March 2006

A Biological Basis for Depression?

For those who insist that depression is a spiritual condition properly dealt with only by turning to the Word of God, this study reported in the Guardian should be sobering reading.

I'm not sure the precise role drugs should play in battling psychological maladies--certainly, we live in an over-drugged age--but I wonder if Christian counsellors who insist that every psychological malady finds its roots in neglect of the Word of God will one day wake up to a world where the physical causes of many "psychological" diseases are as evident and clear as most non-psychological illnesses.

When a Christian counsellor tells me that he won't accept psychological diagnoses that cannot be grounded in empirically-proven biological conditions, I'm generally sympathetic--until I remember that similar logic 150 years ago would have led to every epileptic being treated with Biblical counseling. I suspect that if the physical mechanism of epilepsy had not been discovered in the late 1800s and the EEG as a diagnostic tool developed in the early 1900s, epilepsy would be viewed by Biblical counselors today as a spiritual condition similar to depression.

I do not deny Satanic and demonic agency in the world today. But to characterize psychological diseases as uniquely linked to sin seems contrary to Scripture--where we see a vast variety of afflictions linked to sin and/or demonic oppression, not merely psychological afflictions.

And, let me add, I am increasingly unable to understand the reasoning behind the demand by many Biblical counsellors that their patients be weaned of all psychotropic medication if they are to be treated Biblically.

The reason often given for such weaning is that Christians should not use psychopharmacology because it doesn't cure the root condition. But does that mean we should reject palliative medication across the board? No aspirin for headaches, no morphine for cancer victims, no cough medicine for colds, no anti-seizure medication for epilepsy for instance? Total cures or nothing?

Are we opposed to all palliative medication, or only those that deal with afflictions of the mind? If epilepsy can be the product of demonic activity (see the boy of Mark 9:14-29), leprosy the product of God's wrath on sin (see Miriam in Numbers 12:10 and Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26:19), and AIDS the result of sexual sin, aren't we just as wrong in covering up the demonic/sinful etiology of these diseases by palliative medication as we are in giving Prozac to the clinically depressed?

These are questions that occur to me. I don't know many of the answers, and I'm equally sure that 99 out of 100 times, Biblical counseling is the right way to go for those facing behavioral problems. But when I read an article like the one linked to above I realize the need for humility in our approach to matters like clinical depression.

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Terri Schiavo and Pinellas Park Revisited....

One year ago today David Curell and I arrived home from our time in Pinellas Park protesting the judicial murder of Terri Schiavo. One year ago tomorrow, March 31, 2005, Terri died.

I'm deeply grateful to the leaders and people of Christ the Word for their support during my time outside Woodside Hospice. Only a few churches sent a delegate to protest this foul deed. Fewer still were able and willing to have their pastor stay in Pinellas Park over Palm Sunday and Easter.

Here are several images from a year ago in memory both of the sadness of Terri's murder and the hopefulness in Pinellas Park of the body of Christ joining to oppose the culture of death.

Two short video clips of the scene outside the hospice taken by Tim can be found here and here.

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Terri's father, Mr. Schindler, speaking to the press late in the night, shortly after the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring review of Terri's case

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Stop the Killing, a banner brought by members of Catholic Workers, directly across the street from the network tents

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David Vogel, shouting the insanity of Terri's murder in process across the street

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Steve and Tony Sakac, among the many parents and handicapped children who came to Woodside Hospice to demonstrate in support of Terri

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Family silently protesting police involvement in Terr's murder

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Family protesting at main intersection leading to Woodside Hospice

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Terri Butts, an indefatigable supporter of Terri Schiavo

Listen to Terri speak to a reporter late at night about the killing of Terri Schiavo here. Terri spent all night outside the hospice, sleeping on the ground most nights of the vigil

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Phil, David Vogel, and my partner David Currel, the morning we returned home from Florida

Worth Checking Out...

Greg Linscott, of Sharper Iron, has a new personal blog. Find it here. Greg's latest post, "Why I Reject Man-Centeredness" is a good reminder of human sinfulness based on an event out of the 80s some of us may vaguely recall. Also check out his pictures of maple syruping.

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Authority in the Internet Age

I've been asked by a nephew-in-law I respect to soften my response to a comment on this blog challenging Calvin's interpretation of the sin of Onan.

I admit my response may seem harsh on first reading. But here's the rub, and the reason I decline to take back my words.

Authority exists even when it is denied. It exists even when it does not press itself upon its subjects. Paul, in his letter to Philemon urging manumission of the slave, Onesimus, executes an intricate dance of authority. He does not emphasize his apostolic credentials at the outset as he does in most of his epistles. In fact, he never mentions his apostolic office at all. Yet he says that he possesses sufficient "confidence in Christ" to order Philemon to do "what is proper" in regard to Onesimus. And he suggests that he has the right to appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus "since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus."

Though Paul never unholsters his biggest cannon--apostolic authority--he calls for obedience from Philemon on the basis of:

1. His (Paul's) confidence in Christ (which should be sufficient in itself to cause Philemon to obey)

2. The thing asked being proper (it's right, in accord with Christ's teaching, Scriptural)

3. The duty of love (Philemon's relationship of love to Paul), which includes:

a. His standing as Paul (to whom Philemon owes his own life)

b. His age (and, implicitly, service to the church)

c. His suffering for the cause of Christ

Paul emphasizes relational rather than official authority in his letter to Philemon. Purely on the basis of relational authority he tells Philemon he is "confident of your obedience."

But how can there be authority on the internet, a world devoid of relational context?

Go and Vote....

Visit Pyromaniacs and vote at their Talent Show. A real treat. Tim and I vote for the juggler, but the ukelele player was terrific too.

The Difference Between Boys and Girls: by Joseph T. Bayly

Comments from readers of this blog are often better than the posts which prompt them. This morning I call our good readers' attention to two such comments from the past week. Joseph Bayly, Tim's son and a student at the Reformed Evangelical Pastor's College, wrote this response to a comment disputing fundamental distinctions between the sexes on the Bishop N. T. Wright, feminized discourse, and "hedging"... post.

Imagine a woman who looks beautiful, smells faintly of roses, and has a contagious giggle which comes out only at perfectly appropriate times.

Now imagine her taking her body and making it look as much like a man's body as possible, finishing by buzzing her beautiful brown hair into a mohawk, and putting on men's clothes. She works out regularly without washing her clothes, so she smells bad, and she starts chuckling obscenely instead of giggling appropriately. She hardens herself against the world

In short, we have masculinized her. Continuing on her laugh, we find that she has changed the way she communicates with people as well. She is no longer sweet and proper, but vulgar, harsh, and rude. She is rough with those she comes in contact with and she has relationships only with those she can dominate.

Starting at the Heart: by Jacob Mentzel

Comments from readers of this blog are often better than the posts which prompt them. This morning I call our good readers' attention to two such comments from the past week, one placed just this morning by Jacob Mentzel on the Bishop N. T. Wright Again, As It Were post. Jacob hits the nail on the head in suggesting that any witness to academics must begin with the heart....

I just posted a slightly different version of this comment on the Pyromaniacs blog a few minutes ago, but I think it's relevant to this discussion too. I doubt many people who comment on here will ever understand the significance of these issues unless they set foot in the real war zones themselves.

I've been a religious studies student at Indiana University for 4 years now (I graduate in May.) I came here, a believer of only a year, from a rather weak church and jumped right into this academic rigamorole. The academy has so thoroughly burnt me out that I have neither time nor the desire to pander about in the world of higher criticism or anything associated with it.

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Ha!

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Your pal, David.

Calvin on Onan

Genesis 38:8-10 Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother's wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.

I will content myself with briefly mentioning this, as far as the sense of shame allows to discuss it. It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is doubly horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully was thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime, by defiling the earth with his seed, so that Tamar would not receive a future inheritor.

John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis

Bishop N. T. Wright, feminized discourse, and "hedging"...

One of our good readers posted a comment asking, "What, pray tell, is 'feminized discourse?'"

First, in her book, Language and Woman's Place, and a subsequent article, "Woman's Language," feminist scholar, Robin Lakoff, named "hedging" as the first among ten basic assumptions of what is characteristic of the language of women. Hedges are phrases such as "sort of," "kind of," "It seems like," and so on.

Following up on this female characteristic in language known as "hedging," here's an article that goes some way down the road to indicating what's behind my use of this term, "feminized discourse." Here then are some excerpts that should help explain why I refer to academic discourse as the discourse of "a gelded age," and why I accuse Bishop Wright of undercutting the authority of the Word of God in his interview on Australia's National Radio...

Unconfessed articles...

In a comment appearing on Pyromaniacs, Steve Wood records the following E-mail exchange he had with Bishop N. T. Wright.

Wood queried Wright:

Do you believe that a significant percentage of mankind will be permanently in hell, as a result of their sin? Do you believe that hell is an objective place, characterized by permanent suffering of an individual? Do you believe that the only way that an individual can avoid hell is to personally repent of his sins, relying on Christ's actions on earth, during that person's mortal life? Do you believe that Christ will preside at a final judgment, dividing mankind into two groups, one to eternal heaven and one to eternal hell?"

Wright responded:

I think the best thing is to wait for my next relevant book. Your questions are so thoroughly conditioned by one particular (and to my mind unbiblical) way of speaking about God's eventual purpose (which, I repeat, is stated in the New Testament not in terms of 'heaven and hell' as in mediaeval and subsequent western thought, but in terms of the new heavens and new earth) that it is impossible to answer them as they stand without colluding with misunderstanding. And I repeat, whatever your powers of recall in other instances, I simply cannot have said anything like what you seem to think I must have done. I strongly suspect it was the result of my trying to turn questions with whose presuppositions I was in disagreement into questions with a biblical base which I could answer, and I can well see that this might have resulted in you or someone else imagining I was giving a particular answer to the question you thought I was answering while my intention was very different. Anyway, let's wait for the book.

Leaving Scripture aside for the moment, what about the good Bishop's Thirty-nine Articles--specifically numbers 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 17, and 18?

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