Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology at SBTS (UPDATED with Apology from Heath Lambert)

UPDATE: Heath Lambert issued a statement in response to the controversy over Eric Johnson, SBTS, and the conflict between biblical counseling and Christian psychology.

In sum, Lambert denies any pressure on SBTS to get Johnson fired. He does acknowledge that he spoke unkindly about Johnson in the video which is embedded in the original post below. Finally, Lambert continues to believe his view of Christian counseling is superior to Dr. Johnson’s.

The petition remains unchanged. Lambert contradicts the petition on the point about Johnson’s departure from SBTS. I think the ball is now in the hands of the petition writer to respond.

I am working on my response to Lambert’s 95 Theses.

(Original Post)

For as long as I can remember, there has been conflict between psychologists and theologians. Representing different ways of approaching knowledge, religion depends on revelation and scientifically informed psychology depends on research. For me as a psychology professor at a Christian college, the tension is just another day at work.

One way that tension shows up聽is in the practice and teaching of counseling. Some counselors insist that the Bible is all that should be used in counseling whereas other Christians believe that psychological research should inform selection of techniques. A skirmish in that conflict appears to be taking place at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

According to a petition gathering steam, Christian psychologist Eric Johnson was fired from his position as a professor at SBTS (see also this Twitter thread). The petition聽claims that聽Johnson was on the wrong side of an ideological dispute with Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. The petition begins:

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler, has decided to fire Dr. Eric Johnson after 17 years of ministry in Christian scholarship and soul-care. His termination was not due to differing Christian beliefs or failed morality but rather due to pressure from an outside organization, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), and its leader, Heath Lambert.

The petition is anonymous but I have gotten confirmation of some details from sources in a position to know. Although president of the seminary Albert Mohler has not yet responded to an inquiry, Johnson confirmed without explanation that he won’t be teaching at SBTS after this semester. It is also true that Lambert has had very negative things to say about Johnson’s work. For those who want all the inside baseball, watch this video of Lambert blasting Johnson’s work and theology.


My primary interest in this matter isn’t about a personnel matter at the seminary. Those details will probably remain private. Rather, I want to focus on the conflict between so-called biblical counselors and Christian psychology. While I don’t know what Mr. Lambert’s role was in Johnson’s situation, it does seem clear that Lambert sees himself as a reformer of counseling conducted by Christians.

In the spirit of the Reformation, Lambert recently released “95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling.” In this document, Lambert offers a challenge to “secular therapy” for the “purpose of debate.”

I plan to take Lambert up on his offer. While I agree with Lambert that the topic is timely and important, I disagree with his general approach. In future posts, I will outline why I believe that his key claims are incorrect and if followed to the letter could be harmful.

In the mean time, I wish Dr. Johnson well and hope that he finds a suitable location for his work.

To read all posts in this series, click here.

Counselorlicense.com – Caveat emptor.

The public has a right to be confused about credentials in mental health. With several different mental health professions (psychiatry, psychology, professional counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, and addictions counseling), it is hard to keep up with the various titles and credentials used by the professions as well as the differences from state to state. In some states (e.g., my former residence, Ohio), one must be credentialed in order to practice, but in others (my current residence, Pennsylvania) one does not need to be licensed to practice professional counseling, marriage and family therapy or social work.
The public can be easily fooled in this environment and even those with some mental health training might think certain credentials will help them gain competitive advantage. Hence, legitimate credentialing bodies have taken steps to alert the public about what appear to be business ventures. For instance, the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) provides this information regarding the American Psychotherapy Association. Sounds official, right? However, these credentials have no legal standing or recognition with any regulatory body.
What prompts this post is the emergence of another such credential with the catchy slogan – Become a licensed counselor! at Counselorlicense.com. At first glance, I thought it might be a parody. Check out this testimonial:

From a job standpoint, I was like a fish out of water. I tried every profession known to man, from office work, to real estate, to nearly every infomercial in existence. I wanted to work for myself, but as a single parent, needed significant income, but could not do extensive travel, as required in sales positions. As a “people person” I loved helping struggling couples and Church members with everything from finances to relationships, and our Pastor suggested I check out PSU. I started in a spare bedroom, and made over $1,400 the first week, and felt happier helping people than I ever have in my life. I now have my own office, secretary and mini daycare room, and can’t wait to get up in the morning to start my day! Thank you hardly says it…

The phrase “started in a spare bedroom” pointed toward parody to me but I have learned that the American Counseling Association is not amused. David Kaplan, Chief Professional Officer, at the ACA said this in an email about the Phoenix State University “credential.”

You can be assured that ACA, through its Council of Presidents and Region Chairs (COPARC), is working on this issue and taking this credential seriously.

A Whois domain search of the counselorlicense.com reveals the following:

Registrant:
Halstead, Tom
ETI
7760 e SR 69
suite c5-390
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314
US
Domain Name: COUNSELORLICENSE.COM
Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
Halstead, Tom
ETI
7760 e SR 69
suite c5-390
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314, US
928-830-8467 fax: 866-857-2594
Record expires on 04-Apr-2009.
Record created on 04-Apr-2008.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Halstead is the owner of the various proofs of legitimacy he advances to support the pastoral counseling certificate. For instance, the websites of the Pastoral Church of America, the Phoenix State University, and even the accrediting body he says accredits the PSU, the Association of American Trade and Vocational Schools are all owned by Mr. Halstead. Of course, they all point to each other as evidence for their prestige. The AATVS website says it is “the oldest and largest accrediting organization for trade and vocational universities, colleges and schools, and has been accrediting university schools and labs since 1897.” Google it in quotes, however, and only two listings pop up, the website and Phoenix State University.
A call to the number given yields a recording asking the caller to contact PSU via email. So I did and received an automated reply. No answers as yet to my questions about how many students PSU enrolls or how I can contact one of those counselors who started in the spare bedroom. If you go to tomhalstead.com, you will find a web design business. From the looks of all the domains and websites he has, no wonder no one is answering the phone; he probably is very busy.
UPDATE: 6/3/08 – I spoke with James Rough, Executive Director of the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & Marriage and Family Therapist Board who informed me that he has asked the Ohio Attorney General’s office to investigate potential consumer fraud by counselorlicense.com. If this office doesn’t have jurisdiction or ability to intervene, then he will write the Arizona and Colorado consumer fraud offices to ask for an investigation. I suspect other state boards will follow suit.