Project: Entry Table

For Christmas I wanted to surprise my niece and nephew with a piece of furniture for their new home.  The problems with surprise furniture are numerous, so I told them my intent and asked for options for what they might like us to make.  Of the options they suggested we opted for an entry table.  I knew they would appreciate farm-style furniture, and so I did some digging to find a style to base their table off of. What I liked best was this:

My original thought in seeing this was to do two colors of wood.  Light color legs, so they blend in with the background and then get a darker top to hide damages and scratches as the table ages.

I have never done any wood projects this ambitions, so I did a lot of research and decided to go with a Japanese inspired construction.  The main point here being no metal holding the table together.  Once I had a penciled drawing of what I was going for, I went down to one of our local hardware store that specialized in exotic woods and I began to look for what would make this table work.

I immediately had to throw out the initial plan, as I couldn’t find wood of a sufficient size to become the tabletop in a dark color.  As I looked around I saw some beautiful live edge pieces and a new plan formed.  A live edge top with dark legs.  I brought my wife back another day and we chose the best top we could find and got to work.  This is a piece of maple:

The piece ended up being too wide for the dimensions I was given on one end and too narrow in other places, but we though that would add well to the aesthetic.  It was also a bit too long and needed the end cut off.  As you can see the wood came pretty dinged up.  So we got to work cutting it down to the right shape and sanding away.

There were a few cracks in the tabletop as well, which can be an issue for the longevity of the top.  As the wood swells and shrinks with the seasons, the cracks will grow and eventually the wood would split through entirely.  In Japanese woodworking, this is solved with butterfly joints.  I’d never done a butterfly joint before and had to do quite a bit of research.  Len Cullum’s tutorial on was super helpful.  The basic idea is that you make butterfly wedges so that the grain of your butterflies goes perpendicular to the crack.  You trace the butterfly, and cut and chisel out a hole slightly smaller than your butterfly.

Then you hammer it in, sand it down, and finish the table.

For the legs we went with maple.  It’s a dark wood that would bring out some good contrasts from the tabletop itself.  We chose a nice piece of maple to be the cross beam.  As an added bonus the cross beam had a nice dark knot in it to help tie the whole thing together.  To hold it all together, I used a blind tenon joint, which is very similar to the how the butterflies are installed.  I really wanted to use the X shaped legs in the initial picture above, but I ended up throwing that idea out as the live edge on the bottom of the table provided many problems for a uniformed look of the legs.

For the feet, I used the pieces of the tabletop that had been cut off.


Once all the sanding and joints were complete, it was assembly time.  After which we applied several coats of oil to the wood and a million coasts of oil based polyurethane.

The final product:


This project was fun to make and I learned a lot!  I hope it lasts a life time and brings joy to my niece and nephew!


Review: Psalms The Prayer Book of the Bible

516lu6YFbWL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for his imprisonment in Nazi Germany. As Germany descended into evil, Bonhoeffer stood resolute for Christian morals and doctrine. He denounced pastors and leaders in the German church whose teaching became soft during the dark days leading up to the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer and those who preached and lived in relationship with Jesus during these troubling years, referred to themselves as the Confessing Church. (This is a term we today might consider going back to as many Evangelical Christians are showing themselves to not believe in Biblical principles and abandoning sound doctrine in favor of anger and political agreement. See Tim Keller’s article Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore for more on this topic.)

Bonhoeffer’s unwavering allegiance to Biblical truth earned him a name in Christian history. When his unfaltering faith led to his imprisonment, he spent his time writing letters and books to encourage the church. He wrote The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, and many other works that helped shape modern Christianity. He showed us that while Grace is free, it is anything but cheap. Grace costs everything.

In his book Psalms The Prayer Book of the Bible, Bonhoeffer writes an overview of each genre of the Psalms and how to use them in prayer. This short book does a great job of briefly overviewing the Psalms and how to pray them. Bonhoeffer points out that the Psalms should be read frequently. To fail to do so make them hard to digest: “When read only occasionally, these prayers are too overwhelming in design and power and tend to turn us back to more palatable fare.” Doesn’t that ring true? When we dive into the Psalms after a prolonged break, doesn’t it feel like taking a swim in the ocean and a bat to the face? Martin Luther felt similarly, speaking of other prayer devotionals he said: “Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter. It tastes too cold and too hard.”

We have in the Psalms a masterpiece of heart piercing, soul cutting truth. We have poetry that can divide bone and marrow, soul and spirit. We have words designed to convict us when we are in sin, uplift us when we are weak, and give us a path of repentance when we need it most. We have words that can rebuke us, teach us, correct us, and train us to be who God wants us to be. Bonhoeffer sees that and in a short and simple way points us to how to use the Psalms to pray through whatever trouble is before us.

Overall, I give this book 4 stars. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and short overview of the Psalms, I highly recommend this book.

Up next: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Review: Good Mood, Bad Mood


Charles D. Hodges, M.D. set out to write a book about the facts related to Bipolar Disorder. As a certified family doctor who has spent most of his career working with women who have just given birth, he has spend much of his career working women in the midst of postpartum depression. He is also board certified in Family medicine and Geriatrics and is also a licensed marital family therapist.

As he began researching Bipolar Disorder he quickly discovered he couldn’t talk about that without first talking about depression and what causes it. It is a commonly held belief in our society that depression is a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. As a doctor who specialized in working with women during postpartum depression he has learned that this is not true. Hodges points to several scientific studies that support his experiences in the field and then he points to what he believes is the real cause of depression. He shows that depression is an epidemic in America, but not in the world. If it is caused by chemical imbalances that same epidemic should be present in much of the world; instead, we find this is a uniquely American issue.

Hodges shows that depression is a result of internal (and often hidden) decisions we’ve made and their lasting ramifications. Most of the time people struggle with depression it is because they have something in their life that is causing them to feel sad emotions. Instead of dealing with their sadness, they try to cover it up and put on a happy aire. This act only works on an external level and doesn’t help us address the real issues behind the dark feelings. Sadness is an emotion that we should not ignore. If we ignore it we will be overtaken by depression. There’s nothing wrong with being sad, we need to grieve when we lose a loved one or when someone hurts us. Our society tries to tell us that we should be happy at all times, despite the circumstances…. Our society is wrong.

Because depression is believed to be a chemical imbalance by many of us WebMD doctors, we also believe that only a life long treatment of drugs can fight off the symptoms. Studies have shown that most people come out of depression on their own, and while there are some things that help turn depression around faster, the drug treatments that are most commonly used can actually cause the healing process to take longer.

Hodges spends thirteen chapters of his fifteen chapter book dealing with depression, its causes and remedy. He then spends the last two chapters talking about the link between depression and bipolar disorder. Oftentimes, Bipolar Disorder is a drug induced state. The drugs given for depression have all kinds of side effects, including mania, which results in a diagnosis of bipolar. Other times the Bipolar Disorder is just a further step down the road of covering up our sadness with a faked mask of happiness.

I found this book to be compassionately written and well researched. It is a fantastic read that I think would be helpful for anyone struggling with depression or who is in community with someone who is struggling with depression.

Overall I give this book 5 stars.

Up next: Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

2017 Book Review


Last year, I took on a personal challenge to read one book a month. There were two months that I nearly failed. Prior to this I hadn’t read a book since graduating college many years ago. I pursued this challenge and succeed in reading thirty-eight books – more than three times my goal. By focusing my energy there I was able to cut out a lot of the passive entertainment that was present in my life and focus on deepening my critical thinking skills, my knowledge of life and history, and improve my walk with God. I still have a long way to go to be the person I ought to be, but I’ve grown considerably due to this small challenge. This year I’ve set a similar but loftier goal of two books a month (one Christian living/theology and one not) and hope to continue down the path of growing into a morally wise, compassionately humble, and reasonably sound individual.

After spending some time to let these books digest in my mind, I wanted to say a bit about the top 5 book of the year.

#5 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot traces the origins of the most important human cells in history back to Henrietta Lacks. A young black woman who died of cervical cancer and had her cells stolen from her and used for all manner of scientific experiments. Through those experiments cures have been developed, genes have been mapped, and much progress has been made. In reading this book you’ll wrestle with the age old question, “Do the ends justify the means?”

#4 War Psalms of the Prince of Peace by James E. Adams

James Adams seeks to find the purpose behind some of the most vicious chapters in all of the Bible. What purpose does it serve us to have songs dedicated to God that sing of smashing in the teeth of our enemies? Who is righteous enough to say those words and not be in sin because of it? Adams shows us how those difficult passages fit into Scripture.

#3 Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Scott Lynch has quickly become my favorite fantasy writer. He’s far cruder and crasser than I would like, but his stories are compelling, deep, and fully twists and turns. Red Seas Under Red Skies is a high seas fantasy thriller centered around The Gentlemen Bastards who have their greatest love and passion surrounding the art of the long con. In this adventure our protagonists must face off against vicious pirates, assassins, and high stakes theft. You won’t be able to put this book down.

#2 Night by Elie Wiesel

One of the darkest books I read in 2017 is Night. The sad story of Elie’s capture, imprisonment, and experiences under the Nazi regime. This book makes a breathtaking and heartbreaking descent from normal life to the life of a slave without hope of freedom. It gives you an insider’s take into the darkest moment of modern history.

#1 The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

This is both the longest and most engaging book I read last year. With my goal of one book a month, I set out to read this in the shortest month to prove to myself I could accomplish this goal. No only did I succeed, but I succeed with almost half the month left. I was only able to to this because Sanderson wrote about a riveting, magical world. He told the tales of a slave who longed to be free, Rulers who knew humility, and a women who longed to prove herself. He weaved in fables and lore, magical armor, and a vast world with characters who never meet each other. This is true epic fantasy. If you want a whole world for your mind to explore and never tire, this is the book for you.

Runner Up: Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison

Frank Morison sought to disprove the resurrection story of Jesus using 20th century reporting techniques and psychology. In his efforts he became convinced that it was a true story. This book relays his findings.

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951.  Dr. George Gey took her cancer cells without permission and used them in his scientific experiments.  Her cells became the first ones to be replicated in a lab and then subsequently distributed to scientists and researchers around the world.  From her cells we were able to develop the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and learn the effects of radiation and toxic substances on cells.  We also were able to begin to research cancer, aids, gravitational effects on the body, and an innumerable variety of other scientific studies.

In this book Rebecca Skloot explores the hardships that faced people of color during the mid-1900’s and up through today.  She weaves two tales: the story of the Lacks family and the story of Henrietta’s cells.  Both stories take you down the path of wrestling with the ethical issues involved with medicine in the past, present, and future.

This book was eye opening for me and helped me to better understand the issues of our day.  This book is important as it highlights the horrors of bad scientific ethics and how they played out in the Tuskegee Trials, Henrietta’s Story, and modern-day.  In exploring these paths, Skloot brings to light many truths that are left out of history books and have helped to create some of the divides that plague our country.

If you’re worried that reading a book about science and history will be boring and uneventful, set those concerns aside and pick up this book.  It’s riveting, engaging, and will have you examining your own motives.  You will undoubtedly find yourself changed by this book.

For enlightening me in historical and moral events and  challenging my thinking, I give it 5 Stars.

Up NextGood Mood, Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder by Charles D. Hodges M.D.

Review: A Theology of Christian Counseling

When I was in Bible college I had to read a variety of systematic theologies throughout my various classes.  I read Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie, Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, and Understanding Christian Theology by Swindoll and Zuch.


Each of these has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.  Ryrie provides a good easy to read overview of all of theology in a brief 300 pages.  The downside is the shortness leaves some depth lacking on each topic.  Grudem goes in deep on each topic and has been the go to theology book for many for some time now.  He attempts to help put theology in the practical realm by asking personal application questions at the end of the each chapter and placing a relevant hymn there as well.  Swindoll and Zuch provide an easy to read practical application style to a very in depth guide to theology.  Understanding Christian Theology is easily the most helpful systematic theology I’ve read (and it was the last one of the three provided to me in college).

There are three main problems all systematic theologies face: 1) in their zeal for getting theology right they can often forget or neglect to make it practical for the every day Christian,  2) they tend to be very lengthy, and 3) they excel in using large words and theological jargon.  All of these issues combine to make most systematic theologies unapproachable to the average person.  The end result is that most Christians never end up reading a systematic theology as they do not help with the everyday hardships of life and are too long and complex to grasp.  Both Grudem and Swindoll and Zuch make strong efforts to be helpful to the every day Christian, but they still end up being over 1000 pages each.  Whereas Ryrie in is brevity missing many useful points of theology.


When I picked up Jay E. Adams book on the theology of Christian counseling, I was blown away.  I exclaimed to my wife frequently that this was a more powerful book than all the theology books I read in college.  I exclaimed that this is the best systematic theology I’ve ever read.*  Why is that?  Adams targets practicality with his book; he targets usefulness to the average Christian.  The goal of counseling is to find practical ways to solve everyday issues and Adams brings those to light throughout Scripture.

As I said in a post a couple weeks ago, I went to a college that taught integrationist counseling methods. When we went through our psychology classes we were taught both ends of the spectrum, the views espoused by naturalist physchologists like Freud, Skinner, Erickson, Pavlov, and Rogers.  And we were also briefly introduced to the ideas of Adams.  I remember being told that Adams was completely against all secular psychology as he believed that all answers to life’s problems can be found in the Bible.  We discussed how many different things we’ve come to know about the world are not expressly taught in the Bible, but are merely assumed (math being a prime example).  I along with the whole class embraced the stupidity of the argument that the Bible is sufficient to solve all our problems.  The biggest issue here is that in their attempt to prove integrationism correct, our teachers did not go in depth on how Adams would have addressed things like depression or anxiety.  They did go quite in depth with secular psychologists, but breezed through this theologian.

When you read his book, you can easily see that the answers to many of life’s questions are found blatantly in the pages of Scripture.  You can see that simplistic teaching I was shown in school of this view is reductionist and causes the whole of the Adam’s philosophy of counseling to be missed.  I remember the teachers inability to answer some of our questions about Biblical Counseling, which makes me think (in retrospect) that my professor never studied the system he was tearing down.

Adams spends large portions of the book pointing at all the different counseling options available in his day and showing how they are based more on philosophical insights into how we as humans operate than they are on science.  And here’s the thing, he’s not wrong.  Both secular and theological scholars agree that Freud’s psychology was based on his own sexual fantasies more than anything else.  If our counseling is going to be based on philosophies, as Christians, we ought to found them on Scripture.  To this end, Adams scores Scripture and develops a systematic approach to counseling based on the words of God.

One of the main points Adams brings out is that habits are a strong part of our life.  We form habits to do many menial tasks like brushing our teeth, getting dressed, or making a sandwich.  Without those habits, we would have to rethink how to do the simplest tasks each day.  Getting dressed would become much more of a chore:  Would it be quicker to put the left leg in or the right?  Or perhaps I should do both at once?  If habits are such an important part of our life it would be very weird for the Bible to not address them in any fashion.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

~Matthew 5:27-30

One thing that was amazing to me is how influential Adams has been even among people who have never read or heard of him.  If you’ve ever heard Matthew  5:27-39 or 18:7-9 preached as a prescription for “radical amputation” you’ve been influenced by Adams.  He coined the term in this book when he was talking about the process of sanctification (becoming more like Christ).  He taught from Matthew 5 that sanctification had four parts: 1) Recognition that we will be tempted to repeat our sin.  2) Preparation to meet and defeat our sin.  3) Radical amputation – if part of the sinful process can be avoided, cut it out of your life.  4) Nothing must be spared in the amputation process, it must be a radical change.  Only in making a radical change does the sinner distance himself from the sin.  The goal is to make it extremely difficult for us to sin in the same way again.

This book provides chapter after chapter of gut punching truths to the sins we commit daily.  Adams talks up the power of Scripture and compares it to the secular psychologists of his day, showing the weaknesses in what they bring to the table.  If I have one criticism for this book, it’s that I think he sometimes goes to far in his criticism.  While he lacks grace and compassion in some of his statements, it must also be said that he was the first one through the wall… breaking into a new area of study, helping to lay the groundwork for modern Christian Counseling.  The first one through the wall always get dirty.

I give this book 5 stars for how powerful the practical help with daily problems is.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough both to the Christian seeking to grow their own soul and to the Christian seeking to help those in need around them.

Up NextThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

*I should point out that this is not a systematic theology in the fullest sense.  While it does tackle counseling from both a holistic and systematic method, it does not address all theological matters in that way, making a it a systematic theology of counseling book, not a full systematic theology like the others discussed above.

Review: The Storytelling God

Storytelling God

This book is forgettable.  I write most of my book reviews a couple months after reading them.  It gives me time to process what I’ve read and how well the author did at communicating it.  In this case, knowing the review was coming, I’ve been racking my brain for the last two weeks trying to remember what it’s about and I honestly can’t tell you anything that isn’t mentioned in the title:  The Storytelling God – Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables.

At this point, I only have vague recollections of learning somethings from it, but when I mentioned that I had a good impression of it to my wife, she said “that’s not what you said when you read it.”  I gave it 4 stars on goodreads, which means I did have an overall favorable opinion of it when I finished it.  4 stars is kinda my code for a book that did quite well but had one or two issues, or perhaps isn’t going to be my first recommendation on the topic at hand.  Anyway, now that I’ve given you my initial “I can’t remember this book at all” speech, let me dig into it and give you a more detailed review.

Jared Wilson writes about a number of Jesus’s parables and what they tell us about Jesus.  He centers on the idea that these are not just good moral stories, but are designed to drive us to awe, need, faith, and worship in Jesus.  He writes in an approachable and human way helping you see truths that might have eluded you before.  His writing is like having a conversation at the kitchen table.  It feels warm and welcoming.

I can’t say much more about it without rereading it more in depth. I think Jared does a good job of writing a approachable work, but as I found it so forgettable, it’s hard for me to recommend.

Upon review, I give it 3 Stars.

Up NextA Theology of Christian Counseling by Jay E. Adams

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

Ai has been sent to Gethen to open up diplomatic talks of joining an intergalactic nation.  As the sole ambassador to the whole planet, he must learn their culture and offer them membership into the intergalactic nation.  The catch?  Being alone has its draw backs, why would anyone believe him without others to corroborate?  To make matters worse, this world’s populace is fully androgynous beings who only show a gender when they go to mate (having the ability to show either gender at that time).  Ai is a man all year round.  To the people on this planet he is a pervert.  As in any other culture, perverts are looked down upon and Ai loses some of his credibility with many people.

The country he first lands in has a strong sense of honor that Ai is never fully able to master.  Eventually he finds himself on the run from that country and running toward their rivals.  He is met with open arms in every country he goes to, but is eventually mistreated and is forced to run away.  The story really gets interesting when then.  My wife and I agree that this book isn’t interesting until “he is on the ice.”

Ursula K Le Guin writes a fairly interesting story.  She introduces different kinds of psychic abilities, danger on every front, and a frozen world that will make you want to light a fire and grab a blanket.  Ai’s story of epic travel across a frozen land will have you eager to turn each page and see how and if he gets through his ordeal.

My wife and I joined a book club this summer and this was the second book we read as part of the club.  (The first was Night by Elie Wiesel.)  This book didn’t excite me initially, and while I did enjoy the overall story, I did not enjoy reading it.  The commitment to that androgynous gender was really hard to follow throughout the text.  It helped develop a rather unique race of people, but it did at times become a focal point that also distracted from the story.  Disregarding my thoughts for a moment, many have hailed the book as a feminist work of art because of its betrayal of an androgynous species.

If a novel that uplifts women is what you’re looking for, this is probably not the one to read.  The main character only talks about women in a negative way.  The alien culture believes in the same negative male female dynamic that many people in our own culture follow.  The separation from this world in building a new culture was not very successful.  Le Guin introduces cool concepts but doesn’t deliver on them in her implementation.

This book is the book that established Le Guin as a Scifi author of note.  It won several awards and has sold over 1 million English copies to date.  Despite all that, I don’t think this book has held up well over time.  The language has become harder to decipher and the long sections on gender did little to move the plot along.  There are also big gaping holes in the the development of this alien culture, such as their not being a pronoun for the genderless state.

Over all I give this book 3 stars.

Next Up:  The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables by Jared C. Wilson

Is Brain Chemistry A Misnomer?

Harold Kroto, the man who discovered Buckyballs, was giving a lecture once where he asked the class to raise their hands if they think the sun revolves around the earth. The class snickered and no one dared raise their hand. He then asked them to raise their hands if they think the earth revolves around the sun. The entire room raised their hands, hoping they weren’t about to be tricked into something. Then he asked them to keep their hands raised if they knew the evidence for the earth revolving around the sun. Not a single person kept their hand up. He then explained that they took it on faith that the earth revolves around the sun. (Source: Things I Mean to Know)

How many things do you take on faith? How many things have you researched until you fully understood both sides of the debate? Until you could argue the oppositions point better than they could? Today I want to tackled one topic I think many people on both sides take on faith. It’s an issue that gets raised constantly, even cyclically, on social media. The debate over chemical imbalances in the brain versus those that think it’s all a hoax.


Is Brain Chemistry Real?

Some people are posting about how metal illnesses and chemical imbalances are real. You’ve probably seen this cartoon from Robot Hugs that makes a point about the absurdity of not getting help when you’re experience mental health issues:



On the other hand, I’ve seen people posting about how leading psychologist don’t believe that mental illness are just chemical imbalances. Take this article as an example: On the Myth of Chemical Imbalances. The author has been practicing psychotherapy for nearly a decade and he cites another psychologist who claims he’s never heard a psychologist who used the term “chemical imbalances” in any way other than in mockery.

Which of these is more accurate? Are mental health issues the same thing as physical issues? I’ve done some digging into this complex issue and want to show you some relevant quotes and discussions from prominent psychologists and medical doctors.

Depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and schizophrenia are not, have never been, and will never be “just like” cancer or diabetes or heart disease, despite the obfuscations of psychiatrists, mental health professionals, and mental health “advocacy” groups.

~ Mark L. Ruffalo, LCSW in The Great Paradox of Psychiatry

If anything has been gleaned from the origins of these maladies [mental disorders] in two decades of work, it is that the genetics of psychiatric disorders are terribly complex. No individual gene for a psychiatric disorder has been found and none likely ever will be.

~ Charles Barber, MFA, Yale Psychiatry Professor in The Brain: A Mindless Obsession

The more we learn about the workings of the mind, the more we realize that we can never reduce human thought, feeling, or behavior to a biochemical reaction.

~ Armand M. Nikoli, Jr., MD, Harvard Psychiatrist The Harvard Guide to Psychiatry 3rd Edition

Did you catch that? These psychiatry professionals think there is no biologically identifiable reason for mental health issues. Not only that, but they purport that we will never find such a link. The complex mental health issues we experience are far different than physical health issues.

Part of the issue in our common misconception about psychology is that we think of psychologists as doctors who can look at our symptoms and determine our condition and therefore what is truly wrong with us. And no wonder, it makes a lot of sense! If you got to the doctor with the stomach flu, you have tell tale signs that will alert the doctor to your condition and he can prescribe curative medicines. If he’s in doubt he can draw your blood and find the real problem. But this is not true for psychology.

‘Mental illness’ is terribly misleading because the ‘mental disorders’ we diagnose are no more than descriptions of what clinicians observe people do or say, not at all well established diseases.

~ Allen J Frances M.D. (Literally wrote the book on mental health disorders) in What’s in a Name?

There are currently no standard ways of treating or assessing mental illness based on brain images.

~ Charles Barber, MFA, Yale Psychiatry Professor in The Brain: A Mindless Obsession

The fact that we think of extreme emotional issues as being a direct byproduct of brain chemistry is thwarted by the fact that there is no way to assess or test for these alleged brain chemistry issues. There are no tests the doctor can give or scans they can run to determine who has depression, anxiety, or ADHD. All of the experts keep speaking the same theme, that mental issues are not diseases nor are they chemical imbalances. The diagnosis we use are nothing but labels that describe the state someone is in, but there could be a 100 different causes for how they got there.

Take depression for an example. You can get depression from the loss of a loved one, abuse in your past, constant reflection on your own mistakes, or any number of other reasons. Would any of those show up in a brain scan? No. But what of the cure? Most doctors prescribe the same drugs regardless of the cause. They usually don’t even ask after the cause!

In researching depression and its cures, I found a study that tested Zoloft, St. John’s Wort, and placebos against each other. The study found 25% of those taking Zoloft received a full reduction in depression. Those that were taking St. John’s Wort had a 24% response. But those on the placebo schooled them both, with a full 32% responding with complete reduction in symptoms. (For more on how chemicals aren’t solving emotional issues, see Good Mood Bad Mood by Charles D. Hodges, M.D.) If a placebo is more effective than drugs, that indicates that most of the issues the drugs appear to be solving would be solved on their own (in time) or through the belief that something can fix them (placebo effect). If you’re interested in seeing the study results for yourself you can find them here.


Drugs Cured Me!

Most of the time when I have participated in conversations about depression or anxiety, I have heard someone say, “I know that chemical imbalances are true, because I took a drug and it cured me.” I don’t doubt that their cure coincided with their taking medication. However, there may be more going on than just popping pills and finding freedom. We cannot reason that solely because some people have found relief from their symptoms that the actual cause was addressed. There are several reasons we should not immediately accept the answer that drugs are the solution to our emotional issues:

1) Ex Juvantibus is the medical term for making a determination about the cause of a disease by what solved it. For instance, if a patient has strep throat and takes aspirin to fix it, they would be wrong to think that the aspirin cured them simply because the strep throat went away. Strep throat is a short lasting illness on its own and will subside without medication.

I’ve seen at least two scholars take up the stance that ex juvantibus should be considered for psychological issues. Steven Rose, emeritus professor of Biology and Neurobiology at the Open University and Greshem College in London and Charles D. Hodges, M.D. both point out that psychotropic drugs do not seem to have an actual effect on reducing depression.

If you’ll allow me a taboo – quoting from Wikipedia:

Steven Rose applies the term [ex juvantibus] to the use of psychoactive drugs to “cure” depression, implying that the underlying cause of depression is not simply low levels of certain chemicals in the brain (such as serotonin) that these drugs treat. ~Wikipedia

I fear in making this point, some people who have struggled with depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues in the past will be upset and say that I’m discounting their experience. I hope I am wrong in believing that, as the truth is far from it. I firmly believe that there are many people that have come through hard times and that they took drugs at some point and the symptoms subsided or went away. Hodges and Rose would say the same. The point is not what happened as a person gets through emotional turmoil; the issue is what really caused the emotion turmoil in the first place. When we focus on the end of an issue instead of the beginning we focus at the wrong part for diagnosis and are sorely tempted to come to the wrong conclusions.

2) The Placebo Effect appears to account for a large portion of those cured of emotional troubles. Earlier I cited a study where the placebo effect was greater than the percentage of people cured of depression by St. John’s Wort and Zoloft. You may be thinking this is a fluke, but Richard A. Griggs PHD wrote in his book Psychology a Concise Introduction that the placebo effect might account for more than 50% of a drug’s effectiveness. In this case he was talking about chronic pain reduction, but the principle holds true. The placebo effect is a large portion of why people are cured from their issues. He goes on to say that the placebo effect of drugs today is greatly increased over that in 1996. He theorizes that this is true because our culture uplifts drugs as a cure all. Other cultures don’t have such a strong placebo reaction and also don’t have such a strong drug culture.

Again this does not mean that people aren’t cured by the drugs. The pain may very well go away, but it isn’t the drug that cause the relief you experience. And just as ex juvantibus doesn’t diminish the reality of the curative experience you might have gone through, neither should this.

If mental health issues are not biological than what are they? What further role to psychologists play? Dr. Armand M. Nicholi said:

The more we develop and use psychopharmacology drugs, the more we realize that these drugs usually must be combined with psychotherapy to be more effective.

~ Armand M. Nikoli, Jr., MD, Harvard Psychiatrist The Harvard Guide to Psychiatry 3rd Edition

I saw this same sentiment echoed in other psychologists. The issue we must worry about at this point is that the science suggests that the drugs aren’t the cure. The main thing that seems to be working here is therapy/counseling.

Counselors everywhere will tell you that there are no easy fixes to complex mental states and emotional issues. And they are correct. The brokenness that is felt and experienced by so many people that are suffering and have been labeled as Anxious, Depressed, ADHD, OCD, Bipolar, et cetera are very real, intricate problems that create complex issues on both personal and interpersonal levels. If the issues we face as individuals are not biological or chemical, then the solution to our problems must be sought out in counseling.

This truth is born out in the the psychological realm. Not only do the psychologists who advocate drugs also advocate for counseling, the scientific studies have proven the effectiveness of counsel. Speaking about patients that went to receive therapy/counseling Griggs had this to say:

The average psychotherapy client was better off than 80% of the people not receiving therapy.  (Source: Psychology: A Concise Introduction)

What’s amazing about this, is the type of counseling didn’t matter. Whether good or bad counsel – counsel is better than none at all.

The point here is that therapy is effective, and drugs have not been proven to solve complex emotional issues. This is the role psychologists should fulfill. Their aim should be to help you take view of your life (where you’ve made good and bad decisions and where you’ve been hurt by the actions of others) and help you find a way to move forward in good conscience. These complex issues are best resolved through intentional counseling.

This can best be summed up in a quote allegedly* from Steven Hyman:

We psychiatrists have been given an impossible task. Our medications are sometimes able to alleviate symptoms, though they often come with side effects. But we cannot give people what they really need. People need meaning and relationship.

~ Steven E. Hyman, MD, Former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This quote is supposedly taken from a National Public Radio (NPR) show entitled “The State of Psychiatry in America Today.”

*This quote is originally cited by the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF) in a DVD series called “Psychiatric Disorders.”. I reached out to the Broad Institute, where Steven Hyman now works. A spokesperson says he never said it. I reached out to CCEF for clarity, and a spokesperson there said they also couldn’t find the source material but that it was a summary not a quote from a talk on NPR in the late 90’s. This caused me to go on a multi week long search to find the original airings of NPR broadcasts in the 90’s. I eventually was able to get my hands on all three of Hyman’s segments from the 90’s (plus one from 2000) and none of them come close to this summary. I leave it here for two reasons: First because I think it’s a good summary of the argument I’m presenting. And second, because I want to show that I did not take any of these quotes at face value. I pursued them until I could hand over hard evidence.

Disclaimer: For any unbelievers reading this, I have only referenced medical and mental health professionals up to this point. It is my hope that in referencing experts and laying out the some of their quotes that are in conflict with that we see in the average debate/conversation about mental health issues, that you’ve been given something to think about. I hope that some of your assumptions have been challenged and that you are able to begin to reform your beliefs and foundations for your view of mental health. At this point you may want to stop reading, because I am about to move from the hard facts of how many leading psychologists think about these issues to the way Christians think about these issues. If you’re curious to know about the Christian view of psychology and counseling, please read on, but where you wish to interact with the facts as presented by scientific experts, please consider this the end.


Counseling As Cure

Disclaimer 2: For those who are choosing to read on, know that I am about to present three views on Christian counseling and point to the one I think is most Biblical. There are actually more like five views on Christian Counseling. I will review them all when I review the book Psychology & Christianity Five Views by Eric L Johnson in a couple months. For this section, I will be a bit more simplistic.

Counseling is an essential part of life. We all seek advice from friends and family when life gets hard or our emotions are overwhelming us. And that’s all that counseling is, seeking advice from someone who has training or experience to give us answers. Sometimes we think the only training that is necessary is being alive. That’s why we ask our friends how we should go about getting someone to fancy us. Other times, the counselor must have extensive training and experience in order to be useful. Which is often why we seek out professionals to help us through depression or anxiety.

Unfortunately, not all training is created equal. And how can it be? If the goal is good advice that frees us from our trauma, the counselor has to base that advice on some worldview. If it’s based on humanism, the advice will come out self serving, if it’s based on views that are more pantheistic, the advice will be more about accepting the current suffering to prepare you and grow you for the next life. Each worldview directly feeds into the type of advice we give each other; psychologists are not exempt from this statement.

Even in theistic (specifically Christian) circles the kind of advice you get can vary widely. There are at least three views in Christian Counseling.

1) That the Bible doesn’t address mental health and thus we should embrace secular psychology. This view must be rejected outright for we see counseling happen all throughout the Bible (Job 2:11-13, 4-42; Jon. 4; Mat. 5-7; et cetera) and the Bible specifically commands counseling (1 Thes. 4:18, 5:11 & 14,;Heb. 3:13; Col. 1:28; and Rom. 15:14)

2) There are those that attempt to merge (integrate) secular and theistic views on counseling, reasoning that while the Bible is fully true, not all truths are in the Bible (the Bible doesn’t teach math, it just assumes it).

3) Lastly, there are others that argue that the vast majority mental issues are sin issues – whether caused by them or as a reaction to things done to a person by others. Most issues that come up in the counseling office deal more with things done to someone and not the sin they themselves have committed. (Some well known diseases would be exempt here: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, Huntington’s disease, brain tumors, and pancreatic cancer are a few examples)

I went to a college that taught integrationist counseling (the second option in the list above). They sought a merging of secular ideas and biblical truth to get to a more perfect counsel. They took the works of prominent secular psychologists and distilled their lessons down and took the ones they thought didn’t contradict the Bible and began using them along with the Bible to try and solve the issues of our day.

On the surface, this may not sound that bad, but the integrationist has a problem. They have to decide for every issue that arises: does the Bible talk about this and provide a solution? And often times, they will decide that the Bible doesn’t talk about it and take whatever secular approach seems most beneficial. The issue here is the subjective nature of the method. One counselor might find that drugs are the solution to the problem, while another might elect for therapy. One counselor might see that someone is struggling with Impulse Control Disorder, while another might call him out as a thief.

In school I found this subjectivity incredibly disturbing. For instance, how can Christians say that there is never anything wrong with anxiety when Jesus clearly calls believers to “not be anxious” (Matt. 6:25-34). If Jesus tells us not to be anxious, then he’s telling us it’s possible to not be anxious. Which means anxiousness is usually a sin. Taking drugs to relax your anxiety may make you feel better, but it doesn’t relieve the underlying issue. If the Bible calls something out as a sin, you can be assured it gives a method for dealing with it (for this example see Matt. 6 and Phil. 4). If you are properly responding to the emotions you have, drugs may be able help you get through these hard moments… but the most important thing is that you are actively taking the right steps in response to God. (However, as pointed to above the drugs don’t seem to actually work. Charles Hodges recommends that the best approach when experiencing emotional issues it to get a physical with your primary care physician to make sure there are no health issues and see a good counselor at the same time.)

I do not wish to make lite of anxiety or any other issue, unfortunately a full treatment on the Biblical answer to this issue is outside the scope of this article. All of our emotions serve a purpose at different times in our lives (Eccles. 3:1-8), but some of our emotions are more known for leading us down a sinful path. If you are struggling with anxiety, both of these books have been highly recommended to me: Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety and Ed Welch’s book Running Scared. Please know too that reading a book will not be an instant solution. You can’t microwave change. Change is a slow process; you’re making a bouillabaisse here. (Traditionally, bouillabaisse takes 72 hours to make, making it one of the most time intensive meals to prepare.)

By calling sadness “depression” or restlessness “attention deficit disorder” it secretly imputes biological causes for which there is no evidence.

~ Eric R Maisel Ph.D in The Great DSM Hoax

The unpleasant emotions we feel (anxiety, guilt, dejectedness, anger, et cetera) are warning signs for us to change our behavior. Just like the feeling of physical pain tells us to remove our hand from the stove before severe damage is done, negative emotions tell us to change our actions before our spirit is harmed. We need to listen to our emotions and react appropriately.

There’s a story I heard recently about a woman who had a particularly hard pregnancy and she went into postpartum depression. She went to the doctor not knowing what was wrong, and the doctor prescribed her antidepressants. Which led her into a cycle of trying to find the best drug, but none of them were working. After a long series of attempts and failures to fix the problem, she went to see a Christian Counselor (who also happened to be a gynecologist). She explained to him how her trip through antidepressants began and that they weren’t working, and he exclaimed “they’re not working because there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s perfectly natural for you to be feeling those feelings given what you’ve been through.”

When tough emotions hit, one of the most important things we can do is work through them.



The idea that metal health issues are all chemical imbalances of the brain is not a view held by many psychiatric experts, and it ought to be abandoned by the world at large. Science does not support a biological cause to most mental health issues. Given that, when we are feeling negative emotions, we should keep in mind that this is part of life. We all have highs and lows, so the best thing to do is seek out godly counsel to help us through the toughest lows in our lives.

Of the three Christian views on counseling outlined above, I side most closely with the third (Scripture has an answer for our negative emotions). I think it lines up most accurately with what the Bible has to say and with real life experiences. However, I do think there are some physical ailments that can lead to mental health issues. For instance, if your thyroid has been damaged, you are more prone to feelings of depression and lethargy. It will take a medical doctor to help fix that damage, and not a counselor. During that medical treatment, both kinds of professionals can work together to help you through your toughest spots. That said, physically caused mental health issues are pretty rare, most people experiencing these emotionally driven mental health issues will find that they are caused by some kind of loss or hurt done to them.

Christian Counseling isn’t so concerned with the emotions you’re feeling as it is with how you respond to them. If the Bible lays out a method for solving an issue you are facing and you believe in God, you have a clear path for what you must do. Follow the path God has laid out before you! If you don’t believe in God, you still have hope; hope found in relationship with Jesus Christ and the redeeming work of his life, death, and resurrection. If you’d like to know more about what having a relationship with Jesus means, please contact me, I’d love to talk to you about it.


Additional Resources (besides those linked above):

12 Shocking Facts About the Dangers of Psychiatric Drugs by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

Are Psychiatrists Stuck in the Past or Do We Still Not Know Much About Mental Health by Lana Gilbert

A Theology of Christian Counseling by Jay E. Adams

Christian Counseling from PBS (Not a fan of this source, I don’t think the counseling here is presented in a way consistent with Scripture)

Christians, Psychotropic Drugs, and Biblical Counseling by the podcast Care & Discipleship

Dangers Related to Psychotropic Drugs from Dr. Josh Axe DNM, DC, CNS

Good Mood Bad Mood by Charles D. Hodges, M.D.

New Clue to How Lithium Works in the Brain from MIT News

Psychedelic Mushrooms Help Your Brain by Stephanie Larsen

Psychiatric Disorders: A biblical approach to understanding complex problems from CCEF

Psychology & Christianity Five Views edited by Eric L. Johnson

Review: The 21st Century Brain 2005 by John McCrone

Stereothreat by the podcast Radiolab

The Fix by the podcast Radiolab (I’ve listened to the last 2-3 years of their podcasts over the last few months, but this one is relevant to this conversation.)

The 21st Century Brain by Chris Nunn

The Work Required to have an Opinion by Charles Munger, Psychologist

Review: War Psalms of the Prince of Peace

Have you ever wondered what the so called “Cursing Psalms” are in the Bible for?  Why does a holy God allow his divine word to say “O God, break the teeth in their mouths” (Psalm 58:6) or “Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive” (Psalm 55:15)?

These Psalms seem to contradict the idea of God being loving.  They sometimes don’t even feel like they even fit within the scope of a just God.  It’s hard to understand how these sames words can come from the same God who told off those who wanted to stone an adulterer (John 8:1-11).  Does this mean that they’re contradictory or hypocritical?  By no means!  What it means is we don’t have a full picture of who are God is.  It’s really no different than when your friend does something out of character and you call them out on it.  Did they really do something out of character?  No; it’s impossible for them to do so.  What you missed is a story, some sort of peek into their past that you had never known before.

What we miss with these Psalms is similar, there’s something worth getting angry over.  There are things that anger God’s heart, and in these Psalms we get to see some of what those things are.  But even when we’re angry it seems that calling for broken jaws can seem a bit harsh, but would you feel that way if you lived through the holocaust?  Would you feel that way in the midst of serious abuse and mistreatment?

James Adams dives into these Psalms and shows you that there is only one person who can call out for such an angry vindication.  There is only one person who lived a pure enough life that they can see perfectly how harmful and wicked sin truly is and can then call for perfect punishment.  But while Jesus is able to do that, he does not withhold forgiveness for those who ask for it.  He does desire that everyone should come to know forgiveness at the foot of the cross (2 Peter 3:9).

I saw a facebook post recently where someone said they couldn’t forgive another person for the way in which they sinned against them.  It broke my heart, as they also claim to be Christian.  If you recognized the depth of your own sin, how many times you’ve broken God’s heart, how deeply you’ve hurt people on this earth, and how far you come from living to the godly standard He set before you AND you recognize what it took in His death and resurrection to save you from the punishment you justly deserve, THEN you must forgive others as Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).  As a Christian, it really doesn’t matter how deep, hurtful, and painful the crime against us was, forgiveness is still the weapon we are called to use.  But that doesn’t mean we should be ignorant of the damage the sinner can do, or place our tormentors in a position to do harm to us again.

When Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” ~ Matthew 5:38-42

He did not mean what most of us modern readers think when we read it.  He did not mean, if someone beats you, make sure they have the opportunity to do it again.  No, Roman Soldiers were legally allowed to back hand you with their right hand.  If you “turn to him the other also” you put him in an awkward place.  How can he backhand you when the wrong side of your face is showing?  Roman soldiers were legally allowed to draft civilians to carry their load for 1 mile after that it became abuse of power and was punishable.  If they forced you to go one mile, and you go two, you make them look like the abusers they were to begin with.

Most of what I’ve just said isn’t in this book, but I feel like it’s an appropriate aside.  Paul wrote we must forgive as we have been forgive, and Jesus said we need to forgive 70 times 7 times those who have wronged us.  I say those that are not able to forgive have never been saved.  If someone has abused you, stolen what is yours, forced you into servitude, you still must forgive them.  It may be very very hard depending on what’s been done to you, but if Holocaust survivors can learn to forgive, so can you (Source).  If Jesus can forgive those who murdered his followers (Saul) and he can forgive you, then you must forgive.

Overall, I give this book 5 stars.  Adams clearly shows how these Psalms do fit into Scripture and helped me see God in a more full light.  I was blown away by the implications of his study and will likely be rereading it in the near future.

Up next: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin