Theology in 3D

Why Biblical Counseling?

February 7, 2018
Theology

On February 12-13 the BJU Seminary is hosting our annual CoRE Conference. We’re looking forward to this opportunity for connecting, renewing, and equipping! This year’s theme is “Biblical Counseling, Psychology, and Mental Illness.” In connection with the conference, we’re featuring a guest post by one of the conference speakers, our colleague Dr. Greg Mazak. This will be a helpful resource for thinking through important and challenging issues of our day. And if you can make it to the conference, we’d love to see you!

WHY BIBLICAL COUNSELING?

Christians desire to be “biblical” in all that we do. This applies to every area of life, including our counseling.

What then is biblical counseling? This is a difficult question, since there is no generally accepted definition of counseling, let alone agreement on how to do it. One popular dictionary defines counseling as, “Professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psychological methods.”[1]

Yet many Christians question the assumption that counseling is psychological. They realize that the Bible addresses the areas typically addressed in counseling, areas that are impacted by one’s relationship with Christ, and conclude that the Bible should at least play a role in counseling.

What then is biblical counseling?  At the risk of being overly simplistic, there are typically three different answers.[2]

Some view biblical counseling as counseling performed by a Christian. For example, a believer might counsel the same way that an unbeliever would, only the believer begins with prayer and has a Bible verse on his wall. In this sense, a biblical counselor is similar to a biblical plumber who prays before he begins a job and has a Bible verse on his truck. This view assumes that counseling—like plumbing—is concerned with issues that the Bible does not specifically address.

Yet the Bible is filled with counsel concerning interpersonal relationships, family roles, how to solve problems, and how to respond to suffering—the issues that secular counselors regularly address. This is why many Christians prefer a second approach.

Perhaps the majority of evangelicals who counsel prefer some type of “integrational” approach. Not content with psychological counseling, and believing in the truth of God’s Word, they seek to unite psychological and biblical principles into a unified whole that is superior to mere psychotherapy. Yet believers are increasingly asking if this is wise, or even possible. Al Mohler writes,

One of the most revolutionary aspects of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the assumption that our main problem is inside of us and our only hope for rescue comes from without. In matters of counseling, the secular worldview, driven by the engine of therapy, says precisely the opposite—our problem is something outside of us, and the rescue we need is something that comes from within. This is the very antithesis of gospel proclamation. . . . It is impossible to mix orthodox theology and secular therapeutic counseling.[3]

Christians today are increasingly uncomfortable with the integrational approach to counseling. They are realizing that the issues people struggle with are typically theological. They are more open to consider the truth of the opening sentence of Heath Lambert’s recent book, that “counseling is a theological discipline.”[4] Rather than viewing counseling as grounded wholly or partly in psychotherapeutic practice, they are agreeing with John MacArthur, who states that “authentic biblical counseling is simply biblical wisdom, properly applied by spiritually mature counselors.”[5]

Put another way, biblical counseling is grounded in the doctrines of sufficiency and progressive sanctification. Thankfully, evangelicals champion the truth that the Bible is sufficient for our salvation. The Word of God reveals who we are, who God is, and how to have a relationship with him.

But is the Bible sufficient for our sanctification? Does it equip us to live on earth? To be specific, is it sufficient to help those who have suffered abuse, struggle with despair and disordered eating, experience fear and anxiety, or feel trapped by alcohol or pornography? Is God’s Word sufficient to help us progress in our sanctification as we navigate the trials of life in a sin cursed world? The answer is yes!

The apostle Paul wrote that the Scripture is able to make the man of God both “complete” and “equipped” (2 Tim 3:17). Like a rescue boat that is fully equipped and outfitted to perform its task, Scripture is able to make us “complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work” (Amplified Bible).

Peter explains that believers have freely received “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). Everything we need for eternal life (salvation) is already ours. But note this equally important point: everything we need for godliness (sanctification) is also already ours through “the knowledge of him who called us,” i.e., our experiential knowledge of Christ.

This is why Paul exhorts, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col 2:6). As we have trusted in Christ as the One who is sufficient for our salvation, we can also trust him in matters related to our walk or sanctification.

Why biblical counseling? Because it acknowledges that God has given us all that we need in his Word. It embraces the reality that our relationship with Christ is sufficient not only for our salvation but also for our sanctification. It is in biblical counseling that a believer finds what we all truly need—the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul David Tripp explains,

The humbling bottom line of the work of counseling is that the thing we most need to be rescued from is ourselves! Our basic problem is deeper than history, biology, or relationships. What’s inside of us is far more dangerous to us than what’s outside of us. You can live beyond your history, you can run from a bad situation, you can escape a destructive relationship, but you simply cannot run away from yourself. God sent His Son to provide the rescue we could not provide for ourselves. And we don’t just need that rescue once, we need it again and again and again until all is finally restored and made new.[6]

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/counseling

[2] Stephen P. Greggo and Timothy A. Sisemore, eds., actually define five different approaches in Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches (IVP, 2012).

[3] Albert Mohler Jr., in Bob Kellemen and Jeff Forrey, eds., Scripture and Counseling (Zondervan, 2014), 9.

[4] Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling (Zondervan, 2016), 11.

[5] John MacArthur, in Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, eds., Counseling the Hard Cases (B&H Publishing Group, 2012), ix.

[6] Paul David Tripp, in Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson, eds., Biblical Counseling and the Church (Zondervan, 2015), 14.

Photo credit: pixabay.com


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