"After listening to this sermon [Lambert’s diatribe], I signed the petition. Lambert’s treatment of Johnson’s words were horrendous… He built a straw man and condemned that straw man to unemployment, if not hell."
If you've been paying attention to social media during the last week or so, you probably know that there is a petition against the wrongful firing of Eric Johnson, a long-time member of the Southern Seminary faculty. Here is the information included in the petition:
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler, has decided to fire Dr. Eric Johnson after 17 years of ministry in Christian scholarship and soul-care. His termination was not due to differing Christian beliefs or failed morality but rather due to pressure from an outside organization, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), and its leader, Heath Lambert.
What is Christian Psychology?
Christian psychology is a thoroughly Christian approach to counseling and soul care based on the resources available in the Bible, the Christian traditions, and good science. Dr. Johnson is known for his emphasis on union with Christ as the greatest healing for the human soul, as emphasized primarily in Scripture and also in the works of Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Kuyper, Owen, and many others. Dr. Johnson also recognizes that common grace allows for quality science and research to further our understanding of the mind and body. Check out http://icpconnect.org/distinctives/ for more information.
What is ACBC?
ACBC is a non-Southern Baptist entity that believes Scripture to be "a sufficient and an authoritative resource to address everything essential for counseling conversations." They claim that the use of other resources besides the Bible in counseling is a "serious error" that requires repentance. ACBC is run by Heath Lambert, a 2009 counseling PhD graduate of SBTS. If you have a few days, check out Lambert's 95 Counseling Theses here: https://biblicalcounseling.com/ninety-five.
Who is Heath Lambert?
Heath Lambert is a pastor who has set himself against Dr. Johnson since he was an M.Div. student at SBTS. Now as the executive director of ACBC, he is able to influence large churches who have deep commitments to the Bible-only counseling philosophy. Lambert, along with pastors convinced of the ACBC philosophy, used their influence as leverage with Mohler by threatening to disparage the seminary and send students elsewhere if they do not fire Johnson.
What does Lambert have to say about Johnson?
Watch (or read transcriptions of) Lambert misrepresent, misquote, and condemn Dr. Johnson in a public sermon here: https://youtu.be/yPP4I3TNtKM
How can Mohler fire someone after 17 years of faithful teaching and scholarship?
Back in 2015, Mohler did away with tenure for good at SBTS. This was probably primarily for financial reasons, but it also is very convenient when faculty disagree with you.
Here is a screen shot that features not only Dr. Johnson's name, but the names of some of his colleagues.
Perhaps you recognize the name Dr. Heath Lambert, who is listed as a member of Southern Seminary's faculty (link) and serves as Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). Not only that, he is on staff at First Baptist Church Jacksonville (FBC JAX), serving as Associate Pastor and Executive Pastor of Discipleship and Community Life.
About a year and a half ago, Dr. Lambert addressed about 1,000 attendees at an ACBC conference. He had just written a book in which he severely criticized one of his colleagues, although he does not name him. Here is what Heath Lambert had to say about his colleague Eric Johnson.
As the petition indicates, some allege that Heath Lambert was behind the recent firing of Eric Johnson.
Warren Throckmorton was quick to discuss this development in his post Biblical Counseling v. Christian Psychology at SBTS (UPDATED with Apology from Heath Lambert).
To get an idea of just how passionate Lambert is about Biblical Counseling, be sure to check out his 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling. Here is someone who definitely has too much time on his hands…
Apparently, Lambert didn't realize that criticizing a colleague in a public forum (without naming him outright) would eventually get back to Eric Johnson and/or his supporters.
The petition regarding Johnson's recent firing and the media attention surrounding it left Heath Lambert with no choice but to issue an apology, which he did in a post entitled Clarifying and Confessing.
In this September 11th post, Lambert denies any involvement in the firing of Johnson. He states:
1. My involvement in Eric Johnson’s employment status
I’ll take the last one first because it is the easiest, and I can be very brief.
Al Mohler has more honor and integrity than any man I have ever worked for. It would never occur to me to try to force, cajole, or blackmail him into anything. If I tried, he would never be intimidated by it. Accusations that anything like that happened between us are dishonest.
Heath Lambert further explained (regarding the above video clip):
A year and a half ago I spoke at a biblical counseling conference and addressed the theological nature of counseling ministry, and how important it is for counselors to watch their life and doctrine closely. I wanted to make the point that our efforts at counseling care are only as good as our passion to take the Word of God into our own hearts and be changed by it.
In my talk, I sought to show how quick we are to see the flaws of a Christian psychology approach but slow to see our own failure to take the word of God seriously. In order to make a strong point of this, I read excerpts from a Christian psychology book that I suspected might induce listeners to congratulate themselves about their own theological superiority. My intention was to get people feeling superior about their own theological commitments, and then turn the tables on them by showing that we should not feel superior to those with whom we disagree, but must watch our own life and teaching.
The Christian psychologist I chose to interact with was, as is now obvious, Eric Johnson.
It was not my intention to skewer Dr. Johnson. I did not want people to think about him at all. I wanted them to think about themselves, their own sin, and their own need to cherish the Bible. Because I did not want Dr. Johnson to be the issue I did not name him.
Believing the author was anonymous I engaged in a much tougher and much less careful critique of him than I would have in a different environment. My intention was to get a room full of biblical counselors feeling really good about themselves and then indict them. My rhetorical strategy was the same one Nathan used with David. I was trying to say, “You are the man!” You cannot tell this from watching a clip of the talk, but dozens of people in the room who heard it in its entirety stuck around for an hour and a half to tell me how humbled they were by the reminder to watch their own life and doctrine.
Because I did not attach Dr. Johnson’s name to my quotation of him, I believed myself to have freedom that I did not have. This last weekend has proven that to be one of the most foolish misjudgments I have ever made in my ministry.
I should have known better than that. I should have considered that in a digital world with livestream, Google searches, and social media there is no anonymity, and so I am culpable for my foolishness.
That misjudgment brought people into the room that I never intended to be there. My foolishness brought people into the room that did not share the same presuppositions as the folks who registered for the conference. My miscalculation brought Dr. Johnson, his friends, and his students into the room. Perhaps it brought you into the room.
That foolish miscalculation led me to believe I was in a cone of silence. The cone of silence did not exist, but in the belief that it did, I said things that were harsh, unloving, and unkind. I sinned against my brother in Christ and against those who love him.
Soon after my talk that night I received a letter from Dr. Johnson’s elders. They rebuked me in very strong terms for the language I used against their friend. They were right to point out my sin. After receiving that letter, Dr. Johnson and I met together with a faithful brother in Christ where I confessed my sin to him, and he forgave me. I also responded with a letter of repentance to Eric’s elders on March 10 of last year. That was a year and a half ago. Since that time, Dr. Johnson and I have exchanged notes and shared two meals together, and I hope more are on the way.
In the midst of this, I also expressed a desire to repent publicly for the way I spoke, but in my meeting with Eric and the third party we agreed that this would be unwise. Since my quotation of Dr. Johnson was anonymous it was thought that only a few people knew about it, and that naming him in a statement of public repentance would only make things worse. We all agreed that we had sufficiently addressed the matter, and that it had been laid to rest.
In light of the last few days that calculation is now moot.
And so now I want to address anyone who was shocked and offended by the unkind and unloving way I spoke about Dr. Johnson. What I did was sinful, and I have no excuse. I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
One of the most humbling things about this for me is that I lead an organization that is focused on caring for hurting people. One of my responsibilities in that role is to host a podcast called Truth in Love. Now you all know just how much I have to learn about how to care for people and how much I need to grow in grace to speak the truth in love.
Please pray for me.
Lambert goes on to acknowledge that there are disagreements between biblical counseling and Christian psychology and states that these are some of the most important issues facing the church today. REALLY?
Perhaps we will get into these differences between biblical counseling and Christian psychology in a subsequent post.
Lambert concluded his confession with these words:
The importance of these issues leads to another problem with the way I spoke about Dr. Johnson that night. I believe the centrality of Christ is really on the line with whether or not we believe God has given us sufficient resources to help troubled people. But my sin took the focus off of Christ, and placed it on me where it should never be. I am so ashamed of that.
But I really believe what I teach about these things. I know that Jesus Christ has forgiven me, and I pray that now you will too.
We find it interesting that Dr. Johnson's firing coincided with the publication of his latest book God and Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of the Christian Faith (pictured above). Here is a summary of Johnson's book:
Christianity, at its heart, is a therapeutic faith―a religion of soul care. The story of Christianity is a story of divine therapy. God's therapeutic agenda begins in the perfect triune communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The triune God created human beings to flourish by participating in his glory, but human beings rebelled against this agenda and fell into the psychopathology of sin. God therapeutically intervened in Jesus Christ to bring about healing in body and soul. Through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation, Christ put to death the soul-disordering consequences of sin and brought about a new creation through union with and conformity to him. The church as the body of Christ is where God's therapy is put into action―where people can flourish in communion the way God originally intended. Told in this way, the deep connection between Christian faith and psychology becomes evident. While many Christians are wary of therapy, the Christian tradition is thoroughly therapeutic and contains ample resources for engaging in dialogue with modern psychology. In God and Soul Care―a companion to Foundations for Soul Care―Eric L. Johnson explores the riches of Christian theology, from the heights of the Trinity to the mysteries of eschatology. Each chapter not only serves as an overview of a key doctrine, but also highlights the therapeutic implications of this doctrine for Christian counseling and psychology. A groundbreaking achievement in the synthesis of theology and psychology, God and Soul Care is an indispensable resource for students, scholars, pastors, and clinicians.
We recommend that you read Dustin Messer post over at Kuyperian Commentary. It's entitled Adams' Warrior Children: On the Firing of Eric L Johnson. Messer concludes his commentary as follows:
After listening to this sermon, I signed the petition. Lambert’s treatment of Johnson’s words were horrendous on two fronts. As a Christian, he should have interpreted Johnson with more generosity, and as a counselor, Lambert should have interpreted Johnson with more honesty. How can a man who gets paid to listen have been so deaf to another’s words? At no point in the sermon did Lambert present Johnson’s position in a way in which Johnson would recognize. Thus, he never actually engaged with the rival position. He built a straw man and condemned that straw man to unemployment, if not hell.
The petition claims that Lambert was behind Johnson’s firing. While I don’t know that his pushing of Johnson was the only, or even main, cause of Johnson’s termination, after watching the video Lambert’s intentions are clear even if Mohler’s are not. Lambert implicitly accused Dr. Mohler of hiring, aiding, and abetting a wolf in the sheep pen. Lambert’s disgust—and I don’t think that’s too strong a word—for Johnson was palpable. Lambert put Dr. Mohler in an untenable situation. One of them had to leave, and Lambert knew his side (the Biblical Counseling side) had the institutional advantage.
Almost 15 years ago, John Frame wrote a prophetic essay entitled Machen’s Warrior Children. The essay argued that John Gresham Machen faced a serious and dangerous enemy: namely, liberalism. Facing a bonafide enemy of the faith, he fought. Those after him, argued Frame, adopted the posture Machen took toward liberalism in each and every battle going forward. Their side was the “Christian” one and the other side was the “faithless” one, no matter how trivial the dispute. For these people, everything was a fight to the death.
I respect and have learned from many in the Biblical Counseling camp. Their perspective is laudable and needed. But even if one thinks Dr. Johnson’s approach to counseling is anemic or flawed, he’s no enemy of the faith. His newest book (which I’m excited to read!) is endorsed by Kevin Vanhoozer, Jeremy Lelek, Michael Allen, Kelly Kapic, and Richard Winter. My goodness, Dr. Johnson’s theology is about as orthodox and mainstream as it gets in Evangelicalism. At least in this particular sermon, Heath Lambert embodies the sort of immature, pugnacious attitude against which Frame so eloquently rails. Lambert was busy winning a war when he should have been having an honest conversation.
Whatever institution Dr. Johnson ends up teaching at will no doubt be blessed to have him. Through his writing, speaking, and counseling ministry he’s ministered the gospel of Christ to thousands. That such a father in the faith has been treated this way is a disgrace and, frankly, an embarrassment to a school which I love and treasure.
The goal of those who started the petition is to obtain 1,000 signers. In less than a week's time, they are well on their way…