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First Thoughts

A Commentary on Priests, Zombies, and Prophets

In light of the strong response to my essay, Priests in the Garden, Zombies in the Wilderness, and Prophets on the Wall: The Current State of the Contemporary Biblical Counseling Movement, I want to share a few observations about what I am thinking, what I intend, and where we go from here.

Peeling Back the Metaphor

My essay makes a very clear argument that I develop in four stages. I express my concern that the biblical counseling movement has been infiltrated by people who are syncretizing secular therapy with biblical wisdom. After diagnosing that problem of compromise, I provide three ways to recognize the existence of these compromised individuals. The bulk of the essay is a serious and sustained theological argument where I engage several misunderstandings and misapplications of the doctrines of common grace and the sufficiency of Scripture. I conclude the essay with a personal appeal to these precious but compromised Christians to turn away from counseling syncretism and embrace the authoritative Word of God as sufficient to inform our counseling practice.

That is a brief summary of the important argument I tried to advance.

The Metaphor

One of the most obvious realities of the essay is the metaphor I used comparing faithful biblical counselors to priests, unbelieving therapists to zombies, and compromised Christians to infected priests.

No Christian should be unduly troubled by the use of parables since our Savior used them all the time. He used them to add color to his teaching, to make his principles memorable, and even to speak in code to his people—just to name a few of his purposes.

Because parabolic communication can be tricky, it requires care on the part of the author and the reader. I took my role as author very seriously and made clear throughout that I was using an analogy to talk about harmful forces doing damage to biblical counseling.

After authors have been clear about the meaning of a metaphor it then requires care from the reader. Responsible readers must make distinctions between arguments and analogies used to communicate those arguments.

For example, a responsible reader must not conclude that I believe in the literal existence of zombies, since I referred to them as fictitious. Likewise, readers should not claim that my language means I believe integrationists are unsaved because I explicitly said, “They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We have served together, spent time together, and I love them.” More than that, it is wrong to claim that I intend to shut down the conversation since I said, “Instead of shutting down the debate, the need of the hour is to listen well to the arguments from both sides. The truth will be vindicated over time, but that requires us to listen carefully and evaluate the claims.”

I realize that some were offended that I would compare anyone to a zombie or to a person infected by them. I anticipated this concern when I said,

“It would be a mistake to miss that the reality to which the analogy points is far worse than the fictional metaphor. It is far worse for a false preacher to corrupt faithful Christians than it is for any wolf to eat a sheep. Likewise, it is far worse that a counselor would lead others away from Scripture and toward secularism than it is for a fictitious priest to suffer from a mythological zombie bite.”

In these words, I made explicitly clear what my real charge is. In reality, I have not accused anyone of being a zombie, but of being syncretistic. In God’s world, zombies aren’t real, but syncretists are in trouble. I know that stings, but I hope you won’t stay angry with me for long. I mean to love you by telling you the truth. That’s why I asked you to repent at the end of the essay and invited you to join us in our efforts at faithful biblical ministry. I hope you will!

Hitting a Nerve

There is no denying that the essay hit a nerve. I don’t spend much time on social media, but from the few things my friends have shown me, it seems there are several reasons why the essay has had such a strong impact.

Conservatives in the biblical counseling world believe I have hit the nail on the head and are thankful that someone finally said something. They have been seeing and hearing concerning things from concerning voices for some time, and they have been . . . well, concerned. When I declared the existence of compromised biblical counselors, described their behavior, and articulated the errors in their thinking, they heard me giving voice to what they have been seeing, and are very grateful.

On the other end of the continuum are those who are guilty of the compromise I have exposed and they know it. They are really upset at the exposure and the accusation that they are not faithful. My essay makes it more difficult for them to be accepted in all the places they desire. Even now, just as I warned in my essay, they are working to make sure I stay quiet.

I sent out several early drafts of the essay for review before it was released. One of the most common suggestions I received was that for a problem this serious, I should name names. But I did not want to name anyone because I wanted the arguments to speak for themselves without being attached to anyone in particular. I said to everyone who made the suggestion that I do not believe it is necessary to reveal who I am talking about. I predicted the people would reveal themselves in their response to the essay. This has proven true.

My essay hit a nerve with another group. These are people all across the counseling spectrum who just don’t think we should be talking this way. For people on the right, the metaphor spoiled a good argument, for people on the left it added insult to injury.

This is part of the larger disagreement about tone and mood that evangelicals have been having for a long time and won’t get resolved here. All I’ll say about it now is that if Jesus could clear the temple with a whip and remain the personification of love and grace, then there are times when love can best be demonstrated with boldness. Whether, I have gotten it right and said the right thing, in the right way, at the right time is something I am happy to entrust to God. I hope you can too.

What Is Really Going On

What is really happening is a significant disagreement in the biblical counseling movement that my essay did not create but only revealed. If you could go back to Monday morning before I mentioned priests, gardens, zombies, and walls, the divisions would all be there. They would just be concealed.

The real problem is that we have serious, deep, and principled theological and practical disagreements and we are going to have to do the hard work of sorting through it.

In the weeks ahead, we have more essays and articles scheduled to come out from me and several ministry colleagues. My next one drops next week. In those articles, we are going to be honest and talk about a real problem. I understand the desire to bury our heads in the sand and pretend this isn’t happening. But that is not real life. We are going to have to be responsible ministers of the gospel, be honest we have a problem, avoid the hysterics about style, press into substance on issues, and move towards solutions as mature Christians.

This will be a challenge, but there is no way to avoid it. And Jesus will help us through it. On the other side of it, I know our movement will be stronger for our faithfulness.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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