If I ever publish my autobiography, I’ll call it Sovereign Stumbling. My life journey to date is a series of how I have stumbled and how God has consistently guided me in His sovereign ways.
I stumbled into psychology in college and didn’t like it at all until I started taking abnormal psychology courses and personality theory. That’s when my juices started to flow. I realized that I liked thinking in these areas. When I finished, I earned a Ph.D. because I didn’t know what else to do. During my graduate career, I figured that being a Christian psychologist was not different from being a psychologist who happened to be a Christian.
In graduate school, I made a decision to give up Christianity that lasted about two years. I thought, I will not buy Christianity simply because it’s my heritage. I decided that I would not buy anything that I didn’t deeply believe. I started reading the writings of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis. They were the two mentors who brought me back to the faith. In my third year of graduate school, I came back gung ho and decided if Christianity was true, it’s got to control everything.
After teaching in the psychology department at the University of Illinois for two years and after encountering battles at a state university in Florida that I didn’t want to fight, I made a decision to go into private practice. I wanted freedom to think without having to be accountable to people with a totally different philosophical mindset from mine. I wanted the freedom to pursue what I felt was Christian counseling. No longer was I a psychologist who happened to be a Christian. I was now a Christian who happened to be a psychologist; and I was sold out to discovering what this would mean for my life, both personally and professionally. Once again, I stumbled; and God was sovereign.
In my 10 years of private practice, I became persuaded that the community of God’s people was meant to be the place where the deepest healing takes place. I came to the conclusion that real healing has less to do with technical intervention and more to do with profound relational engagement. I realized that the context for this engagement needs to be in the community of God’s people—and that’s the church. I thought that if healing belongs in church, then I’d like to be involved in somehow strengthening churches.
Years later, a comment from noted author and teacher Dr. James Houston significantly impacted my thinking and message. He said, “If the church is going to experience a second reformation, this one dealing with sanctification as the first dealt with justification, then we’ll need to recover the doctrine of the Trinity and understand its implications for human community.” I began to ponder what the Trinity and community have to do with sanctification in counseling. I discovered the transforming power that is released when people learn to enter the kind of community that God has enjoyed in the Trinity. And I realized we can develop that kind of community with the resources provided by the New Covenant. What needs to happen to people happens in community. When I began to understand that, I thought, I’ll begin to focus on the resources that are inherent in the community of people who are in “new covenant” relationship with God.
My journey has led to the conclusion that real community happens when the energy of Christ within believers pours out into another person with the wisdom that the Bible provides, with the wisdom that only suffering can teach, and with the wisdom of the Spirit working through the resources He has given us through the New Covenant. I believe that this dynamic should define the church and the efforts of all those who want to help other people, including spiritual leaders, counselors and psychotherapists, and lay folks in the body of Christ.