Pastors, Offer Support Instead of Shame for Mental Health Struggles


I’ve never used the Bible to learn how to change the oil in my car, build a bookshelf, or fix my lawnmower. In those cases, YouTube turns out to be a far more helpful guide than God’s Word. That’s not the case when it comes to issues of the soul. I’ve been thinking about this topic recently as I consider what it must sound like in the pew when pastors start talking about mental issues.

The sufficiency of Scripture is an easily abused doctrine in an age of sound bytes and viral posts. But pastoring souls requires a lot more wisdom, careful nuance, and even a healthy dose of common sense. When the Apostle Peter says that God has given believers all they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), I don’t think he is expecting future disciples to rely upon the New Testament epistles to learn things like how to operate on the brain.

When pastors make blanket statements disregarding helpful sources outside the Bible, they not only hurt their own credibility, they misrepresent the nature of revelation itself. One can recognize both the authority of Scripture and the reality of common grace at the same time. It’s not a binary option.

I found a helpful article from a campus ministry at Harvard University that pulls out multiple quotes from Augustine. I’m using the extended Augustine quotes from their article, for full disclosure. I won’t offer any commentary here, or conclusion below, but leave you to it to read and reflect on this topic in light of Augustine’s words for yourself.

“Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion [1 Timothy 1.7].”

(The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1 Chapter 19 Paragraph 39)

When I hear one or other of my fellow Christians expressing a mistaken opinion arising from his ignorance in these fields, I regard with tolerance the person who entertains the notion. As long as he does not believe anything unseemly about you, O Lord, creator of all things, I do not see that it does him any harm if he chances to be ignorant of the position or characteristics of a material creature. It does harm him, however, if he thinks his view forms an essential part of our doctrine and belief, and presumes to go on obstinately making assertions about what he does not know. Yet when this kind of weakness occurs while faith is in its cradle, our mother, charity, bears with it, looking forward to the day when newly created humanity will grow to the stature of perfect manhood, and no longer be tossed about by every gust of teaching. The case was quite different with a man who set himself up as a teacher and writer, and as the leader and principal guide of those to whom he propounded his views, and this so persuasively that his disciples thought they were following no ordinary man but your Holy Spirit. If ever such a man were proved to have spoken untruly, could anyone doubt that he must have been grossly deranged, and that his ideas were abhorrent, and to be rejected outright?”

(Confessions, 5.5)