Jim Berg claims that this nouthetic counseling program Quieting a Noisy Soul presents the solutions to anxiety, despair, obsessive compulsive behavior, panic attacks, anorexia, bulimia, and other problems.
Part 1 of this series covered the Problem (the noisy soul) and the Cause of the problem according to Jim Berg’s nouthetic counseling: your sin, specifically, your unbelief and your guilty conscience. “Noisy souls,” says Berg, “are self-absorbed souls.”
This post addresses his Solutions. That is, the way he says the one with the noisy soul should turn from your unbelief and stop being self-absorbed.
Solution 1: Come to Christ and purpose to be like Him
Berg bases this admonition on Matthew 11:28, which in the KJV reads
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Berg claims that the rest a noisy-souled person so desperately needs will be found in the instruction he give.
Come to Christ, yes . . . and purpose to be like Him? This is the problem.
We can purpose to follow Him. We can purpose to know Him. We can purpose to trust Him. But only He, through the power of His Holy Spirit, can do the work of making us like Him, as we look to Him in faith. Not only is this a more realistic Christian life, it’s also a more restful Christian life. When Jesus said we will find rest by coming to Him, but every admonition of the nouthetic counselors is only to keep striving . . . well, that just doesn’t add up. I covered that topic in much greater depth in my critique of the nouthetic counseling booklet Godliness through Discipline.
Solution 2: Repent of your unbelief
I talked a good bit in Part 1 about how accusing a believer of unbelief just doesn’t work—and this program is quite evidently written for Christians. But that’s what Berg does. The Scripture he uses to support this point is Romans 1:18-25. Here it is:
For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because the thing which may be known of God is clearly revealed within them, for God revealed it to them. For the unseen things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being realized by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, for them to be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves. For they changed the truth of God into a lie, and they worshiped and served the created thing more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
It’s very important to look at the Scripture Berg cites as his support for accusing the believer with the noisy soul of being guilty of unbelief. That’s because this Scripture is not about those who have believed in Jesus Christ and want to follow Him. It is about those who have set their hearts against Him.
Have you set your heart against Jesus Christ? Then this Scripture might be about you.
Are you a Christian longing to follow in the ways of the Lord and wanting to hear Him and know Him, but finding your soul too noisy to do so successfully? Then this Scripture is absolutely not about you. His proof text doesn’t work.
Solution 3: Recognize that you are sinning in being discontent and acknowledge that God is “more than enough” for you
Jim Berg says that the primary cause of the noise in your soul is unbelief, because “you do not yet see that God Himself is more than enough for you.” If you have a noisy soul, you are discontent. (This accusation of “discontent” is one I and a guest writer covered in another blog post, “You just need to be content: a response to Desiring God.”)
Let’s make something clear right here. Our God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is more than enough for our eternal salvation. He is more than enough to meet all our spiritual needs, which are the most important needs we have. He is our spiritual food and our spiritual drink. He is the spiritual air we breathe. He is more than enough for us to thrive in the realm of the spirit.
But He is not more than enough, and never intended to be, to meet all our needs in the physical realm. He still expects us to eat physical food. He still expects us to drink physical water. He still expects us to breathe physical air. He is not more than enough for us to thrive in the realm of the body, and never intended to be.
Jim Berg is addressing the realm of the soul. But like the Desiring God author, Berg sees discontent at the root of the noisy soul. “If God is the biggest thing in your life,” he says, “you don’t need anything else, nor do you want it. He is more than enough. If He isn’t, then nothing will be.”
This sounds quite spiritual, but frankly, it isn’t true.
The soul is where some of our needs are met through God and some of our needs are met through people. For example, the parent-child bond is a bond of the soul. When a person is shown love through physical touch, or through looking into the (physical) eyes, the connection being made is a soul connection intended to create a secure attachment.
God never intended for us to find all our soul satisfaction in Him alone. He intended for us to have loving human relationships. Isn’t this why He said in Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for man to be alone?”
Husband and wife. Parents and children. Brothers and sisters. Friends. All of these relationships are shown in the Scriptures, with examples both of excellence and of extreme brokenness.
Is there any one of these Biblical relationships in which we’re supposed to assume that God really was more than enough for those individuals and the individuals shouldn’t have needed those relationships?
When human relationships have been destroyed because of the sin and brokenness of this sinful and broken world, then we hear cries like David’s in Psalm 55:4-8 and 12-14.
My heart shudders within me;
terrors of death sweep over me.
Fear and trembling grip me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “If only I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and find rest.
How far away I would flee;
I would stay in the wilderness.
I would hurry to my shelter
from the raging wind and the storm.” . . .
Now it is not an enemy who insults me—
otherwise I could bear it;
it is not a foe who rises up against me—
otherwise I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man who is my peer,
my companion and good friend!
We used to have close fellowship;
we walked with the crowd into the house of God.
The grief at this loss and betrayal is deep and dark, because God has designed us to live in relationship.
In times of isolation and extreme loneliness, our Lord can come with supernatural succor for His child, with a special sense of His presence to carry the lonely one through the dark times. I have many friends who have borne testimony to such supernatural undergirding. This same psalm that had this heartfelt cry also has this very beautiful verse, verse 22:
Cast your burden on the Lord,
and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
But this beautiful truth should never be an excuse to tell people that they’re wrong for feeling a deep longing for human relationships or feeling a deep grief when they lose them—or have never had them.
We His children need the Lord, yes; we need Him desperately. Furthermore, if we are His children, we want the Lord. We want to know Him in the deep way that people who love each other want to know each other. The spiritual sustenance He gives is rich food that can fill and even transform us.
But He designed us to need each other, with a deep sense of connection that would mean we would be grieved at the loss of each other. Though He can certainly be more than enough for all our needs in times of great isolation and desperation, unnatural situations of isolation and great loss are not the way He designed us.
Solution 4: Renew your mind through Scripture memorization
Of course this reference to renewing your mind comes from Romans 12:2,
Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Berg says that renewing your mind is done through Scripture memorization and meditation, so he gives Scriptures about the goodness and greatness of God so we can learn to be content. “Labor, labor, labor to know these truths,” he says, to my surprise. Why am I surprised? Because one of Berg’s foundational verses above was the one in which Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Labor to become a better Christian is not what Jesus has called us to. He has called us to rest, with the assurance that as we come to Him, as we trust in Him, He will accomplish His good work.
But Berg sticks closely to Jay Adams’ old “godliness through discipline” routine that I’ve critiqued thoroughly here. Get the words into your intellect, he says, and that will eventually affect and change your emotions. Test every stray thought of your heart by these truths. Argue yourself back to reality. This is the only cure for a noisy soul, according to nouthetic counseling.
“You must labor to find out what is true according to God, resolutely reject any deviation from it, and cling to the things that are true about God no matter what is happening to you,” he says.
I disagree with this tactic. I believe it isn’t Scriptural, and I believe ultimately it won’t bring about mind renewal.
So then what do I believe is meant by “renewing the mind”? Well, that verse doesn’t even hint at Scripture memory. And you may even know someone who was a whiz at Scripture memory whose life wasn’t actually changed by it.
The way for God’s people to be “transformed rather than conformed,” as Romans 12 says, is to know Him. It is through intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
But some might protest that this is what Berg is saying. The memorization and meditation are the means by which we know God.
They can be a means, for sure, as I talked about in the blog post The Bible isn’t my daily manna.
But I had plenty of times in my young Christian life when I did some form of meditation to try to ponder the Scripture, without seeking to know the Lord Jesus.
Berg’s method is like telling someone, “If you shake this fruit tree, you’ll get the ripe fruit. Just keep shaking it.” And the shaking of the tree is emphasized so much that there is never any time, never any hint, that the tree-shaker should actually go pick up the fruit and simply sit down and enjoy it, savor it, and be nourished by it. The spiritual life is too busy and full with the spiritual disciplines. The shaking. The striving. The laboring.
Our minds are renewed in the presence of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Often Scripture will be directly involved in this experience. But sometimes He will renew our minds by the power of His Spirit without the direct intervention of the Scriptures. It is a gentle and quiet work, as we are filled and nourished by His loving presence.
Solution 5: Meditate on God’s love, mercy, faithfulness, power, and wisdom
I have no argument at all with the beautiful Scriptures presented in Berg’s emphasis on these attributes of God. These are true and good and beautiful Scriptures, and through them we can receive truth into our spirits.
But again, Berg lays heavy burdens of guilt on the one coming for help, with such statements as “without having a clear view of His faithfulness, you will have little testimony for God.”
Imagine telling this to a young woman who was raped by the youth pastor and nobody believes her because he’s a wonderful and earnest and godly young man and she is obviously a liar or a temptress.
Right now she isn’t trying to think about her testimony—she’s struggling to understand if God is really good, or if there is a God at all. She’s struggling to understand if she is anything other than the worthless garbage everyone is treating her as, and is there a reason to try to keep on living right now.
Compassion is sadly lacking in Jim Berg’s presentation. But in nouthetic counseling, compassion has never been a strong point. And that’s putting it mildly.