The Complexity of Depression: David Murray: Christians Get Depressed Too

Having discussed The Crisis of the issue of Depression at length, David Murray moves into examining The Complexity of the issue in chapter two of his wonderful resource: Christians Get Depressed Too. As I looked through this chapter, I thought I could cover the entirety of it in a review in one post, but I think I will break it up into the following sections to allow greater discussion and thought:

  • Two Principles to Condition our Thinking While Studying Depression
  • The Nouthetic Counseling Movement
  • The Modern Biblical Counseling Movement

Let’s begin with Two Principles to Condition our Thinking While Studying Depression:

We had observed the eight reasons why a Christian should be interested in examining this issue of Depression, now David Murray leads us into looking at how the Christian should study depression – with what attitude and in what spirit the subject should be approached. Here are the two principles that should guide us:

  1. Avoid Dogmatism and Seek Humility
    1. What is needed is an absence (firstly) of dogmatism. Please understand: if the Word of God is dogmatic in an area, so we should be dogmatic. We need not fear what society or culture or the sciences say; we have an authoritative foundation on which to stand confidently. (Even in the area of mental health). Unfortunately, Murray writes, “…Christian preachers and writers have often taken a dogmatic attitude into areas where the Word of God is not dogmatic. One such area is depression…” When we begin to be dogmatic in an area that the Word of God is not dogmatic, we emphasize personal prejudices and experiences rather than biblical principles. This is dangerous for both counselee and the counselor! What makes it more difficult is that we often crave dogmatism. We wish for a simple right and wrong or black and white. Our world is confusing enough as it is – how much easier it would be if we could be dogmatic in the area of mental health! Dogmatism, “…however, is highly damaging in this complex area of depression, which requires careful, balanced, and sensitive thinking, writing, and speaking…”
      1. We very well may find in the future that we have increased understanding in the realm of mental health and advances much like what we have seen in the medical field over the past several decades.
      2. Murray states: It is very likely that in the future, with increased research into depression and also increased understanding of the Bible’s teaching, much of the current confident certainty, which presently masquerades as biblical or medical expertise, will also look ridiculous, cruel, and even horrifying.
      3. We would do well to not be dogmatic unnecessarily.
    2. As we move away from dogmatism, let us seek to be humble. Let’s study, listen and speak with humility. Accept our own ignorance of complex issues, realize our own insufficiency as we examine the “…mysterious causes and consequences of depression…”
  2. Avoid Extremes and Seek Balance:
    1. It is hard to be balanced in many areas of life; especially in the area of counseling. As we fight the extremes, let’s expose three simplistic extremes in considering the cause of depression: (these three being: the cause is all physical, all spiritual or all mental)
      1. The Cause is All Physical
        1. For many that drive a drug-driven solution to depression, this was the principle that guided their thinking. This thinking, in general, might be referred to the medical model 0r drug-treatment model.
        2. And there are physical aspects to Depression. “…Studies have demonstrated that the brains of many depressed patients have a different chemistry and circuitry compared to people with good mental and emotional health…
        3. A very, very basic understanding of how the brain operates would agree that the brain operates via certain chemicals. When these chemicals change drastically or become depleted, the individual can be affected greatly. Because of this understanding, the medical approach would say that the “cure” to all Depression would then be medication.
        4. Murray states, “...it is too big a step to move…to proposing the drug-treatment model as the preferred model in almost every case and medication as the preferred solution in almost every case…
      2. The Cause is All Spiritual
        1. This extreme view is most popularly put forth by those following Jay Adams’ “almost always spiritual” view. It is important to realize that we must not overreact to one unhelpful view, only to end up holding another.
        2. This extreme position basically takes two forms:
          1. Depression is caused by demonic possession and requires exorcism. This view would not fall into Adams’ camp so much as the Pentecostal and charismatic churches that place a strong view on spiritual warfare. Reading the gospels, we must allow for the possibility that unstable mental health could be a result of demons possession on rare occasions. The second view is the more common under this point.
          2. Depression is caused by sin; therefore, rebuke, repentance, and confession are required. This is a widespread view promoted by Jay Adams and the nouthetic counseling movement. Basically the approach states that the counselee’s Depression is a result of their sin. We will explore this more in detail in our next post as we look at the nouthetic movement and the modern biblical counseling movement.
      3. The Cause is All Mental (it’s all in your mind)
        1. A proper understanding by what is being communicated here is important. It is true that the seat of Depression is dealing with the chemical imbalances of the brain. However, most people use it incorrectly alleging that Depression is simply made up, fiction or delusion.
        2. Charles Spurgeon dealt with this insensitive and wrong view in a quote which we posted yesterday. I’ll simply link to it and allow you to look it up as you have time.
        3. Murray claims, “…Depression afflicts the strong and the weak, the clever and the simple, those with a happy temperament and those of a melancholy temperament…

Which of these causes is “the” cause of Depression? I don’t think it is wise to swing to an extreme in trying to nail Depression down in that manner. “…We need to recognize the exceeding complexity of depression and resist the temptation to propose and accept simply analyses and solutions…” What is frightening is that many “counselors” receive little education regarding Depression, or fail to realize the depths of the issue – which results in dogmatic and extreme (and unwise) counsel. “…The body, the soul, and the thoughts and feelings are extremely complicated entities…”

Christians don’t understand how physical, psychological and spiritual realms interrelate because Satan muddles the boundaries. Many of our troubles are caused because we think a problem is spiritual when it is physical or we think a problem is physical when it is emotional or spiritual.~Dr.Martyn Lloyd-Jones

So when we sit across the desk from those suffering from Depression, realize that it is a matter that will take time and effort, perhaps trial and error in diagnosing and will demand from us Christ-like compassion. Avoid dogmatism and seek humility; avoid extremes and seek balance.

4 thoughts on “The Complexity of Depression: David Murray: Christians Get Depressed Too

  1. This is sounding useful. As a mental health worker I am frequently frustrated by some of the ignorance that I see coming from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been counselling clients with mental illness – including depression. Don’t get me wrong – some educate themselves appropriately and are great, but too many demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding or misread warning signs that are shouting out a need for more specialist support until far too late. This is particularly true where the illness doesn’t frighten them eg depression. I shall be on the look out for this resource.

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