Categories
Life Reviews

Good Mood Bad Mood Review

Charles D. Hodges, M.D. Good Mood, Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar DisorderWapwallopen, Pennsylvania: Shepherd Press, 2013. 192 pp. $13.95.

Americans are being diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder at a breakneck pace. In this provocative, clarifying, and Christ-centered book, Dr. Charles Hodges attempts to peel back the layers of common solutions to depression, and offers a compelling, biblical alternative.

Dr. Hodges has been practicing medicine for nearly forty years and has witnessed the changing landscape of depression/bipolar in the Western medical community. If you want the lowdown in a word, this is a good book. Dr. Hodges has done his homework, both medically and biblically. He’s not just throwing out pithy Bible verses, and he’s not just citing Christian doctors to prove his point. He explains some key Scriptures about the darkness of life. He also provides quite a bit of medical research to get to the bottom of a serious problem in modern medicine when it comes to diagnosing and treating depression.

Dr. Hodges summarizes the history of depression, including how it has been is diagnosed and is normally treated. Depression is always a subjective diagnosis, and research has shown that there is no proof that “chemical imbalances” cause depression. In fact, “There has never been a peer-reviewed, published journal article that proves that a serotonin deficiency is the cause of any mental disorder” (45). The current medications (like Prozac, et al.) simply create an abnormal state that patients prefer to the symptoms of depression. Dr. Hodges also examines a number of recent studies that showed placebos were just as effective, if not more, than antidepressants in depressed persons (48-49). The case for a disease-model of depression has, in reality, zero evidence.

So what is going on with all these people who are depressed? Dr. Hodges argues that they are experiencing extreme sadness. This sadness is no different than what people have been experiencing for thousands of years. When someone is labeled “depressed” or as having “bipolar” by a medical professional, they are given license to play the victim (112). “The biggest problem with labeling is that we quit looking for an answer. Once we have the label, we have the answer” (154). Dr. Hodges points us away from label-based medicine and counseling, and works toward building a gospel-centered framework for sadness. The good news is that Jesus cares deeply for those who are sad.

Dr. Hodges proposes that, at bottom, a depressed person has been denied something (e.g. health, wealth, friends, etc.) they wanted. In other words, they have been worshiping an idol, not God. Nearly all cases of diagnosed depression occur because of loss–sometimes small, sometimes extreme. Loss is a normal part of life. The important thing to focus on is how will we respond to it. Dr. Hodges argues that this sadness is a gift of God given to drive us further into the gospel of grace (chs. 6-7). In other words, sadness drives us to repentance and trust (two sides of the same coin). This is the major theme in the latter half of the book. When we can learn to repent and live by grace instead of labels, we will be thankful for the sadness in our life (ch. 10). In a way, this book is a “theology of sadness” from the perspective of a doctor-theologian.

While Dr. Hodges understands depression to be a form of severe sadness than can only be solved with the gospel, he has a helpful appendix that explains how several diseases can affect a person’s mood.

The book is confident in its conclusions, yet gentle in its approach. Just like a good doctor. It is far from technical. I have no medical training or background, yet did not find myself lost at any point. At the same time, it is not simplistic or elemental. Doctors will have to wrestle with this book’s solution to the most common mental disorders of our day. Finally, doctors, pastors, counselors, parents, depressed persons, and friends of depressed persons will be helped by this book. I trust that if you read it, you will find it illuminating, convicting, encouraging, hopeful, and freeing. And if you know someone who is depressed, share the ideas from this book with them. They will not be disappointed.

Categories
Theology

How Did St. Augustine Get Saved?

St. Augustine of Hippo is a giant of the faith. He was monumental in helping the church establish a doctrine of grace against Pelagianism.  He also wrote many influential works, the two most famous being Confessions (his spiritual autobiography) and City of God. The story of how he came to Christ is marvelous and encouraging to all who are longing for true rest.

Augustine’s life can be characterized as a search for joy. His main pursuit was carnal pleasure, which left him empty. Augustine reflected on his search, “I did not ask for more certain proof of you, but only to be made more steadfast in you.”[1] Augustine did not want a water-tight argument for Christianity. He wanted a water-tight Person who would promise and deliver true joy.

His pursuit led him to sexual promiscuity. Aside from some very wild teen years, he lived with one woman (whom he never names) for a long time, though they never married. He admits that this experience helped him discover the difference between a marriage covenant with the purpose of raising Christian children and a “bargain struck for lust.”[2]

In search of deliverance from this lust, Augustine sought out his friend Simplicianus. Simplicianus told him the conversion story of Victorinus. Augustine remarks that the story “shows the great glory of your grace.”[3] Most likely, Augustine meant that the story shows God’s grace in Victorinus’ life, but also how God used it to change his own life.

When Augustine heard of Victorinus’ public profession, he “began to glow with fervor to imitate him,” which was precisely why Simplicianus told the story in the first place.[4] Mere imitation cannot change a heart, but what transpired after this encounter was that Augustine increasingly realized his depravity and need for a Redeemer.

Augustine describes his conversion in terms of being “released…from the fetters of lust.”[5] Another story brought that about. One day with his friend Alypius, Augustine was visited by a fellow-African named Ponticianus. Just like Simplicianus, Ponticianus shared a story with Augustine: this one about release from the world through monastic living.

Augustine realized God was using Ponticianus’ story to help him see “how sordid…how deformed and squalid” his heart was.[6] But Augustine prayed, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”[7] The Holy Spirit overcame such resistance and God drew Augustine to Christ. After Ponticianus left, Augustine was in the spiritual birth canal, as it were: “I was beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity,” Augustine wrote. “I was dying a death that would bring me life.”[8]

Augustine’s self-understanding heightened as he wrestled with his desire for holiness and carnal pleasure.[9] After a physical assault on his own body,[10] he isolated himself from Alypius and asked his soul, ‘How long shall I go on saying, ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”[11]

As Augustine surrendered, he heard a voice saying, “Take it and read!” He returned to Alypius where Paul’s letters lay on the table. He read Romans 13:13-14 and embraced the call to clothe himself with Christ. Augustine wrote, “You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer desired a wife or placed any hope in this world.”

Who saved Augustine? God did. But he did not use not water-tight, rational arguments to save Augustine. God used two stories that exposed Augustine’s desire for worldly pleasure and showed the glorious, eternal joy available when God is the object of pleasure.


[1] Augustine Confessions 8.1.
[2] Ibid., 4.2.
[3] Ibid., 8.2.
[4] Ibid., 8.5.
[5] Ibid., 8.6.
[6] Ibid., 8.7.
[7] Ibid., 8.7.
[8] Ibid., 8.8.
[9] In 8.9-10, Augustine enters into a fascinating reflection on the nature of the will.
[10] Ibid., 8.8.
[11] Ibid., 8.12.

Categories
Life Theology

Dwelling With God through the Gospel

I am not very old. But with each passing week (more accurately, with each passing failure) I am reminded more and more of how I need the gospel. The gospel is my only hope.  Without the gospel, I would be damned.

This morning I read Psalm 91, and I focused on verses 1-2. The Psalmist writes, “He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”

When I read words like “dwells” and “abide” my mind ponders what it means to be in the presence of God.  Jesus said, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:6).  Jesus is my life-source. If I trust in him, I will grow. If not, I will die.  Jesus says, “To dwell or abide with God–to be in his presence–is to be connected to me in a saving way, a way that declares me as your refuge and fortress.”

But there is a problem. The problem does not exist outside of me–in my circumstances or trials or enemies or annoyances. That is what I want to believe.  But really, the problem exists inside of me–in my pride, rebellion, self-righteousness, and a thousand other things the Bible calls sin. My sin keeps me from dwelling with God. My sin keeps me from experiencing God’s presence in a harmonious, perfect, continuous way even as a Christian. And there is only one solution.

The gospel.

The gospel tells me that though I am wretched and vile and unworthy of a holy God’s actual and real presence in my life, it is provided for me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is also called Emmanuel, which means God with us. He is the presence of God in the flesh: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14a).  Jesus bore the wrath of God, taking our punishment and undergoing separation from God’s presence on the cross in order that we might have relationship with God. This only comes through faith in Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin, so that we would no longer be enemies with God, for enemies are not welcome in God’s presence (Rom. 3:23; 5:8, 10).

This is not just for unbelievers.  This is for Christians.  If you want to experience God’s presence (albeit not perfectly on this side of eternity) you must continually preach the gospel to yourself. You must realize that your sin is your greatest hindrance to being near God. You must take that sin to the cross, lay it on Jesus, and despair of any merit to dwelling with God. This happens by grace, and when it happens, it is a sweet thing.

Categories
Ministry Theology

Leading on Empty Review

Leading on Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, is a book about ministry burnout.  It chronicles Cordeiro’s journey through burnout and what he learned on the roach to recovery

For the most part, the book is helpful.  The book gave me some road markers to watch for in the future.  Two of the more helpful chapters were on depression.  It was scary to read actually, because I’d be willing to bet that most people would be lying if they said they didn’t experience most of the symptoms at varying times throughout a normal year!

One of the underlying themes of the book was simply to have our priorities in order.  This seems easy enough, but how often do we forget our priorities?  Cordeiro asks the reader to do an exercise to narrow down the essentials of life.  He says to list what the most important five percent of your life is.  This could be anything.  He lists things like his relationship with Jesus, his wife and kids, and pleasing God with his ministry.  “We won’t be held accountable for how much we have done,” he writes, “but for how much we have done of what He has asked us to do” (p. 79).

Later, he asks the reader to write down a handful of things that drains you and fuels you — whatever they are.  He says, “Your soul is like a battery that discharges each time you give life away, and it needs to be recharged regularly” (p. 88).  I found this helpful to re-discover what I really enjoy doing.

The only criticism I have is that the book can sometimes have a self-helpish feel.  Cordeiro says that it isn’t a self-help book, but at times he’ll write something like this: “Your greatest source of motivation is finding untapped potential yet within you.  You see, your future is not what lies ahead of you.  It’s what lies within you” (p. 205).  Out of context, that looks like a Joel Osteen sermon quote.  In the larger context of the book, the reader will know that Cordeiro believes that the gospel is our only healing power — that a vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus is our only hope.  However, sometimes he fails to go far enough in being absolutely clear that this is what he means.  As a Christian reading a Christian book, I know what he means.  But will it be absolutely evident to other Christians?  I don’t know.  Our potential is within us, yes, but it’s in us only by God’s power.  Outside of the gospel we have no real potential.

Categories
Life

How to Approach God When You Feel Rotten

John Piper offers great advice for how to approach God when you feel bad about who you are.