Book Review: Christians Get Depressed Too
By David Murray
Published by Reformation Heritage Books (2010) $7.50
Statistics show that nearly 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, suffer from depression (i.e. have a mood disorder). A number of these suffering adults are members of our conservative Reformed churches. Unfortunately, many depressed believers have been greatly injured by the counsel they have received by well-meaning yet misinformed Reformed Christians who have taken the extreme position of Dr. Jay Adams in the complex area of depression. I have personally had the unpleasant experience of observing and dealing with the negative results of such “extremism” in my ministry.
Dr. Adams, the pioneer of the Nouthetic Counseling Movement, and those who have closely followed him in the modern biblical counseling movement, have taken the position that almost all depression is caused by sin and therefore rebuke, repentance, and confession are required.
Dr. Murray, in a kind-spirited, positive way, explains the weakness of this method of handling depression on page 19 of his book: “While Adams is to be commended for giving an important place to personal responsibility, he errs in placing all responsibility on the depressed patient. Adams fails to appreciate the significant difference in kind between bad moods or short term depressions of spirit, which are sometimes sinful and to be repented of, and the deeper kinds of depression, which often have far more complex causes than the sinful choices of individuals.”
Thankfully, Dr. Murray is not afraid to point out the fact that many within the modern-day biblical counseling movement still use language that supports Adams’s conclusion. Again, using a style of writing wherein he commends the good changes that have occurred within the movement while addressing the weaknesses, he writes on page 23, “Admittedly, they have changed the focus in their search for the counselee’s sin from Adams’s external behaviorism to the more biblical and spiritual issues of heart idolatry. However, in most cases, the search for sin remains their default starting position; the problem is sin, the cure is repentance.”
The content of Murray’s book provides concise, sound, practical, and easy-to-understand advice to the reader. This book needs to be placed in the hands of the depressed and their caregivers. It also needs to be on the shelf of every pastor, elder, and biblical counselor.
1. Kessler R. C., Chiu W.T., Demler O., Walters E. E., Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun, 62(6):617-27. (Dr. Murray was the keynote speaker at the IRBC Conference on Depression on March 4–5, 2011.)
Dr. Jeff Doll is the Pastor of Biblical Counseling at Cornerstone URC and the Director of the newly-formed Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling of Hudsonville, MI.