Monday, February 12, 2018

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Christians Book Review

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
 for Christian Clients
 with Depression:
A Practical, Tool-Based Primer

By Michelle Pearce, Ph.D.

Reviewed By

Geoffrey W. Sutton

I received Pearce’s book from the Templeton Press for the purposes of review. I submitted the review manuscript in 2016 to the Journal of Psychology and Theology, which was then reviewed and subsequently accepted for publication, March 1, 2017. I will provide links to the academic review below.

Michelle Pearce, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Maryland. Her book provides a useful summary of cognitive-behavioral therapy and shows how it may be adapted to help Christian clients draw upon Bible practices and teachings to cope with depression.

I graduated from a school (University of Missouri-Columbia) where cognitive behavioral psychotherapy was the mainstay of treatment. But, like others from my era, we found our own way when it came to helping religious and spiritual clients with mental health concerns, including depression. Experienced clinicians will not find much that is new in the book, but they will find an organized set of strategies and links to recent research that can help ensure a best practices approach.

The book will be most useful to students in counseling programs as a supplement to various courses and supervised experiences focused on treating people with depression. I think the book can be helpful to pastors as well as they will no doubt encounter many people in their congregations who struggle with some form of depression.

I note a few suggestions for an improvement in my review. These are not concerns that would limit the value of the book, but rather ideas for a future edition. Here’s a quote from my published review:

One, Pearce acknowledges the forgiveness work of Christian scholars like Worthington and Enright but does not offer specific guidance as do Enright and Fitzgibbons (2015) in their chapter devoted to forgiveness therapy for depressed clients. Two, Pearce identifies the term spiritual struggles in the chapter about suffering (6) but does not include the extensive research by Exline and her colleagues (e.g., Exline & Rose, 2013), which has helped clarify many of the distressing beliefs held by Christians when they experience such struggles. And three, although she briefly mentions hope in the conclusion, the topic deserves a greater role in the treatment of depression especially given its critical role in psychotherapy and its prominence in Christian theology (e.g., Edwards & Jovanovski, 2016).

Review reference and document links

Sutton, G. W. (2017). Seven strategies for treating Christians with depression. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 45, 69-70.  Accepted 11/19/2016, Published March 1, 2017. 

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

God's Bestseller: William Tyndale... Book Review


William Tyndale, Thomas More,
and the Writing of the English Bible—
A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal


Brian Moynahan

Reviewed By

Geoffrey W. Sutton

God’s Bestseller is a plot-driven biography of William Tyndale (1494-1536) and his ruthless antagonist, Thomas More. Character development is lacking due to the limited reliable information about Tyndale’s interactions with others. This is no fault of Moynahan because once Tyndale became known as an evangelical, aka heretic, he fled England to hide in Germany and the Netherlands to achieve his calling—the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue of English.

Even for readers who don’t know much about history, the book’s subtitle reveals the outcome—Tyndale was a martyr. What Moynahan treats us to is the life and death struggle between Tyndale and More, staged against political and religious battles for control of the Bible, money, and the lives of men and women.

Early on we get a small glimpse of Tyndale’s early years. We learn he went to both Oxford and Cambridge. He then set upon his life’s goal of completing an English translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English. Such a translation was forbidden by the ruling Roman Catholic Church whose English warrior was none other than the famous Thomas More (1478-1535). In 1524, Tyndale left England for Germany and completed his English translation of the New Testament in 1525. The book became a bestseller despite its illegal status in England.

As Tyndale was working on the Old Testament, another battle took place between King Henry VIII and the Pope. As you may know, Henry was in lust with Anne Boleyn and eager to divorce his first wife, Catherine, who had given birth to Mary, but no male heir. The pope’s refusal to grant the divorce led to Henry’s 1534 break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England, which granted the divorce. The biblical battle runs from the bedroom to the continent as Queen Anne Boleyn kept a Tyndale New Testament at her bedside and was occasionally able to assist reform minded Englishmen until she fell victim to Henry’s penchant for other women.

As the political-religious battle waged between pope and king, More was rooting out heretics and sending them flaming into eternity. Following More’s flameout, Tyndale was eventually captured when he was betrayed by Henry Phillips. During his 500-day imprisonment, Tyndale responded at length to inquiries about his beliefs. In the end, he was strangled and burned at a stake 6 October, 1536.

Only three years after his death, Tyndale’s work provided a substantial basis for Myles Coverdale’s Great Bible (1539) and later, the King James or Authorised version of 1611. More’s legacy includes canonization by Pope Pius XI in 1935 and fame associated with Utopia.

Moynahan is a master of the art of creative nonfiction as he moves the story with lively conflicts between various religious and political characters. He illustrates the main points of disagreement between the reformers and the traditional church with quotes from Tyndale's original translation on such matters as transsubstantiation, priests vs. elders, and love vs. charity. Doctrines hang on the difference in meaning of a word or two. But more importantly, lives are at stake. For Tyndale, Christians do not eat the body of Christ during the Eucharist, they do not need a priest for confession, and 1 Corinthians 13 is about love--not charity and the association of charity with donations to the church. There's more of course--the famous Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith crops up in more than one battle.

 Moynahan keep us close to the action by pointing to familiar landmarks in the main cities of London and Antwerp but he also keeps us close to the era by judicious quotes from the main characters presented in early modern English.

Moynahan, B. (2002). God’s bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal. New York: St. Martins.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Taking Out the “White Trash” A Book Review


The 400-Year Untold History  
 of Class in America



Isenberg states her purpose on page 2. “…by reevaluating the American historical experience in class terms, I expose what is too often ignored about American identity.” She adds a second aim. “I also want to make it possible to better appreciate the gnawing contradictions still present in modern American society.” Her major theme appears to be a persistent lack of equality since the early English settlements gained a foothold in America: “How does a culture that prizes equality of opportunity explain, or indeed accommodate, its persistently marginalized people?”

She encourages Americans to “recognize the existence of our underclass.” And offers us a question to answer: “The puzzle of how white trash embodied this tension is one of the key questions the book presumes to answer.”

As we might expect of from a history professor (LSU), Isenberg begins at the beginning—that is, she offers us an English context for the people selected to inhabit the early settlements in America. In doing so, she reminds us that a variety of whites came along with the storied religious Pilgrims and Puritans as well as the Virginia Gentlemen. She does not ignore slavery and the increasingly well-known horrors of African Americans. Rather, she focuses our attention on the laws and attitudes that excluded a white underclass from enjoying the opportunities of the wealthy rulers who governed the inhabitants of the eastern seaboard.

Twelve chapters, with catchy titles and colorful language aimed at classifying the poor whites, expose the uncharitable manner in which the elite used their power to keep a certain group of white people within limited boundaries. We discover American leaders identified common characteristics of laziness, low ambition, and a general uncleanness of people variously labeled rubbish, poor white trash, clay-eaters, and mudsills.

Often, quoted leaders use breeding analogies to refer to the quality of human stock. Blood lines and the importance of good parents are linked as explanations for the status of the poor and their characteristics that serve as missing rungs on the proverbial ladder of success. When the theory of eugenics arrives in the US, we see many leaders embracing the beliefs like converts to a tent revival.

From time to time we learn of plans to improve the lot of poor whites. There are efforts to give ambitious people a parcel of land, which often required the removal of Native Americans. As we move into the 1900s, we learn of the political battles over such efforts as FDR’s programs during the Great Depression when there was visible evidence of downward mobility and later, Johnson’s Great Society. Helpfully, Isenberg points out the uselessness of the occasional celebrations of poor folks who make it. Sometimes she points out the false claims of the rags to riches stories. At other times, she reminds us that such celebratory news stories are rare events and not typical of the vast underclass that remain at a considerable distance from the halls of wealth and power.

By the time I reached the end of the book, I felt overwhelmed by the stories used to support her thesis. Indeed, America has an underclass. Although some of the stories are new to me, I was familiar with others from various sources such as PBS documentaries, textbooks on history and sociology, and living amongst the poor and middle class for most of my early life.
Nations have myths so it is not surprising to learn that many of the American myths were quite detached from reality. What is interesting is the degree to which the myths and belief systems create such an effective class structure.

I am no historian but I like to think of other possibilities to account for a set of findings. Isenberg has focused on the underclass in the early American colonies and the persistence of the poor whites in the American South. Having lived in New Mexico for some years, and finding many poor who were nether white nor of British heritage, it seems her thesis needs to be broadened to consider the influence of the Spanish who ruled vast swaths of what is now the United States. And why not consider the influence of French culture on mid-America—especially since the French held sway where the author lives and works in Baton Rouge?

Another factor that seems to be missing is a careful analysis of the role religion plays in maintaining or limiting the status of poor whites. After all, regardless of which European country the ancestors of America’s whites called home, most Americans have identified with some brand of Christianity. From time to time we hear advice to respect authority in church and in society. Isn’t religion and important factor in the status of America’s class system?
Isenberg’s attacks on breeding myths, blood, and eugenics are important. Such ideas rule even amongst those with graduate degrees in biology and the behavioral sciences. Nevertheless, she appears too dismissive of biological factors in accounting for the factors that make life a significant challenge to acquire and education or job skills that could become the path out of poverty.

Finally, I am disappointed in her lack of consistent comparisons across the historical time periods. Sometimes we are treated to quotes from influential political leaders, including the founding fathers. At other times she delves into the details of a novel or a play. What’s missing is some sort of weighting of the contribution of different sources to an understanding of why we continue to have an underclass.

So far, I am fortunate to have experienced the traditional American Dream. Our first home in America was indeed a filthy, insect infested, block rental house. Both of my parents left school at age 14, which was not uncommon amongst their peers, but considered a factor in poverty discussions. We were fortunate to have help from neighbors--a few white families and one black family--community makes a difference. And my father was healthy enough to work loading concrete blocks on trucks--health is worth a lot. When we needed more money, my mother was fortunate to find employment in retail shops or cleaning homes. In addition to the early start, I am now aware that I benefitted from white male privilege. But I recognize, that there are many white Americans who remain poor. And there are many reasons for their ongoing struggle.

I suggest the book will be useful to those who are unaware of the attitudes of America’s elite toward the poor and the history of false beliefs about why some people fail to achieve a modicum of independence from reliance on government support and help from area charities. Readers will not find a broad consideration of the causes of poverty or effective ways to raise their standard of living.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Author: Edith Eva Eger

A sixteen-year-old girl is in love. She loves to dance. She has a boyfriend. And she lives with two sisters and her parents and the attendant conflicts that come with family life. One morning in 1944, her life is violently disrupted when soldiers rip her family apart. Next, we are on a journey with her. We see her enter the bleak dream-destroying Auschwitz. We learn about survival amidst a human hell.

I wasn’t excited by the novel I started during a visit to Washington DC. My wife thought I might like Eger’s book, The Choice. She was right. By the end of our DC visit, we returned to the Holocaust museum, which became a new experience through Dr. Eger's lens. I found myself looking at the faces in a new way--wondering about victims, survivors, and perpetrators in terms of life-choices.

Eger’s tells her story of survival through the eyes of a young woman. We see her near death experiences, wonder at her tiny triumphs, worry about whether she will make it, rejoice in her successes, and feel her warmth and joy as we learn of her wisdom in later years.

Dr. Eger is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at UCSD. But she did not enter college until middle age. She connects with Viktor Frankl with whom she shares not only a common past but also a common love for humanity.

As Edith struggles with her past and works to live in the present, she is faced with many life-choices. We are treated to a case study in post-traumatic growth as she reviews her past through the lens of a psychologist in healing whilst helping others heal as well.

The Choice is an inspirational story that will be of interest to anyone who enjoys seeing people break free from the past. She offers us an opportunity to dance with a star.


Eger, E. E. ( 2017). The choice: Embrace the possible. Simon & Schuster. La Jolla, CA.

Watch Dr. Eger in a Ted talk


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Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Lay Counseling is a handbook for paraprofessional services. Although the focus is on Christian counseling, the book is important for all clinicians. In this post I review some key features of the book.

Lay Counseling is the kind of book that anyone who works in the field of mental health should consider because it provides current information about the counselors, programs, and services that are part of a support network beyond the world of licensed providers. The book offers an explicitly Christian approach to mental health services. The reason it should be read by those outside the Christian community is because Christianity is the world's largest religion and many Christians who seek counseling wish to see a Christian provider. Since many providers are not licensed mental health providers, it is important to understand who is doing what when it comes to this large informal network of paraprofessionals.


LAY COUNSELING: EQUIPPING CHRISTIANS FOR A HELPING MINISTRY: REVISED & UPDATED. Siang-Yang Tan & Eric T. Scalise, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, Pp. 318., ISBN 9780310524274. $19.99. Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton, Evangel University, Springfield, MO.


I got my copy of Lay Counseling from Siang-Yang Tan who stopped by a presentation my colleagues and I presented documenting client factors that predict outcomes amongs those who attenkded Christian Counseling. A number of the clients reported seeing clergy. Following our discussion, Tan told me of his updated text. Later in the day he gave me a copy (disclosure), which I have reviewed for an academic journal.

The book consists of 12 chapters. You will find a brief description of the lay counseling movement --mostly in the United States--along with a summary of the limited research into Christian lay counseling. There isn't a lot of research so the field is wide open--a good topic I suggest for  graduate students in counseling and psychology programs.

After the "backstory," the authors provide considerable details that will help Christian leaders establish a Christian lay counseling program in their churches or community. The details include guidelines on counselor selection, training programs, supervision, ethical and legal considerations, forms, and even types of offices and financial considerations. It really is a "how to" guidebook.

What we learn is that there are several approaches to Christian lay counseling. The authors present a model that is founded in Christian ministry and eclectic in drawing on the work of Christian clinicians from the past several decades. However, the authors, both psychologists, draw upon principles and techniques of change found in such other recognizable leaders as Aaron Beck and Arnold Lazarus.

I posted my academic review on ResearchGate and Academia .

It has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity.

Disclosure: The only thing I received for this review is the free book.


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Friday, August 11, 2017

Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene - A Book Review

“The tribal differences that erupt into public controversy typically concern sex (e.g., gay marriage, gays in the military, the sex lives of public officials) and death at the margins of life (e.g., abortion, physician-assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells in research). That such issues are moral issues is surely not arbitrary. Sex and death are the gas pedals and brakes of tribal growth. ... What’s less clear is why different tribes hold different views about sex, life, and death, and why some tribes are more willing than others to impose their views on outsiders (11).”
—Joshua Greene

MORAL TRIBES: EMOTION, REASON, AND THE GAP BETWEEN US AND THEM by Joshua Greene, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, pp. 422. ISBN: 978-1-101-63867-5 Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton, Springfield, MO


I read Greene’s Moral Tribes in 2014. That book along with Haidt’s The Righteous Mind and moral controversies in politics in religion over same-sex marriage, prompted me to think of ways Christian Spirituality and Science -- especially psychological science--might find common ground. Even within the same movement or affiliated group of churches, Christians appeared to be from different tribes. Subsequently, I wrote A House Divided. Although I drew more upon moral psychology research, I have long valued the thinking of philosophers when it comes to analyzing the ideas of science.

Today, I received my copy of a journal, which published my academic review of Moral Tribes. It turns out, they had first published the review in 2015. Anyway, it is a popular read on and ResearchGate. And I think with good reason—not my review, but Greene’s analysis.
The quote at the top of this post is telling. So much of the sociopolitical debate in the US and other countries that permit open debates has to do with life issues—sex and death—and the relationships related to such issues in between life's ends. In fact, it is appropriate that the moral hedges of religion deal with these issues. And religions, traditional boundary makers of culture, frequently weigh-in when leaders perceive their rights are not carefully considered.

After an organized presentation of many moral psychology experiments revealing the natural separation between groups of people—the Us and Them problem—Greene takes us back to utilitarian philosophy associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The problem of developing a meta-morality is not addressed by Greene and certainly utilitarianism has been found wanting as a universally guiding theory. But then again, attempts to find universal principles of justice and rights also come up short. And Greene’s analysis of psychological research won’t take him, or us, to the promised land of a universal morality. 

But I appreciate the book. Here’s why.

Outside academic debates, groups of people continue to beat the drums of war. At the national level, it can be scary living as we do in a nuclear age. But at local levels, group conflicts sometimes lead to death and disability and at other times lead to misery marked by broken relationships, suspicion, and distrust. We do well to seek common ground. On the one hand, we might try justice as fairness approaches. And on the other hand, we may revive utilitarian methods to discover that a common good may be weighed as of great importance to both tribes, a common goal worthy of pursuit, or a common positive effect when those in conflict agree that life is more important than forcing the other tribe to change its system of rights, values, or "goods." Righteous minds might hate compromise. But compromise in the form of peace treaties, allow people to live in ways others find do not like, provided no one comes to harm.


Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

A related read...

A House Divided

Free exam copies for reviewers and professors at

Friday, July 28, 2017

Groups That Heal: A Sutton Review



  Jan Paul Hook 
  Joshua N. Hook
  Don E. Davis

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

As I was reading this book, I had an occasion to experience many of the points the authors made in a group where a speaker disclosed some troubling news. Those of us present naturally felt supportive and I had the impression, the process promoted growth and healing. I found myself reflecting on the authenticity of the book.

The authors, using the first person "I," refer to a healing cycle composed of six steps, which cover most of the chapters in the book. In each chapter, the authors include sections on psychological science and Christianity to show how their model is compatible with science and faith.

Each healing step is explained along with an example of growth experiences of fictitious group members. The authors offer several tips and strategies to help leaders deal with both basic and more complex difficulties that occur when guiding a group.

Following is a brief chapter summary, which is based on a more lengthy review submitted for publication.

The components of the healing cycle are grace, safety, vulnerability, truth, ownership, and repentance. The grace chapter (2) suggests ways of becoming more accepting toward difficult people. Safety in the group (chapter 3) refers to creating a psychological space where members are able to grow without undue anxiety.  Vulnerability (chapter 4) promotes healing by open and honest sharing. Step four is truth (chapter 5), which focuses on providing accurate feedback to group members. Ownership is the fifth step (chapter 6). The authors observe: “You can’t change what you don’t own (p.161).” The final step is repentance (chapter 7). Here the authors introduce behavioral approaches to changing habits. The final return to grace chapter deals with the important topic of ending a group or processing termination when clients leave.

My longer and more academic review has been accepted by the Journal of Psychology and Christianity.

I suggest the book would be useful in Counselor Education programs at Christian Universities and for a discussion in groups of Christian Counselors--especially those who are new to leading group therapy. The book also has ideas for people leading growth groups in churches and Christian organizations.

I close by noting again that the healing cycle has a ring of authenticity, which I experienced in the group mentioned above. I suspect that seasoned therapists will be able to agree with many of the ideas in Groups That Heal.

More Counseling Resources

Applied Statistics: Concepts for Counselors



A House Divided: 
Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures