Todd Friel of Wretched recently had this to say about use of the Bible in counseling:
Todd Friel’s text reads:
Whether one believes the Bible is sufficient or not is put on display in the counseling room. If the counselor uses the Bible AND anything else, he/she does not functionally believe in sufficiency.
To make it clear, Todd Friel follows up with:
Todd Friel’s text reads:
We can use secular sources to UNDERSTAND a malady, but the Bible is our only source for helping the struggling saint. Here is an excellent article on the dangers of incorporating secular sources (we will be discussing this on Monday in detail on radio)
*Link is to Rick Thomas’s article, “Why All Other Psychologies Bow at the Foot of the Bible.”
Both Friel and Thomas are affiliated with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Counselors who practice biblical counseling believe that the Bible is sufficient and authoritative in helping people work through their problems. Biblical counselors also tend to use the route of finding the source of sin in a person’s life to deal with problems.
The role of a counselor is to help people work through emotions, trauma, and mental health issues by providing therapy and skills coaching. A good secular or faith-based counselor will respect that faith can play an important role as well as be a source of strength in a person’s healing. However, to say that the Bible alone should be the reference for treatment in the counseling setting can cause problems for the client.
A biblical counselor who fails to recognize the value of secular sources in understanding and treating clients hinders the healing process. While the Bible may offer hope and assurance, but it does not address the treatment of mental illness, domestic violence, sexual assault, trauma, addiction, chemical imbalances of the brain, eating disorders, child abuse, phobias, anxiety, depression, etc.
The brain is a beautiful and complex organ. Because of the complexity of the brain, people respond differently to counseling treatments. Counselors should be open to differing techniques when working with a client to bring about effective healing and change.
Unfortunately I have heard more negative stories about biblical counseling practices than positive stories. I would encourage anyone who does not have a positive experience with biblical counseling to seek another counselor who utilizes different treatment methods. No, you are not sinning by seeking other treatment. Yes, God will still love you.
38 thoughts on “Todd Friel and Biblical Sufficiency in Counseling”
Snake oil hucksters. So, why does every other area of scientific inquiry get a pass from being able to use only the Bible, yet psychology does not? I don’t see gravity, lasers, quantum mechanics, semiconductors, meteorology (beyond basic…), astronomy (beyond basic…) in the Bible.
I think this points to a very INSUFFICIENT view of God, because somehow, if our repeated experimentation to gain understanding leads us away from their abusive interpretation of scripture, then… it’s not the sufficiency of scripture that is in question as much as their view of God. I believe science and scripture speak with one voice. Sometimes scripture enlightens my view of science and sometimes science enlightens my view of scripture. When they seem to conflict, that means I need to dig further, not ignore one or the other.
If they weren’t so insistent on trying to ‘help’ people with real problems I would tell them to sit content in their ignorance, but alas.
Not to mention the irony of writing an article to tell you not to learn from anything but the bible… I’m sure they have materials they require counselors to read and I betcha they aren’t all the bible.
If someone is mentally struggling but also pursuing biblical counseling, I hope the patient makes sure the counselor also has a degree in psychology and has a license in clinical counseling.
I don’t know what counselors can and can’t recommend (including meds) when it comes to the severity and mental health of the patient and can further complicate matters.
If the someone is biblical struggling and pursuing and biblical counseling, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for he/she embraces a similar doctrine, or have an understanding of the doctrine the biblical counselor believes in.
But what can really complicate matters is if he/she is seeking biblical counseling (that has strong biblical understanding, (but not a clinical counselor) and he/she has mental issues and the bible counselor isn’t aware of (or unaware of the severity) of the person pursuing the counseling.
A bible scholar doesn’t need to be a license clinical counselor (though it wouldn’t hurt) if someone is seeking biblical instruction. But both of their eyes should be wide open when it comes to believing or not believing the counselors doctrine, or he/she is wanting to explore what the counselors doctrine is.
“While the Bible may offer hope and assurance, but it does not address the treatment of mental illness, domestic violence, sexual assault, trauma, addiction, chemical imbalances of the brain, eating disorders, child abuse, phobias, anxiety, depression, etc.”
I’m going to gently disagree with you. The bible really is “sufficient and authoritative in helping people work through their problems.” The issue that often crops up is that biblical counselors are fallible, their understanding and interpretation of the bible can be deeply flawed, and often subject to their own personal interpretations.
The very words,”biblical counselor” often leave a bad taste in my mouth, because experience has lead me to conclude that your healing, your well being, is so seldom their actual motivation and concern. Unfortunately you often find that same thing in secular counseling, too.
Myself, the model that I see as the most helpful, the most productive, is survivors of sexual abuse learning from one another, survivors of domestic violence supporting one another, mental health support groups, addicts healing in recovery together. Iron sharpens iron, experience builds wisdom and empathy, so your peers become your most valuable resource.
Myself, I tend to be rather admiring of Rick Thomas, I like what he does with people, but a big part of what makes him good at what he does is that he’s been there.He’s walked there. The bible actually does work, if you are empathetic enough to point some wife who is worn down to the love of Christ, and not to the Proverbs 31 woman. Or to try to treat some rape victim with stories of Potiphars wife. I wish I were joking. but I’ve seen those two things done for real.
David, “If someone is mentally struggling but also pursuing biblical counseling, I hope the patient makes sure the counselor also has a degree in psychology and has a license in clinical counseling.”
My experience with the “Biblical Counseling” types is a rejection of modern psychology and counseling. My former church had an affiliated college, which offers degrees in psychology and counseling, and there were apparently pastors who thought the college should not offer those degrees, mostly since they were state-licensed, and that they should instead offer non-licensed ACBC-type training.
insanitybytes22: “I’m going to gently disagree with you. The bible really is “sufficient and authoritative in helping people work through their problems.””
I think you misunderstand the concept of ‘sufficiency’. I believe the Bible accurately teaches us about what God wants us to do from a sin and righteousness perspective, but the Bible cannot be sufficient as a textbook for all social sciences.
As a minimal example, the “terrible twos” are generally a result of a developing brain, where prior to that, a child did not understand that they and their parent were two separate people with two separate wills. During that time of discovery, the child realizes she has a separate will and wants to be clear that HER desires are understood.
Now, I was taught from a “Bible textbook” perspective that the terrible twos were a time of deliberate, willful rebellion – a lack of obedience, etc., but when it’s understood from a developing brain perspective, which was not known until relatively modern studies, it seems like something that should be perhaps encouraged and distracted.
I got caught by the “developmentally appropriate” trap quite a bit when the flock of legalistic young parents and non-parents told me what the Bible said about how I should parent, and, in fact, even as a harsh legalist, I was not as harsh towards my children as these people would have liked. The people who were convinced, of course, that scripture was “sufficient” to tell me how to parent, and who had verses at the ready to back their harsh views.
His tweet is condescending and arrogant, shaming and confusing people, throwing around the word “sufficiency”, which can be a trigger word itself for those deconstructing from the behavior and judgement “on display” with this tweet.
Yep! That article needs a trigger warning also. Wow! As a therapist and a woman who needed skilled trauma therapy, I am grateful I have a Christian psychologist who uses EMDR and other helpful techniques that do not come with a chapter and verse! What are they so afraid of? I believe all truth originates from God whose very nature IS truth. Lately I have seen church after church characterized by deception and evil, abuse of power, and little desire for truth. I don’t know how they can stand to spout their cliches in sermons and counseling without choking on their rank hypocrisy.
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The title of the article Friel refers to (Why All Other Psychologies Bow at the Foot of the Bible) amply demonstrates that the bible has become an object of idolatry for these guys. No one and nothing was ever required to bow at the ‘foot’ of the bible. It makes me wonder if they’ll start recommending biblical heart surgery next…
My experience of ‘biblical’ counselling amounted to little more than using the bible like a book of spells. Recite the correct scripture, say the right prayer, and hey presto, healing! Of course, when the magic doesn’t work, it is your fault because you obviously didn’t have enough faith, trust etc.
I finally got real counselling from a trained, ‘secular’, professional and it was the best thing I’d done for myself in a very long time. Interestingly, God was more tangible to me in those sessions, than in any of the other pseudo-counselling I’d submitted myself to previously.
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Truly, the Pharisees are still among us – straining out gnats and swallowing camels… and we can count Todd Friel among them. Yet he cannot possible ascribe to what he himself proposes. Does he mean to say that there is no other manner of counsel or therapy that helps hurting people, or that he himself never offers counsel that doesn’t incorporate Scripture? That’s ridiculous.
And let’s take a step back for a moment to acknowledge that the epistles in the New Testament were specifically written as letters to the churches. The authors had no idea those letters would one day become what we now embrace as Scriptural truth – encouragement and instruction regarding how we should relate to one another and live God-honoring lives of faith. At the end of the day, truth is truth, whether it comes from the mouth of a donkey or the pen of a radically reformed Pharisee.
I don’t see how anyone could put any measure of stock in Mr. Friel’s assertions.
Are there believers out there who actually buy into this stuff?
Well, well, well.
While my history scores a 100% on the ACES system of trauma my recovery is more like a patchwork quilt of the work of the Holy Spirit using people, and situations.
At the base of my healing was a simplistic belief or prayer. HELP ME. It was either whispered, mouthed, cried, shouted, or wailed in fear, desperation, anger, and confusion. It was my mainstay prayer for years.
While I think the Bible is good it must be highlighted by the power of the spirit to speak truth , hope, and love into us. And whatever form that takes is up to God.
I could never have tolerated a sterile, clinical, boring presentation that this man suggests.
Everyone is an individual, their mental, physical, spiritual needs vary as much as the trauma or mental health issues they experience.
What bugs me about this guys methods is it eliminates Gods plan for healing and puts it in a man made box of rules. I hate the idea of it. It makes me feel rebellious and angry thinking about how ignorant it is.
Everybody who has commented thus far has such great insight and experience. This is where healing begins!!! I love all your comments.
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I apologize for being so repetitive, but, for years I had anxiety and clinical depression and the Bible did not help me with it. The Bible did not deliver or cure me of depression or anxiety.
(Nor did prayer, Jesus, faith, attending church, or volunteering at charities or any other spiritual, Christian-related beliefs or practices.)
I suspect Frield’s understanding of sufficiency of the Scriptures may be flawed. His understanding of what the Bible was intended for is wrong.
So many Christians want the Bible to be everything, and it’s not supposed to be everything and anything.
Many Christians want the Bible to be a marriage counseling book, psychology text book, science book, history book, diet book (no joke, I’ve seen Christians on TV selling cook books they’ve based off the Bible).
The Bible is not trying to be any of those things nor does it define itself in those terms.
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They actually don’t want to help people with their problems.
I found a FAQ page for one of these biblical counseling organizations a couple years ago and pasted part of it to the other blog.
Part of the FAQ, they admitted that they do not care to help you solve your problems or cure you. No, they say that they want you to think about your sin, etc, etc.
They don’t care if you walk away from their meetings or sessions still with PTSD, depression, or whatever you have, they just want you to realize that if you do have depression or whatever, it’s because you’re a miserable sinner.
insanity bites said,
I was reading a book by competent Christian psychiatrists who touched on this.
Too many Christians – especially the kinds who are enamored of biblical counseling – think that the “cure” for depression (or whatever) is to just sit and read the Bible alone (and/or pray).
However, as they point out in their materials, the Bible itself says THAT is a false view. There are verses that tell believers to eventually put the Bible down and go do what it says. There are other verses that indicate or teach believers to get help by going to other believers for emotional support.
The Bible itself does not say that if you are having a problem or hurting, to just sit and read the Bible alone.
But that is one aspect of what these Todd Friel guys are promoting – and it’s not a biblical view, the irony!
Everything in your post there is spot on, and I tried to share some of it with another poster (anongrace) because he/she seems to subscribe to this view that if you just read the Bible or understand Jesus redeemed you at the cross, magic presto change-o, all your problems will vanish, whether it’s anxiety attacks, or what have you. That sure as heck was not my experience.
(continued in part 2)
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I just read a blog post or two on this subject recently. I think it was at Jesus Creed blog(?) (or perhaps Internet Monk), and the term they used to describe this biblical idolatry or inappropriate over-reliance on the Bible was “Biblicism.”
If you look up the word “Biblicism” on Google, you can find a lot of pages about it. Here is just one:
_Biblicism: What is it and Why Does it Make Baby Jesus Cry?_
A blog called “Reformed Reader” quoted from someone named Terry Johnson, in his book called The Case for Traditional Protestantism (partial quote):
The blogger of that blog added:
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“Believers must not fall into an unwarranted biblicism which, in the name of biblical authority, narrows the scope of its application to only that which the Bible explicitly states and not to that which it implies as well.”
Thanks Daisy, I didn’t realise that type of approach had an official title. But I do think it is ironic that so many christians refuse to accept any wisdom or insight that they can’t find chapter and verse for, while the bible itself shows that God was able to impart wisdom through a talking donkey! Go figure.
“This is a danger when the nature of Scripture is not understood. There is not a verse for every occasion. The Bible is not a book of detailed causistry providing answers for every imaginable ethical question.”
This is a good quote for a lot of what has been discussed recently. Divorce, mental health, and women using their gifts to preach and teach.
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It’s pretty easy to see the idolatrous way the Bible is used here, stating it’s the only source for help. Whatever happened to the experience of the living Word of God, Jesus?
For those who are on a deconstruction journey there are many resources out there and one that has helped me are The Bible for Normal People podcasts by Pete Enns and Jared Byas.
Proverbs 15:1 says: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
If the counselor understands, practices and isolates verses that calm and sooth someone with mental issues, the bible can very much be incorporated. (even to the non-Christian seeking a biblical perspective)
If however, the counselor applies an aggressive approach and is judgmental, when biblically counseling someone who has mental problems, or simply doesn’t embrace the same doctrine, it is usually destructive.
My impression when biblical counseling fails especially if the patient is dealing with mental illness, is the counselor doesn’t have proper credentials to counsel someone with mental illness and not know the magnitude of how ill the patient is. The patient also may not even know they are ill.
(I know a love one who is mentally ill and doesn’t know it, she is sweet, it breaks my heart)
Oh no! What kind of ‘biblical’ view tries to prevent people from getting help?!??😱 Last week someone handed me an article describing a pastor repenting of Christian counseling after reading Calvin’s Institutes. The article blasted A.A., Focus on the Family, R.C. Sprout for the secular influence they bring to the table. All I could say is, ‘No! This would mean going backward in every way! These voices have been help in my personal life. If you are speaking on behalf of God Mr. Friel, please be careful of what you are saying.
My guess: Competition.
They’re terrified that if believers find relief from something in conjunction with the Bible, or even other than the Bible, their counsellees will use that instead and deprive them of that all-important money-and-power.
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As far as I can tell, precious few “biblical” counsellors have any kind of meaningful credentials, let alone the kind to properly handle mental illness. This sets up such counsellors to fail in all kinds of situations.
Not only that, but “biblical” counsellors typically eschew state certification. Which means that if their advice or counsel goes wrong in any way, the state can’t revoke their license or otherwise hold them responsible. And their victims are often left with few avenues to do so on their own.
Nice racket, isn’t it? Not particularly Christlike, though…
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In most cases, I don’t look at it as a racket. I think most biblical counselors would rather not handle the more difficult cases. Especially ones with anger management issues or ones that have been abused and need someone with time.
Many Biblical Counselors feel overwhelmed. Their schedule may not warrant them to take what sometimes takes an enormous amount to time.
Plus they can only counsel based on what the patient is willing to tell them. Which involves a lot of trust, which takes a lot of time to develop.
Without having clinical certification, they can only focus on their interpretation of scripture based on the doctrine and the methodology they choose to follow.
The patient may not have the ability to pay the astronomical fees to see a Clinical Counselor and for a Biblical Counselor, they are limited in time and expertise in guiding someone with a mental disability.
So yeah, I think both the patient and counselor in this case make themselves vulnerable.
There is an enormous amount of need, not enough to fill those needs.
I have seen the look of weariness of a Pastor, after counseling someone who’s life has been a quagmire of abuse at a young age, being raised by incompetent parents and now into adulthood, she is making really bad decisions one right after the other.. Unable to comprehend what it means to problem solve because she was never led by example.
Not sure if a clinical counselor can guide her. So if she goes to a biblical counselor they are at risk. She is also battling her own “Free Spirit” mentality, which I have been told, represent 10% of the population. (it is the way they are wired)
She needs a miracle to happen.
I definitely don’t plan to hire a “Biblical surgeon” when I need an appendectomy!
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Serving Kids in Japan said, “My guess: Competition.”
I think pride and control play a large part in the equation, too. If you are convinced that only you know how to “fix” the lives of others, then you start to believe that your words hold a great deal of power, and so you feel the need to make people submit to you and obey you – for their own good, of course!
“Not only that, but “biblical” counsellors typically eschew state certification.”
Which means that their ‘advice’ is not contestable, and they cannot be held accountable for it. And therefore, the counsellee has no assurance of safety 😦
A Pastor or “biblical” counsellor should have the sense not to counsel someone in this state, but to realize that he’s out of his depth, and to refer her to a qualified professional. He should have the contact info of certified counsellors on hand, and encourage her to learn wisdom from sources other than the Bible. Maybe then he’d be less “weary” or “overwhelmed”.
I’m sorry, David, but I have no idea what you mean by this. Could you please explain it?
Or she just needs to meet someone with some actual compassion, humility and common sense.
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Most Pastor’s generally when counseling someone, are initially trying to help them.
When someone who has mental issues, is seeking counseling from a Pastor, they probably already know the Pastor is going to refer certain passages as a way to help them.
The patient at first, may be able to camouflage it and appear more normal than they really are not telling the Pastor or counselor everything inside their heart.
As for the person I know that needs a miracle, (to say the least) they do need to be with someone who is compassionate, humble and common sense which involves a very calm spirit and a lot of tolerance to deal with the spontaneous behavior that some “free spirits” have more than others.
Many free spirits lack the type of goals that can sustain a living, so they need to be with someone who will take care of their wants and needs.
Free Spirits are equally controlling and equally as nasty and they expect others to see it the same as they do, with very little flexibility to discover compromises and usually has to wait until something really bad to happen, before making an adjustment.
You put a free spirit in the same room with a neat and tidy conformist that lives by strict guidelines they grew up in,, it is a remedy for trouble.
You get a “free spirit” in the same room with one that are natural emotional and physical abusers to everyone, then that is a remedy for disaster,,
I’ve known “free spirits” who are very nice people that simply can’t cope or fit in as they wonder from place to place, no goals or no realistic future vision.
Yes they need love.
There are many various levels of free spirit personalities.
D “Most Pastor’s generally when counseling someone, are initially trying to help them.”
I agree with this, but I think that a Pharisaical church doctrine leads pastors to the wrong conclusions of what would be helpful. In fact, I think that ACBC is a systematized Pharisaical church doctrine. The idea behind ACBC is that no matter what issue the person across the desk brings to you, your purpose in counseling is to find some unrepentant sin in their life that is causing them to have issues – because apparently someone who is perfect would not need help.
So, picture this. A child sits across the desk. The child relates how his parents beat him for every little infraction and how his father ridicules him in front of his (both the child’s and father’s) friends. The ACBC model requires the pastor to find some hole in the child’s story – what did he do to deserve the beating? What unrepentant sin was in his heart that was causing his problems? ACBC doesn’t provide a framework for the pastor to deal with sin outside the person across the desk, which is why it always comes back to victim blaming. The fallaciousness of the entire system is apparent when you put Jesus across the desk from the ACBC pastors. What unrepentant sin is in Jesus’s life that is causing pain and conflict in his life? Isn’t that the whole point of Job – that his worthless counselors kept trying to find that “SIN” in Job that God was punishing, and finally, God himself had to set those ACBC counselors straight!
I DID picture that and that is why I put a happy face on and fit in each week as I attended my Pharisaical church. That is why I chose to live hundreds of miles from my nearest family. Ultimately, that and the rest of the Pharisaical system is why I walked out of the church I grew up in.
I don’t dispute them coming up with wrong conclusions, even the well meaning gentle spirited Pastor that is administering biblical counseling.
Patients who go to see a Pastor for counseling, give the biblical counselor the impression they are looking for biblical guidance to help them through a rough spot in the spiritual sense.
I’m sure there are different variations of biblical interpretations that can go into play. So I think it would be best to embrace the same doctrine as the Pastor, if the desire is biblical counseling.
I’m not against a Pastor with a gentle with knowledge of the bible in doing that. Now if there is deep rooted mental illness and the Pastor doesn’t have clinical counseling credentials that it makes both the Pastor and the patient vulnerable.
If the patient with serious mental health issues and has no money and the gentle spirited well meaning Pastor is the only outlet the patient has things can go very wrong.
The need is great, the workers are few.
If they think, like friel does, that it’s somehow ungodly to use anything but the Bible, they will NOT refer them to someone qualified.
Furthermore, you don’t know what you don’t know. If you refuse to educate yourself on anything, you are bound to give bad advice and not recognize when you should refer! That is being taught and it needs to be untaught.
Btw ‘free spirit’ is not a clinical diagnosis. Or a bad thing, in the way it is generally used.
Those who believe in the sufficiency of the Bible fail to recognize the need for medications that treat depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Nor do they refer patients to a doctor for evaluation and medication if needed. In my personal experience the emphasis the pastoral counselor tried to say sin was responsible. What I needed and got from a doctor was medication and a brief stint with a trained clinician and I was much better.
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So David, is this “free spirit” designation based on actual research and careful observation? How do you know this… personality type comprises 10% of the population? Or that it is “how they are wired”?
If you could link to any sources, that would be appreciated.
Hi Serving Japan,
Trust me, I know I’m no expert, but if I had taken the time to understand what a Free Spirit is, I would’ve been more nurturing. Much of my own family are that way.
I did copy and paste, the strengths and weaknesses of ENFP Personalities if you are unable to find it. And I will be happy to forward to you.
Many years ago I worked with a self-proclaimed free-spirit/minimalist who fit the high/low description of the link I found this morning. Unfortunately he couldn’t cope with life and passed away. It was he that told me that 10% of the population were free spirits. I’ve been to Hawaii, and to tell you the truth, I would think 10% is a light estimate.
The title of the link I’m sending proclaims the number of free spirits is 7%. (16 Personalities ” ENFP Personality (“The Campaigner”)
What made it tough for me, was my mom was a free spirit who force fed me to be a conformist. Maybe I’m have some free spirit in me though it is contained. My wife is a bit of a free spirit but doesn’t have the noticeable weaknesses. My mom was force to deal with her weaknesses early in life, because she was a single mom with 2 kids before her 23rd birthday.
I did copy and paste, the strengths and weaknesses of ENFP Personalities if you are unable to find it. And I will be happy to forward to you. Surprisingly, we may have a little of everything on this list, but a conformist may have some balance.
Sometimes I think abusers are free spirits, because of the controlling aspect and living by their own rules, not thinking about the consequences.
Serving Japan, we are wired differently, I even took a sales class who taught us to understand these 4 types of personalities (there are other types as well). The Director, The Analytical, The Relater, The Socializer.
If we take the time to understand the people we are surrounded by, we will be more nurturing and understanding to them.
“By their fruits ye shall know them”, and Nouthetic/Biblical(TM) Counseling has a real bad track record.
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Pharisees do not make an idol of the Bible. They do not revere the Bible. Pharisees make an idol of themselves and their doctrines. They make idols of their power and self-proclaimed authority to interpret the Bible once and for all, and to their authority, in their minds, all must bow. Idolizing the Bible would be bad enough, even to those who believe it is the very word of God (as I believe), because it is not God Himself. But again, that is not what the neocalvinists are doing.
Ultimately, I believe, they’re more about worshipping their cult heroes, their own grand abilities to understand the ultimate truth, the hidden truths, the gnosis, their great intellect and sparkling brilliance. It’s not really the Bible their worshipping: it’s themselves.
They’re, not their
Didn’t the Pharisees combine a reckless interpretation of the bible and manipulation to maintain control over the people? It seems they isolated a verse or two to justify their authority while isolating verses to hold others captive in sin.