The Master’s College: On the Downgrade?


The initial impetus for the biblical counseling movement was to encourage pastors to use the Word of God and to rely on the Holy spirit when ministering to individuals suffering problems of living. Because we saw the dangers of integrating psychology into Christianity, we encouraged biblical counseling. However, as our readers know, our concerns with psychoheresy are no longer limited to "Christian psychology" and "Christian counselors." We have a growing concern about the biblical counseling movement. We delineate some of these concerns in our book Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible.

We had previously recommended the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, the National Association of Biblical Counselors, the Biblical Counseling Foundation and other biblical counseling organizations. But when we began to see serious flaws in their teachings, materials, and practices, we began to realize that some of the very same problems of psychoheresy had infected the biblical counseling movement.

Classes in biblical counseling often employ psychological theories, methods, and techniques. An example of how those techniques are brought in under the designation of biblical counseling is Dr. Wayne Mack’s section in the book Introduction to Biblical Counseling by John MacArthur, Jr., Wayne Mack and The Master’s College Faculty. As we have indicated elsewhere, Mack’s use of the acronym SOLVER is an example of blatant borrowing from secular counseling techniques.1

Because for a long time we believed that biblical counseling was the answer to psychoheresy, we rejoiced when The Master’s College took the step of closing down its Behavioral Studies Department and its additional step of beginning a Biblical Counseling major in the Department of Biblical Studies. However, as we have observed the development of that department under the direction of Dr. Bob Smith and Dr. Wayne Mack, we became convinced that Biblical Counseling courses are often unbiblical and doomed to repeat the errors of secular counseling classes.

We use The Master’s College merely as an example of what can happen in this rush to develop and expand programs in biblical counseling. The Master’s College recently employed David Harrell as a faculty member in the expanding Department of Biblical Studies. According to Dr. John Stead, who was Vice President of Academic Affairs at the time, Harrell was hired at the recommendation of Dr. Wayne Mack.

Harrell has a B.S. in psychology and an M.A. in biblical counseling. He earned the M.A. under the leadership of Dr. Larry Crabb at Grace Theological Seminary. This is a one-year degree program compared with an M.Div., which usually takes three years. At one time Harrell attended Tennessee State University and was majoring in Psychology.

Harrell also has a D. Phil. degree from Oxford Graduate School, which sounds rather prestigious until one learns that this Oxford is unaccredited and is essentially a correspondence school in Tennessee.

Harrell is cofounder and Executive Vice President of Buyer’s Healthcare Cooperative, Inc. (BHC). We called BHC and found that Harrell was there from 1989 through 1995 until he left for The Master’s College. During his first six months at BHC Harrell worked part-time and counseled part-time. During the past five years he was full-time at BHC. Harrell is a member of the board of BHC and is one of five shareholders.

BHC negotiates discounts for employees for health care services. The employees work for businesses that are represented by BHC. The health care services include the usual psychiatric and mental health services that similar plans offer. For a little less than one year, prior to coming to The Master’s College, Harrell was both full-time at BHC and the pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Joelton, Tennessee.

While we do not believe one needs programs and degrees to give godly counsel, one would expect accredited Bible Colleges and Seminaries to follow academic standards of sound biblical scholarship in the Biblical Studies departments. Therefore we looked into what is usually required of prospective faculty members in accredited, academically oriented Biblical Studies departments in liberal arts Christian colleges.

After interviewing a number of department chairs of such colleges, we conclude that Harrell would not likely have even been considered by those institutions, let alone be hired, because he lacks the educational and experiential background requirements for teaching in a Biblical Studies department at an accredited Christian college. In addition, The Master’s College lists Harrell’s D. Phil. from Oxford, even though the Christian colleges we called do not permit recognition for work or degrees received from unaccredited institutions.

With a B.A. in psychology, an attempt at a doctorate in psychology, and an M.A. in an integrationist biblical counseling program under Crabb, we are concerned about a possible incongruity between Harrell’s educational interests and his current position in a Biblical Studies department.

Based upon our interviews with department chairs at other Christian colleges, we also conclude that in addition to being academically unprepared, Harrell is experientially unprepared. He has no real college teaching experience. Both college teaching experience and recency of college teaching experience are important factors in consideration for employment at other Christian colleges similar to The Master’s College. The only college teaching experience we are aware of occurred as a part-time hourly instructor under Crabb at Grace Theological Seminary during 1984-85. We were told by an administrator at Grace that this involved "very little teaching." If this is true, he has no teaching experience similar to what he is required to do at The Master’s College. And, the limited amount of teaching he has done was supervised by Crabb.

The fact that Harrell’s business, BHC, negotiates mental health care services for employees seems a bit contradictory if one stands for the Bible as the source for dealing with problems of living. We understand how this would occur if one were merely an employee, but question a Christian who is an owner doing it. We wonder how many Christian employees have used the mental health services as a result of Harrell’s company’s negotiations. If Harrell is now opposed to such services, has he been public in his opposition to the use of the usual psychotherapy provided by such services?

Harrell has written three brief articles during his career. The first was for IBC Perspectives, a publication from the Institute for Biblical Counseling headed by Crabb. We could not obtain a copy of this article. The other two brief articles were in Parent Life. Parent Life is a mixed bag of soundly biblical teachings and psychoheresy. We give one example of Parent Life’s psychoheresy in our July-August PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter. If invited, individuals who are truly biblical should not provide articles for such a publication.

We were aware that Harrell charged fees for biblical counseling in the past. When asked about charging, he said, "I’ve repented of that." We wonder if he has apologized to those whom he charged or offered to return their money.

As we said above, Harrell taught for Crabb at Grace Theological Seminary. Although Harrell claims to be converted from Crabb’s influence, Harrell has done Crabb-inspired integration counseling over a longer period of time than biblical counseling, since he has done little counseling during the past five years. How could he? A wife and three children and a full-time position at BHC, which he partly owns, along with his interest in "hunting, fishing, shooting sports, reading, writing, and family camping" (Handbook of the Biblical Studies Department, p. 7) would leave little to no time during the past five years to counsel, which is the very activity about which he is employed to teach. According to Harrell his change of heart began about five years ago. This raises the question: why would Mack recommend someone as a faculty member to teach classes in biblical counseling when Harrell has counseled so little in the past five years? And his prior counseling was Crabb-inspired.

With all of the deficiencies discussed above, it is startling that Harrell was employed at The Master’s College and as an Associate Professor, when the usual entry level is that of an Assistant Professor. Harrell claims that he has additional background that would shed light on why he was employed over others. We wrote to him and asked him for the additional background. We followed up with a phone call in which he said that he would provide the information. Though he has had plenty of time to respond, to the date of completing this issue of PAL, we have received nothing.

This unusual hiring of Harrell and his immediate elevation to Associate Professor causes us to wonder why he was chosen over others. Why were the usual hiring standards set aside? Why wasn’t someone with a better academic and experiential background employed? Our guess is that Dr. Wayne Mack, who has more than a taint of integrationism about him, selected someone who would be compatible with his own position on recycling (euphemism for integration) of psychological teachings. Considering Harrell’s interest in psychology with a B.A. and attempted doctorate augmented with an integrationist MA under Crabb, this surely makes sense.

A Little Leaven

Just as a little leaven will leaven the whole loaf, will the Biblical Counseling Department leaven The Master’s College and eventually all facets of the ministries led by MacArthur? Is the Biblical Counseling Department the beginning of a downgrade in these ministries? As the Biblical Counseling Department grows, will there be a deeper danger?

If there is true belief in the sufficiency of Scripture in matters of life and godliness and if The Master’s College is to reflect this belief, then the Biblical Counseling Department needs to be eliminated as was the Behavioral Studies Department. If the Bible were properly taught, there would be no need for a Biblical Counseling Department. After all, what did the church do for nearly two thousand years without the biblical counseling movement? It is grievous to see a well-intentioned institution arrive at a place where, because of increasing popularity, the Biblical Counseling Department may eventually eclipse the entire Department of Biblical Studies.

While this situation at The Master’s College may seem like an insignificant mistake, simply a local concern, we see this as having broader implications. This unusual hiring is a symptom of the rising popularity of biblical counseling. Could it be that such a move might be an indication that the biblical counseling movement is becoming more important than the Bible itself?

The sad state of many Bible colleges and seminaries is revealed in this testimony from a pastor who says:

  • As I went into seminary hungry to discover more life changing truths from the Scriptures, I was instead shocked to be taught that they were somehow deficient, and if I was to really help mankind, I needed psychological methodologies. I left seminary somewhat less confident in the resources of God and deeply disappointed because of it.2
  • This is a very common testimony of many who train to be pastors. However, the answer is not the biblical counseling movement (with all its flaws, fallacies, and failures) used as a substitute for what Christian educational institutions should provide. Nor is it necessary to add a Biblical Counseling Department to an existent Biblical Studies program. The answer lies in arming pastors with the Word of God rather than with the wisdom of men to make them more confident in God’s Word empowered by the Holy Spirit in the lives of men.

    Because many Christians are now realizing the errors and futility of psychological counseling and its underlying theories, many colleges are starting to incorporate Biblical Counseling classes and majors. However, we contend that Bible colleges and seminaries that truly teach the Word of God as sufficient and efficacious in the lives of believers should stick with teaching the Bible, rather than incorporating classes in biblical counseling.

    We raise these concerns as more and more Bible Colleges and Seminaries are rushing pell-mell to establish or expand biblical counseling programs. This will surely happen because many Christians have caught on to the fact that the Word of God is truly sharper than any two-edged sword and is sufficient for matters of life and godliness. Moreover many students will be attracted to those programs just as students are attracted to psychology programs in other institutions. The financial incentives associated with increasing enrollments in biblical counseling programs are great, but the biblical justification is lacking. However, we contend that such a move is totally unnecessary. Moreover, if such majors follow the trend of the biblical counseling movement, one will simply see a further expansion of psychoheresy even more deceptively packaged under the label of "Biblical Counseling."

    1PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 3, No. 1, Jan-Feb, 1995, p. 4.

    2Gary Rieben, BCF Counseling Notes, November, 1995.


    PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries, 4137 Primavera Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93110

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