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A pastor on anxiety

Rev. Dirk Poppe is serving as the pastor of the Southern River Free Reformed Church, in Western Australia. Prior to this he served as pastor of churches in BC & Alberta. Dirk is married to Amanda, and the LORD has blessed them with six children. Shortly after I was married, my wife and I moved to Southern Alberta where we had the privilege of being shepherded by Rev. Poppe. His care for the hearts and well-being of the flock was very evident, and he was also one of the first to speak to me about the value of biblical counseling. Knowing the critical connection between spiritual health and anxiety, I wanted to go beyond professional counselors and also ask a pastor for insight into anxiety. Pastor Poppe was at the top of my list, and I’m grateful for his insights. What follow is an abridged edit of our interview. – MP Have you seen any changes when it comes to the prevalence of anxiety in the church community and how we are dealing with it? Probably the biggest change that has led to an increase in the incidence of anxiety among the youth in the past 25 years is the introduction of phones and social media. It seems that there are several dynamics here. Some children are bullied on line. Some children, especially girls, tend to compare themselves to others more which leads to certain insecurities and increased anxiety. But underneath of that I wonder if there is a more foundational issue. Some people who have spent time on the mission field have told me that the incidence of depression and anxiety is much lower on the mission field than in our culture. Some people in these cultures live much closer to family and friends and their lives are much more integrated together. I have to wonder that with our wealth and increasing adoption of technology we are more isolated from others now than before. While social media, email and other forms of electronic communication gives the semblance of relationship, it is a poor substitute from sitting around making memories with your friends or brothers and sisters in Christ. I also wonder if the algorithms in our social media lead us to a lot of distressing stories that lead to an increase in anxiety and depression. Have we changed in the way that we are dealing with it? Yes and no. As more of members and office bearers in our churches become aware of issues like trauma and its effects and various mental health issues, there is an increasing sensitivity to those who genuinely struggle with these matters. I am very thankful for that. I have witnessed numerous times where people in leadership positions have been able to provide good counsel in these situations. At the same time, I have also witnessed some who lack awareness about these issues take an approach that is quite damaging to those who struggle with anxiety. On the whole I think that I have seen more awareness and sensitivity to these issues now than earlier. At the same time, as our culture has moved away from the acknowledgement of God in the past years, this has undermined a recognition of sin. You will rarely read a newspaper that acknowledges that a person is evil or has committed sin. Instead, our culture has adopted a therapeutic mindset. And so the problem is often identified as the mental health issues the person is struggling with. This trend has also impacted our members. It seems that some of our members are quicker to seek counseling or medical help for depression and anxiety now than in the past. I wonder if that is always justified. Could it be for some of our people that in some situations the problem is sin and the solution is not medication, but repentance? What is the role of the church in response to those who struggle with anxiety? How does this intersect with professional help from counsellors? I think that the church can play a wonderful role to help some people who struggle with anxiety. One of the most healing things for someone who has experienced trauma, who has mental health issues or who is stressed out by life is to be surrounded by a community of people who love them. A counsellor can be enormously helpful as they take the time to assist a person to understand what is going on in their mind or to deal with past traumas or specific marriage problems. A doctor or psychiatrist can be very helpful in prescribing certain medications to get them through a tough time. But at the same time, in order to heal, it’s also very important for someone who is anxious to have some close friends and a community of people who love and support them. Those who heal from anxiety, distressing events and past traumas are often those who are surrounded by a number of people who love them deeply, care for them well and who offer them wise counsel. The Bible calls some forms of anxiety a sin that need to be repented of. I have heard it described as a mild form of atheism (not trusting God or going about things as if we are the one who has to figure it out on our own). How would you explain the difference between healthy care/concern, and the type of anxiety that Jesus warns us against? Good question. It’s beautiful to have a deep level of concern about those things that God has called us to care about. We can be deeply concerned about the future of our business, the wellbeing of our children or the direction of our church. And yet at times we can become anxious in our hearts about these things. One of the ways in which I have dealt with this over the years is to understand that I am responsible for my contribution to a situation, but I am not responsible for the outcomes. The times we get stressed out is when we put ourselves in the place of God and we try to determine outcomes. We are not God. We do not have the power to determine outcomes. The LORD does. So instead of becoming stressed when things don’t go the way that we think is best, it’s important to humble ourselves before the LORD, do what we can to help, and then in faith rely on Him to work things out. From a spiritual perspective, what would you say may be contributing to increased anxiety in the world and in the church? At core the single biggest factor that leads to increased anxiety is a rejection of God. The LORD is the source of life and love. Those who know God and who walk intimately with him learn what it looks like to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As we know God, we learn what justice and righteousness looks like. We learn to love others from the heart as we have been loved. We learn to treat others rightly as we have been treated by God. If we know of God’s faithfulness, then we learn to trust Him and to be faithful to our promises. As Christ lives in our hearts, the fruit of the Spirit is manifest within us. Our lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In 1 John 4:18 we are told, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” As we experience the love of God and live out of that love, we are set free from all fear and anxiety. Those who reject God do not have the Spirit. They don’t know of God’s love and grace, his kindness and help, his justice and righteousness. As they live in sin and get caught under the grip of sin, they come into profound distress which often leads to anxiety. In Romans 1:18-32 and 2 Timothy 2:1-5, Paul spells out the sin that comes into the lives of those people who reject God. It’s a brutal life that leads to much distress and anxiety. If we become apathetic and drift away from the LORD, it should be no surprise that we experience more deceit, slander, injustice, oppression, violence and evil. These things not only steal your joy. They also lead to much anxiety. So, I would say that one of the most important things is to know the LORD well, understand how rich you are in Christ and to walk closely with him. Are there any specific things that you would encourage God's children to do to help them and their children not be trapped in anxiety? Love each other deeply. If you love your husband or wife deeply, if your marriage is characterized by kindness, gentleness, compassion and honesty, that creates a context of peace, safety and stability for you and your family. If mom loves and nurtures the little ones, if dinnertime with your teenagers drags out because you are having a great time sharing and laughing together, then most of the time anxiety kind of fades into the background. If you open your heart and home to each other and have an abundance of love your brothers and sisters in the communion of the saints, then people thrive and anxiety disappears. The most important thing to grow in love and empathy is to know the LORD. It’s as you know how much God loves you and as you understand how rich you are in Christ, that you have a deep-down peace in your heart and anxiety melts away. Get out into creation and get to know your LORD as He has revealed himself in this world. Find the trails in your area and hike all of them. Go camping. Take along a canoe and spend some time on the water. Study some part of God’s creation and become an expert in it. There are few things more delightful and invigorating than regularly spending time in God’s beautiful creation and marveling at the glory and wisdom of the God who created it. Also, take steps to limit the influence of those things that tend to isolate you from others. Ask Christ to help you have self-control over your use of media and technology. Get everyone in the family to monitor their screen time and write it on a chart on the fridge. And then pray over it. I would encourage parents to limit the time they and their children spend on social media, watching TV or playing video games. These things often suck the life out of us and steal our joy. Find a sport you love. Take up running. Make it a habit to go for a walk with a friend. Make sure that you get a good night of rest. Ask Christ to help you use the time and the gifts that you have to help and bless others. God often rescues us from anxiety as we focus our attention on Christ and all he has done for us and then seek to live a life of gratitude and service before him. Illustration by Stephanie Vanderpol....

Articles, Book Reviews

Recommended books on fear and anxiety

While our website has a growing number of articles on anxiety, space allows an article to say only so much. To help readers dig deeper, we've got a lot of recommended books here, and also links to excerpts from 17 of them. Recommendations First up, three biblical counselors offered up the book recommendations that follow. Two of these are devotionals, quite a few of them are by Ed Welch, and a couple were recommended by more than one counselor. Heres Snijder Prescription Without Pills – Susan Heitler When People are Big and God is Small – Edward T. Welch A Small Book for the Anxious Heart (devotional) – Edward T. Welch - see the excerpt from Westminster down below Caring For the Souls of Children (Chapter 7 specifically) – Amy Baker Generation Z Unfiltered – Tim Elmore & Andrew McPeak Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt For children: Buster Tries to Bail – David & Nan Powlison Zoe's Hiding Place – David Powlison For adults: Laughing at the Days to Come – Tessa Thompson Anxiety: Knowing God's Peace (devotional) – Paul Tautges Created to Care: God's Truth for Anxious Moms – Sara Wallace Reset – David Murray Refresh – Shona and David Murray Mini booklets Helping Your Anxious Child – Julie Lowe Teens and Anxiety – Eliza Huie Living in a Dangerous World – William P. Smith John Siebenga Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times – John Eldredge Heres Snijder and Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt Running Scared – Edward T. Welch When I Am Afraid: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety – Edward T. Welch Excerpts David Murray's Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression David Murray wrote a pair of books, one for parents called, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, and a second, for their children to read called Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression. I think these will prove to be incredibly helpful for families facing this struggle. Read a chapter from the teen book, titled "Beautiful Brianna." Westminster Bookstore's free "sampler" of 15 theologians tackling anxiety and fear The folks at the Westminster Bookstore have done something special, collecting key chapters from 15 Christian authors addressing the topic of anxiety and fear, and they then distributed those collected chapters for free. The thought is, you can sample them, find out which might be the most helpful, and then order that book (preferably from Westminster Bookstore, at least if you live in the US). In order, the chapters taken come from: A small book for the anxious heart – Edward T. Welch (4 daily readings from it) Anxiety – Knowing God’s Peace – Paul Tautges (4 readings) Created to Care: God’s Truth for Anxious Moms – Sara Wallace (Chap 8) Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy – Mark Vroegop (Intro/Chap 1) Everyday prayer – John Calvin (Ps 130, 143) God’s Grace in your Suffering – David Powlison (Intro) In the Presence of my Enemies – Dale Ralph Davis (Ps 29 – Chap 6) Living Life Backwards – David Gibon (Chap 1) O Death, Where is Thy Sting – John Murray (Chap 13) Piercing prayers – Puritans Pray Big – Alistair Begg (Chap 2) The Promises of God – Charles Spurgeon (5 daily readings) Suffering – Paul David Tripp (Chapter 11) The Whole Armor of God – Iain M. Duguid (Chap 1) Untangling Emotions – J. Alasdair Groves + Winston T. Smith (Chap 13) Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (Intro) Click here to download the PDF (4 mb) or read it in your browser by clicking here....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Beautiful Brianna

An excerpt from David Murray’s Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression  **** Dr. David Murray is a professor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and also a counselor. He has authored a set of books for parents to use along with their struggling son or daughter. The first, Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression is for teens to read on their own. It has 18 chapters, each one detailing a particular struggle with anxiety. All but one of these accounts is fictional – the author’s despairing doubt is the exception – but all are relatable. “Circular Sarah” in chapter 1 is overwhelmed by her schoolwork and extra-curriculars, and starts having sleep problems, which leaves her even more exhausted, and even more overwhelmed. Chapter 4’s “Imaginative Imogen” has a vivid imagination that might be a blessing in many circumstances, but has Imogen putting herself in the shoes of every victim she reads about in her social media feed. Whether it’s a school shooting, or some other tragedy, she feels it, and it’s leaving her fearful and depressed. In chapter 9 we meet “Negative Nicole” who can’t help but see the bad side of everything. Even when she’s having fun with her friends, she feels guilty about not working harder on her school work. These are personalities we’ve all met, and to some extent been, and Dr. Murray doesn’t simply capture what’s going wrong, but gives solid steps for how teens can redirect their thinking, learn to know God better, and otherwise start really addressing and contending with their anxiety. The parallel text for parents, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, covers the same personalities chapter by chapter, but offers more depth, and is written to equip parents to talk to and help their anxious teens. There’s some repeat from one book to the next, but not that much, so parents may even want to read both. It is an amazing set, with counseling that takes the best secular insights and filters them through the lens of Scripture to keep what is true and dispose of the bunk – this is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. It is also immediately applicable, and I can imagine parents being so very encouraged. Battling anxiety might be a battle indeed, but in crafting this set, Dr. David Murray has given parents and teens an amazing tool they can both use together as a team. To give you a taste of what’s inside, the publisher has given us permission to share Chapter 11, about “Beautiful Brianna” from the teen book. – Jon Dykstra BEAUTIFUL BRIANNA I spend a lot of time on my appearance. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I have a part-time job, but I’m struggling to save up for a car because I spend all my money on new clothes and makeup. I’m always fighting with my mom because she says my jeans are too tight, my tops are too low, my shorts are too short, and so on. It’s so stressful. My friends say I’m gorgeous, and I get a lot of attention from the boys, but I’m not happy with myself. I can put on a smile when I’m with people and act confidently, but deep down I don’t think I’ll ever be pretty enough. —Brianna The Key of Identity What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about yourself? What do you answer when you ask yourself, “Who am I?” This can be difficult to answer in our teen years because these are often times of great change and confusion as we transition from childhood to adulthood. Like Brianna, we can end up adopting a false and harmful identity. Here are some common examples: I am my body. Do you define yourself by your body, like Brianna did? Nine out of ten girls are unhappy with their body. “I’m fat... skinny... tall... small... ugly... beautiful...” I am my grades. Do you get your sense of worth from your performance at school? If you get good grades, you feel good about yourself and look down on others. If you get bad grades, you are a failure, and are jealous of others. I am my friends. Do you build your identity around having friends – online or real life? The more friends you have, the better you feel. Or is your life worthless unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? I am my sin. Is there a sin in your life that dominates your thinking? You cannot think about yourself without thinking of that sin, that habit, that incident. I am my sport. If you win, or your team wins, you feel great. If not, life’s not worth living. Your mood depends on medals and trophies. I am my anxiety/depression. Have you let your anxiety or depression define you? When you look at yourself, all you see is depression or anxiety. I am my past. Maybe you’ve been the victim of abuse. I’m so sorry. It was not your fault. It should not have happened to you. It was wrong. But are you allowing that abuse to ruin the rest of your life by letting it dominate your thoughts and define who you are? I am my sexual desires. God created us so that sexual desire, intimacy, and enjoyment would be part of human experience. Sin, however, has distorted this good gift, with the result that what God designed to be a part of us can become the whole of us. We’re especially vulnerable to this in our teen years when we experience the awakening of sexual desire. This can become so powerful that we allow it to define us at times. However, it’s a big mistake to let extreme, confusing, and temporary emotions define us for the rest of our lives. What’s so bad about all these identities? Some are simply false; they just aren’t true. Others are based on factors that are constantly changing. Some of them give power to other people to define us. Others are given first place when they don’t deserve even tenth place. And all of this creates a lot of mental and emotional distress. So we’re going to replace these false and shaky identities with a true and strong identity, one given to us by the God who made us and knows us best. We do this in four steps. STEP ONE: I AM AN IMAGE BEARER OF GOD God made you to bear his image (Gen. 1:27), to show who he is to the rest of the world. That’s your fundamental identity and purpose. Therefore, before you even answer “Who am I?,” you need to find out who God is. Often we go wrong on the “Who am I?” question because we’ve got the wrong answer to the “Who is God?” question. STEP TWO: I AM A SINNER Although God originally made us to carry and show his image to the world, we are now sinners and our sin has distorted that image. That’s why we need the Bible. It shows us who God is and who we are. STEP THREE: I AM A CHRISTIAN To fully recover your God-given identity and replace all false identities, you need to become a Christian through faith in Christ. Faith in Christ gives you a new identity in Christ. Think of all that becomes true of you when you can truly say, “I am a Christian.” I am loved by God. God has loved me from eternity past and will love me forever (Jeremiah 31:3). Therefore, whoever else loves me or doesn’t love me matters much less. I am a child of God. It doesn’t matter who my natural family is if I am a child of God. As part of God’s family, I need never be lonely because I have brothers and sisters all over the world (Romans 8:14–17). I am accepted by God. Others may be cast out and reject me, but God accepts me 100 percent (Romans 15:7). I am forgiven by God. Yes, I am a sinner, and I have committed terrible sins, but Christ’s blood washes and cleanses me from all sin and makes me clean in his sight. I am white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). I am the body of Christ. If my body is a member of Christ’s body, what more can I ask for? It may not be the most attractive or desirable body to others, but Christ has shed his blood to make my body part of his body (1 Corinthians 6:15). I am a joy to God. God doesn’t just tolerate me; he enjoys me and sings songs over me and about me (Zephaniah 3:17). None of these things ever change if you are a Christian. They don’t depend on your feelings or on other people. You are not defined by your body, your grades, your friends, your enemies, your sin, your sports, your successes, your failures, or your sexuality. You are defined by God, and with this God-given identity in hand you can defy every other attempt to define or identify you. Let God’s voice silence all the other voices. If you are not a Christian yet, I hope you will read about this incredible identity and say, “I want that for myself.” STEP FOUR: I AM UNIQUE Steps one through three are equally true of all God’s children. However, that doesn’t mean that God just turns out Christian clones, look-alikes in every respect. No, God has made each of us different with unique personalities, characters, gifts, graces, and callings. We make a big mistake if we make our uniqueness the most important thing about us. However, we also err if we ignore or downplay our God-given uniqueness. That’s why we come to God and ask him—not our parents, our culture, or our friends— “Who do you want me to be?” If we answer this right, so much else will be right. Update from Brianna I was definitely defining myself by my looks. My identity was tied up with my body. Through counseling, I came to see that this was causing me to be depressed. I could never be beautiful enough. There were always going to be lots of girls prettier than me. Once my counselor introduced me to the four steps, I had a plan to recover my stolen identity and replace my false identity. I thought this would work quicker than it did, but it’s taking time because I had embraced a false identity for so long. I do have more good days than bad days though, especially when I consciously work through the four steps. The key thing has been to get my identity from God, not from my body, not from my looks, and not from other people. I don’t think so much about how I look now, and I’m happier. I spend a lot less money on clothes and makeup. I might even save up enough money for a car by next summer. Content taken from “Why Am I Feeling Like This?”  by David Murray, ©2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care

by David Powlison 2021 / 76 pages Some have difficulty applying adjectives like “kind” and “compassionate” to biblical counseling. But when I think of the late David Powlison, those words spring straight to mind. Though I never met him personally, I’ve been blessed by many of his books, articles, and talks. In all of them I hear the voice of someone kind and compassionate, someone you can readily recognize as a disciple of our Lord Jesus. This little book, Powlison’s last, is no different. He loved God and he cared about people. As the title indicates, it’s written for pastors. It’s about the pastor’s calling to take care of souls. However, Powlison wrote it hoping that others would listen in as well. This is because, as he writes, “All Christians are meant to become wiser counselors.” Being a pastor, I know how easy it is to either neglect or deflect the work of counseling. But Powlison makes the case that pastors can’t forget their sheep and they shouldn’t be too quick to pass off their sheep to “professionals,” especially those who aren’t Christians. He points out how “Counselling is not essentially a technical enterprise calling for technical expertise. It is a relational and pastoral enterprise engaging in care and cure of the soul.” This is true for every type of counselor, Christian or not. But unbelieving mental health professionals are handicapped: …they serve in pastorates with no God and no church. They aim to restore straying, suffering, willful, dying human beings. But they consider Christ unnecessary to their pastoral work. As a matter of principle, they will not lead strugglers to the Savior of strays. You know better. Powlison proceeds to explain how pastors should redefine counseling. Perhaps it would be better to say how pastors can play a role in restoring counseling to the church, because I think that’s what Powlison was aiming at. The second chapter explores the uniqueness of pastoral counseling. According to Powlison, pastors: have a unique responsibility to counsel have unique opportunities to counsel do counseling in a unique manner counsel with a unique message counsel in a unique community context Indeed, pastors are able to counsel unlike anyone else. Realizing that should motivate us to take it seriously and pursue it with excellence. I can heartily recommend this little gem to my colleagues in pastoral ministry. As mentioned above, others can benefit from it too. In that regard, if I would have just one small criticism, it’s about the fact that Powlison doesn’t address elders. Elders are also called to pastoral counseling and the church only benefits when elders take that calling seriously. So whether you’re an ordained full-time pastor or an elder with a pastoral responsibility, do take a couple of hours to chew on the meat offered in this book. We can all learn not only from Powlison’s kindness and compassion, but also his experience and wisdom. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at


Jay Adams, father of modern biblical counseling movement, dies

Dr. Jay Edward Adams (1929-2020) died on Nov. 14 at the age of 91. For those who don’t already know his name, Adams could be described as the “Martin Luther of biblical counseling” for the reformation he started in that movement. In 1963, as a new instructor at Westminster Theological Seminary, one of his assigned courses involved a component on pastoral counseling. With only limited counseling experience himself, he ended up teaching the unit using the notes left him by the previous instructor. But as Donn Arms writes: He found no theological substance in what he had been handed and determined to study and do better before he would have to teach the course again the next year. As he studied, however, he found nothing to help him. He pored over everything he could find written from a Christian perspective and found only Freudian and Rogerian dogma. What Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, B.F. Skinner and other secular psychologists were doing was based on their ideas of what Man's nature amounted to. But their ideas about who we are, and what we are really like, didn’t line up with the fallen, yet accountable image-bearer of God that we are described as in Scripture. What Adams discovered is that while some Christians were trying to integrate these secular theories with the Bible, what they were doing was little more than sprinkling biblical texts on top of deeply unbiblical ideas. One example was the self-love movement – still big today but even more so in the 70s and 80s – that proposed one of Man’s biggest problems was low self-esteem. Christian counselors took hold of this idea, and then “baptized” it with Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). After integrating the two they concluded Jesus wants us to focus on loving ourselves, because how else can we love our neighbor as ourselves? In his book The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, Adams pointed out that this turned Jesus’ command on its head, from being outward-focused to now focusing on the self. The problem, he argued was that even when Christian counselors were consulting God’s Word, it was only after they’d relied on secular counseling theories to set the course. So Adams called Christians pastors and counselors back to the Bible because it is there we find out who we are, and what our biggest problem is, and what God has done for us to fix that problem. Adams had his Christian critics, including those who critiqued his insights by testing them against God’s Word. But, significantly, it was because of Adams’ pioneering, reforming work that such a group – Christians testing counseling ideas against God’s Word – even existed. He had a leading role in the creation of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (, and the Institute for Nouthetic Studies ( God used Adams as the spark to start this particular reformation, and like Luther before him, Adams’ key insights were then tested, refined, and built upon by the next generation. Counselors like Ed Welch, Heath Lambert, Wayne Mack, Paul Tripp, and David Powlison all stand on Adams' shoulders. ***** While the Church has lost a giant, God has so arranged things that in recent years most of Adams' 100+ books have been put back in print. We can still benefit from this man's godly wisdom via his written output, available at Amazon and While his best-known book is his first, Competent to Counsel, his three most accessible have to be Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class, Together for Good, and The Case of the “Hopeless Marriage.” At roughly 150 pages each, they are short, and what makes them so intriguing is they are counseling textbooks disguised as novels. Adams wrote these as fiction so he could use protagonist/pastor/counselor Greg Dawson to “show rather than tell” what biblical counseling is all about. The one to start with would be Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class, where the pastor meets students from a Christian university who are taking an essentially secular psychology course. Their conversations give Adams the opportunity to compare and contrast his approach with that of Christian counselors' “baptized” secular counseling. In addition to these three, Adams has a wonderful devotional, Day by Day Along the Way. Among his 100+ titles, he also tackles aging (which my father-in-law appreciated), eschatology, and even how to listen to a sermon. My personal favorite is his commentary on Proverbs, which, is just recently back in print. Pictures are courtesy of Donn Arms...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Greg Dawson and the psychology class

by Jay Adams 2008 / 149 pages This is a novel, but it'd be more accurate to call it a textbook masquerading as a novel – the goal here is education, not entertainment. Jay Adams' fictional protagonist Greg Dawson is a preacher who lives near a Christian college. Some of the students want to know the difference between the psychological counseling theories they are being taught and the biblical counseling Greg Dawson uses. Via a series of informal conversations with Pastor Dawson, the students learn that the psychology they’re being taught at their Christian college is built on secular counseling theories. They are asked to consider just how many different secular counseling theories there are. These theories claim to be built on insights into what Man is really like, and yet the different theories disagree with one another, and sometimes wildly. So how are we to evaluate them? Dawson points students to the Bible, asking them to examine how many of the theories line up with a biblical understanding of our inner nature. So long as these secular theories understand Man outside of our relationship with God how can they understand what Mankind is really like? Dawson asks them to also consider that most of these theories don't acknowledge our sinful nature, or understand our purpose here on earth. As the back of the book details, some of the other issues explored include: the difference between apologizing and forgiveness the place of evangelism and faith in Biblical counseling Is all truth God's truth? some specific issues such as depression, mental illness, and marriage Adams is only one of many experts to consult when it comes to biblical counseling. Others include Ed Welch, Heath Lambert, Wayne Mack, Paul David Tripp and David Powilson. But this book is an ideal introduction to the subject – the novel format makes for an easy, yet highly educational, read. And if you like this one, you'll be interested to know Jay Adams has written two other "Greg Dawson" novels: The Case of the Hopeless Marriage and Together for Good: Counseling and the Providence of God....


The Bible and Alcoholics Anonymous

The following is a transcript of a Feb. 21, 2016 Truth in Love podcast produced by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and used here with permission. ***** Dr. Heath Lambert: Addiction is a common problem, in fact, for me it has been more than a common problem. My mother who died several years ago battled alcohol addiction for most of her life; she was enslaved to alcohol for over twenty years. As a little boy on up into my teens, I have been to dozens and dozens and dozens of meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I am thankful for all the good things that AA brought into my Mom’s life to cause her ultimately to stop drinking, but it raises the question, what is a biblical response to addiction? What is a biblical understanding of AA? To help us address this very important issue, I have invited to the podcast this week, Mark Shaw. Mark is the Executive Director of Vision of Hope and a pastor at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. He is also an ACBC certified counselor and is the author of The Heart of Addiction. Mark, we are glad you are with us and as we think through this issue of addiction and AA, the word addiction is really not a word that we find in the Scriptures. How should Christians think biblically about that idea? Mark Shaw: I think words are very important and they are like signposts; they point us in a direction. I think about 1 Corinthians 2:13 that says, And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. So with biblical language in regards to words like “addiction,” – I use that in my book title – and words like “relapse” and “alcoholism”; I use those words sometimes to help people know what the problem is. Then, when I write about it in my books like The Heart of Addiction I talk about a biblical, habitual sin nature problem and one of idolatry and of sin rather than as the world characterizes addiction. Dr. Lambert: How does the world characterize addiction that is different than what the Bible understands as a habitual sin? Shaw: These words are signposts and so they point people, I think, to a disease outside of themselves; to a problem that is not me, it is not really who I am, it is my disease. It is this thing outside of them rather than recognizing it as their own sinful problem that they need Christ to forgive them of and to begin the transformation process in their own hearts. Dr. Lambert: Ok, so if that is what a biblical understanding of addiction is, then help us understand Alcoholics Anonymous; what is AA? Shaw: AA is a program that started in the 1930s by a couple of guys: Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson. They started this program and really watered down some biblical teaching and biblical truth; no other way to say it than they just watered it down to make it more appealing to other people. So, you will hear some people who say that there are biblical truths in AA and in the organization’s Big Book, and that kind of thing, which undoubtedly are true; there are some biblical truths there but they don’t go far enough. For example, one is that you admit that you are an alcoholic or you admit that you have a problem. Admission is good but confession is what the Bible says we should do. That is admission plus taking it the next step further of confessing it to a holy God that you have sinned against Him, that you need Christ’s forgiveness, and that you need this transformation to work in your heart by the Holy Spirit. There are words that they use that are good like “admission” and “making amends” and that kind of thing, but biblical truths are more excellent. Biblical truths point to the whole wisdom of God and so I think half-truths in AA can be dangerous for people. Dr. Lambert: Ok, so let’s talk about that for a little bit because there are going to be a lot of people listening to this podcast who have had some kind of experience with AA. This is an organization that has affected and impacted untold millions of people. I mentioned at the top of the podcast that my mother went to AA for years and years and years. I have been in more AA meetings than I know how to count. “Keep coming back, it works.” “It works if you work it.” “One day at a time.” I have been there; I know the stuff. I am thankful, as many who are listening to this are thankful for the good fruit that has come into the lives of people through their interaction with AA. Yet, as biblically minded Christians, we want to have concerns about AA. Why should biblically minded Christians be concerned about AA? Shaw: AA sets itself up as a spiritual program. So right there I have a moment of pause; ok this is a spiritual program, but if you read the Big Book and what it teaches, the only higher powers that it mentions are like an enlightenment and something other than Jesus. By the very definition of the program it is a higher power of your own choosing, well, that is the very definition of idolatry. If I can choose a higher power, then I can make anything my higher power and that is idolatry. Those are super huge concerns from my perspective about being careful to send people to this so-called spiritual program that says any god will do; we know there is only one true God. Then when you go to meetings, and you have been, they say things like, “we are spiritual people, but those people who go to church, they are religious people.” “We are spiritual they are religious.” It is characterizing you and me as though we are Pharisees; we are the rule-followers without the compassion and love of Christ. That is just unfair. My concern for biblical counselors is when you send people to these programs, don’t assume that this is a Christian program and that the teachings and the writings – the Twelve Traditions, the Twelve Promises, the Twelve Steps – are going to point them to Christ because, as I said in the beginning, the words that they choose really point people away from Christ to more of a medical solution and to more of just a worldly, secular mindset. Those are some of the dangers and concerns that I have with the program. Dr. Lambert: Many Christians have come to see that there are imperfections and significant problems in AA and so there have been efforts to try to rehabilitate AA with some kind of Christianized version; we think of programs like Celebrate Recovery. Should Christians try to rehabilitate or rescue Alcoholics Anonymous by getting rid of the bad parts and trying to insert some Christian elements into it? Shaw: Yeah, I had a friend once tell me, “When does a lie, ever added to truth, make the truth better, and when does the truth, ever added to a lie, make the lie into pure truth?” Well, it doesn’t happen. So, I like to start with truth, I like to start with the Scriptures, I like to proclaim the excellencies of Christ and point people to the riches of the Bible. I understand there are well-meaning people that are in these programs and they are doing their best and maybe it is all that is out there in their minds. I would rather just start with teaching Scripture, teaching the Word, teaching about idolatry, sin, ruling heart issues and address those matters with these people who struggle with addiction rather than using programs that kinda mix them; the world's teaching with the truth of God’s Word. I don’t think oil and water mix, I don’t think it can be done; it confuses people and it may lead them down the wrong path. Dr. Lambert: So I mentioned that my mom went to AA. In my memory as a little boy, I think she started going to AA about the time I was seven and finally was sober for what would turn out to be the rest of her life by the time I was twelve. So it took about five years for the things that were working in AA to be able to take hold. I am very thankful for that. When she went to the last rehab center they all said she was at death’s door; she nearly drank herself to death. It was interesting because from the time I was twelve to the time I was twenty-five, my mom was a miserable person. She was what her friends in AA called “a dry drunk.” She was angry; she was sad; she was promiscuous. She was one of just the nastiest people I have ever met. She was able to keep a job, she was able to keep a roof over her head unlike when she was drinking, but she wasn’t a better person. In fact, me and my brothers use to seriously wish that she would go back to drinking because you could at least live with her. When she wasn’t drunk you couldn’t live with her when she was this way. The reason I mention that is because what happened when I was twenty-five was I share the gospel with my mother for the umpteenth time...but she believed. She repented of her sins and believed, and heart change began to happen. She began to be a qualitatively different person. So for me it was this powerful demonstration – I am thankful for the good things that AA did, but really AA didn’t take my mom very far; it taught her to go to hell more efficiently. It cleaned up her life but she was still going to hell; she was not a changed person. It was the power of Jesus Christ in the Word of God that really brought her the rest of the way. What is it that the Bible adds that is so superior to the Twelve Steps? Shaw: Well, the Bible talks about our sin, our need for Christ, and that the transformation process is progressive; that we become like Christ. You know, transformation, we have been transformed in justification, we are being transformed and in sanctification, we will be transformed in glorification and in the AA program, in the Twelve Steps, you won’t hear anything about Jesus Christ, you won’t hear anything about confession of sin. You admit you are wrong but you don’t confess sin, certainly not to a holy God, because you are picking a god of your own choosing and of your own understanding. If I choose God, then who is really God? It is me; I am in that position of authority. So the Bible gives us lots of biblical truth that moves us and grows us in a deeper way and in an eternal way rather than the Twelve Step program. Which, I agree has some helpful teaching and some things in it that can really help people to be clean and sober, but our goal is not to be clean and sober, our goal is to be like Jesus for God’s glory and that part is missing in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Mark Shaw is the author of "The Heart of Addiction" and "Addiction-Proof Parenting." This article first appeared in the Sept. 2016 issue....

Children’s picture books, Parenting

3 picture books that tackle anxiety, anger, and failure

Children get anxious. And angry. And they can get frustrated when they fail. As adults, we often struggle with these same emotions, and sometimes we don't do all that well with handling them. Which makes it that much the harder for us to teach our children what to do. That's why this series of pictures books, from the Christian Counseling and Educational Fund (CCEF) are a welcome resource. Not only are they a tool for parents to help children, they can help us adults too. There is good advice in these pages, pointing us straight to the One who can really help. Zoe's Hiding Place: When you are anxious edited by David Powlison illustrated by Joe Hox 32 pages / 2018 The story is about a little mouse named Zoe who's worried about a school trip to the art museum. The last time the class went, she became so fascinated by one painting that she lost track of where the rest of the group went. Then, when she looked up, no one was around, and "It felt like I was alone forever!" She's scared it will happen again. So now she's retreated to her hiding place – under the covers in her bed. How can Zoe deal with her fear and worry? Her mom begins by listening. That's a good start. Then she explains to Zoe that what she is feeling is understandable. But when worry makes us feel like we're all alone, that's not true – God is always with us, and will never forsake us. Mom tells Zoe she can "turn each fear into a prayer" because God will help her. Her mom also helps Zoe think through ways she can stay with the group and not get separated. In the back of the book, the moral of the story is developed further with a two-page message to parents on "helping your child with anxiety." There the editor of this book, David Powlison – a very well-respected biblical counselor – has included a list of 10 "things to remember that will bring comfort to you and your child." Thoughts include: Recognizing that in this world "We have good reason to be anxious and worried." The most frequent command in the Bible is 'Don't be afraid.' Reminding your child that the Lord has listening ears. This is a wonderful book, meant for kids, but helpful for adults too. And the absolutely stunning pictures make this a pretty special morality tale. Yes, this is more an educational tool than an entertaining read. But it is a pretty entertaining read too. And the pictures are so fun to look at, a couple of my daughters have been paging through it regularly. I'd recommend Zoe's Hiding Place to any parents trying to help a child through worry or fear. With its firm grounding in Scripture, this will be a real help to both the child and the parent. For a 10-page preview of the book, you can check out this link here. Two others There are two other books in the CCEF's "Good News for Little Hearts" series, on failure and anger. Buster's Ears Trip Him Up is about dealing with failure. Buster is a speedy rabbit who thinks that winning is everything, so when his long ears trip him up and he loses the big race, he doesn't know how to deal with it. Fortunately, he has a big sister, and a wise father, who both know how to help him deal with failure. They remind him that God loved us before we had ever done anything so it really isn't about our accomplishments, but rather what Jesus accomplished on the cross. You can read a 6-page sample here. Jax's Tail Twitches is about when we are angry. Jax is a squirrel whose big brother is pestering him and that makes him mad. What's worse, the neighbors next door are taking their nuts without asking, and that makes his dad mad. But even when there is good reason to be angry, our anger is, most often, the wrong response to this wrong situation. This is a lesson that mom and dad can certainly benefit from, even as we share it with our children. You can read an 8-page excerpt here. I'd recommend all three of these book as wonderful tools for parents to read with and discuss with their children. The stories are solid, the artwork incredible, and what it teaches is biblical, helpful, and accessible. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Ed Welch's "Blame it on the Brain?"

Blame it on the Brain?: Distinguishing chemical imbalances, brain disorders, and disobedience by Edward T. Welch 1998, 208 pages A boy won’t sit still so the doctor wants to put him on Ritalin. An aging grandfather, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, is starting to make inappropriate comments to his grandchildren. A mother is depressed and asks her minister what he thinks about anti-depressants. These days we’re regular confronted with “brain issues” but few of us feel equipped as to what God thinks on these matters. Author Ed Welch notes that while going to the Bible would be the natural thing for us to do with most other matters, it might strike Christians as an odd approach in this case. After all, what does the Bible have to say about our brains? Welch answers that question by noting that God made us, so He knows what we are really like. And what God reveals about us – about how our body and spirit are both distinct and yet impact each other – is foundational to a good understanding of our brain. Blame it on the Brain is divided in two parts. In Part One Welch offers up the theological resources Christians will need to be able to “dialogue with the brain sciences.” These are the biblically-derived principles by which we can interpret and understand the (mostly secular) brain research being done. Once we are outfitted with the proper theology and taught how to apply it, Part Two then explores some “modern diagnoses and experiences, all attributed to the brain, and considers them from a biblical perspective. Then, in Part Two, Welch applies these principles to specific problems including Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, head injuries, depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, homosexuality, alcoholism and more. He groups them under three headings: The Brain Did It Maybe The Brain Did It The Brain Didn’t Do It Where Welch places different conditions will strike some readers as controversial. Doesn’t the world say all of these conditions should fall under the “The Brain Did It” umbrella? It does indeed, because the world think if the brain did it, then our sinful hearts can be excused. “Born this way” is supposed to clear us from any responsibility for our conduct. But Welch’s three-fold division is less controversial when we understand that even conditions with clear physical causes, like dementia, will have a spiritual dimension as well – responsibility persists, even if it is to a far different degree. For example, if a dementia patient’s confusion leads him to believe he has been waiting for his daughter all day long (even though she arrived right on time) she should try not to be bothered if he expresses some frustration. However, if the same patient starts making crude comments to the nurses, then that should not be dismissed as simply the disease talking. As Welch writes, Does the disease create the sinful behavior? Definitely not…. Sexual thoughts, jealousy, private profanity, and anger can be neatly covered when our minds are intact. But when we are intellectually less competent, some of the private events begin to slip out. Dementia isn’t the cause of this sin; it simply reveals what was always in the heart. In a situation such as this repentance should still be be sought. Even when our brain is damaged, we remain both physical and spiritual beings, and as in need of accountability, correction, and forgiveness as the rest of humanity. Cautions The only caution I have is not with what Ed Welch wrote, but with how a couple of passages might be misunderstood. In the first, Welch states that with psychiatric problems there “are always spiritual problems and sometimes physical problems.” I’m afraid that some will understand him as saying psychiatric problems are always the result of sin. That is not what Welch is saying. Sin will sometimes be the cause of spiritual problem, but other times the spiritual problems will be better understood as spiritual needs. Welch notes counselors have to be aware that psychiatric problems almost always involve suffering so the diagnosed person and their family will need to hear from the Scriptures about the hope and compassion that God offers in the midst of suffering. A second matter that might be misunderstood is how Welch designates homosexuality as something “the brain didn’t do.” If he denies the brain dictates someone’s sexual preferences, is Welch saying everyone chooses to be homosexual? No. Welch is only arguing that while the brain may have an influence it cannot be credited as the sole determiner of their sexual orientation – other factors have to be involved. Conclusion This isn’t a large book, but there sure is a lot to love! I must have highlighted half of the pages and I really can’t say enough good things about. Educational, thoroughly biblical, helpful, applicable, and it still manages to be enjoyably readable. This would be a valuable resource for minsters and elders, and a highly recommended read for everyone. We all need to learn how to think biblically about mental illness and matters of the brain and I can’t imagine a better introductory book for this topic. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at, where this first appeared....