Quieting a Noisy Soul by Jim Berg – A Response (Part 1)

It’s one thing to hear or read Berg’s teachings through the ears of one who has sinned—for example, one who has traumatized another. It’s quite a different thing to listen or read through the ears of one who has been sinned against, that is, the oppressed.

*****

North Korean defectors can tell us what it’s like to live with daily extreme trauma.  Here’s one, for example:

Other people have also lived with daily extreme trauma. If you care to become trauma informed, which I talk about in this blog post, you can meet and listen to a trauma survivor sitting down the row from you at church . . . that is, if they’re still trying to go to church.

After all, for just one example, the child pornography business is a multi-billion dollar business in the United States alone. Do you really think no adult survivors of child pornography have tried to find answers in the churches? The traumas they endured are different from the traumas of North Korea, but are also devastating. They often feel alone in the horrors they carry, but they need to be heard and understood.

It’s not likely you’ll encounter a North Korea defector. But the child pornography survivors are all around you.

Because many of my friends have been traumatized, I often get to hear about the “noisy mind” or the “chaotic brain,” which I understand to be an aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jim Berg’s Quieting a Noisy Soul addresses this very problem.

Jim Berg’s counseling teachings

Jim Berg’s name may not be well known in the larger conservative evangelical world (being, as he is, a Bob Jones University independent Baptist fundamentalist), but his counseling principles—an obvious combination of nouthetic counseling (called “Biblical counseling” by its proponents) and Gothardism— do represent much of mainstream counseling in the larger conservative evangelical world, such as the Sovereign Grace circles, the Gospel Coalition and Desiring God blogs, the vast majority of conservative Christian counselors, the halls of most of the conservative Southern Baptist seminaries and several of the Reformed seminaries, and the counseling practices of the majority of conservative evangelical churches. In fact, I’ve critiqued other similar teachers on this website several times (a few examples of which are here and here and here).

The commonality they share is that their style of counseling seems evidently designed to keep the abused silent and unhelped, as they are shamed and blamed for the problems they face as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced.

It’s one thing to hear or read Berg’s teachings (critiqued at length in the GRACE report on Bob Jones University and discussed further at the BJUGrace blog) through the ears of the one who has sinned—for example, the one who has traumatized another. It’s quite a different thing to listen or read through the ears of the one who has been sinned against, that is, the oppressed.

But for a nouthetic “Biblical counselor” or a Gothardite, there is no difference. Everyone who comes for counseling must repent of their sin and strive to change. That’s all there is to it.

I’ve spoken with many people who have been counseled through Jim Berg’s method, even people who have been counseled by Jim Berg himself. The BJUGrace blog has several testimonies from such survivors, such as this one.

In his series Quieting a Noisy Soul, an outline of which you can see here, Berg describes the problem, the cause of the problem, and the solution.

Spoiler:

The problem is the noisy soul, since that’s what this book is about.

The cause of the problem is your sin, since this is nouthetic counseling and Gothardism.

And the solution comprises several things: determining to change, meditating on Scripture, repenting, learning to be content, forgiving, getting grace through humility, and others.

The Problem: The Noisy Soul

Berg says the experience of noise in your soul comes from “the pressures of life.” He names what he says are some major sources of noise: fear, discouragement, despair, anger, frustration, bitterness, hatred, lust, greed, guilt, shame, possessions and positions, obsessions and addiction, entertainment and recreation.

Examples of areas in which we feel the pressures of life that he mentions are marriage, work, church, children, hobby, garden, and relatives.

People who are living with what we might call “normal everyday” stresses, like perhaps a garden that isn’t growing the way it should, might agree with his assessment.

These pressures, he says, cause us to respond with our emotions (which he defines as body sensations triggered by body chemistry changes). Those emotional responses show that there’s a problem with our thoughts, which originate in the heart. For example, I suppose, a person whose garden isn’t growing the way it should might feel a sense of frustration, and then might express that frustration by venting about all the hours he’s wasted trying to get it to grow.

Though Berg doesn’t say this, I know from those who have counseled with him that he, like most nouthetic counselors, considers “emotional responses” to be bad, and believes that we should instead be ruled by reason or intellect, which he calls here the “thoughts.” I’ve written about that teaching more particularly in the blog post “Reason trumps emotions? 90% of evangelicals say yes.”

But there is something sinister at work when we look beyond the “normal everyday” stresses to people who are actually still living with daily cruelty, oppression, and trauma, who are hearing that their emotional responses need to be brought under control through their thoughts.

This is far more common than the “normal everyday” people might think. It happens in abusive marriages (often even in abusive marriages that have ended, by means of the churches and the court system). It happens with young adult children who are being abused by one or both of their parents. And you might be amazed at the stories of some who are living double lives, sometimes even trying to get counseling while they are actively being trafficked by boyfriends, husbands, pastors, fathers, or others. “Normal everyday” people might roll their eyes at this example as hyperbole, but this is not nearly as rare as they might think. You may even know someone in such a situation, without realizing it, because they’re either too afraid or too dissociated to tell.

Besides the significant problem of counselees who are in current danger, there is also the phenomenon of people who carry childhood trauma that has not been healed. Again I’ll return to those who were used in child pornography, many of whom are trying to find help in the churches. The presenting problem might be something like “I’m always anxious,” but the deeper problem is far from simply having uncontrolled negative emotions. The deeper problem is an unhealed wound from extreme childhood trauma, which even hearing about might give nightmares to people dealing with “normal everyday” stresses.

On the campus of Bob Jones University and in the surrounding community, Jim Berg himself has counseled people who endured extreme childhood trauma. (I know this because they have talked to me.) He diagnoses this problem the same as every other problem. There is no difference.

Berg then explores the reasons a person can’t handle what he calls “the pressures of life.” . . .

The Cause of the Problem: unbelief and guilty conscience

The primary cause of your problem of the noisy soul, says Berg, the root problem, is unbelief. Your heart, he says, is turned in a direction of unbelief, away from God. (In other words, as Bob Jones Sr used to say, “No doubt the problem is with you,” which I’ve found out many abusers love to say to their victims.) According to Berg, your

unbelief leads to

discontent, which leads to

anxiety and anger, which lead to

hopeless despair.

The reason I find this path of reasoning troubling is this: First, I know that even the most earnest Christian can have lies we believe without realizing it, lies that need to be exposed with the light of God’s truth, lies that we’ll gladly turn from as soon as we understand them for what they are. I’ve found this to be the case many times in my own life, and have been very thankful for their exposure.

But to say that we believe some lies that need to be rooted out is different from saying our root problem is unbelief.

The problem of unbelief is a very real one in the heart and mind of one who is not a child of God, but the redeemed, by definition, are believers. We believe what God has said about Himself and about us. We need our beliefs to be refined, to be sure, but we are basically believers.

In the congregation at large, there may be unbelievers, that is, the unsaved. But Berg is writing to believers, to Christians. To tell a believer that the reason for his or her emotional turmoil is basic unbelief is confusing and wrong. A person with a sensitive conscience will take this rebuke to heart, and because they do believe in God but still struggle with the “noisy soul,” they’re likely to enter into the ugly cycle of self-condemnation.

Berg later says there’s another cause for the noisy soul besides unbelief. When a soul is noisy, he says, it’s primarily because of the agitations of a guilty conscience.

Some people do have guilty consciences because of actual sin, and in that case they need to repent of their sin and make things right. (Some people, on the other hand, have hardened consciences, and their sin never bothers them.) But some people struggle with guilt when in fact they did nothing wrong. In these cases they need to be encouraged and helped by being led to Jesus the Healer, rather than told to repent of their sin.

But Berg has determined (as this blog post describes) the cause of the person’s problem without thinking he even needs to listen (except in order to pinpoint specific sins to repent of). He has determined that everyone with a “noisy soul” has the same problems.

Other Causes of a Noisy Soul

With all of these things in mind, I’d like to offer just four other possibilities as causes of the noisy soul.

Grief.  While I was working on this blog post, I received word that a friend’s teenage son had been killed in a tragic accident. My soul became noisy. I thought about my friend, all of this boy’s siblings, the future he’d never have, the future they’d never have together, the trauma they had all endured already. I spent hours weeping for them, thinking of the blackness of grief they’d experience for weeks and months and years to come. My grief was noisy. Their grief may be silent now, too deep for words or tears, but it may be very noisy in the days to come. It may look very messy. It may sound, like mine has, like “What do you think you’re doing, God?”

My husband sat with me and let me cry loudly into his shoulder. He didn’t tell me my problem was unbelief. It wasn’t. I knew God was there to ultimately see them through their grief. But grief is a valley to be walked through with Him, and will take different amounts of time for different people. (For a great and tragic loss like this one, it can often take family members as long as three to five years.) Grief is not something to be chided against as a problem of unbelief.

One time I posted a paraphrase of Psalm 13 on Facebook:

A prayer for a friend who is struggling against the child-molesting, child-abusing ex-husband who shares custody:

How long, O Lord? Will You forget her forever? How long will You hide Your face from her?

How long must we take counsel in our souls, Having sorrow in our hearts day after day?

How long will her enemy exalt himself and triumph over her?

Consider and answer us, O Lord our God; Give light (life) to her eyes, or she and her children will sleep the sleep of death,

And their enemy will say, “I have overcome them,” And their adversary will rejoice when they are shaken.

BUT I have trusted and been confident in Your lovingkindness and faithfulness; My heart shall rejoice and delight in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

***

That’s from Psalm 13. I’m having trouble getting to the last part today–sort of stuck in the first part. Maybe David took a while to get from the first part to the last part too. Anyway, that’s where I am today. It’s a day for weeping.

God is with us in our weeping. Instead of telling others to repent of their unbelief and guilty conscience in grief, we can sit with them and love them.

Confusion. I think especially of those who endured childhood abuse or neglect, who carry embedded lies from the time they were very little, expressed either through actions or overtly. “You’re a worthless piece of garbage,” “you’re just always in the way,” “God can’t rescue you from us,” or even “Satan is more powerful than Jesus.” They become Christians—believers—later in life, but those lies are embedded from very young childhood. This would be an example of a need to Christians to help someone who is a true Christian, who is at the core a believer, to find embedded lies, all the while assuring them that they are in fact, a beloved child of God.

Trauma. When a devout Christian woman has just been date-raped, for example, her soul will be noisy. She will likely suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and many other strange feelings that can overlap with grief and confusion. Her problem isn’t unbelief, and to tell her so will only increase her depression. She needs loving support and reassurance from the people of God.

Dissociation. This one is somewhat related to the others, but needs to be mentioned separately. When a person has undergone very extreme child abuse, as is the case with anyone who was used for child pornography, there’s the likelihood of extreme dissociation. That means different parts of the person will be carrying different memories of childhood trauma. Internally, this person’s soul can be very noisy, even with the possibility that the primary presenting part of the person has no memory of the abuse. She (or he) can hear several thoughts going on at the same time, can feel different reactions at the same time, can be triggered by incidents without having any idea why, can feel anxious or depressed with no understood cause, and can have many other strange symptoms that might, by a nouthetic counselor, be interpreted as a “noisy soul” of unbelief.

But the real problem in this case is that this person is carrying trauma so deeply and so . .  separately that it has been dissociated from memory. This  needs to be uncovered and healed, usually with the help of someone who has been trained in such things. I have reason to believe our churches have many, many such people sitting in the rows, feeling isolated, and longing for help. While the nouthetic counselors are telling them to repent of their sin and just start believing, they are carrying the deep needs of an explosively shattered heart. Rather than being told what they just need to start doing, they need to be told that there is a Healer who can reach into the places of wounding and heal each of these shattered and separated parts and bring them together into wholeness.

But for Jim Berg and others like him, the problem of the noisy soul is always a sin problem. There is no room for the deep trauma that causes the shattering of soul sometimes known as dissociation. There is no room for non-sinful confusion or grief.

There isn’t even any need, really, to try to understand a counselee’s perceived problem, because the answer for them is always clear. It is your sin. That is the cause of the problem. Your lack of faith, and your guilty conscience. He clearly states that when our soul is noisy, we have to admit that we’re guilty of unbelief, we have forsaken God, and we have minimized, covered, blamed-shifted, and made excuses.

*****

Part 2, discussing the solutions, is here.

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Paula Blackwood MunceyColleen GBunkababyRachel NicholsSong of Joy Recent comment authors
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VictimNoMore
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VictimNoMore

He is accusing the suffering person of unbelief, then telling them to strive for their salvation rather rest in the promises of God. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Listening
Guest
Listening

I sat under such counsel for 15 years. Always searching for how to clean up this elusive sin so that things could move forward. Instead, his ongoing sin was minimized, excused and many times defined as a response to my “elusive” sin!
I am happy to say that freedom and truth won and life is sweet but so much was lost and there was additional time neede for healing and oh, the poor children that grew up under this religious confusion……..the trials they wade because of living in a drama filled, hypocritical home! They lost what I fought to give them……..growing up in a secure, loving, fully accepting home!

Sick at Heart
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Sick at Heart

I grieve over the decades of destruction caused by Jim Berg’s teachings. He is not solely responsible. Bob Jones University gave him the platform to teach these ideas, knowing that he didn’t have the educational background to assume such authority. They and many others have taken his ideas and passed them on with what appears to be not the slightest concern for the many who have been so deeply harmed by these teachings.

When the GRACE investigation into BJU revealed a pattern of horrific treatment of abuse survivors and identified Berg as one of the primary people responsible for the harm inflicted, no one seemed to blink. That two-year-long investigation resulted in a 300+ page report with clear recommendations that, if followed, could have potentially set the school and its “feeder” churches on a path to becoming much healthier.

Instead, BJU buckled down, insisting that their counseling is best. That investigation was not just an opportunity for BJU and their affiliated churches, schools, missions, etc. It was also an opportunity for the broader Christian community. Many fundamentalist and conservative evangelical pastors are aware of the two-year investigation as well as the sobering findings of that investigation, but they all chose silence. They turned a blind eye and declined any involvement in urging BJU to make right choices or in doing so themselves. Many seemed to fear, especially the ones who have had some sort of past connection to the school. Maybe they thought if they spoke up, they would be linked to BJU in some way

I’m familiar with the area of South Carolina where that school is, and I believe that Christian community is not a healthy or safe place for those recovering from the effects of severe trauma. While some more “trendy” evangelical churches will host conferences that make them appear to be interested in reaching those impacted by abuse, their actions towards victims often only cause more hurt and more harm.

NG
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NG

This kind of thinking is rampant in churches worldwide. Not just in Gothardism or Reformed movements, many Chrismatic circles also teach about ‘being dead to your fleshly emotions’..
I remember hearing from many preachers and pastors how you have to be ‘dead’ in order to stay out of ‘offence’. ‘Dead man cannot be offended’, aka if you were truly mature, Christ-like and spiritually minded, nothing would disturb you or offend you.. (The paradox being, many of those pastors would be very volatile and react angrily if anyone would dare to question their teachings in any way)

Thank God, I have since realized it is OK to be offended at evil and wrong doing. Being ‘dead’ was not what Jesus was – He was offended at hypocricy, hard-heartedness and pure evil, willing to show it. He had a whole gamut of mixed emotions, while staying fully focused on the Father.

Song of Joy
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Song of Joy

“Quieting A Noisy Soul”

Wow! This terrible admonishment is specifically mentioned in the Bible… but it’s the “crowd” that advises noisy souls to be quiet, not the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus has compassion on noisy souls who cry out to Him for healing. Jesus asks them what they need! He heals them!

But Jim Berg has revealed that he agrees with the “crowd” and not with Jesus.

Matthew 20:30-34 (NIV)

30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

31 *The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet*, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

NG
Guest
NG

Oh yes. Jesus loved to help those who reached out to Him in genuine need!
That story in Matthew is parallel to the testimony of blind Bartimues on Mark 10. I love it how he did not quiet down, but shouted even louder… *Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!* Something that has been my cry so often.
The same with the Syro-Phoenician woman asking for help, or Hanna in the Old testament. Those who had the guts to ask, were rewarded in the end – even if those close to Jesus tried to shut them up 🙂

Rachel Nichols
Guest

My guess is those who actually are guilty–and need to do what Berg recommends–don’t see him for counseling. Why should they? They’re not distressed. If their unsubmissive wife or adult child stopped acting crazy everything in the family would be perfect. A lovely bed of roses.

Bunkababy
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Bunkababy

Quote:”I’m familiar with the area of South Carolina where that school is, and I believe that Christian community is not a healthy or safe place for those recovering from the effects of severe trauma. While some more “trendy” evangelical churches will host conferences that make them appear to be interested in reaching those impacted by abuse, their actions towards victims often only cause more hurt and more harm.”

I would tend to agree with this statement whole heartedly. While some churches repress and shut down victims, some as in my experience open you wide up and then leave you dangling.

As I look back to a YWAM experience they had an “openess and brokeness” component. Its like forcing you to open a can of worms, that nobody is prepared for to deal with in the aftermath. They want you to neatly pack it all back up when your turn is done.

Or lets say, homegroup . Someone gives a word, I can remember trying to remember stuff, but because of dissociation things got really loud in my head, chaos ensued. I always left homegroup or church feeling worse than I came because I always felt like they opened me up, said a prayer and expected it to be over.

The ignorance wrapped up in “hearing God” in the moment but no preparation for the fallout affect caused so much extra trauma. I realise some wanted and tried to act in good faith really believing that methods used were okay, but they really were not.

So in my experience my “stuff” or trauma exceeded the knowledge, or ability of the prayor and caused more damage to the prayee. Which ended up making me feel like a failure or that God didnt answer those prayers because the damage just continued long after the prayer ended.

It made me angry and question God. Why didnt I see progress and move on like others?

The church needs to be educated in trauma, abuse and what to expect. What kind of reactions they will get. And the church needs to have experienced , educated psycologists on a referal list.

And I really really believe the church needs to be educated that dealing with trauma, is not fixed immediatley with a prayer time… I was always asked if I felt better. I said yes, but no I did not feel better. I often felt 10x worse. But I didnt want them to think they were doing a poor job praying for me, or that God didnt answer their prayers.

Bunkababy
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Bunkababy

Rebecca, my yam experience was very very very spiritually abusive. I actually got kicked out with another person as wounded as I was. Two years later I confronted the ywam leader leader, who was stunned I still had issues with my experience. He did rectify his role, and admitted he kicked us out and lied to save ywams face.

He knew we had lousy leadership but didn’t want to be bothered to intervene.
But he never could have imagined the circumstances on our outreach. It was from the pit of hell.

Yes, there is immense confusion surrounding DID, and it would be nice to have people aware of it. But most people are not as willing as you to learn , understand and work with people.

There is a major stigma around it in everyday psychology, never mind Christian circles.

You do remember who Bunkababy is don’t you? We emailed extensively. If you don’t that’s okay. You are a heck of a busy lady!

Colleen G
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Colleen G

I struggle with noisy thoughts, anxiety and depression. Sin did contribute to it but it was not my sin. It was the sin of my father via emotional abuse and manipulation. Compounding that was exposure to Gothard and similar teachings. Even now at age 41 I am still healing and recovering.
It sounds like Berg’s book is the usual easy out of blame the wounded so we can pat ourselves in the back for delivering the “godly” message then blame the suffering when things don’t work out in healing and recovery .

Paula Blackwood Muncey
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Paula Blackwood Muncey

I am a 1985 graduate of Bob Jones University and am utterly disgusted about this spiritual abuse.