Saturday, July 19, 2008

CCEF Paper #2: Counseling & Physiology

Summary & Response to Blame It On the Brain

Blame It on the Brain? is a biblical anthropology focusing on our dual body/soul nature applied directly to life problems that include a brain component. The focus of the book is using biblical categories to distinguish between spiritual and physical symptoms and to respond to each skillfully. It is a model of lucidity and helpfulness!

Welch’s goal is to carefully differentiate between disobedience/sin (which can be expressed on or represented by activity in the brain but not caused by it) and weaknesses/suffering (which can actually be caused by physical brain problems and tempt our hearts to sin). He then skillfully applies this biblical model to cases where the brain is definitely the cause (Alzheimer’s, Traumatic Brain Injury), perhaps a cause (depression, ADD), and definitely not the cause (homosexuality, alcoholism). And he gives practical tips for people to wisely walk with their loved ones through each of these and similar problems.

Most of my lingering questions are about practical theology:

How do we know if someone is sinning? In the chapter on Attention Deficit Disorder, Welch brings up the example of a boy jumping on tables in the cafeteria at school. He argues that this may or may not be sin, depending upon what rules the boy understands and even remembers. This is very helpful for not jumping to conclusions–the first step in each chapter was to carefully study the person to understand their experience. But exactly what factors do we need to take in before we can decide if someone is out of bounds and needs rebuked?

How to we balance suffering as a potential good and the desire to alleviate suffering? In the chapter introducing psychiatric problems, in one page, Welch points out the redemptive value of suffering (James 1:2-4) and also reminds us that the alleviation of suffering is generally a good thing. What other biblical principles balance these two things out?

How we talk to someone about their sin who is already struggling so much with their brain-oriented problems? This was especially true in the discussion of depression. I know that sin has an answer in the Cross of Christ, but it’s still hard to rebuke someone who is already laboring under a heavy load. What are helpful pathways to get into discussions of disobedience when the person you’re helping is suffering?

How do we counsel/help unbelievers? This book is brilliant and powerful for Christ followers, but what do we say to Non-Christians other than “Repent and believe” to help them through their similar problems? The chapter on Alzheimer’s talked how a believer has an “advantage” over a unbeliever in their responsiveness to God’s Word. After some consideration, that seems like a major understatement to me!

How do we know if it’s “okay” to be tempted in a particular way? In the section on addictions, Welch talks about deep change at the level of our temptations–which is terrific news (James 1:14-15). But not all temptations come from within. Jesus was tempted, yet never inappropriately felt the internal pull. How do we correctly talk about these things, especially as we deal with terrible tempters like brain disorders? It’s never okay to sin, but is it sometimes okay to be tempted?

What is now in my heart? In this re-reading, I was most struck by the sobering idea of my (now) innermost thoughts becoming revealed to my friends and family through some kind of brain weakness. What am I going doing to change what’s inside of me so that when it is revealed, there is no embarrassment to me or, more importantly, to my Savior?