Desiring God; John Piper; Church Attitudes Toward Mental Health
There has been much talk recently about Desiring God’s tweet on February 6, 2018.
The concern over this tweet is the lack of consideration for how complex the mind is and how trauma affects the brain. Why do so many Christians think that mental health is purely a spiritual issue? The brain is a part of our body. Just as the body is treated by medical professionals, so must the brain be treated for complex mental health issues.
The original tweet was followed up with this:
So, the original tweet was based off an article posted 12/31/07. This article was a tribute to Clyde Kilby and cites resolutions for mental he stated in a lecture in 1976. No where in this article is the mirror image used in the original tweet. The only thing closest to the mirror image is:
I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
Mental health can be magically fixed
by focusing on God?
Going back to the original tweet, I was not surprised by this thought that mental health could be magically fixed by focusing on God. I was sure that Desiring God has been posting this concept for years, not only by John Piper, but by others as well. Searching through articles on the site I found the following examples of this thought perpetuated over the years:
There is no true mental health without understanding the desperate condition we were in without the cross, and without feeling the joy of deliverance from that condition through the death of Christ on our behalf.
From John Piper, “Should Christians Use Anti-Depressants?” 1/21/08:
However, on the other side, it seems clear to me that the brain is a physical organ with electrical impulses and chemicals, and that mental illness is therefore not merely spiritual. No man could persuade me that all mental derangement is owing to a spiritual cause that has a purely spiritual solution.
One way medicine can be helpful is if it gets people to a point where they have enough stability to read the Bible. Then, through being able to read the Scriptures, people are able to be refreshed in the Lord and, in time, come off of the medicine. In that case medicine is a means to an end, and that seems perfectly natural to me.
From John Piper, Speech to American Association of Christian Counselors, “Beholding Glory and Becoming Whole: Seeing and Savoring God as the Heart of Mental Health” 9/16/09:
And just at this point, I wonder if many of our people are left thinking that what it means to be loved by God simply that he affirms their desire to be made much of. “Christ died for me to make much of me. He rescued me while undeserving to make much of me. He forgave me to make much of me. He removed his wrath to make much of me.” Oh how gloriously good this feels! What a precious gospel! And it’s all merely natural. There’s nothing supernatural about it. It looks like recovery and healing! It works. But at root, it is not “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” It’s all to the praise of the glory of his affirmation of me.”
From Rick Warren, Desiring God 2010 National Conference, “The Battle for Your Mind” 10/1/10:
I have been studying this subject for thirty-three years. I did my first study on the mind in 1977, working through all the books of the Bible. I think I could teach on this subject for an entire week. There is so much material on what the Bible has to say about strengthening our minds, renewing our minds, submitting our minds, and bringing our thoughts into captivity. There are at least one hundred principles in God’s Word that have to do with what we are to do with our minds. As I said, your mind is your greatest asset.
From John Piper, “Your Life’s Greatest Problem” 1/14/15:
Now let’s just get this real clear and real straight, because I have the feeling we live in such a kind of touchy feely day that Christianity is being so psychologized and so therapeutized that we really do believe this book was written for our mental health. It wasn’t. It was written to help us get right with a wrathful God. God is one great massive fire of holiness. He hates sin and cannot abide it. We are little ant like sinners of sin. And if we got within 10 trillion miles of this God we would be consumed.
From Marshall Segal, “The Insanity of ‘Self-Care’” 3/14/16:
Practice a different kind of mindfulness. Go ahead and listen to music, or watch a sunset, or play with your pet, but go Godward — be mindful of God and his great love for you. It really can be helpful to practice gratitude, or to enjoy a particular moment or activity, or to focus on something bigger than yourself, but not if it ends there, and certainly not if it only ends with you. Any habit or activity can be a means of joy, peace, and healing, but only if it brings you to God — our only Lord, Savior, and greatest Treasure.
From John Piper, “The Root of Mental Health” 3/15/16:
After medication, perhaps the most common remedy for most behavioral and mental disorders is — and has been for almost half a century — some form of self-worth enhancement. It pervades our educational institutions, the psychotherapeutic and counseling systems, the personnel and motivational industry, advertising, and even the church.
I think the remedy is flawed. And its Christianized forms may involve damaging views of Christ and his cross. For example, it is profoundly wrong to turn the cross of Christ into a warrant for self-esteem as the root of mental health.
John Piper, From his book Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life 7/5/16:
It is profoundly wrong to turn the cross into a warrant for self-esteem as the root of mental health. If I stand before the love of God and do not feel a healthy, satisfying, freeing joy without turning that love into an echo of my self-esteem, then I am like a man who stands before the Grand Canyon and feels no satisfying wonder until he translates the canyon into a case for his own significance. That is not the presence of health, but bondage to self.
From Jon Bloom, “The Proven Path to Mental Health” 10/30/17:
The proven path to our soundest mental health is a robust, holistic trust, in everything and every circumstance, in the triune Christian God.
Desiring God has been perpetuating the myth that mental health issues can be taken care of by simply changing your attitude or focusing more on God for years. This may work for some people, but those with complex brain chemistry issues may not able to solve their problem with a mere attitude adjustment. Attitudes in the church toward mental health also keep people from seeking proper treatment.
It is time for Desiring God to stop equating a person’s mental health status with their spiritual status. The two are not one in the same.