Tag Archives: David Murray

Who Should Treat Depression?

Depression -- "The Black Dog."

Depression — “The Black Dog.”

Clinical depression has been described as the common cold of mental illnesses.  At times in my ministry I have wondered:  who doesn’t suffer with depression or hasn’t at some point or other?  The more open we are about discussing it, the less stigma we attach to it, the more we discover how common this ailment is.  Unfortunately, its prevalence does not mitigate its pain.

The pain is not eased by those who see the ailment in a simplistic way as merely a spiritual problem with a spiritual cure.  Even today there are Reformed believers who want to maintain the old view that a spiritual issue is the root cause of most (maybe even all) depression.  This view insists that depression is directly caused by the sufferer’s sin and then the solution to depression rests in repentance.  According to this perspective, pastors, elders, and regular believers, should call depression-sufferers to determine the sin which caused their anguish and turn from it.

Thankfully, other voices have been bringing a more balanced view.  Among them is Dr. David Murray.  His excellent book Christians Get Depressed Too (review here) proceeds on the basis that depression is a complex phenomenon often involving biological and medical realities.  One might think that this is a contemporary approach, something only developed in the last few years.  However, Murray points out that a nuanced view of clinical depression has been around for hundreds of years.  William Perkins (1558-1602) recognized that depression requires medical treatment, and so did Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).

Perkins and Edwards were not alone.  I was recently paging through Peter Lewis’ The Genius of Puritanism.  In chapter 3 (“The Puritan in Private”), Lewis has a discussion of mental depression.  He notes that the Puritans distinguished spiritual depression (obviously caused by sin) from mental depression.  They used the term “melancholy” for the latter.  Lewis notes that Richard Baxter (1615-1691) and Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) both recognized melancholy as a medical phenomenon.  I want to focus for a moment on Brooks and what he writes about this in The Crown and Glory of Christianity (found in volume 4 of The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks).

Brooks was addressing the question of why some Christians seem to be hard pressed with sadness, sorry, and grief.  After all, shouldn’t Christians be joyful?  Part of Brooks’ answer was to note that some of these issues arise from our bodies and the way we were constituted.  Some people are constitutionally more inclined towards melancholy.  He adds a vivid description of it:

Now there is no greater enemy to holy joy and gladness than melancholy, for this pestilent humour will raise such strange passions and imaginations, it will raise such groundless griefs, and fears, and frights, and such senseless surmises and jealousies, as will easily damp a Christian’s joy, and mightily vex, perplex, trouble, and turmoil, daunt, and discourage a Christian’s spirit (page 260).

He further says that this inclination towards melancholy can be used by Satan to his advantage.  Moreover, it is a condition which afflicts both soul and body.  There is definitely a spiritual aspect to the experience of depression, according to Thomas Brooks.  In another book, he writes that this malady “tries the physician, grieves the minister, wounds relations, and makes sport for the Devil.”  This surely sounds familiar!

Also familiar is the cure of which Brooks writes.  He writes, “The cure of melancholy belongs rather to the physician than to the divine, to Galen than to Paul” (page 260).  By “divine” here, Brooks means “theologian” or “pastor.”  Galen (129-200 or 216) was one of the ancient pioneers of medical science.  In our terms, Brooks was saying that depression needs to be treated by doctors, rather than by ministers.  Certainly he would agree that ministers must be involved and can provide spiritual guidance as treatment is sought and provided, but at its roots this is a medical problem to be addressed by medical science.  Did I mention that this was written in 1662?  Yes, in those times they had a far different understanding of medical science, yet they were not averse to pinning a mood disorder on a biological cause.

If you were to encounter a brother or sister suffering from a brain tumour, you would encourage them rather than admonish them to examine themselves for the sin which caused their condition.  Of course, we hold each other accountable for how we respond to medical ailments.  Every Christian is responsible for how they respond to adversity in whatever form.  Clinical depression should be dealt with in the same way.  Those suffering from it need medical treatment — and Christian encouragement from office bearers and regular church members.  In so doing, we reflect the heart and compassion of our Saviour Jesus.


Some Blogs I Read Regularly (and Why)

Feedly shot

I’m not only a blog writer, but also an avid consumer.  Repeatedly, we’ve been told that blogging is nearly dead, but I don’t see it.  The novelty has worn off for many people, but its usefulness certainly hasn’t.  Blogs will continue to be around for some years to come.

As for the logistics of reading blogs, I use Feedly to help manage all the ones that I read — I highly recommend it as an intuitive way to keep track of the blogosphere.

I subscribe to a variety of blogs.  Some deal with aviation, others help me in learning Portuguese, most are theologically oriented.  Some are written by theologians, pastors, professors, and others by seminary students, aspiring sem students, or just regular everyday Christians.  Some blogs are updated regularly; others haven’t seen any action in a while and in due time, I’ll just delete the feed.  Some blogs I read because there’s encouragement and edification, others because I’m obligated to know what the wolves are using to bait the sheep.

Let me share some blogs that I’m reading these days that are worth highlighting.  Before proceeding, in case it’s not obvious, this is not a blanket endorsement of everything that appears on these blogs.  I expect readers will try to use discernment.  Here are the blogs:

HeadHeartHand — this is the blog of Dr. David Murray, a professor at Puritan Theological Seminary.  This is updated almost every day.  He shares links and writes articles that are helpful for pastors and everybody else.  Definitely one of my favourites!

Sixteen Seasons — this is from Jeremy De Haan, a seminary student at the CanRC Theological Seminary, and also a parishioner at Providence.  I love this blog, not only for the rich content, but also for the sheer beauty of the writing.  Jeremy has an amazing gift!

Bylogos — Dr. John Byl writes here and shares his insights especially into matters relating to science and the Bible.  I especially appreciate Dr. Byl’s bold stand against the dangerous false teaching of theistic evolution.  More than ever, we need his voice to be heard.

Institute for Nouthetic Studies —  This is where you’ll still find the venerable old Dr. Jay Adams blogging on a regular basis.  These days I especially appreciate his weekly posts about preaching.  Lots of food for thought, even if you don’t always agree with everything he says.

Learning My Lines — Walt Mueller offers lots of helpful material about youth culture from a Christian perspective.  A must-read for pastors and teachers.

Challies Dot Com — I have been reading this one for years.  Tim might not remember, but he and I were in a book club together when I was a seminary student.  I started following his blog not long after it started.  It’s just gotten better and better and for good reason it’s one of the top Christian blogs in the world.

One Christian Dad — here’s an up and coming blogger, a man with a gift for writing, courage to express himself, and a faithful commitment to follow the Word.  I always enjoy reading whatever Ryan Smith writes.   Keep an eye on this one.

Really Good Reads — if you’re looking for good reading material, my good friend Jon Dykstra and his brothers Jeff and James have got great reviews!

Albert Mohler — president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and probably North America’s foremost Christian cultural critic.

Reformation 21 — I read this regularly mostly just for everyone’s favourite anti-celebrity, Carl Trueman.

Many more could be added, but if I had to choose only 10, those would be them.  Now which would you choose?  For this post only, I’m going to open the comments so you can share your favourites with me and everyone else.


Book Review: Christians Get Depressed Too

Christians Get Depressed Too, David Murray, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010.  Paperback, 112 pages, $10.00

Dr. David Murray is rapidly becoming well-known.  He blogs regularly (headhearthand.org), does a podcast with Tim Challies, is a regular Facebook user, video producer, and preacher.  Besides all that, he finds time to teach Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Theological Seminary, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Murray has developed a reputation for being theologically astute, biblically faithful, and pastorally sensitive.  All of those qualities come together in this short book on a tough subject.

There is a perception out there that depression is, at its roots, a spiritual problem.  According to this perception, people become depressed because they have done something sinful.  A true and faithful Christian would never get depressed.  Part of Murray’s burden in this book is to dismantle that perception.  He does that with an open Bible, explaining how godly believers in both Testaments struggled with this problem.

The author goes on to outline how complex depression is – there are no trite and easy answers.  He describes the problem in a way that will be helpful for those trying to understand it.  He also gives hope, comfort, and help for those who are suffering.  Again, all of this is grounded in the Word of God.  Yes, Murray believes that Christians can learn from medical science and he attempts to incorporate some of those insights into this book.  He is also firmly convinced that medication can not only alleviate symptoms, but also address the causes of depression in many cases.

There are a lot of people out there who struggle with this ailment.  In severe cases, it can be debilitating.  It’s hard to know what to say or do if you’re watching someone go through it.  Those who want to help should read this book.  And don’t be afraid to buy a copy for the person suffering either.  It may give the encouragement and help they need.  The book is short enough so as not to be intimidating and written clearly enough so as not to be misunderstood.

I’ve read and reviewed several books on this subject over the years.  I’ve learned that depression is a dark and ugly consequence of the fall into sin.  It is no less a part of this world of dysfunction than is cancer.  At the same, I’ve learned (and Murray’s book has reinforced this) that depression reminds us of how little we know about the workings of the human brain and how it relates to our non-material aspect (our soul).  Finally, I’ve become convinced that God brings trials (including depression) our way so as to shape, teach, and lead us.  This little book brings us back to the Word through which that all happens.


Pastors, please take a break

As mentioned on Monday, I just came back from four weeks of vacation.  That was preceded by a week of writing.  I’m very blessed to have a consistory that gives me enough time off so that when I come back, I’m refreshed and ready to soldier on.  David Murray wrote a must-read post for pastors last week. Most of what he suggests I already do.  I try to take one day off per week (Saturday, the day my kids are home during the school year).  All my preparations for Sunday are finished by Friday night, so that Saturday can be unencumbered.  Another practice that I’ve found helpful is the daily afternoon nap.  I’ve been doing that for years and it gives me a better state of mind at supper and more energy for the evening (when I often have visits, classes or meetings).  Then there’s also the daily constitutional, a brisk 40 minute walk after supper.  That gives me time to reflect and sometimes (if they’re interested in joining me) converse with my wife or kids.


The Pastor’s Worst Enemy

What could that be?  David Murray capably answers that question, outlining the causes, the consequences, and the cure.  Of course, when we all take a reality check, isn’t this everyone’s worst enemy?  It used to be a vice, but now it is almost universally regarded (even by many Christians) as a virtue.