IABC Conference, August 2017

Recently, I rejoined the I.A.B.C. (International Association of Biblical Counselors) and attended the conference in Denver, Colorado on August 3-5. I was blessed by the experience and impressed with the certification ministry that I was first certified with many years ago.

The name for the conference was Real Life, Real Answers-It’s Not a Game! The conference was hosted (hospitality excellent) by Life Fellowship Church in Westminster (suburb of Denver), under the leadership of Senior Pastor Ed Bulkley who is also President of the IABC.

The schedule included three partial days of general sessions and numerous workshops.

Over the years, my wife and I have attended many biblical counseling training conferences by both the IABC and ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) and listened to many speakers and instructors.  We’ve learned much and as a certified biblical counselor with both organizations I usually select the topics and speakers where I stand to gain the most insight and knowledge.

At the IABC Conference two sessions stand out. Both had two parts and we had to make a choice between them in one time slot.

Jim Berg led the first session we attended.   Jim’s name is familiar to anyone who has been blessed by Changed Into His Image. My wife and I have done Changed into His Image and have led others through it. Jim’s workshop was titled: Unmasking Addictions: Determining the Primary Cause of Enslaving Behaviors.

The workshop description is as follows:

The battle over underlying cause(s) of addiction continues to rage today. Are addictions determined by moral choices or by neurobiological, hereditary, and environmental influences? God’s sufficient Word roots the final cause in the fallen human heart and provides the proper interpretation for today’s scientific findings. Surprisingly, many secular researchers and practitioners have arrived at causes that reflect what God has already told us in His Word. Those same evidence-based voices counter current popular beliefs (i.e. “Once a drunk, always a drunk,” “You are always in recovery,” etc.)

What Jim seems to mean by this is that due to God’s common grace, secular and often non-spiritual researchers and therapists have discovered that genetic theories, metabolic theories, conditioning theories and adaptation theories, regardless of observations made, do not place the weight of responsibility upon the human heart but they recognize that something is amiss.

What this means to the believer, even an addicted one is that he or she can make choices that align with God’s expectations for His creatures..

Jim provided written evidence (quotes) from the secular sources to make his point. He added that although these researchers counter the prevailing myths their use of psychological terminology do not imply his personal endorsement. In other words many of the experts recognize the problem but fall way short of realizing the answers that are found only in Christ and His Word.

Jim has built on Changed Into His Image with a discipleship curriculum titled Freedom that Lasts. He reports success with it and when I asked him how it compares to the popular Celebrate Recovery he simply responded by saying that Celebrate Recovery is just another 12 step program (something that I’ve heard from other biblical addiction counselors.) and that Freedom That Lasts is not.

I intend to research Freedom that Lasts more. Jim’s website is http://www.freedomthatlasts.com/store

The other sessions my wife and attended that had the most impact were led by Dr. Daniel Berger II. His two-part session description reads as follows:

Most people today believe that psychoactive substances and psychotherapies are proven remedies for mental and behavioral problems categorized in the DSM-V as mental illnesses. Biological psychiatrists in particular and society in general are convinced not only that psychiatric disorders are biological diseases, but also that psychoactive drugs are agents that will fix genetics variances, supplying missing chemicals, and correct brain dysfunctions. In other words, mind-controlling drugs are believed to be medicines that require dependence in order to restore the mind\psyche\soul. But what does Scripture say about attempting to treat the soul with mind-controlling substances?  These sessions will look at what is actually taking place in psychopharmacology from both Biblical and psychiatric perspectives.

It’s beyond the purpose of a blog to chronicle the boatload of information that was downloaded in Dr. Berger’s two sessions. Sufficient to say, I can’t say I’ve seen so much research listed and footnoted like Dr. Berger has done in order to make his point. Impressive is the word.

His central point, in addition to the Bible has the answers, is that top-gun secular researchers and psychiatrists (often non-Christians) know that mind-controlling drugs and the current construct of mental illness is not a solution and that the system is broken. Berger is quick to note that at the clinical level its pretty much business as usual-an alarming contradiction!

Dr. Berger has written a five-volume set of books titled Mental Illness, short volumes that emphasis a different aspect of the issue(s). I am about midway through the first volume and am impressed with Dr. Berger’s research and how he uses the “top-gun experts” own words to illustrate their own lack of confidence in the current construct of mental illness.  Frankly, this makes me sad to realize that the experts know something of the truth because of God’s common grace.  At the “does it matter level” it doesn’t seem to matter because the clinicians and doctors continue to prescribe mind-altering drugs to fix spiritual heart issues. Dr. Berger pointed out this inconsistency in his lectures.

In addition to the five volume set, Dr. Berger has written Teaching a Child to Pay Attention and The Truth About ADHD. His website is drdanielberger.com

I wish to thank the IABC for an excellent conference and Life Fellowship for the wonderful hospitality. I’d like to encourage my readers to check out the IABC at iabc.net as well as Jim Berg’s website and Dr. Berger’s.

Idolatry by Another Name – Part 2

John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases”, it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved too and not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

Addictions1The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason why:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13, Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart or inner man.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Cross-and-BIble2-300x200Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage, Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

Idolatry by Another Name: Part 1

After I posted Are Addictions Diseases and received some feedback, I was curious as to how many bad habits are listed as addictions and therefore diseases if you follow the popular medical model of addictions.

I found a website (http://www.addictionz.com/addictions.htm) out of British Columbia that listed addictions. I was stunned by the number listed and even more stunned when I read on the website that the list was only partial.

The list is organized alphabetically and within it you can find the usual addictions we’ve become accustomed to, like alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping, tobacco and caffeine.

The list is so broad you can also find coin collecting because according to the website coin collecting is; usually a nice hobby but any hobby can become a compulsion in the hands of a multiple addict.

Here are some more samples from the website that I bet most people never thought of:

  • Art
    • Getting high to produce better art is common. Also the lifestyle of an impoverished artist can be addictive.
    • Collecting art one cannot afford may create adrenalin like compulsive shopping or gambling.
  • Imagination
    • A good characteristic in most cases, but a luxury for an early recovering addict … and a self-destructive minefield for a practicing addict.
    • Living in “your head” is common amongst all addicts
    • One statistic is that addicts do approximately 80,000 words of self-talk per day – so this addicted ‘ head ‘ is a very busy place
    • One saying in 12 step programs is that the head is like ‘a dangerous neighborhood, do not go there alone’
    • The lack of reliable structure in today’s daily life leaves a lot of room for imaginative research
  • Religion
    • It is wise to examine ones attitudes in all areas.

Clearly the authors of the website are willing to list everything and anything as being addictive or compulsive.

junkie1

The use of the word compulsive (under the subtitle of Art above) is revealing because the word compulsive means “compelling” as if the person has little or no choice. Furthermore, the word compulsive leads us to a minor distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Compulsive this way:

1. Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes: “compulsive eating”

Synonyms: irresistible · uncontrollable · compelling · overwhelming · urgent · obsessive · obsessive · obsessional · addictive · uncontrollable

2. Irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling: “this play is compulsive viewing”

Synonyms: fascinating · compelling · gripping · riveting · engrossing · enthralling · captivating

Both definitions use the word “irresistible” while the first definition uses the synonym “uncontrollable.” Both words are self-explanatory and imply that a person has no choice.

Now let’s look at WIKI’s definition of compulsive behavior:

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure. [1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away. [2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way. [1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control. [3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). [2][4] The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to. [1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Now let’s compare the WIKI definition of compulsive behavior with the WIKI article on addiction derived from the DSM-V:

Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences;[6] it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.[1][7] The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are (positively) reinforcing (i.e., they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., they activate the brain’s “reward pathways”, and are therefore perceived as being something positive or desirable).[1][2][5] ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.[8][9][10]

alcoholism

And…

Potential addictions can include, but are not limited to, exercise addiction, food addiction, drug addiction, computer addiction, sex addiction and gambling addiction. Currently, only substance addictions and gambling addiction are recognized by the DSM-5, which uses physical dependence and the associated withdrawal syndrome to identify an addictive state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction)

And…

The official list of addictions can be found in the DSM-5, psychology’s Bible (http://www.myaddiction.com/addiction_categories.html) where the following are addiction classified as medical disorders:

Alcohol Addiction, Ambien Addiction, Amphetamine Addiction, Benzodiazepine Addiction, Caffeine Addiction, Cocaine Addiction, Crack Addiction, Eating Disorders, Ecstasy Addiction, Gambling Addiction, Heroin Addiction, Hydrocodone Addiction, Internet Addiction, Marijuana Addiction, Meth Addiction, Nicotine Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Percocet Addiction, Oxycontin Addiction, Pornography Addiction, Prescription Drug Addiction, Ritalin Addiction, Sex Addiction, Shopping Addiction, Smoking Addiction, Sugar Addiction, Teens and Addiction, Video Game Addiction, Work Addiction, Xanax Addiction

From these definitions one can deduce the psychology community and the vast majority of Americans believe there are addictions (compulsions) that are behavioral and addictions that are chemical (addicted to drugs or alcohol) and result in physical dependence. The commonality is the perceived “reward system.” In other words we do these things habitually because there is a pleasant pay off even if the consequences can be quite negative.

(In a 1990 survey 87% of Americans believed the disease model of addictions.)

We can also observe there is some level of debate between those who believe certain behaviors are genuine addictions and others who categorize the same things as compulsive behaviors and would therefore fall under the heading of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder rather than a genuine addiction.

The DSM-V is the latest edition of the DSM and in each upgrade the list of disorders and addictions has multiplied. This accounts for the assumption of what is called the medical model of addictions and compulsive behaviors. What that means is if I have a behavioral addiction or a chemical addiction the critical component is: ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.

In other words, addictions and compulsive behaviors are connected to DNA via gene transcription factors.

I should point out that even within the psychological community there is some level of disagreement between those who emphasize choice (minority) and those that emphasize the disease model.

What is the Bible-believing Christian to make of this trend that classifies everything as an addiction or compulsive behavior and is treated as a disease? I’ll discuss that issue in Part 2.