Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants?

If you struggle with depression and wonder “Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants” then this article by Dr. Russell Moore should be a source of encouragement for you.

Dr. Moore writes:

Dear Dr. Moore,

Not long ago, my doctor prescribed me as having a (relatively) mild form of depression. He put me on an anti-depressant. I hate the side effects, and I don’t like the way it makes me feel, but maybe I’ll get used to it. My biggest struggle is whether it is right to be on these at all. If I have the Holy Spirit, why do I need this drug? Is it ethical for a Christian to take drugs like this?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,

First of all, you are right to seek medical help. Depression is not just unpleasant; it can be debilitating and dangerous, and it signals that something has gone wrong somewhere. Here are some things to think about.

God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. The body affects the psyche. Going without food, for example, or sleep will change the way one thinks or feels dramatically. And the psyche affects the body. We don’t “have” bodies or “have” psyches. We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.

It makes sense to me that biological and physiological factors often play a role in persons not seeing reality correctly. Some drugs can “fix” something that’s gone wrong. For example, a malfunctioning thyroid can be corrected by synthetic drugs that prompt the body to do what it’s designed to do. Most of the anti-depressants you see advertised on television don’t “fix” something, as much as they alleviate symptoms. They rework levels of serotonin or dopamine reception, for instance, so that a person doesn’t experience the same levels of sadness or dullness or hopelessness.

Often, even when depression or anxiety is rooted in non-physiological reasons, the person is so far gone that medication is necessary to start working on the root issues. But, remember, for most people, there is no drug that will bring about psychic flourishing. What the drug is meant to do is to “numb” the person to the pain of depression and anxiety.

Numbing, as part of an overall plan, can be a good thing. When I have a toothache, I want my dentist to give me an anesthetic so that I don’t feel that throbbing anymore. Before my tooth can be fixed, someone must “shut down” the agony I’m in, temporarily. But a dentist who simply “treats” my infected tooth with an anesthetic isn’t helping me. Ultimately, the tooth must be fixed.

It could be that your depression and anxiety is caused by something physiological. If so, continue your medical treatment and have that looked at. But it could be that there’s a reason for the sadness or the anxiety. Maybe you’ve recently lost a spouse or a job or a friend. If so, grieve over that loss. Maybe you’re anxious about a guilty conscience or about an uncertain future. Don’t just medicalize that anxiety. Rehearse the gospel you’ve embraced, and pray, alone and with others, and seek the kind of counsel that can bring about the necessary life-change to cope with whatever seems so hopeless right now.

Whether your depression is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is also important, I think, to start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is, what your end goal should look like. I know I have trouble seeing this clearly sometimes.

The “normal” human life isn’t what is marketed to us by the pharmaceutical industry or by the lives we see projected on movie screens, or, frankly, by a lot of Christian sermons and praise songs. The normal human life is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who sums up in himself everything it means to be human (Eph. 1:10). And the life of Christ presented to us in the Gospels is a life of joy, of fellowship, of celebration, but also of loneliness, of profound sadness, of lament, of grief, of anger, of suffering, all without sin.

As the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, we don’t become giddy, or, much less, emotionally vacant. Instead, the Bible tells us we “groan” along with the persecuted creation around us (Rom. 8:23). We cry out with Jesus himself, experiencing with him often the agony of Gethsemane (Gal. 4:6; Mk. 14:36). And, paradoxically, along the way, we join Jesus in joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). A human emotional life is complicated, and a regenerated human emotional life is complicated too.

If your doctors are trying to get you to this kind of emotional holism, good. But if what you’re expecting is a kind of all-the-time emotional tranquility, you just might be passing up something that is part of the human condition itself.

There are some Christians who believe any psychiatric drug is a spiritual rejection of the Bible’s authority. I’m not one of them. But there are other Christians who seem to think, with the culture around us, that everything is material and can be solved by material means. I don’t think that’s right either.

Keep working with your doctors to treat your depression. If you’re not happy with the treatment or with the side-effects, seek some additional medical opinion, and listen for wisdom in a multitude of counselors. As you note in your question, sometimes the side-effects of these drugs are awful. Communicate with your doctor, and read up to ask the right kinds of questions.

But spend time too with those who know you and love you, and ask if there’s more behind this than simply serotonin reception. God doesn’t want you to be simply, in the words of one observer of the current pharmacological utopianism, “comfortably numb.” He wants you to be whole.

The Rescue!

Throughout Easter weekend I read several posts that greatly blessed my heart. “How the Resurrection Undoes Our Need to Be Proven Right” by Russell Moore was one of my favorites.

Dr. Moore writes:

As Jesus drowned in his own blood, the spectators yelled words quite similar to those of Satan in the wilderness: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mk. 15:32).

But Jesus didn’t jump down. He didn’t ascend to the skies. He just writhed there.

The bloated corpse of Jesus hit the ground as he was pulled off that stake, spattering warm blood and water on the faces of the crowd.

That night, the religious leaders probably read Deuteronomy 21 to their families, warning them about the curse of God on those who are “hanged on a tree.” Fathers probably told their sons, “Watch out that you don’t ever wind up like him.”

Those Roman soldiers probably went home and washed the blood of Jesus from under their fingernails and played with their children in front of the fire before dozing off. This was just one more insurrectionist they had pulled off a cross, one in a line of them dotting the roadside. And this one (what was his name? Joshua?) was just decaying meat now, no threat to the Empire at all.

The corpse of Jesus just lay there in the silence of that cave. By all appearances it had been tested and tried, and found wanting.

If you had been there to pull open his bruised eyelids, matted there together with mottled blood, you would have looked into blank holes. If you had lifted his arm, you would have felt no resistance. You would have heard only the thud as it hit the table when you let it go. You might have walked away from that morbid scene muttering to yourself, “The wages of sin is death.”

But sometime before dawn on Sunday morning, a spike-torn hand twitched. A blood-crusted eyelid opened. The breath of God came blowing down into that cave, and a new creation flashed into reality.

God was not simply delivering Jesus (and with him all of us) from death. He was also vindicating him (and with him all of us). By resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God was affirming what he had said over the Jordan waters. He was declaring Jesus “to be the Son of God in power” (Rom. 1:4).

This was done, the Bible says, by “the Spirit of holiness.” This is the same Spirit who rested on Jesus at his baptism “like a dove” (Matt. 3:16). I wonder if, as the dovish Spirit alighted on him in the water and in the tomb, Jesus might have thought of the words of the Psalm the Devil would quote in the wilderness: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:4).

With that kind of rescue, who needs to be proven right in any other way?

Note: The following post is an excerpt from Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).

Why Impostors Love the Church

After eighteen years of ministry it is still difficult to distinguish between genuine believers and those who are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. If we are not careful we can allow an unbeliever unrestrained access to those God has placed in our care.

In his post “Why Impostors Love the ChurchRussell Moore gives us a few good reasons why predators are drawn to the church.

Dr. Moore writes:

Recently I read a book that kept me awake a couple of nights. It was about “Clark Rockefeller,” and the scare quotes are important. The man was neither “Clark” nor “Rockefeller.” He was a German immigrant who crafted an identity as an heir of one of America’s wealthiest dynasties. He married, fathered a child, and was involved in fraud, theft, and maybe even murder. And no one ever knew, until the very end.

What made me squirm was that fact that the fake Rockefeller’s inroad to all his deception were churches and relationships, particularly with women. He would make the connections he needed in local congregations, and he would charm the women there. At the same time, he would parasitically imitate the men, watching and mirroring back to them their convictions and opinions, even the inflections of their voices. But, behind all of that, there was nothing real but a predatory appetite.

The New Testament warns us, of course, about spiritual impostors. Sometimes these “wolves” are there to introduce subtly false doctrine. But, just as often, it seems, these spiritual carnivores hold to true doctrine, at least on the surface. But they use this doctrine and service for predatory ends. The sons of Eli, for instance, use their priestly calling to co-opt the fat of the offering and to lay with the women at the altar (1 Sam. 2).Virtually every New Testament letter warns us about the same phenomenon (e.g., 2 Pet. 2; Jude).

But why, when there is so much opportunity for debauchery out there in the world around us, do such people choose the church?

First of all, I think its because deception can look a lot like discipleship. A disciple is like a son learning from his father, Jesus tells us. The student resembles his teacher. That’s good, and right. But the satanic powers turn all good things for evil. A spiritual impostor can mimic such discipleship when he’s, in fact, just “casing the joint,” watching the mores, learning the phrases, mimicking the convictions. It can seem like the passing down of the faith when, in reality, it’s an almost vampiric taking on of another identity, all for the sake of some appetite or other.

Second, I think it’s because these impostors are looking for something they can’t find in bars and strip clubs. Many of them “feed” off of innocence itself. The Apostle Paul, therefore, warns of those who “creep into households, taking captive weak women burdened down with sins” (2 Tim. 3:6). The impostors are able to gain power over the weak not only by deceiving them but by morally compromising them.

Often these victims are drawn, for reasons good and bad, to spiritual authority. The impostor mimics this authority, sometimes with a precision almost to the point of identity theft. But he uses it to defile, sapping away what seems to them to be innocence as a vampire would lap up blood.

Finally, the church often draws such impostors because of a perversion of the Christian doctrine of grace. The Christian gospel offers a complete forgiveness of sin, and not only that, a fresh start as a new creation. But both Jesus and the apostles warn us that this can easily be perverted into a kind of anti-christ license. Faith is not real without repentance, and faith is not like that of the demons, simply assenting to truth claims. Faith works itself out in love. Faith follows after the lordship of King Jesus. Faith takes up a cross.

But a notion of “grace” apart from lordship can provide excellent cover for spiritual impostors. That’s why virtually every sex predator I’ve heard of compares himself, or is compared by one of those on whom he’s preying, as a latter-day King David. This is often the case even while this person continues to run rampant in his sin against the Body of Christ. Those who seek to hold accountable, or even just to warn the flock, are then presented as “unmerciful” or “graceless” or unwilling to help along the “struggling.”

This often leads to a church that then loses its ability to be the presence of Christ. The church, desiring to be seen to be merciful, loses any aspect of the merciful ministry of Christ because we don’t do what he called us to do: to tend the flock of God. Or, we are so burned over by the presence of predators among us that we lose the ability to trust anyone. Yes, there is Demas, and yes, there is Alexander the Coppersmith. But there’s Timothy and Titus too.

Moreover, the presence of impostors can cause us to lose confidence in the church itself. But how can that be when Jesus warns us from the very beginning that we must be watchful of this. The apostolic Word gives us confidence that spiritual predators, like Pharaoh’s magicians, “will not get very far” (2 Tim. 3:9).

There’s nothing more enraging than the sound of a lamb bleating in a wolf’s mouth. But the Shepherd is coming.

(Image Credit)

Worship Wars

Is your musical taste different from that of your worship leader? Do you get misty-eyed every time you hear a Fanny Crosby song? Have you ever wondered what happened to the good old days when church music was in a book? Does your discontentment with the music ever cause you to feel guilty?  These are just a few of the questions answered in Dr. Russell Moore’s article “Let’s Have More Worship Wars.”

Dr. Moore writes:

I have the worship music tastes of a seventy-five year-old woman.

There I admitted it. That’s because a seventy-five year-old woman was picking out the hymns and gospel songs in the church where I grew up. My iPod playlist is really eclectic—ranging from George Jones to Andrew Peterson to Taio Cruz. But, when it comes to worship, nothing gets to me like Fanny Crosby. And, if “Just As I Am” is played, I’m going to want to cry, and probably walk the nearest aisle (even if it’s on an airplane).

I’m left cold by what people call the “majestic old hymns.” I tried to like them, to fit in with the theological tribe into which I was adopted, but I just can’t do it. They sound like what watercress-sandwich-eating Episcopalians from Connecticut might sing (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

And, though I like a lot of contemporary music, much of it sounds to me like many of these songs were written by underemployed commercial jingle writers, trying to find words to rhyme with “Jesus” (”Sees us?” “Never leave us?” “Diseases?”).

But the more I reflect on what I like, and why, the more I’m convinced that my preferences are almost entirely cultural and nostalgic.

I’m not saying aesthetics don’t matter in worship. The Spirit equips God’s people to sing and to play and to write music. So when music is not good this is often evidence of, at worst, disobedience, and at best, misappropriation of talents. And the Scripture commands us to worship in “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

Worship is directed toward God, yes, but worship arises out of a specific community. The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are teaching ( Col. 3:16). They build up the rest of the Body. That’s why we’ve got to care about what, and how, others hear when we are “addressing one another” (Eph. 5:17) musically.

What I am saying is that most of our varying critiques of musical forms are often just narcissism disguised as concern about theological and liturgical downgrade. That’s why I think we need more, and better, worship wars.

Thankfully, we don’t hear as much about “worship wars” these days, but I wonder if that’s because of growing maturity or if it’s simply because we’ve so segregated ourselves into services and congregations that reflect generational and ethnic and class-oriented musical commonalities. Maybe we need to reignite the wars, but in a Christian sort of way.

What if the war looked like this in your congregation? What if the young singles complained that the drums are too loud, that they’re distracting the senior adults? What if the elderly people complained that the church wasn’t paying attention to the new movements in songwriting or musical style?

When we seek the well-being of others in worship, it’s not just that we cringe through music we hate. As an act of love, this often causes us to appreciate, empathize, and even start to resonate with worship through musical forms we previously never considered.

This would signal a counting of others as more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3), which comes from the Spirit of the humiliated, exalted King Jesus (Phil 2:5-11).  It would mean an outdoing of one another, in order to serve and show honor to the other parts of the Body of Christ. And, however it turned out musically, it would rock.

Okay, so I exaggerated a little about my old woman tastes. In the time I’ve been writing this article the background music has included both Conway Twitty and Christian Hip-Hop artist FLAME. But I know myself; you turn on “To God Be the Glory,” and I’ll get misty-eyed.

When I insist that the rest of the congregation serve as back-up singers in my own little nostalgic hit parade of back-home Mississippi hymns, I am worshipping in the spirit all right. It’s just not the Holy Spirit. I’m worshipping myself, in the spirit of self-exaltation. And it’s easy to be a Satanist when you can get your way in worship planning.

Let’s declare war on that, in ourselves and in our churches. Which reminds me: “Onward Christian Soldiers,” what a song…

Where Is the Next Billy Graham Right Now?

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse makes it clear God loves people. Regardless of who they are or what they have done, God loved them enough to send Jesus to die for them. When we see people who act differently than we do as Christians, we need to remember God’s desire that none perish and then share with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

In Russell Moore’s article “The Next Billy Graham Might Be Drunk Right Now,” we are given a perfect example of why it is important to be about making disciples. You never know what is going to become of the person to whom you are witnessing. Dr. Moore’s blog should also encourage us when we are not seeing a lot of decisions. If we are faithful to plant the seed of the gospel, God will see that it produces fruit.

I think this is the best article I have read in 2012, so I hope you enjoy “The Next Billy Graham Might Be Drunk Right Now.”

Whenever I start to get discouraged about the future of the church, I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry on what would turn out to be his last visit to Southern Seminary before his death.

Several of us were lamenting the miserable shape of the church, about so much doctrinal vacuity, vapid preaching, non-existent discipleship. We asked Dr. Henry if he  saw any hope in the coming generation of evangelicals.

And I will never  forget his reply.

“Why, you speak as though Christianity were genetic,” he said. “Of  course, there is hope for the next generation of evangelicals. But the  leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current  evangelical establishment. They are probably still pagans.”

“Who knew that Saul of Tarsus was to be the great apostle to the  Gentiles?” he asked us. “Who knew that God would raise up a C.S. Lewis, a  Charles Colson? They were unbelievers who, once saved by the grace of  God, were mighty warriors for the faith.”

Of course, the same principle applied to Henry himself. Who  knew that God would raise up a newspaperman from a nominally Lutheran  family to defend the Scriptures for generations of conservative  evangelicals?

The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynist, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.

But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so. The new birth doesn’t just transform lives, creating repentance and faith; it also provides new leadership to the church, and fulfills Jesus’ promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time (Eph. 4:8-16).

After all, while Phillip was leading the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ, Saul of Tarsus was still a murderer.

Most of the church in any generation comes along through the slow, patient discipleship of the next generation. But just to keep us from thinking Christianity is evolutionary and “natural” (or, to use Dr. Henry’s term “genetic”), Jesus shocks his church with leadership that seems to come like a Big Bang out of nowhere.

Whenever I’m tempted to despair about the shape of American Christianity, I’m reminded that Jesus never promised the triumph of the American church; he promised the triumph of the church. Most of the church, in heaven and on earth, isn’t American. Maybe the hope of the American church is right now in Nigeria or Laos or Indonesia.

Jesus will be King, and his church will flourish. And he’ll do it in the way he chooses, by exalting the humble and humbling the exalted, and by transforming cowards and thieves and murderers into the cornerstones of his New City.

So relax.

And, be kind to that atheist in front of you on the highway, the one who just shot you an obscene gesture. He might be the one who evangelizes your grandchildren.

Click here to read more by Dr. Russell Moore.

The Truth About Forgiveness

When I talk to anyone about forgiveness I always tell them to read Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (ESV). Did you catch that, we are to forgive others as Christ Jesus the Lord has forgiven us.

Forgiving someone who has wronged us is not always the easiest thing to do.  We know Jesus expects us to follow His example of grace and mercy by forgiving others; however, there are times forgiveness is the last thing on our minds.

Why is forgiveness so difficult?  Dr Russell Moore answers this question in his blog entitled “What Forgiveness Is and Isn’t.” I hope this insightful article will help as you seek to show forth the forgiveness of Christ.  Click this link to read Dr. Moore’s blog.