Biblical Counseling, Grace Community Church, Mental Health and the Church, Suicide

Black and White Teachings from the Pulpit: Helpful or Not?

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“Mental illness” is a poor term, sounding like “It’s just your mind.”
But a broken brain is as physical as a broken bone. 
Rick Warren tweeted 4/13/13 a week after his son committed suicide.  

I still have a couple of more thoughts regarding the Nally suicide case discussed last week:  How do Churches Handle Difficult Mental Health Cases, Biblical Counseling, and the Law? and Biblical Counseling and Mental Health Crises: Does it Always Work?.

photo credit: Roberto Giannotti via photopin cc

As a recap, here is why John MacArthur and three other pastors from Grace Community were sued following the 1979  suicide death of 24-yr old member and bible college student, Kenneth Nally:

The suit charges that the defendants knew young Nally needed professional psychiatric care but actively dissuaded him from seeking it. In addition it is claimed that Nally’s turmoil was worsened by the religious guidance he received—guidance that “exacerbated Kenneth Nally’s preexisting feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression” and characterized suicide as a legitimate remedy for an unsuccessful life. (Source)

I read that MacArthur and another pastor visited Nally in the hospital after his first suicide attempt and Nally stated that he wished he would have succeeded in the suicide.  I was glad to read that two pastors visited him at the hospital, however, MacArthur and the other pastor did not report this to anyone.  That is NOT good.

Earlier in the trial, the Rev. Duane Rea, a defendant, said that, when he visited Kenneth Nally at Verdugo Hills Hospital after the drug overdose, Nally pledged to try suicide again after being released.

MacArthur testified that, when he went to the hospital, Nally said he “was sorry that he had not succeeded.” At the end of Nally’s stay at his home, MacArthur said, he reached the conclusion that Nally still suffered from intermittent depression. (Source)

I also read that MacArthur let Nally stay at his place for several days upon his release from the hospital.  There were reports that pastors at Grace Community also encouraged Nally to keep his doctor/psychiatrist appointments.  That part is good.  So what is my beef?

Such a thing as a “psychological problem” unrelated to spiritual or physical causes is nonexistent. God supplies divine resources sufficient to satisfy completely all the spiritual needs.  John MacArthur (Source)

Here is where I see the primary problem.  The black and white thinking is troublesome.   They imply strongly from the pulpit, in biblical counseling classes, and texts that the Bible has everything that we need to solve all mental health problems.  They don’t say “most” problems, but “all.”   They also say that psychology is incompatible with the Bible.  By implication, the Bible is 100% right and psychology is 100% wrong.  I have a question – – is there room for grace in black/white teachings?

Then a young college student like Nally comes along who is having girlfriend issues, whose parents are having marital issues, life is unraveling and he needs help.  How many 20-something guys do you know actively seek help?   Probably not too many, but he does from trusted pastors/staff at church.  He wants to do things the right way.  He doesn’t want to sin.   When someone like Nally gets that kind of message from the pulpit which is then backed up by the same message in his biblical counseling class, it tells him that going to see a mental health professional is sinful and wrong.  In his mind, because of these teachings, his only recourse is getting help at church.  These people care for his souls – certainly not mental health professionals.  Of course he wouldn’t want to add more trouble to his life by “sinning” in seeking out a heathen mental health professional!

Would Nally be alive today if he felt the freedom and support from his pastors to seek counsel from mental health professionals?  I wonder if he would be alive if Grace Community leaders would have said something like:  the Bible has foundational truths for life’s basic problems and also works through others when we cannot find all the answers.

Grief is God’s tool for handling life’s losses. If you don’t grieve, you get stuck.

“Blessed are those who mourn” Jesus

Rick Warren tweet 4/14/13


Dr. Larry Taylor, whose son committed suicide several years ago posed similar questions in his article,  Larry Taylor: Is The Bible All We need For The Solution To All Our Problems?

“All We Need is the Bible for all our problems.” A well meaning believer said those words to me a while back in the context of rejecting my suggestion that counseling and medication might help her chronic depression.

“Really?” I replied, “Does the Bible contain all the information needed to fix your car when it breaks?

“Are you opposed to going to a physician when you are sick because all you need is in the Bible? If so, you’d best join the Christian Scientists.

“Does the Bible contain all the calculus needed to build a bridge?

“All the biology needed to protect the environment?

I think you get the point.

Grief comes in waves.  When a big wave hits, you can’t ignore it.  You surf it and ride it out.  My surfboard is talking to Jesus. ~Rick Warren tweet 4/15/13 


2 thoughts on “Black and White Teachings from the Pulpit: Helpful or Not?”

  1. When it comes to the issue of teaching black & white concepts from the pulpit, I think pastors need to be very careful. Very few issues really are black & white. Certainly the idea that we are all sinners in need of God’s saving grace is black & white. This idea that all psychology (and thereby therapists and counselors by extension) is evil or sinful though, I believe would discourage people from getting help that they really need, and would also discourage Christians from going into psychology. These Christians could bring to the field a biblical worldview and potentially really help to further the field.

    I think that many Christians still think of Freudian psychology when thinking of psychology in general. While Freud may have had influences in the field, many of his theories are no longer even held valid by many psychologists. Furthermore, psychology is nothing more than the study of how people think, behave, and act. Studying why they think, behave, or act, beggins to branch much more into philosophy, and we do need to be more careful in this area. The whole idea of psychology though is one of study. How could pure study be sinnful? Is learning sinful? This isn’t the Dark Ages any more, and yet, the attitude many Christians have toward psychology is remminiscent of that time when science and learning were stunted by “the church.”

    Furthermore, I have to agree with the quotes from Larry Taylor. The Bible contains the foundational truth for our lives, but it does not contain all of the science or knowledge of how things work, including things like our minds. We continue to learn and grow. Sometimes it takes a great deal of psychological study to really learn and understand some of the truths of the Bible. I gave this example in a comment on another post, but I believe it bears repeating here.

    A great and simple example would be the stages of grief. The Bible does speak of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It may not necessarily use those terms though, and I can think of nowhere in the Bible where it speaks of people going through these stages when they are grieving. This is something that we have learned through psychological study, which is nothing more than the study of how people think and act. By learning these stages, counselors can more effectively help their patients cope with their grief, and can better tailor the hope and help they give depending on the stage that the person is in at that time.


  2. You are right, JoeJoe. The Bible says for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, but it doesn’t give us the details of how that is worked out.

    He did give us patterns to watch in the sky for farmers and sailors and people to prepare for storms. Men figured that out by using the brains that God gave them. I’ve spent the last several years looking at patterns of spiritual abuse. I didn’t have to go to school for that, but if someone sends me a story of spiritual abuse, I can take a red pen and circle the problematic areas that I see that match so many other stories – these are patterns.

    Mental health experts notice patterns of behavior – same kind of thing. They have become experts in behavior just as meteorologists are experts at weather.


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