Personal Reflections on the CCEF Conference

November 17, 2011

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Jonathan Holmes

BCC Staff Note: For more information about the 2011 CCEF National Conference, including ordering the Conference Audio, visit and visit to view a Conference video.

The Best Conference Yet!

It’s been several weeks since I attended the national CCEF Conference on psychiatric disorders.  This was my sixth conference, and each year my sentiments are, “This was the best conference to date!” This year proved to be no exception.

From the main sessions to the breakout seminars, you could tell the staff and speakers had prayerfully thought about each and every aspect of the conference. There was a thoughtful flow and progression which helped orient the conference attendee to the issue(s) at hand. I thought it might be helpful to start a conversation on some of the themes I thought stood out, and themes I took away as well.

Our God is a Pursuing God

The storyline of the Bible is one in which God is active and at work in His creation. There is a steady pursuit beginning at creation and culminating in consummation. In the incarnation, we have the most amazing and divine examples of God’s pursuit of a people for His own as He sends His own Son to earth to sacrifice Himself for our sins.

In what ways then as a Christian, a pastor, a counselor, a fellow human struggler can we incarnate faithful and loving pursuit of people in their weakness and confusion? The people in our churches, the neighbors on our street, and for many of us the members of our own extended families are human beings struggling with a vast array of issues from ADD, ADHD, ODD, bipolar, BPM… and the list could go on.

At first glance, such diagnoses are not only mysterious, they are intimidating for the average layperson. What do we as believers have to say and to speak into such issues? Do I need to become an expert on bipolar in order to incarnate the love of Christ and move toward them patiently, empathetically, and biblically?

Is Causality the Most Important Issue?

David Powlison, in his first plenary, helped us navigate the current landscape of modern psychiatry and their approaches and understanding of psychiatric disorders. He noted that while we have located where in the brain things happen, psychiatry is no closer to why. The question of how our genes and bodies interact is something psychiatry is no closer to. Oftentimes the main element—the person—is completely left out of the cause/explanation of the disorder.

Rather than confining causality to a simple nature vs. nurture paradigm, Powlison helped to describe the person through a series of nested circles: our personal agency, our spiritual condition or embattlement, our social context or embeddedness, our physical embodiment—all under the auspices of God’s sovereignty and reign. Each part is integral to the whole and cannot be divorced from the greater picture. This helps the counselor avoid an overly reductionistic and truncated view of human nature, while preserving a wholistic and biblical understanding of who we are. This final component is something secular psychiatry cannot grasp or understand: the spiritual dynamic.

Thinking through Medication

Of particular help was a final session from Mike Emlet on thinking through issues of medication.  He gave 4 helpful correlating perspectives on medication which I thought would be of benefit to post here.

1. It is a kingdom agenda to relieve our suffering, and it is a kingdom agenda to redeem us through our suffering.

2. Medications are a gift of God’s common grace, and yet medications can be used idolatrously.

3. A person may have wrong motives for wanting to take medication, while a person may have wrong motives for not wanting to take medication.

4. Using medications may make it more difficult to address moral-spiritual issues, and not using medications may make it more difficult to address moral-spiritual issues.

Emlet understands that we are embodied spirits, and thus our bodies do matter. To be extreme  on one side or another each presents particular pitfalls. As counselors, we must approach each counselee asking for wisdom from above as we help our fellow strugglers.

As always the conference was a time of instruction and encouragement. The fellowship of fellow believers helping others provides a rich atmosphere of spiritual unity. If you’ve never attended a CCEF Conference, let me encourage you to make plans to attend next year’s conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, October 26-28, 2012, as they cover the theme of “Guilt and Shame.”

Join the Conversation

Did you attend this year’s CCEF Conference?  If so, what were some of the lessons you are taking away with you? How are they impacting your counseling ministry?