from Leanne Payne’s Newsletter Archives, Fall 2004
The following, reprinted by permission of Dr. Bryan N. Maier, first appeared in Trinity Seminary’s alumni magazine. A fuller development of these issues is available (see last paragraph of this article), and we recommend it for those needing more information. In the fuller exposition, entitled A Theological Analysis of Theophostic Ministry, the editors indicate plans to deal with other things besides the issues of sin and healing, and we look forward to those articles as well.
Evaluating “Theophostic” Ministry, by Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D.
Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D., is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is a member of the American Association for Christian Counseling, American Psychological Association, Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and the International Society for the HistorBryan N. Maier, Psy.Dy of the Behavioral Sciences. His area of interest is the integration of theology and psychology.
During the spring of 2001, I received a call from a pastor asking me to articulate the position of the Pastoral Counseling and Psychology Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on Theophostic Ministries (hereafter referred to as TPM). Although I responded that our department is diverse and does not typically take a formal “position” on issues, I had to admit that I myself did not know enough about TPM to be of any help. After receiving several more such requests, I began to investigate TPM in some depth. I watched the current set of instructional videos, read the accompanying handbook, and interviewed people who had attended TPM seminars and several who claim to have benefited from this ministry. Finally, I had a brief discussion with Ed Smith, founder of TPM, during a Christian counseling conference in the fall of 2001.
Ed Smith coined the term theophostic from two Greek words that literally mean “God’s light.” The main idea of TPM is that God will shine his light on a particular lie that is embedded in the mind of a trauma victim, thus freeing him or her from the unnecessary emotional associations and reactions based on viewing the lie as true. The most common paradigm is that of an abuse victim who persists in blaming herself somehow for the abuse and thus cannot enter meaningfully into intimate relationships with others. Theophostic protocol would involve [directing] the client to focus her mind back on the abuse and any corresponding feelings. These feelings will be predictably intense and negative due to the belief in the lie (i.e., “it was my fault”). It is at this point that the TPM facilitator invites Jesus to come and speak truth to the situation (Jesus might say, “It was not your fault”), thus breaking forever the disabling power of that particular lie. This lie never has to be addressed again because its power has been forever broken. Thus the person can enjoy permanent recovery as opposed to merely “tolerable” recovery, as Smith refers to more standard forms of therapy.
Soon after launching his ministry, Smith apparently received some criticism that TPM did not have appropriate theological or biblical support. This prompted him to revise his manual. One of the major goals of this revision, according to Smith, was to “supplement a more thorough theological basis for Theophostic Ministry for the ‘show me where it is in the Bible’ group:* Because Smith now claimed that he had a theological basis for what he was doing, I was very interested to see what this basis was.
After the conference in the fall of 2001, Dr. Phil Monroe (an assistant professor at Biblical Seminary) and I began a two year project to analyze the theological soundness of TPM. We limited ourselves to works written by Smith, as the creator and founder of TPM, rather than trying to chase down everything currently practiced under the name “theophostic:” We further limited ourselves to two primary theological topics that would be of interest to Christian counselors specifically. These topics were sin and healing.
Our concerns with TPM’s teaching on these two topics were so significant that we concluded our article in Trinity Journal (Fall 2003) by recommending great caution before using TPM either as a client or as a facilitator. For this article, I will only outline briefly my concern with TPM’s view of sin. We have three main concerns with TPM’s teaching on sin.
First, Smith’s emphasis on the dichotomy between a believer’s sinless new “heart” and the residual storehouse of lies housed in the “mind” creates confusion about the nature of sin in the life of a saint. Smith appears to be advocating some modified version of the trichotomy position (that we are composed of body, soul, and spirit), claiming that only our minds retain effects of the fall and these effects consist primarily of lies inserted before salvation. This attempt to “pigeonhole” the exact mental or psychic structure from which sin emerges creates more problems than it solves. Scripture either teaches more structures than Smith advocates or, more probably, Scripture is not as particular about identifying and itemizing our inner being into discrete structures. (See Matt. 22:37 and other such passages where there seems to be an overlap.)
Second, Smith emphasizes how a person becomes saddled with lies but minimizes the person’s own role in the construction and maintenance of his or her lies. According to TPM, most of our lies come from either childhood naivete, an adult’s deception, or demonic influence. All of these are external sources, and yet Scripture seems to teach that our very hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9) and that we come into the world already proficient at twisting and denying the truth (Ps. 58:3).
The final and gravest concern I have is that in TPM our sin is not viewed as seriously as our wounds. Because TPM views woundedness as the root of sinfulness, woundedness becomes a deeper problem than our sin. This means logically that woundedness must be addressed first before sinfulness can be effectively confronted. All of this leads to a minimization of the seriousness of sin, which in turn minimizes the glory of forgiveness and repentance. Finally, because we need to be healed more than we need to be forgiven, this approach renders traditional spiritual disciplines practically powerless without some kind of theophostic experience to “trigger” their effectiveness.
Shedding God’s light on a person or a subject is always a good thing. However, in our search for some new experiential manifestation of that light, let us not forsake the numerous and bountiful means of light (e.g., God’s Word, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, being in community with other believers, and the spiritual disciplines) which God has already graciously bestowed upon us.
For documentation and a fuller development of these issues, see B. Maier & P. Monroe, “A Theological Analysis of Theophostic Ministries,” Trinity Journal (Fall 2003). For more information or to subscribe to Trinity Journal (a theological journal published twice yearly by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), call 630.562.4074 or visit www.tiu.edu/trinityjournal.
*Ed Smith, Beyond Tolerable Recovery, 4th ed. (Cambellsville, Ky.: Family Care, 2000), 2.
In the following letter to the Editor of the Trinity Magazine, Valerie McIntyre expresses some of PCM’s concerns regarding Theophostics, and expresses our relief that this theological work is being done and will be ongoing.
Thank you for publishing Dr. Bryan Maier’s article, Evaluating “Theophostic” Ministry. His scholarly examination of this ministry raises important questions about its theological and psychological underpinnings. Dr. Maier provides vital information for Christian leaders wanting to protect people from faddish, method-driven conceptions of healing.
Dr. Maier is perhaps too charitable toward this spiritual/therapeutic enterprise that has been widely disseminated through the Internet, videos, and a super-easy licensure program for “Theophostic counselors.” Those they counsel are often deeply wounded Christians who are frightened by traditional psychology and disillusioned by the institutional church. Sadly, they are attracted to Mr. Smith’s promises of “maintenance-free healing.” With this and other consumer oriented slogans Theophostics is being sold to undiscerning Christians. The results, however, can be devastating, as evidenced in the lives of many people I’ve met at our conferences in the last seven years.
Many, though they received initial help through the Theophostic prayer method, found that their painful feelings and dysfunctional patterns did not disappear entirely as promised. Theophostic counselors then led them into dangerous fantasies to explain the difficulties—fantasies preoccupied with the occult and what they term satanic ritual abuse (SRA). Furthermore, in most cases their Theophostic counselors “diagnosed” their difficulty as “dissociative identity disorder” (DID)—a most serious diagnosis and one that amateur counselors should not make. The topics of Mr. Smith’s “advanced training seminars” confirm that his teaching about DID/SRA is a central focus of his ministry. It is a bizarre, even paranoid, one-size-fits-all approach to Christian healing.
I sincerely hope that Dr. Maier’s article will inspire other Christian scholars to tackle what is amiss in Theophostics and to sound the needed alarm to Evangelicals.
For a Christian leader to get sin wrong is to set the stage for a heretical movement, and these movements are proliferating at this time. We are especially aware of them as they impact and pervert the healing ministry of the church, a ministry that has everything to do with the confession of sin. In the case of Theophostics, the theological errors move in tandem with the most egregious psychological ones. These combine to assure failures with regard to understanding, among other things, the symbolic nature of the imagery abreacted in prayer and in dreams,** and this has made them the offender in the false memory syndrome. This is very serious, for there is great need for understanding healing of memories if we are to see the healing of persons take place in the church of today. What is healing of memories? For teaching on this, see chapter 6 of Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer. The following is a brief excerpt adapted from that chapter:
Healing of memories means forgiveness of sin. It is the heart’s experience of forgiveness of sin at the precise sore spot where it is needed, one that impacts the soul in its totality–in its emotional, feeling, intuitive, imaginative capacities as well as in its more conscious, willing, thinking capacities. This place may be at any level of consciousness or unconsciousness. Nothing illustrates God’s Healing Presence more wonderfully than His way of healing man’s deepest hurts and memories.
Agnes Sanford coined the term at a time when very little healing was flowing through the church’s formal confessional or informal prayer groups. The reason was that the central truth of God’s forgiveness of sin, along with all the great spiritual realities of the Kingdom of God, had been largely relegated to the abstract. Victims of the schism between head and
heart, we could “talk doctrine” but couldn’t experience its healing power. We could not get it from our heads to our hearts.
Some could still preach great sermons about the forgiveness of sin, but could not administer it to the heart in need of it. In the church today, this is still largely true. The soul in need of healing is suffering due to this same schism. The head and the heart simply are not working in a complementary fashion. The heart perhaps knows something the head does not, or conversely, the head needs to rightly comprehend and then critique what is in the heart. As Agnes Sanford writes:
The truth is that any wound to the soul so deep that it is not healed by our own self-searching and prayers is inevitably connected with a subconscious awareness of sin, either our own sins or our grievous reactions to the sins of others. The therapy that heals these deep wounds could be called the forgiveness of sins, or it could be called the healing of memories. Whatever one calls it, there are in many of us wounds so deep that only the mediation of someone else to whom we may “bare our grief” can heal us.
When someone bares his grief to us, no matter whether we are a priest, psychologist, minister, counselor, or layperson, we are to lead the person in confessional prayers. We may need to learn how to pray for the forgiveness of we know not what in the past history of his family. For example, Nehemiah and other Old Testament prophets offered prayers such as: “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you” (Nehemiah 1:6b). Or we may need to help the person forgive the circumstances of a lifetime. The point I want to stress is that we are hearing confessions of sin, and after these sins are acknowledged and repented of, we must never forget to proclaim the forgiveness of that sin as well as release from the bondage of the sins of others against us. This is the way souls find healing.
Most often, the Holy Spirit leads very specifically in what to confess and whom to forgive, but when the case is more nebulous (for example, a whole family is sick due to unconfessed sin that goes back through the generations), we need to look to God for direction in forming prayers of confession and forgiveness that will break the power of unconfessed sins over our lives. This is necessary because our woundedness and sin are related to breaks in our relationships. In order for these breaks to be set right, we must confess them. Is the break between myself and God? Myself and others? Within my own inner self am I at war? The fallen condition is a crisis in separation, and within the trauma of broken relationships resides our illnesses and identity crises. It is through prayer that relationships are mended (or at least forgiveness extended for the brokenness) and that our souls are healed of their grievous lacks due to failed relationships in the past.
King David understood this healing very well: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord (continually unfolding the past till all is told) then You (instantly) forgave me the guilt and iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5, The Amplified Bible).
** For teaching on the symbolic ways the heart knows and images, see Part Three of The Healing Presence, beginning with chapter 8 and following, and for more of the practical outworking of this knowledge, see Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer. All of my books deal with the need for understanding imagery and symbol, the language of the heart, for that is the “stuff” of the wounded mind and heart.
Reprinted with permission, copyright ©1999-2013 by Pastoral Care Ministries, Inc.