>David Murray on Depression

>Book Review: Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray

Reformation Heritage Books; paperback; 112 pages; © 2010

David Murray takes a balanced and practical approach in his short, but helpful Christians Get Depressed Too.

Since depressed persons have difficulty digesting large amounts of difficult material, the book‘s concise size and coherent content are particularly appropriate. Dr. Murray describes his short book as “Depression 101” or more accurately “Depression 911” since he views it as an emergency guide.

The book’s organization also makes the content easy to absorb. Each of the six chapters has a simple and alliterative title: The Crisis, The Complexity, The Condition, The Causes, The Cures, and The Caregivers.

Dr. Murray roots his discussion in the Bible and repeatedly dispels the harmful notion that “real” Christians don’t become depressed. He describes why it’s important to avoid the three “unhelpful” extremes of viewing the cause of depression as being either all physical, all spiritual, or all mental. In the context of this discussion he gives an excellent assessment of the modern biblical (or nouthetic) counseling movement.

His compassionate and balanced attitude is demonstrated by his two guiding principles:

Avoid dogmatism and seek humility.
Avoid extremes and seek balance.

His listing of false thought patterns is useful because he not only describes the patterns, but he also illustrates them with life, spiritual, and biblical examples. His examination of Psalm 70 serves as a valuable guide for a chart that helps Christians work their way to a better understanding of their depression and its effect upon their relationship with God.

Pastors, counselors, and anyone who cares about those who are depressed may want to keep multiple copies of this inexpensive book on hand as a resource to give to those in need. Available for $7.50 from Reformation Heritage Books.

**

Interview: Dr. David Murray and his new book on depression

Dr. David Murray is an ordained minister of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) who has been Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) in Grand Rapids for three years. Prior to that appointment, he served as a pastor for 12 years in the beautiful Outer Hebrides of Scotland. He is also the author of the newly published work, Christians Get Depressed Too.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss his book with him via email for Christian Renewal.

GM: Dr. Murray, you write that you served for 12 years as a pastor in Scotland. What led you from the Outer Hebrides to Grand Rapids, MI?

DM: I loved my congregation and my family was very happy in the Isle of Lewis. When I was first asked to consider coming to PRTS, I said no. I was happy in my congregation and enjoying the Lord’s blessing on my ministry there.

However, I could not shake off the thought that perhaps it was God’s will for me to come to Grand Rapids. I had already been teaching students for the ministry part-time in our own small denominational seminary, and I enjoyed that greatly. I had also gotten to know Dr. Joel Beeke and Dr. Jerry Bilkes after inviting them to preach in my congregation. I increasingly saw the huge potential usefulness of training students from all over the world in the Reformed faith and then sending them back to their own countries with that knowledge to teach their own pastors and people.

Eventually I saw myself as the ‘one-talent-man’ in Jesus’ parable. He played safe and tried to keep the status quo out of fear, and ended up losing everything. I concluded that my resistance to saying yes to the PRTS call was similar, and that if I disobeyed, I too could not ‘guarantee’ that my situation in Scotland would remain so happy and blessed.

From the first day I arrived in Grand Rapids I’ve known that this is where God wants me to be. I and my family are very happy here. The opportunities to serve are huge, and I especially enjoy preaching most Sundays in various congregations in Grand Rapids and beyond.

GM: What led you to write a book on depression and why do you feel you are qualified to write on this subject?

DM: I wrote this book on depression because I felt that most books on the subject were either too long or too one-sided. Christians and their caregivers are not usually able to read long books on the subject of depression. They need something short, a kind of emergency guide. However, they also need something that will approach depression from various angles. Depression involves the body, the mind, the emotions, the soul, social relations, etc. Any response to it, therefore, must deal with the physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual and the social. I felt that too many modern Christian books over-emphasize the spiritual side of depression, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. They often implied and sometimes explicitly said that depression was always caused by some personal sin and that the cure was therefore always faith and repentance. That may be the case sometimes, but to say it’s the case all the time is dangerous and damaging.

My qualifications for writing the book are 15 years of studying the subject, but mainly ten years of dealing with a variety of depressed people. The area I pastored in has some of the highest rates of depression and suicide in the world. I’ve also had close and painful experience with depression, anxiety and panic attacks among close friends and family members.

I’ve developed this material over a number of years and various people I’ve helped have asked me to put it into print.

GM: What were the most important points you wanted to communicate in your book?

DM: The most important point I want to communicate is that Christians get depressed too. It is way too common for Christians to think (and for Christian teachers to imply) that if you are depressed you cannot be a Christian, or you are a Christian who has committed terrible sins. I wanted to show from the Bible and Church history that depression is part of Christian experience, part of being a fallen creature in a fallen world.

But I also wanted to show that God in His mercy has provided many helps to those suffering with depression. He has given us not just Bible verses and faith, but medicine, physical exercise, and even some therapies which help us to think more accurately about ourselves and our situation.

GM: What additional aspects did you feel were crucial to include in this book?

DM: One of the areas I concentrated on in the book was helping people identify false thinking patterns which produce negative emotions. I then provide a worksheet to help people change their false thinking patterns and start thinking more truthfully, with subsequent emotional benefits.

But maybe above all, I wanted to show those with depression and their caregivers that they need to take a holistic approach and avoid the ‘one size fits all’ mentality.
GM: One thing that surprised me on my initial reading was the section on depression as a ‘talent to be invested for God.’ Can you please explain what you mean by that?

DM: Yes, someone else asked me about that as well. Every life event, happy and sad, is ordained for us by God. He sends illness, bereavement, depression, and other trials with the aim of producing spiritual fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. Of course, if we respond wrongly to these events then we will not produce healthy fruit. But I’ve seen depressed people produce a rich harvest of spiritual fruit through their experience. They have glorified God in the fire, trusted Him in the hottest flame, and then, when delivered, glorify God by ministering to others the comfort with which God has comforted them.

GM: What are the three ‘unhelpful extremes’ and why it is important to avoid them?
DM: The three unhelpful extremes are to see depression as all physical, all spiritual, or all mental (in the mind). We all like simple answers to problems, but in something as complex as depression, an overly simplistic approach can be dangerous and damaging. Maybe one of these areas is the main cause of a depression, but we are such complex creatures, and all these spheres interact on each other, that we must take a holistic approach to understanding and treating it.

GM: How should Christians navigate the variety of Christian counseling options available in today’s society?

DM: That’s a hard question. There are some good counseling options and some very bad and harmful ones. I would be looking for a counselor who is interested in the whole person. He does not just search for sin. He does not just prescribe pills. He does not just get you to blame everyone but yourself, etc. Rather he looks at every area of your life without jumping to quick conclusions. And I would be looking for someone who understands the soul, the mind, and the body, and the way they interact. That’s very rare to find in one person. That’s why I encourage pastors to work together with Christian doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists. Don’t hand it all over to others, but work together as a team addressing each area of expertise in the necessary balance for each person.

GM: How do you anticipate Christians Get Depressed Too will be used by those who suffer depression?

DM: Most depressed people have found the book very readable. It is written in simple language and is broken up into short chapters. But I think it is best used together with a loved one. Maybe reading it together a few pages a day. And some people have told me that they keep going back to it because they find themselves falling into old patterns of behavior and thought again, and they need to keep being reminded of the way to deal with that.

GM: How do you anticipate this book will be used by those who desire to minister to those suffering depression?

DM: The bookshop tells me that people are buying three or four copies a time in order to give to concerned family members. I hope the book will help caregivers understand depression better and be able to minister to suffering loved ones more effectively. The last chapter is specially addressed to caregivers. There I give ten ways that caregivers can help depressed people.

Although Christians Get Depressed Too is the first published book by Dr. David Murray, he has written five others that have been accepted for publication and will appear over the next couple of years. He’s also produced a DVD, God’s Technology, which presents a step-by-step training program to help parents train their children to use computers and the internet to God’s glory. He currently is working on a DVD that will serve as a “Beginner’s Guide to Covenant Theology.”

These articles first appeared in the September 29, 2010 issue of Christian Renewal.

© Glenda Mathes 2010

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