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Theology & Mental Illness

This week, I co-taught with a counseling professor an undergraduate course titled Theological Implications of Mental Illness. It is an elective course at Leavell College, on the campus of NOBTS. 

Every human is a complex and special creation of God, made in his image. But God’s creation was broken in various ways by the first couple’s sin, and that brokenness includes physical and mental disorders among people. Theological issues I addressed in the course included: human constitution, the image of God, providence, evil & suffering, moral accountability, demons & demonization, identity in Christ, and sanctification.

I recommend the primary textbook we used in the course, Grace for the Afflicted, for anyone serving in Christian ministry. The author, Matthew Stanford, holds a PhD in neuroscience and is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The book provides a clinical analysis of various mental disorders, using the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, 4th edition, Text Revised) to present prevalence, symptoms, causes, and most effective treatments of selected mental disorders. Illnesses addressed in Stanford’s book include: bipolar, anxiety, eating, and depressive disorders. In addition to briefly describing the clinical nature of each illness, Stanford identifies biblical characters who seem to display symptoms of each disorder as well as how churches can support individuals and families that deal with mental illness.

Mental illness is a complex issue which is prevalent in our culture and churches. Stanford’s book is one resource that can equip pastors and leaders to help those suffering with mental illness get the help they so desperately need.

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