Pastor Steven Waterhouse writes this book dealing with mental illness, principally schizophrenia, from the backdrop of his own experience. His younger brother Mark has been diagnosed with schizophrenia resulting in many years of hospitalization and other supported housing. Steven and his brother grew up in an excellent church but found that their congregation, like many others, was uninformed and ill-equipped to minister to their family in helpful ways. Waterhouse believes the church should be the ultimate support group (p. 11) and writes this book to aid God’s people in this ministry as well as provide insight to believers and their families who face schizophrenia.
Concerning psychology, Waterhouse sees it neither as voodoo nor virtue, but as having limited value (pp. 11, 13). It is only the Word of God that is sufficient, but medical research into mental illness is necessary (p. 3). Waterhouse makes a strong case for schizophrenia being a brain disorder, not a spiritual problem, that must be treated medically, not just with scriptural insight (pp. 14-16, 17-27, 33, 43-46). Those with schizophrenia have a genetic weakness toward the disorder (p. 33) which can be triggered by any number of causes (p. 33). If in fact schizophrenia is a disease, or disorder much like Alzheimer’s, then medical treatment is necessary. This does not mean that those with schizophrenia are not responsible for their actions and cannot mature in Christ. But like any physical illness schizophrenia is not sin. Waterhouse’s view of psychology, via a personal e-mail to me, it’s that “psychology describes; theology prescribes. The Bible gives the answers to human needs, but done objectively psychology can help understand the need to which the Scriptures may be more accurately applied.”
Waterhouse offers several related chapters that are most helpful including: the emotional affects and responses in the family (pp. 39-66), why God allows suffering (pp. 71-80), and the value of people and human life (pp. 81-88). He also gives good insight on differentiating schizophrenia from demonic influences. I struggle however with his use of C. Fred Dickason, and his Demon Possession of the Christian (p. 97), which is based almost entirely on experience rather than Scripture. Waterhouse’s use of Scott Peck (in a quote on p. 94), recommendation of Paul Meier’s clinic (p. 103), and listing of Meier’s and Frank Minrith’s book “Christian Psychiatry” leaves me wondering where the author stands on the integration of psychology and Scripture.
Overall, Strength for His People is a helpful contribution on a number of fronts as listed above. The author’s equating brain disorders with mental illness will be confusing to some who distinguish the two rather sharply. All would agree that brain disease and disorders are physical problems that need medical treatment. The difficulty comes in determining physical problems, which need medical attention, and spiritual problems which need biblical correction. The jury is still out on many conditions such as schizophrenia, although Waterhouse strongly believes it is a brain disorder.