possible that some of these individuals feel guilty because they are guilty? How can Dr. Welch give permission to embrace the medical treatment and ignore the conflict it stirs in the heart? Is it not possible he/she has a heart condition that is stirred and conflicted when Scripture is referenced? Could it be the individual knows he/she is in discord with Christ and relying upon a substituted and inferior remedy?

I agree and do not strive to make one feel guilty about using medication…but if they do, I seek to understand the source of their discomfort rather than simply assume they have no reason to feel guilty and ashamed. And again, the fact that one is help “even a little” by taking the medication does not validate it’s appropriateness.

Very often the help one seeks is not necessarily the help one needs. By supporting chemical remedies the biblical counselor might well become a stumbling block in the work of the Holy Spirit who may be convicting, correcting, or disciplining  the believer, or drawing the unsaved to redemption.

Dr. Welch’s encouragement to parents who feel guilty for giving medication to their children is even worse. He rebukes parents for their discomfort and assumes the parent medicating his/her child has already “worked harder at your parenting than ten other parents combined.” What a dangerous assumption to make, especially when writing to the masses. Even within the intimacy of counseling and having a more complete knowledge of family dynamics, spiritual realities, and parental limitations, such a blanketed release of responsibility is alarming.

Many parents will read Dr. Welch’s proclamation and conclude their idea of working harder has been sufficient…now it is acceptable to medicate. There are thousands more ingredients in this soup than meets the observational eye of Dr. Welch.

Dr. Welch then completes his administration of guilt free parenting by suggesting parents not compare themselves to parents with a successful child who sits quietly, gets all A’s, does homework” etc. With regard to successful outcomes with children he concludes: “Parenting probably had little to do with any of that!”

With that statement Dr. Welch conveys his truest adherence…the genetic and physiological basis of suffering. It is preordained and unaffected by biblical living, scriptural parenting, and the pursuit of sanctification. The remedy is shaped by the problem: physical problems require a physical remedy. Therefore scriptural truth and the working of the Holy Spirit are insufficient…in his experience.

Scripture does not support Dr. Welch’s positive position on drugs. Science has repeatedly failed to prove the existence of the biochemical imbalances claimed and treated by the medical profession. But Psychology and Humanism finds any and every experience relevant, valid, pragmatically useful, and justified. There are no absolute truths about anything.

In his devotion to human wisdom, experience, observation, and discernment Dr. Welch identifies himself as an expert in making relevant whatever works, to whatever degree…according to the opinion of man.

Abercrombie, W.P. “Are Psychology and Psychiatry Medicine?” http://bcinstitute.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/are-psychology-and-psychology-medicine/ , 2010.

Welch, E. “Can We Be Positive About Psychiatric Medications.” http://www.ccef.org/blog/can-we-be-positive-about-psychiatric-medications , 2012.

W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie is the Founder and Director of The Biblical Counseling Institute which offers training in biblical care, counseling, evangelism, and discipleship throughout the U.S. For information regarding his background and ministry, visit the BCI website: www.BCInstitute.com

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