Wednesday, June 22, 2022


The Pauline Thinking Cure and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Harrison, Michigan (Photo by Josh Piippo)

I am interested in connections between Pauline thinking and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

Paul writes:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, 

whatever is true, 

whatever is noble, 

whatever is right, 

whatever is pure, 

whatever is lovely, 

whatever is admirable 

-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy 

-- think about such things 

and the God of peace will be with you."

Philippians 4:8


Examples of Pauline thinking include the "declarations" given by Steve Backlund of Bethel Redding Church, and the identity statements of Neil Anderson. Both are about thinking on identity truths, using verbal repetition. 

 For example, I am God's child and deeply loved by him. As followers of Jesus, that's true, right? So, why not meditate on that truth so that, as Henri Nouwen says, it might descend from our mind into our heart.

 See The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. They advocate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a cure for maladies such as anxiety disorder, depression, OCD, anger, marital conflict, and stress-related disorders. CBT is uncannily similar to Paul's instructions in Philippians 4:8.

 CBT treats cognitive distortions, such as "I'm no good," "My world is bleak," and "My future is hopeless." (Lukianoff and Haidt, 36) CBT breaks disempowering feedback cycles between negative beliefs and negative emotions.

 They write:

 "With repetition, over a period of weeks or months, people can change their schemas and create different, more helpful habitual beliefs (such as "I can handle most challenges" or "I have friends I can trust.")" (Ib., 37) This is remarkably like Backlund's identity declarations. (See also James K. A. Smith's excellent You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.)

 Cognitive distortions empower negative emotions. Put in a Pauline way, repetitive thinking on "whatever is false" distorts our emotions. Lukionoff and Haidt are concerned over our universities and the cognitive distortions they produce in our students. While to my knowledge neither Lukionoff nor Haidt are Christians, they refer to CBT as the "thinking cure." (See here.) I see the Pauline "thinking cure" of Philippians 4:8 as combating these distortions in ways that are similar to CBT. 

 They list nine such distortions. Here they are, direct from the book, with my comments on logical fallacies added. (38). 




Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. 

"I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out."

(In logic this is an example of the fallacy of false cause.)



Focusing on the worst possible outcome 

and seeing it as most likely. 

"It would be terrible if I failed."

(This is similar to the slippery slope fallacy in logic.)


Perceiving a global pattern of negatives 

on the basis of a single incident. 

"This generally happens to me. 

I seem to fail at a lot of things." 

(In logic this is called the fallacy of hasty generalization.)



Also known as "black and white thinking," 

"all or nothing thinking," and "binary thinking."

Viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms.

"I get rejected by everyone," or

"It was a complete waste of time."

(In logic this is called the fallacy of false dichotomy.)



Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts.

"He thinks I'm a loser."



Assigning global negative traits to yourself or others (often in the service of dichotomous thinking).

"I'm undesirable."

"he's a rotten person."



You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives.

"Look at all of the people who don't like me."



Claiming that the positive things you or others do are trivial, so that you can maintain a negative judgment.

"That's what wives are supposed to do - so it doesn't count when she's nice to me."

"Those successes were easy, so they don't matter."



Focusing on the other person as the source 

of your negative feelings; 

you refuse to take responsibility 

for changing yourself.

"She's to blame for the way I feel now."

"My parents caused all my problems."