The biblical doctrine is then to the effect that there are two aspects to man. Using the word ‘entity’ to denote that which has distinctness of being, we can say that there are two entities in man’s constitution, diverse in nature and origin, the one derived from the earth, material, corporeal, phenomenal, divisible, the other derived from a distinct action of God, immaterial and ordinarily not phenomenal, indivisible and indestructible. These two entities form one organic unit without disharmony or conflict. In the integral person they are interdependent. They coact and interact. The modes of coactions and interaction are largely hid from us. The union is intimate and intricate and we are not about to define its mode, nor can we discover the relations they sustain to each other.
John Murray, “The Nature of Man” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume Two, pgs. 21-22.
Humans are created as both body and soul. No human can exist without a soul and no human is intended to exist indefinitely apart from the body. (Remember, the great hope of the age to come is not disembodied existence, but glorified bodily existence in a new creation.) But this mind-body connection is a complex one, especially as it relates to struggles that involve both mind and body in various yet unquantifiable ways. (Note, for example, that in many cases, one cannot say with certainty that the mind is, say, 58% responsible for a given issue whereas the body is only 42% responsible).
As tempting as it is to emphasize one constituent part of man over the other, responsible soul care is holistic. In his counseling textbook Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Zondervan, 2014), Robert W. Kellemen does a nice job of paying equal attention to people’s spiritual and physical parts when it comes to helping them with their problems. Informed by a Reformed worldview with its roots in the creation mandate, Kellemen gives a robust place for psychotropic medicine while not giving into the temptation to thereby give the body more importance than the soul.
God created and ordered the material universe. Science investigates the material universe and affirms that order. Logically, then, as Christians we should embrace science, research, and medicine as disciplines that examine God’s creation in obedience to the Creation Mandate. As Steve Viars states, “Those ministering the Word through counseling should be friends of good science and desire to promote the research and development of hard data in every area of human existence.”
Studying and treating the complex mind-body connection is part of the Creation Mandate. Neurological psychology, rightly undertaken, involves the scientific study of the physical brain, its normal functioning, abnormal functioning, and physical cures leading to a restoration of normal functioning. Such scientific research done in submission to the Creation Mandate has great potential for addressing these complex mind-body issues….
A biblically based, holistic approach to counseling respects all dimensions of personhood created by God in the full context of the Bible’s grand narrative. It is naïve and potentially harmful to treat people as one-dimensional beings. While this means that we must take into account possible physiological contributions to life struggles, it also means that we should never view psychotropic interventions as the sole solution for life issues. Sadly in a fallen world, fallen scientists tend to see us simply as material beings, soulless machines. Thus, what could be part of the curative process can be used as justification to ignore the inner-life issues that may well be connected to various emotional and mental struggles.
In addition to legitimate concern with a materialistic worldview, it is also wise to acknowledge that psychotropic medication is still in its infancy. We would be naïve not to take into account their side effects and the low current success rate in actually helping troubled people.
Still, as part of the Creation Mandate, psychotropic medication and neurological psychology as part of a comprehensive, whole-person approach has biblical legitimacy. Psychotropic medication is an issue of Christian liberty and wisdom. Therefore, if Ashley were to decide to take medication for her depression, God’s people should respond with compassionate understanding, not with guilt-inducing attitudes.
Gospel-Centered Counseling, pgs. 48-49. Bold emphasis added.
There are some (e.g., old-school nouthetic counseling people) who will feel Kellemen concedes too much and does not sufficiently affirm the centrality of God’s word in helping people with their problems. This is a misunderstanding of Kellemen; the title of his book is, after all, Gospel-Centered Counseling. There are others (e.g., anti-biblical-counseling people) who will feel Kellemen is not supportive enough of medicine. This may also be a misunderstanding of Kellemen, although, it may also be due to a skewed perspective. (This would be analogous to the the perspective so evident in modern homosexuality debates which claims that any absence of effusive praise, or any evident hesitancy to affirm something without reserve is nothing less than “hate.”)
What Kellemen actually does is provide an important path through the debate. May God continue to raise up scientists and doctors who can better understand and treat the factors that influence the human body (whether physical or spiritual). And may God continue to raise up pastors and counselors who can minister the word to those with spiritual and physical problems and help them to enjoy closer communion with Jesus Christ.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)