YOU DECIDE...according to God’s Word or personal opinion?
(from PAL V4N3)

Editors note: Each "You Decide" is followed directly with reader responses.

Among the many "You Decide" responses we have received, a few readers have expressed concern about the possibility of this column degenerating into opinions rather than presenting biblical answers. We agree with these writers in that we would not want our newsletter to be filled with mere personal opinions.

However, the purpose of this one short column is to surface common practices in the biblical counseling movement that have often been accepted without evaluation. The column is meant to stimulate readers to think biblically about these practices. All of us should examine Scripture to see if common biblical counseling practices are truly biblical. Thus the basis for what each of us decides is to be Scripture, not the wisdom of men or simply personal opinion.

This "You Decide" has to do with behaviorism and behavior contracts. Are they biblical?

Behaviorism or Behavior Contracts? The Biblical Counselor, a publication of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, ran an article titled "Behaviorism or a Behavior Contract?" in the September, 1995 issue. The author, Marc Graham, mentions a couple he was counseling with their thirteen-year-old boy, fictitiously referred to as "Johnny." According to Graham, "Johnny was failing in school and had poor conduct as well." In his effort to help the situation, Graham recommended a "behavior contract."

Throughout the article Graham attempts to distinguish between behaviorism and a behavior contract. He maintains that his behavior contract is biblical but that behaviorism is not. He argues that behaviorism is merely external, but that a biblical behavior contract deals with both "the idols of the heart" and external behavior. Graham explains, "Where the behaviorist appeals solely to the flesh, the Biblical counselor seeks to appeal to the spirit (Gal 5:16)."

In order to help Johnny, Graham says "We designed a behavior contract that included a system of rewards and corrections in the area of his classroom behavior and study habits."

This is the contract Graham used:

Behavior Contract for Johnny
September, 1995

Thinking to
be Put-On
Reward for
Discipline for
Not Changing
1. Refrain from
talking and
Pro. 15:32-33 Pro. 21:23
Pro. 25:28
Pro. 1:27a
Hunting Club
Mondays with
dad for archery practice.
No archery practice for
the week.
2. Complete
each day.
Pro. 28:19
Pro. 20:4
Pro. 19:15
Friends may
visit or you may
visit them.
No visits.
3. Raise quiz and exam
scores to "B"
1 Cor. 10:31
Ecc. 7:11-12
Pro. 9:9-11
Video games for one-half hour
per evening.
No video
games until grades

What do you think? Is this a biblical way to change behavior?

Readers' Responses to "You Decide" (from PAL V4N4)

I was totally shocked at the "You Decide" article when I read of the absolute gross error of Mr. Marc Graham. His little chart of "rewards" and "withholding rewards" would make one think that he was training a dog or some circus animal. God’s Holy Word is quite clear about our duties and responsibilities and we are expected to perform according to God’s demands on us— regardless of whether we receive a "reward" or not. Mr. Graham’s whole approach to the problems listed in "Expected Behavior" column is completely out of touch with Scripture. Parents speak (quietly and without shouting) (speak one at a time) and children do (immediately and cheerfully). Any other response from a child is rebellion against his earthly head (father) and is also rebellion against his Heavenly Head (God the Father) since Jesus is the head of the husband. Kentucky

Rejoicing with you in your stand for the sufficiency of "all the counsel of God" for our every problem!

Your column in the latest newsletter regarding "behaviorism vs. behavior contracts" is very timely. This ministry we’re involved in here is very Christ-centered. However, many of the "training homes" here employ a system of "standards and consequences" to train people to die to self and be accountable for their actions. It all sounds very biblical, but to make a long story short, as it says in Galatians (paraphrased) —you began with the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? From what I’ve recently learned, this system was gathered from some secular guy back in the sixties who worked with criminals and found if you motivated criminals by giving them consequences for their every wrongdoing, they would change and stop returning to prison. Lots of systems work in the world yet only the Spirit of God can conform us to the image of Christ. Please keep us updated on this issue; the more we study the Word, the more convinced we are that "He who began a good work in you will perfect it" (Phil. 1:6) and ". . . God and the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance" (Acts 20:32). To the law and to the testimony! Georgia

Some things about "Johnny’s" contract just shout out to me, and I cannot keep silent: (smile!)

1) Where is the discipline? Discipline should include a "negative factor." Something that the child should want to AVOID receiving because of its unpleasantness or pain. (Prov 22:15, 23:13-14) (Even scientific laboratory studies of animals, the "foundation" to understanding human behavior, understands the "punishment factor" in shaping behavior.) This contract only has deprivation of the "extra" rewards. The "extras" which are above and beyond the normal day-to-day living. This contract contains no "punishment."

2) Time "with dad" is incorporated as an "extra reward" for doing good. WRONG! Time with dad should be a "normal" activity. (Deut 6:7-9)

3) In looking up the Scripture verses, it appears that some of them are not really related to the issue addressed. It appears that Scripture is being used as a "bludgeon" rather than a means of nurturing. (Ps119:9-11)

4) I have a "problem" with the whole concept of "rewards" for "normal" Good Behavior. (Lk 17:10) There is a static "line" (the "standard") for normal behavior. Rewards should be for something above and beyond that standard. Likewise, punishment is for that which is shy of the standard.

Fix these things (I haven’t spoken to the whole subject of appropriateness of video games), and the generic concept of "a contract" is probably a good one. It spawns "accountability" from both the child who is the object of the contract, and the parent who is the enforcer thereof. But a contract should never replace the Deut. 6:7-9 concept of continual teaching and demonstrating the Christian life to the child, which is lacking in 99% of modern families. Washington

In response to (you decide behaviorism or behavior do you think it’s Biblical) I would like to quote GALATIANS 2:21 "I DO NOT FRUSTRATE THE GRACE OF GOD: FOR IF RIGHTEOUSNESS COME BY THE LAW, THEN CHRIST IS DEAD IN VAIN." I think this is important in view of this article. His attitude will change if he allows the love of Jesus to work through him, and he will do good works because he loves Jesus. If righteousness came by just obeying these Scriptures (Prov. 15:32-33, 25:28, 1:27, 28:19, 20:4, 19:15, 1 Cor. 10:31, Eccl. 7:11-12, Prov. 9:9-11), then Christ died in vain. Oregon

I think Marc Graham is a Christian man who believes in the Cognitive Behavioral Modification technique. He needs more Bible training. North Carolina

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