Supporters of a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor quietly stepping down after 17 years in the classroom are blaming his departure on a faculty colleague who harshly criticized his scholarship in a public setting a year and a half ago.
Eric L. Johnson, Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care at the Southern Baptist Convention seminary located in Louisville, Ky., since 2009, reportedly announced his early retirement Sept. 7 at a gathering sponsored by the Institute for Christian Psychology ironically celebrating the release of his latest book, God and Soul Care, published by InterVarsity Press.
The next day an online petition appeared protesting Johnson’s “wrongful firing” and linking to a YouTube video showing Heath Lambert, a fellow Southern Seminary professor who serves as executive director of the rival Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, quoting an excerpt from Johnson’s earlier book, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal, published in 2007.
Without identifying either the title or author, Lambert criticizes the book as “total and utter mockery of God’s word,” calls the unnamed Christian psychologist “a horrible theologian” and labels his colleague’s thesis “a demonstration … of faithless living.”
Lambert, associate professor of biblical counseling who has taught at Southern Seminary since earning his Ph.D. there in 2009, released a statement Sept. 11 apologizing for how he spoke about Johnson in his 2016 lecture and denying that he played a role in orchestrating his departure, while acknowledging there are significant disagreements between biblical counselors like him and Christian psychologists such as Johnson.
Lambert recently outlined his convictions in an article titled “95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling” defending the Bible as “sufficient and an authoritative guide to counseling” and casting doubt on the efficacy of secular therapies such as the use of psychotropic drugs to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.
Johnson, a former Northwestern College professor who earned his Ph.D. in educational psychology at Michigan State University, is a board member of the Institute for Christian Psychology, a group dedicated to “Christ-centered soul care” and developing “a distinctly Christian psychology” drawing on both spiritual resources and practices of contemporary psychology.
In God and Soul Care, a 716-page tome released Sept. 5, Johnson says Christians should resist the temptation to throw out the science of psychology, including research and therapy on psychotherapy and counseling.
“In spite of the distorting spectacles of its dominant worldview (naturalism), modern psychology has discovered a tremendous amount of knowledge about human beings in its short history (since around 1879), and all knowledge of God’s creation belongs to him and is a fruit of his creation grace,” Johnson writes in the preface. “Consequently, Christians should be among the most eager to learn from the sciences, even the human sciences, rightly interpreted.”
Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler has not commented publicly on speculation about Johnson’s departure.
In 2005 Mohler announced “wholesale change” in the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention’s approach to training ministers in how to deal with the needs of hurting parishioners.
After decades of integrating secular psychology and biblical training in a course of study pioneered by longtime Southern Seminary Professor Wayne Oates known as “pastoral care,” Mohler renamed the master of divinity track “biblical counseling,” affirming the idea that the Bible alone is sufficient to answer “the deepest needs of the human heart.”