Steve Pettit cites Bob Newhart “Stop It” skit as good example for counseling
Someone alerted us to yesterday’s chapel, in which Steve Pettit preached a sermon called “Overcoming Sin,” the entirety of which you can listen to here.
Dr. Pettit introduced the sermon by saying he wanted to focus on practical ways to overcome sin. He mentioned that the sacrifice of Christ is crucial for us to be able to overcome sin, giving us the power to live purely in our spiritual walk. He said that we are to believe what’s true, that Christ has been victorious over sin, so we believe by faith that Christ has delivered us from the divine wrath to come. He said we need to believe that our old identity is gone and replaced by a new identity, completely new, new birth, new image, and this is the faith that overcomes the world. He also talked about how important it is for us to counsel and help each other in overcoming sin.
When some of us BJUGrace admins listened to this sermon, we heard some good things there, some encouraging truths.
But it seemed evident to us that the last 3 minutes or so of this sermon undid any good thing Dr. Pettit mentioned in the first 18 minutes. Beginning at about minute 19, this is a transcript of the sermon:
If Christ was murdered for sin for our sin, then what should we do with our sin? We should murder it. How do you do this? How do you kill sin? You stop it.
Think about it. If you die, you stop doing what you were doing. You ever notice that? When a person dies he stops sinning. Whatever he did before, it’s over with. Why? Cause he’s dead as a doornail.
Because you are dead in Christ, then the only way to overcome sin is, you have to stop it. If you’re having sex outside of marriage, stop it. If you’re involved in looking at pornography, stop it. If you’re involved in thinking lustful thoughts, stop it. If you’re involved in a homosexual relationship, stop it. If you’re involved in sexual self-gratification, stop it!
Whatever you’re doing that inflames your lust, Paul says stop it. Why? Because you’re dead in Christ.
And then he says remove it. We put off the old man, we put on the new. There is a transformation of our wardrobe.
So what does he say? Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, dirty words, lying, all of that he’s saying put them off. He’s saying, “Stop it.”
Up to this point, if you’ve been through the BJU counseling system, you may recognize nouthetic counseling (what BJU now calls “Biblical counseling”). This is the counseling method we have critiqued here on this website, calling it “bootstrap sanctification,” because though they’ll talk about Christ, your overcoming sin ends up right back in the lap of your own will power, your own determination, apart from any empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
But it gets worse.
There was an old comedian named Bob Newhart. How many of you have seen this video? Ok. A lot of you have. All right. And he’s acting like a psychologist, or I guess he is a psychologist in the clip. And a lady comes in, and she wants to get help for her phobia. And her phobia was the fear of being put alive into a casket. So he said, “I’m going to charge you for five minutes; it probably won’t take any longer than that, maybe less time.” And she told him her fear, and he says, “I’m going to give you two words to help you overcome it.” She said, “Should I write them down?” He said, “I think you’ll remember it.” And he sits forward and he goes, “Stop it!” And she started to talk and make excuses, and he said, “Stop it! Stop it!”
So let’s pause right here, in case you don’t know what he’s referring to. He’s talking about this video here, which is only about six minutes long and worth watching. It’s worthy of note that some people have used this parody to say, “This is what nouthetic counseling [so-called ‘Biblical counseling’] is like.”
Ok, if you watched that and saw that this is the example of counsel he’s referring to, you may be aghast, and rightly so. It shouldn’t have to be spelled out that this skit presents a parody of the worst kind of counseling. And yet, Dr. Pettit is saying that it’s a good representation of how we should counsel each other.
And what Paul is telling us is if we have experienced these things in Christ, then what do you do? Say it with me, you [the words “Stop It” are on the screen, and the student body joins in here] “Stop it.” Say it like you mean it, you [student body joins in with more vigor] “Stop it.”
Stop it, ok. So go on YouTube and watch it, and I think you’ll enjoy it.
Father, thank you for the victory we have in Christ that we can overcome sin. In Jesus’ Name, amen.
At first we couldn’t believe it. So this is Dr. Pettit’s “practical advice for overcoming sin”? To “stop it” in the style of the Bob Newhart comedy skit?
He will preach on serious sin problems and then tell people to follow the advice of the Bob Newhart parody? He’s saying that’s what Paul was preaching about? This is how we should counsel each other?
Couldn’t he have told Christians to help each other in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, to restore in a spirit of gentleness, instead of the harshness of telling them to “Stop it”? Couldn’t he have talked about loving each other and praying for one another? Couldn’t he have talked about how we access the power of the Holy Spirit moment by moment through faith to overcome sin? Couldn’t he have told sinning Christians to go boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace to help in time of need?
In the cross of Jesus Christ, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10) In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that very same power is available to us (Ephesians 1:19-20). The powerful grace of Jesus Christ calls people out of hiding — to walk toward Christ where we can find the help for overcoming sin.
The only people Jesus shamed with any words even similar to “Stop It” were the Pharisees, the ones who exalted themselves as being “right” while creating double standards and taking advantage of people. To others, Jesus was the epitome of gentleness. Consider the woman at the well, who was mired in sin, and the woman taken in adultery. How gentle Jesus was with them!
Think of the desperation that some young people in that chapel audience must feel who have tried and tried to overcome certain sins and have failed again and again and again. They will come away thinking, “Well, I’m just supposed to stop it. That’s the bottom line.” They’ve tried and tried and tried and tried some more to stop it. But they just need to try harder. This kind of teaching leaves us with a shell of religiosity instead of the powerful, vibrant life that is available through the Holy Spirit, in Christ.
How can sincere young people at BJU feel safe confessing a sin problem to each other? This “stop it” message will cause young people to be afraid to talk about their struggles but instead go into “sin management” mode so they can give the impression of being ok when they really aren’t.
This teaching can leave BJU college students in a place that “stops” short of the heart of the gospel.