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This is the introduction to a lecture which I will be giving at the ACBC Conference this fall . Since this is an early draft, some or all of this may be rewritten, revised, or simply rejected. But I often think things through by writing them out. Since this is a draft, if you do happen to have an opinion, I would be happy to hear it so that I can make the necessary changes. 


The answer to this question will be a bit complex, for two reasons. First, the question concerns the interaction of law and religious practice. Second, the culture as a whole is the process of a fundamental shift; and, as the culture shifts so does the law. Therefore, to answer this question I will need to build an argument in sections, block-by-block.

The Quick Answer

There is an easy answer to this question; it is unpacking the elements which will take time. The State seeks to regulate Biblical Soul Care, because we look like Cognitive Behavioral Psychologists who use religious language for certain predetermined ends.  We are just scoff-laws who simply refuse to take the licensing examination and abide by the agreed-upon ethical standards.

The State is completely unconcerned with the fact that we use the Bible, call ourselves Christian, ask people to pray or any similar aspect of our counsel. As I was preparing for this lecture, I read a blog entry on Scientific American concerning the use of tarot cards and astrology as the basis for psychotherapy.

The author plainly favors what he labeled “evidence based” therapies of the more traditional form. And yet ended with the following observation:

Research into the brain and mind, I have argued on this blog and elsewhere, has yet to produce truly persuasive theories of and treatments for mental illness. As a recent essay in a British psychiatric journal argues, “it is still not possible to cite a single neuroscience or genetic finding that has been of use to the practicing psychiatrist in managing [mental]  illnesses despite attempts to suggest the contrary.”

This failure helps explains why people still turn to Freudian psychoanalysis, although it does not stand up to scientific scrutiny, and to an even older mind-therapy, Buddhism. And it explains why many people in distress turn to astrology, tarot cards and other pseudoscientific methods. May they find the solace they seek.[1]

But rather than dunk on our psychiatrist friends, I wish rather to make another point. A perfectly reputable psychiatric source is willing to accept – at least tolerate – the use of pseudoscience in the practice of psychotherapy. If you read the post yourself, you can find citations to other reputable practitioners who are willing to permit the use of admittedly unscientific methods because merely being convinced that it will help is usually enough to bring some relief.

Therefore, if you want to talk about Jesus and prescribe a course of prayer, you are free to do so. But, we only ask that you get a license first.

And in a world where hairdressers need official training and an occupational license, we should not be surprised that something as significant as dealing the human heart requires some standard.

Thus, we should not be surprised that the State would seek to regulate therapists no matter what they use as the basis for their therapy. And so, if a pastor wants to preach and pray and engage in rituals, he may. But -as the representative of the State will say -if that same man wants to start engaging in therapy, he should be regulated. He can engage in his religion without a license; but therapy, that is for the State to regulate.

[1] John Horgan, “Astrology, Tarot Cards and Psychotherapy,” Scientific American (blog), February 24, 2020, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/astrology-tarot-cards-and-psychotherapy/.