Tom was interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Today radio program on August 29, 2016.
You can listen via podcast at https://soundcloud.com/janetmefferdtoday/8-29-16-janet-mefferd-today .
Tom was interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Today radio program on August 29, 2016.
You can listen via podcast at https://soundcloud.com/janetmefferdtoday/8-29-16-janet-mefferd-today .
Some time ago, I received the following “prayer request” through the function on this website that permits submitting such requests:
Pray for all the self-righteous slanderous “Christian” web hosts who make themselves look so righteous at the expense of others they dislike/hate, much like their Lord and teacher, Jesus did by his example and words.
I’m still not quite sure what to make of this so-called request. Clearly, the person who wrote it was not genuinely asking for prayer; rather he seems to be trying to accuse me of dishonesty and hypocrisy. My first impulse is to believe that this person is a Jehovah’s Witness who stumbled across this website and didn’t like the fact that a good deal of the material presented here is critical of his religion. This is understandable, I guess. None of us likes to have his deeply held beliefs criticized. It also crossed my mind briefly that this might have been the work of an atheist, based upon the last phrase â it sounds as if the writer is criticizing Jesus as being hateful. However, I have a feeling that this is really the work of a JW or JW sympathizer, and that that last phrase is meant to be ironic - that Jesus is being held up as a contrast to my supposed dishonesty and “hateful” attitude.
This sort of accusation comes as no surprise. It seems to be a pattern among many Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Internet. The several sections of my “Darkness in the Watchtower” presentation, in which I expose the Watchtower Society’s early and even current connections with the occult, have peen posted on YouTube by a friend (who also produced the video) for some time now. These are the same videos that I have linked from the Audio/Video page on this site. Periodically, a JW or someone sympathetic to their beliefs comes along and similarly accuses me of dishonesty in my presentation. Here are a few examples of what has been posted there in response to these videos:
As these few quotations show, as a result of the material I have presented, I have been accused of posting “hate videos,” being unbalanced, undiscerning, dishonest, thinking irrationally, being ignorant and misleading, stringing together, uh, bovine excrement, presenting “easily disproved” lies, and being a “first class moron.” Well, I’m a big boy, and those may not be the worst things I’ve ever been called. What I’m still waiting for from even one of these JW defenders, however, is to be told one single thing that I have published or stated about Jehovah’s Witnesses in my presentations that is false. The fact is that most of the material in my presentations is taken directly from Watchtower publications, with as much attention to context as I can muster. I do this exactly for the specific purpose of not misrepresenting what the Watchtower Society has taught, even by accident.
But it doesn’t seem to be the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Internet to back up their words. Rather, they seem to utilize a “hit and run” approach - they show up for a comment or two, accuse me of lying and slander and then disappear when they are asked for specifics. I guess we can expect no more from those who are trained by an organization that uses exactly the same tactics. As recently as the July 15, 2011 issue of the Watchtower magazine (pp. 15-16), Jehovah’s Witnesses are being taught by their leadership:
How do false teachers operate? Their methods reveal a cunning spirit. Apostates “quietly bring in” corruptive ideas. Like smugglers, they operate in a clandestine manner, subtly introducing apostate views. And just as a clever forger tries to pass phony documents, so apostates use “counterfeit words,” or false arguments, trying to pass their fabricated views as if they were true. They spread “deceptive teachings,” “twisting . . . the Scriptures” to fit their own ideas. (2 Pet. 2:1, 3, 13; 3:16) Clearly, apostates do not have our best interests at heart.
In very much the same manner as my own accusers cited above, The Watchtower teaches its followers that those who have left their organization are “cunning,” “corrupt,” using “counterfeit words, or false arguments,” spreading “fabricated views” and “deceptive teachings.” But not one actual deception is cited or refuted. Not one example is provided of a “fabricated view” or a “deceptive teaching” that is being spread by such “apostates.” No attempt is made to explain why such views and teachings are false. It is enough that these so-called “apostates” speak against the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses - the organization claims and is therefore presumed by its followers to speak for God, so it follows that anyone speaking against it must be doing the work of the devil.
The problem of that mindset is that it leaves no way to find out if the organization is not what it claims to be. Anyone exposing alleged faults of the organization is immediately labeled as a liar and apostate, and is not to be listened to. But what if the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is truly a false prophet? What if the evidence shows that it does have roots in occultism? What if the Governing Body truly does not speak for God, but is only advancing its own human opinions, and abusively mistreats anyone who does not kowtow to its authority? How would an individual JW ever know that, if he presumes out of hand that anyone who attempts to expose these things is a liar? Obviously, it is in the interest of the organization’s leaders for the rank and file to think in those terms, since it leaves the members no way to honestly and openly evaluate the leaders’ claims without the heavy hand of the organization’s authority coming down upon the ones doing the investigating.
I can sympathize with the feelings of those who made the accusations against me. I was a member of their organization for 30 years; I know where they are coming from. I remember how it made me feel when I encountered literature that criticized the Watchtower, and I remember the knee-jerk reaction that causes them to reject such material. In some cases, I also remember finding some detail in the material that was slightly inaccurate, and the strong inclination to reject the entire work as being inaccurate when I found an error. That’s why I try to be very careful in preparing the material I present. I work very hard to ensure that what I offer is completely accurate in as much detail as possible. I know that even the tiniest mistake will often be seized upon by a JW who is considering it as an excuse to reject the entire message. That’s also why the bulk of many of my presentations consists of direct quotations from Watchtower publications – that way, it’s not me making an argument, it’s the Watchtower Society speaking for itself, and it is much harder for a JW to reject as inaccurate.
I try also to be as fair as I can in presenting this information. I ask only that it be evaluated with an open mind. I know there are those out there opposing the Watchtower who take a very negative attitude from the outset, and, in some cases, are willing to distort facts in order to make their case. I heartily disapprove of that sort of argumentation. That kind of argument does not get very far with JWs who have any thinking ability at all - they will see through it very quickly. I try to keep myself as far from being associated with that type of material as possible. Unfortunately, there are some JWs - including some of those who posted the comments I cited above - who appear not to be able to discern the difference. Any material that is critical of their organization is all of the same caliber, in their minds. It must all be deceptive, because the organization that claims to speak for God tells them that it is deceptive.
I am not doing the work that I do out of a spirit of hatred or anger. Rather, I do it in love, because I believe with all my heart that I was deceived as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for 30 years, and I have a heartfelt desire to spare as many others as I can from going through such an experience. In any event, my ministry is not directly aimed at Jehovah’s Witnesses. I see my mission as, first, inoculating the Christian church against the unbiblical teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other aberrant groups and second, training Christians to deal with members of these groups whom they may encounter. If any JWs read my written material or watch my videos and find themselves asking questions about their organization as a result, that’s a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is able to use my material in such a way. But this web site and my written and recorded materials are provided primarily for other Christians, and not directly for Jehovah’s Witnesses. That doesn’t mean that I don’t encourage Witnesses to read and learn from what is here – I do, enthusiastically, and will be happy to dialogue with them if they have questions. My contact information is available to any who want it.
I would appreciate it, however, if some JW who reads any of this material believes that I have been less than honest or accurate in the presentation, that he or she would please contact me and outline in exact terms the specific way in which my information is incorrect. If you think, as did one poster above, that I am presenting lies that are “easily disproved,” then surely you should be able to take a minute or two to disprove a few of them so as to correct my misconceptions. I really do strive for a high degree of accuracy in what I do, and if I can be shown to be wrong in what I say, I’ll gladly acknowledge it and change the material accordingly. I’m still waiting, though, for that first solid example to be provided, amid the haze of all the vague accusations.
It’s interesting that we even have to discuss the issue of creativity in determining what the Author of a written work meant. When we are creative, we are putting something of ourselves into that which we are creating. If we are creating a work of art, creativity is a wonderful thing; it can enable us to produce something that has never been produced before, and that could not be produced by anyone else in the history of humankind.
But is that what we want when we interpret God’s Word? Are we seeking meaning only for ourselves? In the postmodern society in which we live, some would answer those questions in the affirmative. The intent of the author of a written work, they would say, is irrelevant. What’s important is what it means to you! After all, the postmodernists assert that there is no such thing as absolute truth anyway. If that is the case, the only thing that could possibly matter about a work is what effect it has upon the individual.
Postmodernism is self-defeating when it makes such assertions. To claim that there are no absolute truths is in itself to make a claim of absolute truth. It is saying, in effect: “It is absolutely true that there are no absolute truths.” Christians know that there are absolute truths. And the Bible makes a claim of absolute truth for itself: “Thy Word is truth.” (John 17:17) The task that the Christian interpreter must undertake is to determine the meaning that was intended by God, as the Author of His Word. It is not for us to decide what God’s Word means to us, but to determine how to best apply to our lives the one meaning that God intended in any given passage.
As I said at the outset, it’s interesting, almost ironic, that we have to discuss the issue of creativity in determining what the Author of a written work meant. Everyone knows and agrees that, when Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet,” he intended one meaning for the work. What is important is to determine the meaning that Shakespeare intended, not for each person to come up with a creative determination as to what “Hamlet” means to him. Try approaching an English Literature class in such a way and see what your grade is! Likewise, no one seeks creative answers in math or science - it is acknowledged that there is ONE correct answer, and the task of the student is to figure out what the one correct answer is.
Why, then, do so many want to declare the Bible’s meaning “relative” or “spiritual”? In my opinion, it’s because acknowledging that the Bible has only ONE correct meaning would require faith and obedience, and there are many who do not wish to offer those. It’s much easier to dismiss the truth through human philosophy than to simply trust and obey. But for Christians (as the hymn goes), “there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. He eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements and to store his few possessions.
One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky.
It was just more than he could take. He was stunned with grief and anger. “God, how could you do this to me?”
But the next day, he woke up to the sound of a ship approaching the island to rescue him.
“How did you know I was here?” he asked in wonder.
“We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
Adversity comes to every one of us, doesn’t it? We all have good times in our lives when everything is going well. And we all have bad times when it seems like everything is going wrong. At times, things can seem to go so wrong that we just cant cope. Maybe we have lost a job. Maybe medical expenses that we never expected have arisen. Perhaps our debts are mounting. Finances can be a real challenge in times of adversity.
To that man stranded on a desert island, it seemed as if he had lost everything. Unfortunately, his inclination was to blame God. But he had the wrong perspective, didn’t he? He was focused on the things that he could see and not the things that are invisible. He didn’t understand how to cope with great material loss. He believed in God, but somehow his faith was lacking. And that lack prevented him from seeing God at work in his adversity.
As believers, we are not spared from having problems in our lives. We are not exempt from financial troubles. How can we achieve Gods approval when we are faced with financial troubles? The disciple James had something to say about that in his letter to his fellow Christians.
James wrote to Jewish believers in the first century; in fact, his letter was one of the first books of the New Testament to be written, at a time when Christianity was still seen as more or less a sect of Judaism. When we think of James we most often think of his teachings about the relationship of faith and works. In a manner of speaking, that’s really the kernel of what we are talking about today. How should faith in God affect the way a Christian lives? How should faith in God affect the way a Christian views both the good and bad things that happen in this life? And, in particular, what does it mean for you when money problems arise? Its really all a matter of perspective. As a Christian, you have treasure that is not perishable treasure that can never be lost. That’s where you need to focus your attention. James shows us that when you encounter financial problems, you need to keep your eyes on the riches that are eternal.
John G. Wendel and his sisters were some of the most miserly people of all time. Although they had received a huge inheritance from their parents, they spent very little of it and did all they could to keep their wealth for themselves.
John was able to influence five of his six sisters never to marry. They lived in the same house in New York City for 50 years. When the last sister died in 1931, her estate was valued at more than $100 million. Her only dress was one that she had made herself and she had worn it for 25 years.
Right now you’re probably thinking about what you would be wearing if you had $100 million, right? About how you would live if you had that much money? Why would anyone live as the Wendels did? Does it make any sense? Where was their focus? Where was their pride? What was it in life that really mattered to them? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? All that mattered in life to them was having money. The money itself became their focus. It became their idol. And because they were so focused on their hidden wealth, the way they lived was never affected by it.
James tells us that Christians should live in just the opposite way. We have hidden wealth, too. We have all the marvelous things that God gives to those who love Him. They are stored up for us in heaven, where they are not seen by men. Those are the treasures we have eternal life, a relationship with God, the seal of the Holy Spirit, Gods word and wisdom, the fellowship of the Church and so much more. You can’t put those things into your checking account, but they are worth more than all the gold and silver in all the earth. And the greatness of those riches is beyond imagining Paul wrote that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). That’s how rich you are! You are rich beyond imagining!
But maybe you are thinking, Well, that’s nice, but my bank account doesn’t reflect those riches very well. Its true that you may not have much in a material way; perhaps its a struggle just to pay the bills every month. Maybe you dread getting the credit card statements in the mail or hearing the phone ring, knowing it might be a bill collector. James was talking to Christians who were in a similar position to that when he wrote: “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position” (James 1:9). Its easy when you are in the heat of battle to get caught up in the day-to-day routine of trying to make ends meet. But James says we should change our focus. He tells us to keep our eye on the eternal riches that we know we have. He tells us to take pride in our high position. We are children of the King, we are His heirs and everything that He has is ours! We just have to remember that and allow it to comfort us when money starts to get us down. We should keep our eyes firmly fixed upon the things that are eternal the things that God assures us we already possess.
In his book, It’s Not about Me, Max Lucado writes of a woman who had been in a bad marriage for seventeen years. She admitted that both she and her husband had made mistakes. He had a drinking problem. She was often demanding and impatient. She felt that her life was flying by and she needed to get out of her marriage and find something or someone who would make her happy while there was still time. After all, she had no guarantees that the marriage she had would work.
That’s kind of how this life is, isn’t it? No guarantees? We don’t know whats around the next bend or whether we can really hold on to what we think we have. But its so easy to forget what God has given us, especially when we are faced with trials that are immediate and urgent. But what He has given us is eternal. God tells us to focus on what we do have, on the eternal things that He has given us. He tells us to take pride in our high position! He tells us to be happy for the eternal riches that we already possess.
Did you ever fantasize about being fabulously wealthy? Winning the Lottery, perhaps? Consider these examples of people who gained sudden wealth:
In 1997, Lottery millionaire Michael Allen was bludgeoned to death in a Lewiston, Maine motel room.
In 1999, Billie Bob Harrell, Jr. committed suicide. In June 1997, Harrell had won $31 million in the Texas state lottery.
In 2001, British lottery millionaire Phil Kitchen was found dead on his couch. Kitchen had apparently drunk himself to death with whiskey.
In 2003, $25 million lottery winner Richard Krenzer is stabbed six times by Randall Hillyard and his son at the Swillburg Stop Bar & Grill outside Rochester, NY.
And finally, on 13 Sep 2003, The London Telegraph reported that 16-year-old British lottery millionaire Callie Rogers had lost her boyfriend, fought with her father, been mugged and been accused of stealing someone else’s man. She said, “Some days I don’t even want to leave my house because people just scream abuse at me. Two months ago I thought I was the luckiest teenager in Britain. But today I can say I have never felt so miserable.”
If you gave people a choice between being rich and being poor, most of them would acknowledge that, although each has its problems, they would rather be rich than poor. If I just had a lot of money and didn’t have to worry about my financial security, why, I could deal with whatever problems arose from that. That’s how they think. The problem with that kind of thinking is that, even if you did have a lot in a material way, there’s no guarantee that you would continue to have it. Thieves might steal it. Bad investments might cause you to lose it. Inflation might come along and cause it to lose its value. An economic collapse could turn a fortune into nothing. Nothing you have in this world is guaranteed to you.
Even if you managed to hold onto your wealth, what good would it do you in the long run? Sooner or later you will become sick, you will get old and become infirm, and eventually, you will die. And that’s assuming that no tragedy overtakes you before your time. None of us is guaranteed even one more day of life. That’s what James is talking about in verse 11: “For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” And then what good will all his riches do him? They are temporary at best – they are temporary, if for no other reason, because he is temporary. We are all temporary, at least as far as this world is concerned. So all the material riches we may have just wont last. Don’t put your trust in what will not last!
But what God gives us is eternal, imperishable. It is of infinite value. If we are rich, we still have our spiritual riches. If we are poor, we still have our spiritual riches. If we become sick or infirm, we still have our spiritual riches. And when we die, we have our spiritual riches in full. Nothing can separate us from Gods love and grace. Jesus Himself gave us the best advice about spiritual riches, when He said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19, 20).
What if we were to lose everything we have materially? What if one day, it just faded away like a plant in scorching heat? God says that is what happens with material riches. If nothing else, we will leave them behind when we leave this world. But spiritual riches? Ah, that’s another story. Those heavenly treasures are the only ones that are real. They are the only ones that last. They are the only ones we can count on.
We need to keep that in mind when we face difficult problems in our lives. We need to fix our eyes on what we have, not on what we don’t have. We can worry and fret when things go wrong. We can moan and complain about not having the things we would like to have. We can make sure everyone we know is well aware of how unhappy we are. We can live in the future, as it were, always plotting and planning our next move, always hoping for a brighter tomorrow. And we can feel sorry for ourselves, running over and over in our minds the way we wish our lives were. We can do all that.
Or, we can concentrate on everything we already have. We can see Gods hand in everything that comes our way. We can watch Him build our faith and our character through adversity. We can rejoice and be thankful for everything He has given us yes, even for the trials. And we can devote ourselves to serving others turn the focus outward. Yes, we can focus on the eternal riches, not the temporary ones. We can take care of the needs of others and let God take care of ours.
As I said earlier, its all a matter of perspective. We need to understand that. We tend to be very narrowly focused. We tend just to see whats right before us. We are finite and limited that means we cant take in everything that’s really going on. We cant step outside our lives and look objectively at them; we can only see them from the inside. I’m sick. I’m tired. I hate my job. My marriage is unhappy. I failed my science test. My parakeet died. We all have our problems and I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize those problems. But look at it for a minute from a global perspective. We live in the richest country on earth. The poorest among us have far more than the vast majority of the people in the world and that’s just in a material way. People in other countries, other parts of the earth, have not been so blessed in a material way as we have. Its hard to be worried about passing a science test when you have no food to eat. Too many of earths inhabitants are at that level.
Keeping the right perspective makes a big difference. Getting Gods perspective makes an even bigger difference. God says that when we face trials we should consider our spiritual position. We have eternal life. We have His Word. We have a relationship with Him. Everything else fades into insignificance next to that. We may be rich materially, but He tells us to glory in our low position. In Gods eyes, we are just the same as the lowest, poorest, most wretched believers on the planet. And in Gods eyes, we are just the same as the wealthiest, most comfortable ones. He loves us every bit as much as he loves them, because His love is not based upon what we have or don’t have. Its not even based upon what we are or are not. No, its based upon what He has done for us on His grace in our lives. He establishes us before Him in eternal, heavenly riches that can never be lost or fade. Compared to that, how important can the day-to-day things really be?
Its a pretty natural thing to want to be happy and its also natural to want to have good things in life. But if we look at matters through Gods eternal eyes, it may help us to avoid being like a little 3-year-old girl whose Mom took her to a restaurant. The little girls meal came with a free sundae for dessert. When the waitress saw that the little girl was finished with her main course, she came over and asked, Would you like your ice cream sundae? The little girl instantly replied, No, thank you I want it NOW!
Aren’t we like that sometimes? We want it all and we want it now! You know whats really neat about that? We do have it all and we do have it now! God has given us everything we could ever want and its all stored up for us in heaven, just waiting for us there. And that’s not all. The best parts of it are even available to us now. We just have to look with the right perspective to see it.
And I’m not saying that’s an easy thing to do. We all have to struggle to maintain the right perspective. While I was writing this sermon, I showed my wife the first draft, and do you know what she said to me after she read it? She said, I think I know someone who could stand to take his own advice. Letting go and trusting in God to provide our needs can be a difficult and scary thing. But we can trust Him. He wants us to trust Him and He is always faithful to us.
Whats important for us is to maintain our faithfulness to Him. What God looks for is our endurance and steadfastness. He expects us to be faithful under every trial and to stand firm until the end of our earthly lives. He knows we will face trials of every sort. He knows that money problems will enter our lives and He knows that nobody is immune. But He also knows that those trials and our faithful perseverance build our character, make us more like Jesus, and draw us closer to Him in faith. And at the end of it all, we still have those eternal riches. Its just as James said, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Its a very easy thing to let our troubles separate us from our fellowship with God. But in every aspect of life and every circumstance of life, there is a way that can be found that is pleasing to Him. How do we keep Gods approval when we are faced with financial trials and problems? Remember, the answer involves our perspective. When financial problems arise, we need to remember our invisible wealth and rejoice in it. We need to remind ourselves just how temporary and transitory the things of this world really are. And we need to keep our focus on eternity, where our true treasures lie. Ten thousand years from now, will you really be worried about that credit card bill thats sitting on your desk today? Of course not. But you will still have your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Taking Gods viewpoint wont make your troubles disappear. God wont suddenly dump money into your lap because you see things the right way. You will still have to work hard to earn a living. You will still have to watch your diet and exercise to stay healthy. You will still have to study to pass your science test. And youll still feel bad if your parakeet dies. But keeping the right viewpoint the right perspective will help us to see what is really important. When we focus on Jesus really turn our eyes to Him and keep Him fixed in our line of sight all the things of earth just seem to fade into the background. And the wealth that He gives us – the eternal riches – becomes the focus of our lives.
A poster on a high school wall read, “Its OK to believe that you’re right, but its not OK to believe that someone else is wrong.” The person who wrote that slogan undoubtedly thought that he or she was expressing an important value of human relationships: tolerance. Its become a buzzword today; we see it everywhere. Tolerance is encouraged everywhere, its included in school curricula, businesses have workshops to teach it to their employees and managers, and its mentioned in nearly every public forum. Tolerance is everywhere.
But is it possible that there is a dark side to this tolerance? Is it possible that, in some way, tolerance is actually harming society?
Maybe at this point you are thinking that you’re reading the words of some sort of raving, bigoted lunatic. How could anyone possibly be against the concept of tolerance toward others who are different in some way? Well, let me set your mind at ease. I think tolerance is a wonderful concept. I strongly believe in tolerance. What I do take issue with is the way in which tolerance is defined today. You see, I grew up when the civil rights movement was at its peak. Tolerance was a big buzzword then, too. And intolerance was rampant. Discrimination because of racial differences was found nearly everywhere. Those who supported the aims of the civil rights movement encouraged tolerance between the races. There was also talk, back then, of tolerance between those of differing religious and political viewpoints. Tolerance meant that you respected the other person as an individual. It meant that you recognized his or her dignity as a person, and that you recognized that he or she had as many rights as you did, even to believe things that you thought were mistaken, or to live life in a way that you did not agree with. Despite differences in physical characteristics, beliefs, culture or lifestyle, tolerance encouraged each one of us to respect the rights and dignity of each of our fellow humans. And that sort of tolerance was a wonderful thing.
What disturbs me about the concept of tolerance today is the subtle shift that has occurred in the meaning of the term. Today’s tolerance includes all of what I mentioned, and to that extent, it is still desirable that we be tolerant of others. But the modern use of the term has come to imply a sort of relativism. Its not enough anymore, for example, to accept and respect a person who has opinions that differ from yours. Its not enough to acknowledge the rights and dignity that each individual possesses, whether or not you agree with what they believe and practice. Those things may be necessary to the modern definition of tolerance, but they are no longer sufficient. Nowadays, to be truly considered tolerant, you must acknowledge that what the other person believes is every bit as valid and true as what you believe; that, in fact, no belief is any truer than any other, but that all beliefs are relative. Remember the poster? Its OK to believe that you’re right, but its not OK to believe that someone else is wrong.
Now, I find that pretty scary. I find it scary because there is an underlying assumption that challenges everything that I believe in. That assumption is this: There are no absolute truths. Nothing is really true, everything is subjective. And because there are no truths that are true for everybody, logically, what we believe is subject to nothing more rigorous than our own preference. And, therefore, my beliefs are no better than yours. Even though what we believe may be diametric opposites, I have no right to presume that my beliefs are better or truer – than yours are. If I do, then I am being intolerant, at least according to the new definition of the word.
Now, I have a few thoughts about that underlying concept. First, when someone says to me that there are no absolute truths, the first thing I want to ask is whether that statement is absolutely true. Actually, the statement is self-falsifying, because saying that there are no absolute truths is in itself a claim to be stating an absolute truth.
And second, I would point out that people who believe in that sort of relativism seldom live their day-to-day lives in a way that reflects it. Just imagine someone who believes that all truths are relative and subjective going to his bank. He looks at the balance and says to the teller, “Hey, my account is $900 short. What happened to the $1000 deposit I made the other day?” And the teller looks at him and says, “Well, that may have been $1000 to you, but it was only $100 to me, so that’s what I recorded in your account!” Kind of absurd, isn’t it? Relativism doesn’t work in the real world, and that’s why the new definition of tolerance comes into play primarily in areas of politics, religion and morality and not in finance, empirical science and things like that.
And that brings us back around to why I find the new definition of tolerance to be so frightening. Most of us still do believe in some sort of absolute truths, things that we believe are true, or should be true, for all of us. These may be moral truths, political truths, or religious truths. Historically, in this country, we have had the freedom both to believe and openly express our opinions about what these truths are. However, today, I see those freedoms being eroded. In many arenas, speech that advocates absolute truths, that draws clear standards of right and wrong, has to be censored, lest someone who disagrees be offended. Sometimes the expression of ideas that others find offensive is even labeled as hate speech not because any hatred exists in the heart of the speaker, but because he or she has failed the test of the new tolerance because he or she has dared to assert that what he believes is right and that those who disagree are wrong. Suddenly, political correctness has become the litmus test for all public speech.
Now, some of you reading this may disagree with what I am saying. That’s OK. It is your right. It doesn’t scare me at all that you may think I’m wrong. What does scare me is that someday I might lose the right to say what I am saying merely because someone else might find it offensive. Nothing in our country’s Constitution guarantees the right not to be offended – indeed, the very concept of freedom of speech implies that things will be said that others will find offensive. Nonetheless, Americans have historically held dear the right to free expression; it is an integral part of the foundation of what it means to be American.
Am I saying that we should not be tolerant? No, not at all. Tolerance is a virtue. To the extent that tolerance means respecting the rights and dignity of all our fellow human beings, it is a wonderful thing. Don’t hate; don’t condemn; don’t ostracize any other person because of things you dislike about them or the things they believe. But at the same time, don’t compromise what you believe to be true and right. Tolerance should not be defined in such a way as to require us to forsake our values. That would truly be intolerable.
Jesus’ Parable at Luke 15:11-32
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus relates a parable that has become well known throughout Christian history. Some have referred to this story as the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” However, as we shall see, such an appellation misses the point of the parable. To be prodigal is to be wasteful, to squander what one has. The son who is the subject of the story certainly did this, but the focal point of the story is, not his wastefulness, but his return to his father and his father’s reception of him.
Jesus presents us with the case of a man who had two sons. One of them, the younger, requested his portion of his inheritance from his father, something he would not ordinarily have received while his father was alive. The father, however, complied with his request and divided his property between his sons. The younger son went off to a distant country and spent all of his inheritance in “loose living.” After his money ran out, the son came to be in poverty, not even having enough to eat. He hired himself out as a keeper of swine, an unclean animal. Such a task would have been repugnant to an Israelite, yet the son was forced to accept it as the only employment available. Even then, he remained impoverished. He even wished that he could eat as well as the pigs that he was tending!
At some point, because of the misery in which he was living, the younger son “came to his senses” and resolved to return to his father’s house. He would be better off, he reasoned, even as a hired man in his father’s house than he was here, completely separated from his father. His father had apparently been watching for his return, since “while he was still a long way off,” his father saw him and ran out to welcome him home. The father immediately ordered a feast in honor of his son’s return. The older brother, however, was not as pleased as his father at the return of his younger brother. When he learned what had happened, he refused to go in to the feast. He resented the celebration being given in honor of his younger brother, who had acted irresponsibly. He argued that he had never received such a celebration from his father, even though he had been faithful to him all along. The father explained that the older son was still loved and that he was still his father’s heir (“all that is mine is yours”). But the father was compelled to celebrate the fact that his younger son, who had been lost and dead to him, had now returned.
Key Elements of the Parable
I believe that there are five key elements to this parable: the father, the younger son, the older son, the predicament in which the younger son finds himself, and the feast. Some might argue that the inheritance itself is a key element, but I believe that its main purpose in the story is to develop the predicament. This will be further discussed later in the paper.
Considering The Context
The situation that is described in the fifteenth chapter of Luke is one in which sinners and tax collectors were being received and taught by Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees were offended by this, since they had the attitude that such persons were unrighteous and should not be associated with. Jesus responded to their grumbling by telling a series of parables. The first was a brief one about a man who owned 100 sheep, one of which had become lost. The man would leave the 99 to seek out the one and would rejoice along with his friends when it was found. The second, even shorter, was of a woman who had ten silver coins, but misplaced one of them. She would sweep the entire house and search carefully in order to find it. Upon finding it, she would call her neighbors in to rejoice with her. The third parable was that of the lost son, under consideration in this paper.
There are some common elements among the three parables. In each case, something was lost and effort was expended in recovering it. And in each parable, when that which was lost had been found, there was rejoicing and celebration.
The third parable does contain some additional elements, which I find to be significant. Foremost among these is the older son, who reacts negatively at his father’s easy acceptance of his brother’s return. There is also a moral element in this parable, which is not characteristic of the two smaller parables that precede it. It is evident that the younger son’s own choices and his character flaws have brought about his predicament and it is also his own conscious decision to change his situation for the better by returning to his father in humility.
The Meaning of the Parable
The primary meaning of the parable seems rather obvious: Due to original sin, all humans begin their lives alienated from God – “lost,” as the younger son was “lost” to his father. God has extended His unconditional love to us sinners through Christ and His love is always available to us. He did not wait for us to approach Him, but like the father of the parable who saw his son and ran out while the son was still “a long way off,” He took the initiative. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) God rejoices when we repent of our sins and turn to Him.
That repentance is necessary in order to be reconciled to God is also evident within the parable. The younger son recognized his condition and took positive action. He said, “’I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” His repentance was active and unconditional, as ours before God must be.
In light of the context, there seems to be a secondary thread of meaning, which is more specific to the immediate circumstances. While God welcomes sinners with open arms through His grace, there are some who set aside His free gift of salvation in favor of their own righteousness. The scribes and Pharisees were of this sort of mentality. As the older brother of the parable resented his father’s acceptance of the wayward son, these religious leaders resented Christ’s acceptance of those who were less pious than they were. They felt that God should honor their works above others, forgetting that because of their own sins, they stood condemned in God’s eyes as much as the tax collectors and prostitutes they so despised. The self-righteous scribes and Pharisees needed a Savior every bit as much as did the others. Worse, their self-righteousness blinded them to this need, making them even less likely to avail themselves of God’s love. That is why Jesus said to such leaders at Matthew 21:32, 33: “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”
As a summary theme for the parable, I would offer: God loves all sinners unconditionally and He rejoices when anyone repents of his or her sins and turns to Him; this despite the disapproval of self-righteous, falsely pious individuals. An outline of the parable relating to this theme appears in the appendix to this paper.
The Question of Inheritance
Legal inheritance under the Jewish system applied primarily to land ownership, generally in the sense of land being passed from father to son. The context of the parable does not seem to refer to that. I see nothing in the parable to indicate that the younger son took possession of a portion of his father’s land. We might speculate that he sold the land and then squandered the money received from the purchase, but that seems to be reading too much into the scripture. Of course, other wealth could also be passed through inheritance and that seems to have been the case in this parable.
In fact, under the Law, ancestral property could not be sold in perpetuity, but would return to its original family owners in the Jubilee year (every 50th year). Therefore, a family would never be deprived permanently of its hereditary land; any “sale” of such land would be, in effect, a rental until the next Jubilee. The Law also provided that the firstborn son (in this case, the older son of the parable, since Jesus begins the parable by telling us specifically that the man had two sons) was to receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance. So the son in this parable who did not squander his inheritance was entitled to twice as much as the one who did; nonetheless the older son resented the reception given to his brother. This might have been an indication that the older son was worried about the possibility of any further division of his father’s wealth. It is of note that, despite the father’s joy over the younger son’s return, no mention was made of any restoration of the younger son’s inheritance. Apparently, what he had squandered foolishly was lost to him, at least in the material sense, although his position as his father’s son was inviolable.
Because of the distortion and complication that these factors would impose upon the story-line of the parable, I do not believe that the inheritance spoken of in the parable was a true land inheritance under the Jewish system, but was simply a division of the father’s other wealth. I don’t believe that the inheritance itself was central to the parable, but was used as a device to develop the situation in which the younger son found himself: alienated from his father, mired in poverty and uncleanness.
It would be possible in over applying the concept of inheritance to assume a number of other things. If the inheritance was regarded as inherent to the story, what should we think about the relationship that justifies the inheritance, namely, the sonship of the two men to their father? If the older son really pictures the scribes and Pharisees, should we assume that those religious leaders had been born again, so as to be regarded as sons of God in the spiritual sense? I believe that such comparisons overextend the intent of the parable.
There is a sense, however, in which the concept of inheritance bears upon the meaning of this parable, but it is the sense in which the term is used in the New Testament. Ephesians 1:18 and Colossians 1:12 make reference to the “inheritance of the saints,” and other texts (such as Matthew 19:29, Luke 10:25 and 18:18) make clear that what the saints stand to inherit is eternal life. We inherit eternal life by being adopted as God’s sons when we “return” to Him through repentance from sin and faith in His Son, and are born again. This is an inheritance from which no one can separate us, even as in the parable the father’s love for his son was not diminished by time or distance. When the wayward son was ready to return to his father, the father came running out to meet him.
In reviewing the key elements of the parable, I find the following correspondences: The father seems to represent God, as He maintains His unfailing love toward all of mankind. The younger son represents sinners, who are lost before God and in need of reconciliation. The older son represents in a general way those who spurn God’s grace in favor of their own righteousness. In the specific context in which Jesus told the parable, the older son aptly pictured the scribes and Pharisees. The predicament into which the younger son got himself refers to the fallen condition of mankind, alienated from God, spiritually impoverished and unclean. Finally, the feast is an appropriate picture of the rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and is saved.
The main lesson of the parable is that God loves every one of us, regardless of how sinful we are or have been, regardless of our failures and transgressions. Before we even knew that we were sinners, He had solved the problem for us. Whenever it is that we turn to Him, he comes “running out to meet us,” as it were, and receives us with joy.
I find a most profound lesson in this parable. There are times for each of us when we feel that God is distant. This may be because of our own sins and failings, or simply because things in our lives have not gone as we would have liked. But if we do feel that God seems distant, it is we who have distanced ourselves from Him, and not Him from us. Rather, He calls for man to “seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” He is there all the time, calling us to repent and return to Him, and He rejoices with the hosts of heaven when we do.
Does Psychology Have a Place in Ministry?
Since the advent of the practice of psychology as a social science, Christians have been faced with the question of how to respond to it. Christian ministry has always revolved largely around human behavior. While salvation comes only through the grace of God, those whom He saves are called to obedience. God works in the lives of Christians to bring about changes in behavior that stand before the world as evidence of their relationship with Him. To those who had already been regenerated by God’s Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote at Romans 12:1, 2: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Much of Christian ministry throughout the centuries has been aimed at bringing about this sort of transformation in the lives of believers and in dealing with life’s problems that act as obstacles to that transformation.
For most of the history of the Church, psychology did not exist as a formal science; it has arisen as such mainly over the last century or so. Some Christians see the rise of a science devoted to the study of human behavior as a great boon to ministry. It enables theories and techniques to be developed that can be successfully adapted to a Christian counseling environment. Others view psychology as a threat, a substitution of counseling based upon godless philosophies of men for the solid truth of God’s Word. While psychology is relatively new as a science, the roots of this controversy go back much further in the history of the Church.
Faith and Reason - Early Voices
Scripture calls us to faith in Christ. We build our faith through consideration of the revelation of God, both in a general way in nature and in a more specific way through Scripture. But God has created us with the power of reason and many contend that reason, properly applied, also leads us to faith in God, at least in a general way. The question of the relationship between faith and reason extends back to the earliest periods of Christian history. It is in this debate that the essence of the modern controversy over psychology in ministry has its origins.
One early viewpoint of the relationship between faith and reason was expressed by Tertullian, who believed that the Bible alone is sufficient for all the needs of a Christian and that only that which is specifically authorized in Scripture should be allowed to enter into our spiritual lives. Human reasoning, he taught, is corrupted by our sinfulness and has no value in discovering truth. He advocated a separation of Christians from all endeavors of science and intellectualism. However, this viewpoint seems to leave out of the equation the fact that our powers of reason are part of the image of God that is reflected in human beings. As writer Tim Garrett states of Tertullian’s position,
Tertullian, the early church apologist, was convinced that belief in the Scripture was the basis for the Christian life. He also considered Greek philosophy to be the basis for heresy in the Church. Unfortunately, he seemed to assume that all Christians intuitively understood Scripture in the same way. His motto might have been “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” But it is one thing to believe; it is another thing to understand what we believe.
Despite the taint of sin, our reasoning abilities can yield good fruit when subjected to God’s Word. In fact, our reason can help us to better understand Scripture.
Thomas Aquinas took a position at the other end of the spectrum from Tertullian. He believed that reason coupled with general revelation in nature could establish Christian teaching and lead to faith in God. While it may be true that reason can provide the impetus that leads to establishing faith in God, reason can act only as a catalyst or as an adjunct to scripture. Additionally, our reasoning powers are imperfect, tainted by sin. The totality of Christianity cannot be determined by reason alone and faith cannot result without hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) Those who follow Aquinas’ line of reasoning may tend to compartmentalize religious faith as opposed to scientific endeavors. It can be seen that such an approach in any pursuit could easily lead to the introduction of methods and practices that are clearly in conflict with Scripture.
A more moderate voice in the debate was that of Augustine, who originated the famous statement, “All truth is God’s truth.” Reason can serve as a source of some truth because God has revealed Himself to us in a general way through nature. There is no real conflict between faith and reason, since all that is really true has its origin with God. However, reason must always be subordinated to revelation. God’s Word is His most direct revelation of Himself and has precedence over any other teaching of any kind. This is the viewpoint with which the present writer is most sympathetic. Like all other abilities and talents He has given, our God-given powers of reason are not to be neglected but are to be exercised to His praise in accord with His Word.
With the onset of the Reformation came the doctrine of Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone. The Reformers rejected the claims of the Roman Catholic Church that church tradition carried equal authority with Scripture. While they acknowledged that church consensus is valuable to the understanding of the Bible, the Reformers looked to the Bible alone as ultimate authority, to which all other authority must be subservient.
Unfortunately, even among the Reformers, there was disagreement as to just what was implied by Sola Scriptura. Martin Luther and John Calvin understood the teaching to mean “that the Bible was to be a measuring stick, a standard or norm against which human thoughts or ideals were to be compared. They advocated a return to the views of Augustine regarding the place of human reason and the use of extra-biblical knowledge.” Again, the gift of reasoning powers given by the Creator is appreciated and given relative weight, but the Word of God is maintained as ultimate authority.
Other Reformers more closely followed the teachings of Tertullian. Huldrych Zwingli took the position that only what had been specifically authorized by Scripture had a place in the practice of Christianity. For example, he prohibited the use of organs in worship because they were not specifically authorized by the Bible. According to Shields and Bredfeldt, “whereas Luther and Calvin allowed for the practice of those things the Bible did not expressly prohibit, Zwingli prohibited what the Bible did not specifically prescribe.” Menno Simons and Jacob Amman went even further than Zwingli, advocating a severe separation between Christians and the world. Their position is exemplified in the Mennonite and Amish communities of today. Rather than accepting the Bible as our standard of truth, as did Luther and Calvin, these latter Reformers contended that the Bible should be the sole source of truth for Christians. They discounted every other possible source of knowledge as corrupt.
The Debate about Psychology
With the rise of psychology as a social science, the debate about science and reason that had extended over many centuries found a new area of expression. Should the principles of psychology, developed through the observation of human behavior and the use of the scientific method, be applied to the Christian ministry? And if so, how much weight should be given to them? What would be the relationship between the Word of God and this new area of human inquiry? There are essentially three positions taken within the Christian community in response to these issues.
“Bible-Only”: This position flows directly from the attitudes represented in the arguments of Tertullian. As Tertullian believed that Scripture alone is sufficient for all human needs, some Christians argue that only the Bible should be used in counseling ministry. Psychology, it is said, derives from fallen human reason and is to be shunned. Lisa and Ryan Bazler assert a dichotomy between psychology and Christianity when they argue that âwhile psychology is a worldview or philosophy of life with man at the center and man as his hope, Christianity, as characterized in the Bible is a worldview or philosophy of life with God at the center and God as manâs hope.â
Paul Vitz goes even further, likening psychology to a form of idolatry:
Psychology has become a religion: a secular cult of the self. By this I mean an intensely held worldview, a philosophy of life or ideology. More specifically, contemporary psychology is a form of secular humanism based on the rejection of God and the worship of the self [. . .] Psychology as religion exists, and it exists in strength throughout the United States.
Persons subscribing to this view obviously avoid any application of the principles of psychology in a context of Christian ministry.
“Bible-And”: A second school of thought, derived from the teachings of Aquinas, elevates psychology to an equal footing with Scripture in counseling. There are three different variations within this paradigm. The first seeks to separate or “compartmentalize” theology and psychology, asserting that each had its field of operation in which its tenets are valid, but that overlapping the two is inappropriate. A second view involves a more pragmatic sort of compartmentalization, one that occurs naturally in many people between the religious and non-religious aspects of their lives. While some counseling may take place within a Christian context, the person holding this viewpoint would regard such counseling as pertaining mostly to religious matters. Psychology would be placed in the “secular” arena and seen as unrelated to “church” counseling. Still a third view would freely blend the tenets of psychology and Christian theology, incorporating each of them freely within the counseling process. Unfortunately, this is often done without regard to the evaluation of psychological principles in the light of Scripture.
“Bible Over”: Following in the philosophical tradition of Augustine and Reformers such as Luther and Calvin, this third paradigm of Christian counseling recognizes the validity of human reason as a source of knowledge. As a result, principles derived from psychology are seen as potentially useful and may be incorporated into ministry alongside Scripture. However, God’s Word is viewed as the final authority. All knowledge and theory derived from the reasoning powers of humans must be subjected to scrutiny based on the Bible. Any theory that is in conflict with Scripture must be rejected. Nonetheless, it is recognized that even theories that, as a whole, are not acceptable under the light of Scripture may still contribute some understanding in certain areas of human behavior. It would therefore behoove the Christian counselor operating under this paradigm to have a deep knowledge of all accepted theories of human behavior. But more importantly, the counselor should be intimately familiar with God’s Word so that he may glean the useful ideas from those theories while rejecting the chaff.
Evaluation and Implications of the Positions
In considering the three basic positions on the question of psychology in ministry, it is helpful to keep in mind that they arise, in essence, from different subsets of the Christian worldview. The fundamental assumptions underlying each position are different and, as previously noted, they spring from differing historical roots within the Christian church.
The “Bible Only” viewpoint is, in some ways, the most disturbing. The present writer was for many years a member of a legalistic cult and the arguments used in favor of this position are in some ways disturbingly familiar. Complex issues are reduced to simple dichotomies of right and wrong. For example, one website written from this perspective says: “In their attempts to be relevant, many preachers, teachers, counselors, and writers promote a psychological perspective of life rather than a Biblical one. The symbol of psychology overshadows the cross of Christ, and psychological jargon contaminates the Word of God.” Later, the same work concludes:
The Church exists in a hostile world. If its members do not reject the philosophies of the world they will reflect them in their lives. If we are friends with the world (its religions, philosophies, psychological systems and practices) then we must seriously ask ourselves why we do not heed Jesus’ words:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (Jn. 15:18-19).
Obviously, if we do not heed His words, it’s because we don’t believe His words. The Church has been called to reflect Jesus, not the world. Even though we are in the world we are not of the world. Thus, every ministry of the Body of Christ must be Biblical and must not attempt to incorporate worldly philosophies, theories, or techniques.
This argument may sound compelling, but it is specious and represents a misapplication of the Scripture text at John 15:18, 19. Accounting theory is every bit as “worldly” as psychology and yet every Christian church has some method of accounting for its funds, most using some form of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. The Bible does not contain specific instruction for every detail of life; there are many endeavors that require the application of knowledge gained from human experience and reason. To the extent that such knowledge is not contrary to the Word of God, its use in ministry is entirely appropriate.Really, the viewpoint expressed by the writer of the above quotations is almost Pharisaical in its outlook. Everything we do as humans is done within human society, “the world.” The Bible gives us many specific admonitions as to how we are to avoid being part of the “world” and Christians do well to heed them (for example, see Col. 3:2,5; 2 Tim. 2:4, 22; 3: 2-7; Titus 2:12; James 4:4; 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:11; 1 John 2:15-17). To expand the use of the term to include disciplines and practices that may not conflict with scripture is reminiscent of the way the Pharisees made specific, legalistic rules to apply God’s Laws in every minute area of life. Jesus told such men, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The aforementioned cult uses the same text to prohibit participation in government and politics, a doctrine that is clearly not in harmony with the rest of Scripture. Such applications of Scripture are inappropriate, to say the least.
The thrust of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not to eliminate every source of knowledge other than the Bible. If that were so, we would be left without guidance in many critical areas not discussed in God’s Word. Rather, the point is to establish Scripture as the foundation and measuring line on which all other knowledge must be built and by which it must be measured.
In a different way, the “Bible And” position falls short. Christianity is a way of life, and its precepts cannot be separated from the way we live on a daily basis (Prov. 4:18; Isa. 35:8,9; Acts 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14). It is impossible to compartmentalize our lives into both a “sacred” portion and a “secular” portion and to keep the two completely separate. Any attempt to do so can only lead to hypocrisy. Christ must be the model in every area of our lives, not just in religious matters. Another problem with this paradigm is its elevation of human knowledge, whether in the field of psychology or elsewhere, to an equal level with Scripture. Doing so gives equal credence to man’s words with God’s Word and can easily lead to corruption of the Truth. As Paul has written, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). The knowledge God has given must always be the authority from which all else derives.
Acknowledging the difficulty of separating Christian thought from that of the prevailing culture, Bill Honsberger cites the church’s acceptance of Ptolemy’s astronomy and writes, “too often the Church has ‘wed’ itself to the current philosophy, or current science of the world, only to find itself ‘widowed’ in the next generation.” Such is the danger when the wisdom of men is given an equal footing with that of God.
Of the three positions, the “Bible Over” paradigm seems the most reasonable. God’s Revelation is given the primacy, yet the remarkable powers of reason and intelligence with which God has created humans are not overlooked. As with any other field of human endeavor, psychology has uncovered a large number of important truths about human behavior and mental health. While the data that have been generated by many studies are indisputable, the interpretation of the data and application in counseling often departs from Biblical standards. It is in this area that the Christian must allow God’s Word to rule. It is important to remember that theories need not be accepted or rejected in their totality; the Christian must screen every concept through the filter of Scripture, accepting that which is useful and does not contradict God’s Word. Those concepts that conflict with Scripture must be rejected. The Christian student of psychology faces a daunting task in sorting through the many theories, as he endeavors to obey Paul’s counsel to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). But God has provided an instructor in the Person of the Holy Spirit, Who will guide in the task (John 14:26; 16:13, 14; 1 Cor. 3:16). As one web-based commentary states:
There is one body of religious instruction that should govern all that we believe, teach and practice. That is, the Word of God. Nothing should be accepted as true; nothing should be practiced or recommended â unless it is taught in the Word of God. Each individual must take this obligation seriously.
These words are as true in the study of psychology as they are in every other area of human enterprise.
By his diligence in evaluating psychological theories under the light of Scripture, the Christian counselor can not only protect the spiritual lives of those under counseling, but can actually contribute to the richness of the science of psychology as a whole. Gary R. Collins writes:
The Christian psychologist does not believe that he has some kind of privileged position which lets him understand and change human behavior better than the nonbeliever. But the Christian does have a source of truth (the Bible) that other psychologists tend to overlook, and an interpreter (the Holy Spirit) who enables us to understand the truth. It is important that there be Christians in all professional fields, including psychology, competent in their scientific skills and knowledge, convinced in their beliefs, committed to Christ, consistent in Christian living, and courageous enough to take a stand for what they believe to be true.
Finally, we must remember that the ultimate cure for all social ills and human behavior problems rests, not in the efforts of men, but in the One whom God has appointed – Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Counseling under psychological and scriptural principles can be of great benefit in dealing with specific problems. But the underlying source of all human problems is sin. Only God’s Grace can regenerate both heart and mind, bringing faith in Christ and the work that He has done, thus paving the way for ultimate glorification, which will bring an end to all woes inherent to the sinful flesh. It is through the new birth and the process of sanctification that humans are reconciled with God. That is the only real and permanent way in which one can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
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Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
Nave, Orville J. Naveâs Topical Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.
Seifert, Kevin L., Robert J. Hoffnung and Michele Hoffnung. Lifespan Development. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Shields, Harry and Gary Bredfeldt. Caring For Souls. Chicago: Moody Press, 2001.
Vitz, Paul C. Psychology as Religion, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.
Zodhiates, Spiros. Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1990.
 Harry Shields and Gary Bredfeldt. Caring For Souls. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2001, p. 32.
 Ibid. p. 35.
 Lisa and Ryan Bazler. Psychology Debunked. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House Press, 2002, p. 43.
 Paul C. Vitz. Psychology as Religion, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994, p. xii-xiii.
 Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Adaptation of material found in their book, PSYCHOHERESY: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1987. Adaptation found online at http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/psych.htm.
 Bill Honsberger. âTrue Religionâ. Haven Newsletter, November 2003. Centennial, CO: Haven Ministries.
 Warren E. Berkeley, âTest All Thingsâ. Found online at http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-1-thessalonians-5-21.htm.
 Gary R. Collins. The Rebuilding of Psychology. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977, p. 200.
One of the best known theorists in the field of human behavior is the late Burrhus Frederic (“B. F.”) Skinner. Skinner assured his place in the history of psychology by his accomplished career as a professor at Harvard University and by his development of the behavioral theory of operant conditioning.
Skinner was born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, PA. He had a traditional upbringing and was reported to have been an active child. He learned the value of hard work in his youth and this quality was to serve him well throughout his academic career. Tragically, he lost his 16 year old brother to a cerebral aneurysm. It is possible that this experience may have contributed to his lack of faith in God as an adult - Skinner was a confirmed atheist.
After a short, failed career as a writer and a period of Bohemian living in New York’s Greenwich Village, Skinner pursued graduate work at Harvard. He received his Master’s degree in 1930 and his doctorate the following year. Eventually, he took up teaching at the University of Minnesota and in 1945 became the chairman of the psychology department at Indiana University. Finally, in 1948, he returned to Harvard in a faculty position which he retained until his death in 1990.
Skinner was married to the former Yvonne Blue and they had two daughters. Among Skinner’s better known written works are Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Walden Two, a novel about a “modern utopia […] in which human problems are solved by a scientific technology of human conduct,” in other words, by the application of Skinner’s behaviorist principles.
During World War II, Skinner proposed a method of using pigeons to guide missiles to their targets. The pigeons would be trained using a screen on which targets were projected and would be rewarded with food pellets for pecking at the targets. Actual missiles would have contained a similar screen at which the trained pigeon would peck and this pecking would guide the missile to its actual target. Obviously, each pigeon could only be used once in an actual missile.
Skinner named the sort of activity that would be displayed by the pigeons operant behavior and the training that the pigeons received would result in operant conditioning. Operant conditioning was different than the classical conditioning that had earlier been demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov in his experiments. Pavlov had carried out classical conditioning by associating the ringing of a bell with the providing of food to his experimental dogs. The food would naturally cause the dogs to salivate, but Pavlov was able to show that, with time, the dogs would come to associate the sound of the bell with the provision of food. Eventually, the ringing of the bell alone would cause the animals to salivate, even if no food was available.
Pavlov’s classical conditioning concerned itself with involuntary behavior. His dogs did not choose to salivate, but were conditioned to do so by the association of the bell with food. The experimenter was fully in control of the conditioning. Skinner’s operant conditioning, however, revolved around voluntary behaviors, such as the pigeons’ pecking at the screens. Skinner’s proposal was never developed, but he was able to demonstrate the proposal’s underlying principles with a series of experiments involving rats. He created a device called a “Skinner box” in which a rat had access to a lever that would dispense a food pellet. At first the rat would move about the box randomly and would eventually depress the lever by accident, receiving a food pellet. As time went on, however, Skinner found that the rat began to associate the pressing of the lever with the reward of food. As a result, the behavior increased. Skinner termed the reward of food positive reinforcement, since the provision of the reward tended to “reinforce” or increase the desired behavior (in this case, pressing the lever).
Additionally, Skinner found other types of reinforcers. Negative reinforcement refers to conditions that bring about an increase in a desired behavior when they are removed rather than applied. Nagging would be a good example of this; an infant’s crying would be another. In each case, the desired behavior causes the reinforcer to stop, and over time, the desired behavior increases so as to prevent the reinforcer from being applied. Negative reinforcement is distinct from punishment, which is “an unpleasant stimulus that suppresses the behavior it follows.” The assurance or likelihood of punishment acts as a deterrent to undesirable behavior. Skinner also noted that the reinforcement of behavior that is similar to the desired behavior tends to move the organism in the desired direction. This results in the shaping of the subject’s behavior toward the desired goal. On the other end of the spectrum, the removal of all reinforcers tends to extinguish a behavior.
These principles of positive reinforcement were ultimately extended to a wide range of applications involving both animals and humans. Animals are almost invariably trained using behavioral principles and operant conditioning. But more importantly, there are many distinct ways in which these concepts can be applied to the shaping of human behavior. In every area of human life, we find ourselves rewarded for positive behavior and punished for negative behavior. We respond in most cases by performing or avoiding those behaviors in order that our lives may be more peaceful and pleasant. Most children are raised in accordance with behavioral principles, learning as they mature that certain behaviors bring rewards while others do not. Behavioral principles are widely used in business management, with managers designing employee policies in order to reward behaviors they consider to be desirable and to discourage behaviors that are not. The reinforcers used with human beings are, of course, more sophisticated than those used with animals. Furthermore, the reinforcers used with adults are generally more sophisticated than those offered to children. A human being would almost certainly not increase a behavior for a pellet of rat food. And while a child might behave at the dentist’s office in hope of the reward of a (hopefully sugar-free) lollipop, an adult is likelier to be reinforced by the idea of having healthy teeth.
More specific uses of behavioral principles have been developed, relating to the overcoming of habitual behaviors like smoking, overeating and gambling. Also, through the process of systematic desensitization - a form of operant conditioning - many have been helped to overcome their phobias about flying.
Three criticisms of Skinner’s behaviorism are offered by Payal Naik of Northwestern University.  First, Naik sees the principles of behaviorism as being contrary to Darwin’s law of natural selection. Darwin, he says, would claim that behaviors would develop for the purpose of perpetuating the species and not for mere sensory gratification as is often the case with operant conditioning. Naik points out that sensory gratification is often at odds with survival, since many unhealthy habits are pursued in the name of pleasure. He believes that this lessens the force of Skinner’s behavioral principles.
It may be that in offering this argument Naik is creating a false dichotomy. Darwin would certainly teach that the overall goal of behavior in a species is survival, but that does not mean that every specific behavior must have survival as its goal. Additionally, at least from the Christian point of view, Darwin’s theories are themselves seriously flawed. An exploration of those flaws is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is sufficient to say that Naik’s first objection does not appear valid.
Naik’s second objection is based on what he considers to be inadequate experimentation with humans and the generalizing of the results of animal behavior to human conditioning. While there may be some validity to this objection from the academic viewpoint, it is undeniable that behavioral principles have been applied in a great number of practical situations among humans and have proven largely successful.
Perhaps the most valid of Naik’s criticisms of behaviorism relate to its inability to explain the development of language, particularly language that is internal to the individual (“private stimuli”). He sees no reason from a behavioral viewpoint, for example, that a person would say inside his own mind, “I’m hungry.” Such internalization could never result in reinforcement, though the concept of hunger itself might motivate action that would bring reinforcement (e.g. actually going out to hunt or gather food).
Advocates and detractors of Skinner’s behavioral theories may debate whether his concepts can be applied to the totality of human behavior. What is crystal clear is that his techniques have been applied in a large variety of ways to educate and to modify behaviors. From a strictly practical viewpoint, they work. And it cannot be reasonably denied that many of the results they produce are beneficial.
The Christian Viewpoint
It does appear that Skinner’s principles of behaviorism work and mankind has unquestionably gained some benefits from their application. The question remains as to whether there would be any cautions about the use of these principles that should be considered by the Christian. Shields and Bredfeldt point out three areas of awareness that Christians should note in considering the use of behaviorism in counseling, education or other areas.
First, behaviorism assumes a worldview that is both materialistic and monistic. The behaviorist sees human beings as simply “behaving organisms,” completely at the mercy of their environment. This assumes a single, physical nature for humans and denies the existence of the human soul or spirit. Consciousness is seen as nothing more than the electrical workings of the physical brain. Behaviorism assumes that all behavior could be understood if the operation of the brain could be completely explained. Such assumptions are completely at odds with the Bible’s description of man’s immaterial nature (Isaiah 26:9; John 3:3-6; 1 Cor. 2:11).
Second, the innate dignity and worth of the human being are denied by the behaviorist outlook. Though sinful as a result of the Fall, human beings have been created in the image of God and thus have great value. Part of that image is the ability to make our own decisions about our conduct and morality. Behaviorism would deny this, arguing that all of our behaviors are the result of conditioning from our environment.
Finally, we must be aware that changing a person’s behavior is not the same thing as changing the person. Behaviorism views human behavior as only the outworking of brain activity and environmental influences. Therefore, a change in behavior is seen as being identical with a change in the person. But we cannot subscribe to this viewpoint and remain consistent with what the scriptures teach us about the human mind. It is entirely possible that applied reinforcers may bring about a behavioral change that is completely out of harmony with the individual’s will; he may conform only to receive a reward or avoid a punishment and not because of any sincere motivation of the heart. Yet the heart is where the real person resides. It is our innermost desires and motivations that are of interest to God. He causes our inner person to conform to His will through the process of sanctification (Jeremiah 17:10; Rom. 8:27; Rev. 2:23).
The behavioral techniques pioneered by B. F. Skinner can be a formidable tool in the hands of a competent Christian counselor. However, a useful tool that is wielded without skill and caution can easily become a weapon of destruction. Those who seek to counsel in a Christian setting should be aware of Skinner’s work, yet cautious in its application, always keeping closely in mind the inherent dignity and God-given freedom of those whom they counsel.
 B. F. Skinner, Walden Two. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1976, back cover.
 Spencer A. Rathus, Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1987, p. 226.
 Payal Naik. âBehaviorism as a Theory of Personality: A Critical Lookâ. Found online at http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/naik.html.
 Harry Shields and Gary Bredfeldt. Caring For Souls. Chicago: Moody Press, 2001, pp. 178-180.
 Ibid. p. 178.
The issue in question in chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians is not that of salvation. This chapter is about the relationship between spiritual leaders and the members of the flock of God. Remember that earlier in the letter, Paul had warned against “boasting about men”. People were lining up behind human leaders, rather than trusting in Christ. Paul is chiding some in the congregation who had exalted themselves above others, as if their standing before God did not result from God’s gift, but was earned by their own merits. Note that Paul opens the chapter by saying:
So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
Apparently, there was no question in Paul’s mind as to his own salvation and choosing by God. In saying these words, he also identified himself as a servant of Christ, and subject only to being judged by Christ, not by men. He pointed out that everything they had in a spiritual way had been given to them by God – they had received it. The question was not as to whether they had certain spiritual possessions – there was no question about that. But Paul was pointing out that they did not generate these things on their own, they had received them from God. Some of them were apparently acting as though they had not.
Paul’s wording supports this: “And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” It is not the “having” that is in question, as your inserted comment would imply. It is the “receiving”. For example, you may have a beautiful clay pot in your hand, and tell me that you made it. Next to the chair you are sitting in, however, I see the box it came in and the packing slip with the item listed on it. Clearly, you did not make the pot, but received it in the mail. I say to you, “If you received this pot, why do you brag that you made it?” This wording does not imply that I question the fact that you have the pot; it merely means that I am questioning your claim as to how you got it. Paul’s question is similar. He does not question the Corinthians’ possession of gifts from God (including salvation); he questions the fact that they brag as if these things were the result of their own efforts.
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings-and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!
They were certainly claiming something that hadn’t happened yet, but that something was not salvation itself. Rather, it was just what Paul said it was – becoming kings along with Christ! There is a vast difference between salvation and glorification. When we receive Christ, we are saved. That is really the beginning of the Christian journey. At that point, God begins to work in our lives, to mold us into the sort of persons he wants us to be. Paul mentions this at Philippians 1:3-11:
3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, thathe who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.
These were not unsaved people; all of them “share[d] in God’s grace with me [Paul]” (v. 7). But God was working in them, developing Christian qualities, and would continue to do so right up to the “day of Christ”. This is why certain Christian qualities are spoken of as the “fruit of righteousness” (v.11) and, in Galatians, the “fruitage of the Spirit”. Fruitage does not appear from nowhere. It comes from a fruit tree. Neither does the tree have to strain itself, grunting and groaning, to produce fruit; the fruit appears naturally. Likewise with Christians. The Holy Spirit is already living in them. This changes their lives, and the evidence of this change is the fruitage of the Spirit:, love, joy, peace, etc. Others, who have not established such a relationship with God, do not manifest such fruitage.
The Role of Preaching in the Local Church
We live in a time when it is fashionable to be iconoclastic. A popular slogan of the 1960’s was “Question Authority,” and the attitude conveyed by that expression has proliferated as the youth of that generation have progressed through middle age. Sometimes it can be a good thing to question the way things have always been done. In many fields, and even within the Church, useful innovations can result from such questioning. But Christians must exercise care that, in questioning methods that have been historically employed by the Church, they do not overstep the Word of God.
One practice that has come under attack in some areas of the modern Church is preaching. Some have questioned preaching itself as a useful method. Others have moved away from preaching as exposition of the Bible in favor of more topical or narrative forms of discourse. And in many of the modern, “seeker-sensitive” churches, preaching has become so psychologically oriented and watered down as to become more of a self-help lecture than an exposition of Scripture. Seldom does such preaching mention sin or the need for repentance.
The apostle Paul did not regard the preaching of God’s Word as an option. Rather, at 1 Cor. 9:16, he wrote: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” In the light of such a strong statement by an apostle of Jesus Christ, it is important to review the place that preaching of God’s Word has historically held among His people and to consider whether preaching is still relevant within today’s Church.
During all the times of the Old Testament and in Christian times until the biblical canon was completed, the Word of God was conveyed, not merely in writing, but through the preaching and teaching of prophets and apostles. Perhaps the earliest preacher mentioned in Scripture was Noah, whom Peter calls “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). We are given no details as to the nature of Noah’s preaching, but it is clear that God had inspired his building of the ark.
Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah and others of the Old Testament prophets are depicted as preaching to various groups of people. In doing so, they could convey the Word of God directly to the people as He inspired them to do so. Similarly, the apostles functioned in a sense as “living Scripture” with God inspiring their teaching directly. After the apostles passed from the scene, however, the Word of God no longer came directly through individuals. It had been committed to writing. Revealed Scripture was sufficient to meet all the needs of the Church (2 Tim. 3:16). The task of preachers therefore became, not to present God’s Word as directly revealed to them, but to interpret and convey the real meaning of God’s Word as it was embodied in Scripture.
The sort of preaching that was utilized in the early church was what is today referred to as expository preaching, which Robinson defines as follows:
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers. 
In other words, expository preaching actually constitutes the delivery of the Word of God through the preacher to the hearers. Such preaching stands in contrast to narrative or topical preaching, in which stories or concepts are developed for the audience. Story-based and topical sermons may have a place at times, but they do not represent the fullest expression of the meaning of Scripture to the hearers.
Effective expository preaching involves more than talent for speaking and more than a serviceable knowledge of the Scriptures. The object of expository preaching is to convey the actual meaning of the Word of God to the preacher’s audience. To do so requires careful exegesis of Scripture to assure that the message being presented is actually the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit in inspiring a given passage. The object is that, as Chapell states, “the meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon.”
Even a thorough knowledge of the material is insufficient. The life of the preacher must already have been touched by the Holy Spirit through his study of the text. Only when the preacher himself has experienced the influence of Godâs Word in his own life can he adequately convey its power to his listeners. When the preacher has done careful and accurate exegesis of his text, applied the truth of the text personally and bathed his preparation in prayer, he can be used by the Holy Spirit to convey the very Word of God to his audience.
The question still remains as to whether preaching is relevant to the modern Church. Some may think not. Many churches today are absorbed with marketing plans, programs and entertainment. Getting new members and growing the church has become the order of the day. Some churches claim to be “seeker sensitive,” gearing their worship services so as to make visiting non-believers feel more at home and less threatened. In doing so, some of these churches have reached enormous size, becoming “mega-churches” with thousands of members. In such churches, there may be a temptation to abandon strong preaching of God’s Word in favor of softer, “feel-good” messages and programs with popular appeal.
A disclaimer might be in order at this point. There is no objection in this writer’s mind to making newcomers as comfortable as possible in our churches. There is certainly no problem with having attractive programs that allow fellowship and personal growth. And there is nothing wrong with a church gaining many members and becoming a large organization. There is nothing wrong with these things, that is, unless they are accomplished at the expense of proclaiming fully the Word of God. Unfortunately, that is exactly the trap into which many churches have fallen in our day.
As Christians, we must ask ourselves why the church exists. If the object of our church activities is to serve the Church as an organization and ensure its growth, then employing marketing strategies and watering down the message may be the correct way to proceed. If, however, our intent as a Church is the glorification of God - as it should be - then there can be no substitute for the preaching of the Word. God is glorified when sinners turn to Him for salvation, and not necessarily when a church organization gains many members. For sinners to come to the Lord requires that they hear His Word proclaimed - even if it offends them, as it well might. Proclaiming the Gospel in a powerful way and sounding forth God’s Word from the pulpit may not always fill the pews and result in the development of a mega-church. But it will result in the salvation of souls and the growth of solid Christians. This is the primary purpose of the church as it relates to believers. Expository preaching is absolutely as relevant - and necessary – to that purpose today as it was in biblical times.
Paul’s charge to Timothy should still ring true for every preacher of God’s Word today: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:1-4). We live in exactly such a time. May those who preach do so fearlessly and with a strong grip on the Word, with lives truly changed by the Holy Spirit, conveying His perfect Word to all who will listen.
 Haddon W. Robinson. Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001, p. 21.
 Bryan Chapell. Christ-Centered Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001, p. 23.