Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Scourge of Pastoral Care

One of the many mandatory courses we must take in fulfilling the requirements for the Masters of Divinity degree here at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a class in Pastoral Care. Many of those whose silence was deafening in classes focused upon Church History and Theology have sprung anew in their willingness to speak and discuss in section. I recently heard Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary bemoan the fact that at his Seminary nearly half of his Church History classes are filled with students who are seeking degrees for Pastoral and Biblical Counseling, not to be Gospel preachers. Now this should be no surprise to those with any interaction with the American church whose movement into seeker-friendly and ego-smoothing churches over the past 30 years has provided us a generation of people looking to God not for salvation from eternal death but salvation from eternal unhappiness. Christ no longer is sought for his life changing death on the cross but for his ability to bring us out of the valleys and onto the mountain top in our emotional and mental health. This not only brings to us a false definition of who Christ is but also presents an untrue concept of what the Christian life looks like. While their are many reasons for why the protestant Church itself has devolved back into a Roman Catholic understanding of Grace one of the main reasons has been the movement of the seminary education of Pastors away from its former focus upon systematic theological formulations to a renewed centering on the sanctifying health of the human soul. One of the most telling consequences of this shift has been the change in the way we see ourselves approaching death. My sister, currently engaged in a Clinical Pastoral Education course at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV, is prevented by her supervisors from sharing the Gospel with those with which she is given to engage. Her task is to make people feel comfortable and help them to be content given their surroundings. She is of course supposed to do this in an "ecumenical and non-sectarian" way. Which according to her means that she is not allowed to speak in a Christocentric manner but only in a generic way about God and his presence.

The obvious question to be asked is can a Christian minister be a chaplain in this circumstance and still be truthful to the Gospel? The easy answer for any who pay attention to the question is a flat out no. Of course if Christ is supposed to be nothing more than a therapist why then should we focus upon the reality of the gospel message? Seminaries need to ask the question whether they exist to fill pulpits with preachers who seek to to preach about the saving Grace of Jesus Christ or staff Hospitals with smooth talkers and flatterers?

11 comments:

Red_Cleric said...

I thank God I graduated from Fuller before the CPE requirements came into effect. I had a wonderful chaplain at Arcadia Methodist Hospital who taught me that Christ came to heal and we were there to pray. She also got me over my disease with ER's and ICU's.

Why call it "pastoral" experience when you're doing social counseling? Just a thought.

Alan

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Mostly because we changed the definition of Pastor from Preacher to Chaplain.

Timothy said...

Benjamin,
Very good post, and very true. The biggest complaint I get is that I don't do enough visitation and spend too much time working on sermons... alas...
But they do appreciate the hard work in the end.
blessings

will said...

One would be tempted to wonder what the purpose of being a pastor in this situation was. If the idea is solely to foster comfort and contentment, why have any biblical training at all? Why clutter up comfort with Jesus Christ?

I think you identify the problem accurately.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Thank You Will and Timothy. The problem as I see it is even deeper than that. It is little moments like these that I am reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 10:27-29 in these types of situations.

will said...

Benjamin - good reference. I'm tempted to wonder what we're afraid of ... because many of us are cowed by this kind of thing. (And that seems to be true even among the outspoken.)

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Will,

It is a normal fallen human emotion to be afraid of being "left out" or not being part of the group. While I was a jock I had some "geeky" friends who did not get to go to the "cool" parties and hang-outs that I did and they let me know about the ostracizing that they went through. It is a similar thing in this situation. We like to be part of the cool crowd and to take strong positions on Christ keeps us out of that cool crowd.

will said...

I'm sure you're right - but it just seems like this is a painfully shallow motivation that we will come to regret ever giving into.

Wes White said...

Ben, I appreciate your post here. I think this is a significant problem. Many want to go into the ministry, but they don't want to go into the teaching ministry of the Church. How do you think we can reverse this trend?

One thought I have on this point is that Biblical counseling tries to solve all the secondary problems. The preaching of the Gospel deals with the primary problem: man is under the wrath of God. After that one is solved, all the other problems seem less important.

An anecdote from a conversation I had with another pastor. I asked him, "What kind of counseling method do you prefer?"

He answered, "I have found that if people want to make a change, then any method works. If they don't, then no method works." I've found that to be quite true thus far in my ministry. Of course, a true willingness to turn from our sinful course of action to righteousness can only be worked by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.

Chris said...

Ben,

You know I stand with you on the whole CPE sham. If you haven't read it yet, you need to read this article. Here's a kicker - the article came out just a few weeks after my CPM told me I'd have to do CPE before they'd consider final certification.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Chris,

I have that article linked on my blog in the section on apologetical resources.