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Larry Crabb’s Theory of Biblical Counseling
Dr. Larry Crabb has a unique approach to counseling. His system of counseling, called Biblical counseling, will be explained in great detail. Dr. Crabb’s first book, Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling, was published in 1975. The basic parts and theories of his system, along many changes in theology and emphasis’ will be also explained in detail. Crabb (1975) believes that ". . . the most basic problem of every human being is his separation from God, a gulf made necessary by the fact that God is holy and we are not" (p. 17).
Crabb, like most other Christian counselors, claims that his system is biblically based. The foundation of Crabb’s counseling style is the Bible. God has revealed truth to us in two ways, general and special revelation. Crabb (1987) believes that,". . . many Christian counselors have adopted a method of study that treats the bible as helpful, informative, and insightful- but neither authoritative nor sufficient" (p. 37). The bible is to be allowed the final word. The questions that are answered by the Bible are authoritative.
Dr. Crabb divides problems into two categories, the first category are those resulting from natural or physical causes. This would include such things as a chemical imbalance, and learning disabilities brought on by common, perceptual disfunctions. The second category is composed mostly of problem that are essentially moral. Crabb believes the Bible is sufficient for providing a framework, that is able to direct the counselor in dealing with every problem. The Bible speaks meaningfully to every area of life. "The Bible teaches principles that can comprehensively guide our efforts to counselor with warmth and insight, and it lays out truths about human personality that are sufficient for leading us into a thorough understanding of what therapists call "dynamic" (Crabb, 1987, p. 62). Dr. Larry Crabb’s (1977) approach to integrating theology and psychology is called "spoiling the Egyptians" (p 47). His approach is tries to screen out any secular psychology which is not compatible with biblical principles and doctrine. Counselors need to look at psychology from a foundation of theology and not from a psychological point of view. Crabb believes that if non biblical ideas or presuppositions are allowed to slip through, the christian message and theology will end up being lost and something new will replace it. Crabb has tried very hard to formulate what he feels is a biblical counseling system.
The most important concept in Crabb’s theory of counseling is the idea that there is one basic need, the need for personal worth, that is satisfied in two ways. The first input or longing that has to be met is for significance. Significance as defined by Crabb is the need for, "purpose, importance, adequacy for a job, meaning fullness, impact (Crabb, 1977, p. 79). The second input to have a person feel personal worth is the need for security. Security is defined by Crabb as unconditional love that is expressed continually, permanent acceptance, and in a later look, the longing (need) for relationship. If these two needs are met the person will feel like a worthwhile person and be free from psychological problems. It is Crabb’s view that all personal problems result from trying to fulfill or meet these needs apart from God.
Dr. Crabb has, in later books, changed his wording from needs to longings. He says, "Some have interpreted me to teach that man’s needs for security and significance defines his essential nature. . . the result, in the minds of some, has been a man-centered focus on fulfillment rather than a God-centered emphasis on obedience …" (Crabb, 1987, p. 15). Crabb was afraid he was being misinterpreted as to what he truly believed by using the word "need". These longings (needs) are meant by God to draw us to Him. He is to be the one who meets these longings.
Humans run into problems when these two longings are not met by God because they are relying on something or someone else. For example if a man places his need for significance in his job, he will have major psychological problems if he loses his job. If a wife tries to find her need for security (love) in her husband, she will experience psychological problems if she senses anything is threatening that relationship. Since part of her worth is tied up in needing his love, if he pulls back (or she feels he has), she can become personally threatened and even desperate. The counselor must help the counselee to see where they have been trying to meet the needs in a sinful way and show them the correct way. You change the person by changing their false or wrong ideas of how their basic needs are to be met. Crabb would agree with Albert Ellis in that if a persons wrong (irrational) beliefs can be changed, the counselees behavior or emotions will change as a result.
The need for significance and security are met fully only in our relationship with Christ. Through Christ we have a purpose for living and can make an eternal impact. God loves us unconditionally and fully. In all relationships with people we will be hurt. No one, including our parents, loves us as fully and completely as God does. Crabb says, "True significance and security are available only to the Christian who is trusting in Christ’s perfect life and substitutionary death as his sole basis of acceptability before a holy God" (Crabb, 1977, p. 71). People without God resort to false means of gaining significance and security. There will always be in these people an ache that only God can fill.
Crabb believes that the image of God in man is contained within four capacities. The parts of the human personality or image of God include them being; personal, rational, volitional, and emotional.
People are beings who have deep longings. Crabb (1987), speaking of the human personality says, "The human personality is a reservoir of the most incredible feelings and ideas" (p. 100). Some Christians are afraid of any amount of self-examination. They are afraid that the Christian will get caught up with themselves and become very self-centered and absorbed.
A problem of fallen human nature is denial. Christians are sometimes urged to not think of themselves and their feelings and to instead focus only on Christ. There are serious problems that can result from spending too much time looking inward. Things that should bring us to repentance may only keep us looking inward. What ever facts we discover about ourselves must be used to fashion us more and more into the likeness of Christ. Once we see how sinful we are, it will drive us to depend on Christ. Crabb (1987) sums up this point when he says, ". . . The whole point of self-exploration is to learn dependency" (p. 103).
The problem with fallen man is they deny their dependency on God. Fallen men believe they can make life work without God. There are two ideas used by Crabb to describe why men are driven to make life work by themselves.
The first idea is what Crabb calls our "innermost being." Our innermost being is "a deep part within us from which should flow rivers of life-giving water" (Crabb, 1987, p. 105). This "space" is a cavity within every person that longs to be filled. When this hollow core is full we tend to experience good feelings, and when it is empty we tend to ignore or deny our feelings. Only Christ can fill this core. If this hollow core is not filled by the Holy Spirit, it will become a terrible, driving force that tirelessly chooses the direction our lives will take. People unconsciously go after whatever they feel will fill their hollow core. "When pleasures of any kind are used to satisfy (or at least quiet) our crucial longings, then the craving for what only God can provide becomes a demanding tyrant, driving us toward whatever relief is available" (Crabb, 1988, p. 96). Any thing used to fill our hollow core, other than God, will only increase our hunger
Any counseling method that does not take into account this empty space, longing to be filled, is unbiblical. All emotional problems we experience comes from our desperately trying to meet our own needs and fill the terrible ache in our hollow core. All sin has its roots in our attempt to fill this bottomless void without God.
The second concept deals with us being "thirsty." People thirst to have their two basic needs met. People are thirsty for love (relationship), and impact (significance). Crabb (1987) says, "Relationship and impact are longings deeply embedded in our hearts that put us in touch with our dependency" (p. 110). When Adam sinned, God pulled back and man suddenly had an empty core. Because of mans’ hatred and rebellion against God, man tries to means and people to fill these needs apart from God. No human can meet these needs in us fully. This causes pain and resentment between people. We feel hurt and angry when they fail to live up to our expectations. People quickly learn to manipulate others to get what they desire out of relationships.
Our thirst also includes our need for impact. We have to have a reason for living. We want (need) to make a difference in our world. The Christian has a very positive reason for living and making an impact. God has a plan for each Christian’s life. We can make an eternal difference in the world around us. Crabb (1987) defines the need for impact as, ". . . a desire to be adequate for a meaningful task, a desire to know that we are capable of taking hold of our world and doing something valuable well" (p. 114).
Crabb believes we are motivated to meet our needs when these needs are not being met. This motivational energy is always directed toward meeting a goal. This goal will be whatever it is we feel will meet our needs. Motivation is channeled to meet this goal, because we believe the goal will satisfy our need. If we cannot reach this goal, negative emotions will be produced. If we believe this goal would have met our need for love or impact, we may feel worthless.
The way to change this motivational energy away from a faulty goal, is to change the counselee’s thinking about what will meet their needs. Crabb (1977) say’s, "My efforts to change should not focus on my behavior but rather on my wrong thinking,"
Dr. Crabb believes that only a Christian can become truly self-actualized. Since only steps three and four can be met fully in a christian, non-christians will always be to a degree self-centered. Since the need for love and Impact (purpose) can never be fully satisfied in them, they will always be trying to use others to meet their own needs. Every non-christian, to a degree, is forever trapped in Maslow’s stages three and four. It is not possible to become a complete, whole person without God, since they are operating from a deficit motivation
Why do christians live carnal lives then? The basic problem is unbelief. They do not truly believe that God is good and that He will meet all their needs. God has truly promised to meet all the needs of his children. Still a lot of Christians do not believe God and experientially are operating from a deficit motivation.
To adequately counsel a client, the counselor must have an accurate understanding of the human personality. The parts that Crabb finds important are, the conscience mind, the unconscious mind, basic direction, will, and emotions.
The conscience mind includes the sentences we tell ourselves. Crabb (1977) says, ". . . events do not control my feelings, my mental evaluation of events (the sentences I tell myself) do affect how I feel" (p. 89). What we believe about a subject or event will affect how we respond to it. An example
would be if the evening news showed that lot’s of pro-abortion laws had been passed by congress that day. The event would be measured by whether I thought abortion was good or bad. Since I believe abortion to be bad, this event would probably result in me having negative feelings. Albert Ellis has had a strong impact on Crabb at this point in his theory of counseling. What the client believes about an event will determine his emotions in response to it, and ultimately affect his behavior.
The unconscious is a vitally important area for Crabb’s theory. He describes the unconscious as, ". . . the reservoir of basic assumptions which people firmly and emotionally hold about how to meet their needs of significance and security" (Crabb, 1977, p. 91). Stored in our unconscious is the belief that our basic needs can be met apart from Christ. We believe we can fix and steer our lives without the help of God. An example could be if the Christians mind has been programmed to believe that only lots of money can make him significant. He may believe or think that if only he had a little more money everything would be ok. Most people find though that, as they make more and more money, it does not satisfy. Adler refers to these untrue beliefs as a person’s guiding fiction.
When a counselor attempts to help the counselee change these attitudes or beliefs that are in the unconscious, he must be prepared for resistance. The counselor must understand that the client may perceive this as a threat and react with resistance. The clients approach to finding worth is being threatened. The counselor needs to reassure the client that he is a worthwhile human being. The counselee needs to feel safe and accepted before he will consider changing his beliefs. The counselor needs to talk in a loving, caring way. Crabb (1984) says, "The protection intended to block out rejecting words also prevents encouraging words from reaching to the core of people" (p. 48).
The heart or basic direction of a person deals with both the rational and emotional parts of a person’s personality. The heart is ". . . that essential part of the person which chooses his basic direction in life" (Crabb, 1977, p. 97). The client has only two basic directions: he can live for God, or he can live a selfish life. A non-christian can only serve himself. A Christian can study the Bible and fill his conscious mind with the biblical truths on how to find significance and security.
A fourth part of the personality structure is the will. People are able to chose their behaviors. People can chose to do what makes sense to them. Their behaviors will be based on their beliefs, and on how they perceive a particular situations possible affects on them.
The final aspect of the personality structure are the emotions. The client has to have correct thinking as a foundation in order to have good feelings. Feelings are good in that they let the client know when something is wrong, and they help the counselor by acting as a guide to trace the problem back to its roots. It is all right for a Christian to feel some negative emotions as long as they do not interfere with compassion for the lost. All emotions spring from a client being in deficit or deficient in meeting his two basic needs, which in turn is caused by wrong thinking.
Having discussed the four parts of the human personality as being: the personal, rational, volitional and emotional, we will now take a more in-depth look at the rational circle.
The second part of the human personality being made in the image of God is that they are rational beings. Crabb (1987) says, "Every ‘personal problem’ (any problem in living not directly traceable to some organic malfunction) has its ultimate roots in a broken relationship with God and a commitment to a higher priority than knowing God" (p. 123). Counseling must deal with the securing of obedience and repentance, to God, from the client.
The foundation for the change process is repentance. The client must repent for more than just wrong, external behavior. Real repentance and change takes more into account than just outward behavior or actions. The counselor needs to have a biblical understanding of sin. A shallow view of sin is
The sin in a clients life results from unconscious beliefs and motives. The job of the counselor is to get past the clients self-defense mechanisms and expose these deep forces in the person’s personality.
Crabb depends heavily on the idea of an iceberg representing a person’s conscious and unconscious. With traditional methods of Christian counseling, like nouthetic counseling, the great mass of sin below the surface of the water, is never discussed, touched or changed. Human thinking is corrupted by the fall. A client’s thinking will likely be sinful because of sin’s powerful affect.
What part of the human mind needs renewal or deep change? The change must come from the person’s heart, mind, and soul. The images and beliefs of the client have to be renewed. "As rational beings we are able to observe both the world and ourselves and to form pictures of what we see" (Crabb, 1987, p. 134). Our beliefs are formed by our efforts to think things through and it results in a relatively firm set of beliefs. As we renew our minds, a shift from independence to dependence on God occurs, and we end up with a changed set of images and beliefs.
People form images or pictures in their minds that give them the ability to react or respond to more than just present events. We do not respond to reality, but to our frame of reference, or how we perceive reality.
A large part of Crabb’s belief of the rational part of man is his view that, "We are all in pain without the fullness that comes only from God" (Crabb, 1987, p. 136). Man’s rational circle is impacted by the constant pain and ache he always feels. This pain, from relationships that cause us pain, motivates us to relieve the pain by whatever method our image or picture of reality, filtered through our minds, tells us to do it. We maintain the illusion, through our unconscious images and beliefs, that we do not need God.
Counselors will need to find out what things have influenced a client’s images and beliefs. Looking into the past is not done to find someone to blame the client’s problems on. Clients will be better able to understand the images and beliefs they now have, if they first understand what factors have influenced them during their childhood. But Crabb (1987) also says, "We are also agents, responsible image bearers who stubbornly refuse to turn to God for the life we fail to find in our parents" (p. 139). The images and beliefs we accept are chosen by us in order to have a way of dealing with life’s disappointments.
The unconscious is where real change has to occur in counseling. Crabb places a lot of emphasis on the unconscious, but with some important distinguishing characteristics from a strictly freudian view. "My understanding of unconscious elements within the personality is rooted in the biblical teaching that, above all else, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked" (Crabb, 1987, p. 143).
An often used illustration of the conscious and unconscious is the idea of an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, the smallest part, is the same as the conscious. The largest part of the iceberg, the unconscious, is below the water level. The conscious contains such things as behaviors, emotions, and beliefs. The unconscious, beneath the water line, contains the images and beliefs which we have chosen, and also the pain from imperfect relationships we have experienced during our lives. If a counselor does not change the unconscious, but changes only the conscious, it will result in only externalism and conformity in the client. Crabb (1987) says, ". . . leaders who work only above the water line produce either robots or rebels" (p. 144). These unconscious beliefs and images can keep us from following and growing in our relationship with God. While these unconscious beliefs and pain can control how we respond and react, we are still responsible because we chose the beliefs and images. Our unconscious is not something separate from us that we can blame for our problems. The unconscious does not control how we respond. We are not victims of our unconscious images and beliefs.
There are two elements that have to be exposed for healing and change to take place. These two elements are self-protective patterns of relating, and relational pain.
People have pain buried in their unconscious that causes them to chose sinful ways of relief. This pain is caused by the crushed hopes of not having another love them fully, and the lack of impact on their close relationships. Because of the pain we have received from relationships, we tend to keep a distance between ourselves and others, to protect us from further pain. We also allow others to touch us personally, but only in a limited way, so that if rejection occurs, serious pain and hurt can be avoided. Crabb (1987) says, ". . . beneath every method of relating can be found a commitment to self-interest, a determination to protect oneself from more relational pain" (p. 148). People intentionally hide how they manipulate and hurt others, in their unconscious.
Every person’s distress and psychological problems, results from not depending on God to satisfy our two basic longings or needs. The sin that keeps us from relying upon God, needs to be exposed and forgiven through repentance. During repentance two steps have to be acknowledged and worked through. The first are those times when our desire for protection from pain is put before obedience to God. The second step involves replacing these self-protective measures with obedience.
Repenting of a sinful behavior is incomplete and only partial repentance. To truly repent the client needs to feel and experience his deeply entrenched pain within his unconscious. By feeling and expressing the unconscious pain, the client can recognize his methods of self-protection which he has been practicing. Forgiveness and involvement are the fruit or sign of real repentance and change. Deep repentance in essence involves getting rid of manipulative styles of relating in order to achieve risky involvement with others.
Our rational circles become filled as our wrong beliefs about how to manipulate and meet our longings are replaced by the truth and wisdom of God. Repentance is the first step towards filling our rational and personal needs or circles. Repentance results from exposing the client’s wrong strategies for meeting his needs, and the hidden pain within the unconscious.
The third part of the human personality involves a person’s volition or ability to chose. People like to be in charge. Nobody likes to be confused about what decisions to make. For fallen man, the accuracy of his decisions is not as important as his struggle to believe he is truly independent. Because of people doing whatever it takes to live for themselves, their capacity to chose is badly distorted to keep from having to admit their dependence. The client may settle for a premature explanation, but still have a nagging doubt in the back of his mind, because he is not willing to think further on an issue, because of the fear of confusion.
Speaking of human responsibility, Crabb (1987) says, "Psychiatry and psychology have rightly been criticized for sometimes explaining human struggles in a way that weakens personal accountability" (p. 158). People were created in the image of God with the ability to chose, and even though this has been affected by the fall, are still responsible for their choices.
The final cause of all behavior is personal choice. The capacity of people to chose can be divided into two parts. God created man with the ability to chose behavior and to chose goals. All behavior is directed toward reaching a goal. A person will chose a goal that is meant to relieve their personal circle pain.
People may, in reality, have a choice ov
The client will often have to face the sinful, ugly, goals beneath their behavior before the route to true joy appears. The client must repent of trying to fill their personal circle wrongly, and enter into their pain. Crabb (1987) says, "When his core direction is perceived, the man will be able to understand that the root choice he faces is not whether or not to masturbate, but rather, whether to trust God for personal fullness or to depend on one’s own methods of fullness" (p. 167). The person’s feeling of being able to chose will be restored as they understand how they have been trying to protect themselves from personal circle pain. The fundamental goals must be seen before the client will feel his choice has been restored.
The last part of the human personality deals with man as an emotional being. God made man an emotional being. It is okay for us to hurt over life’s disappointments.
There are three things the counselor needs to know in order to understand people as emotional beings. "Hurting Christians must embrace their pain, not deny it out of quilt" (Crabb, 1987, p. 173). Christians are not to deny their pain.
The first thing a counselor needs to know is where emotions originate from. Emotions can be divided into two types: pleasant-unpleasant; and constructive-destructive. Normally, pleasant events will produce good (pleasant) emotions, and unpleasant events will produce negative (unpleasant) emotions. The second type of emotions, constructive-destructive, are very important. Any emotion that interferes with our relationships with others, and especially God, is destructive. All emotions must be evaluated and not denied because they might be sinful. "A commitment to trust the Lord deeply with the core of our being can turn every emotion, even the most painful, into constructive avenues for more fully pursuing God" (Crabb, 1987, P. 183).
The second thing a counselor can do with emotions is learn from them. Emotions can warn us when we are heading in the wrong direction. Then can signal us when there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Emotions can also guide us in what questions to ask, depending on the type of emotion.
The third thing we must know is what to do with emotions. The first thing we should not do is deny them. "Our deceitful hearts are capable of hiding strong emotions (particularly rage) which, if recognized and properly handled, could lead to life-changing repentance" (Crabb, 1987, p. 185). We have to be able to "feel" our own emotions before we will be able to touch another person deeply with our relationship and God’s love.
With these aspects of the personality in mind, let us now take a look at how problems develop. Problems develop when whatever has been providing the client with a sense of worth is gone or damaged. Crabb makes a distinction between the two primary needs, and the secondary or acquired needs. Acquired needs are the ways we have developed to meet our primary needs. We "need" whatever it is that makes us feel purpose and love. The acquired needs are taught to us by our culture. An example would be how slim or fat a woman should be. In the United States a woman is usually encouraged worth more when she is skinnier. She will receive more positive remarks. She may then end up relying on her physical appearance for her personal worth.
Motivation is the second concept Crabb discusses in dealing with how problems develop. He says, "The direction which I am motivated to follow in an effort to meet my needs depends on. . . what I think will meet those needs" (Crabb, 1977, p. 117). The client is motivated to meet his needs for being loved and have a purpose for living. Since man is fallen, his motivational energy may be directed toward the wrong goal.
The motivational energy of the client is directed according to his presuppositions, also called basic assumptions, that he has learned throughout his life. When a client forms a basic assumption, his behavior now has a goal to work towards. If the client is trying to fill his basic needs or longings with anything other than God, psychological problems will result. The ideal is for God to meet the crucial or basic needs of both single and married people.
The only goal that truly satisfies is God. If a client has a wrong assumption of what will meet his needs, and does finally reach his wrong goal, it will not fully satisfy. He will have to set another goal and then another and another. This pattern may continue throughout the clients entire life.
Psychological problems, like depression, are caused by an obstacle blocking a person’s effort, as they try to reach their goal. These obstacles can be divided into three types: the unreachable goal, external circumstances, and a fear of failure.
If the goal was unreachable, the client will feel quilt and develop a lower self-esteem. If the client believes he was prevented from reaching a goal because of an external circumstance, he may feel resentment towards what he perceives is the obstacle. The last category is the fear of failure. If the client is afraid of failing and is prevented from reaching his goal by this fear, he will experience anxiety. These three emotions: quilt, anxiety, and resentment, are the foundation of most personal problems.
The change the counselor tries to bring into the counselee’s life must agree with God’s absolute standards. This change must bring them closer in their relationship with God. So what does a counselor try to help a counselee change? The counselee’s need for significance and security cannot be changed. The motivation of the client to meet his needs is also an innate part of him and cannot be changed. It is Crabb’s (1977) belief that, "Every problem in the model can be avoided completely if the basic assumption is in line with revealed truths" (p. 139). The main, most effective way to help a client change, is to change their basic assumptions which are the causes of their problems. The client must be shone how to depend on God alone to meet his fundamental needs. Crabb links changing our basic assumptions, and renewing our minds, as being essentially the same thing. The client’s wrong way of trying to meet his goal, his need for significance and security, will change to a more biblical way as his thinking and beliefs change.
Before continuing on, let us review the three main emotional problems that are at the root of all psychological symptoms. The first is anxiety which is produced when a person tries to reach a goal which is not guaranteed. If the goal is reasonable and can be achieved given the persons circumstances, no anxiety will be produced. If the person may or may not reach the goal, that is it may be out of their reach, anxiety will be produced. If the goal is reachable but the person does not reach it because of irresponsibility, they will feel guilt. The client will feel false guilt if the goal was never reachable. The client will
Let us look now at a general way Crabb’s system can be used to counsel, and the steps that need to be taken. Crabb’s style or theory of counseling can be divided into seven major steps.
The first stage would deal with identifying problem feelings. Feelings are to be used by the counselor as road maps to point toward the root of the problem. It will not help the client a whole lot if they express their feelings but do not deal with the underlying cause.
In the second stage the counselor tries to identify the goal oriented behavior that is causing the counselee problems. Changing the behavior without changing the goal may keep the counselee from improving. The counselor needs to find out if the goal is truly biblical. He does this by finding out what is the basic assumption of the counselee. The client’s basic assumption may not be biblical. If the client’s basic assumption’s about how to meet his needs is wrong, then his goal will also be wrong. If the basic assumption can be changed, the client’s goal will become more biblical.
During the third stage the counselor tries to figure out the wrong patterns or beliefs that have contributed to the client’s problems. The goal of the counselor is to guide the client into replacing his wrong thinking with the biblical way. The client has to understand that the biblical way of meeting his needs is the only way that will work. The counselor needs to help the client understand where his wrong assumption crept into his thinking. The client can change a faulty belief easier when he understands how or where he learned it. It is also easier for them to rationally consider their beliefs and thinking if they are allowed to express their emotions freely. Changing the client’s thinking toward a biblical standard is stage four.
The next stage, five, involves the counselor in trying to get the client to make a commitment to act consistently with his new knowledge. The client has to act on his new belief even when his feels like he does not want to. They have to act on what is consistent with the Bible, whether they want to or not. Crabb (1977) says that the client must act on his new beliefs, ". . . regardless of how he feels" (p. 156). The Bible holds us responsible for doing what we know is God’s will.
The client must decide what behavior must be done differently. The client must then carry out this behavior in his life. He has to practice this behavior until it becomes habit.
The last stage, seven, entails the client identifying the good feelings (spirit induced feelings), that are present in the his life. The counselor can help the client to recognize and focus on these good feelings which result from abiding in Christ.
Crabb identifies three different levels of counseling that can take place in a local church.
The first level is a Christian giving encouragement to another who needs it. This would involve a lay person encouraging another with the problems they are experiencing. If the problem cannot be helped with this method, the client can be referred to the next level. This first level of counseling can be done by any Christian. The second level is the level of exhortation. The counselor would look at their problem and come up with something the client could do to improve the situation. Usually this level stays in the behavioral stage. This level of counseling is usually done by a mature Christian. The third and final level is the level covered by most of Crabb’s books. This is the level of enlightenment. The thinking behind the client’s problems will be explored to find out were it deviates from a biblical norm. This level is usually only done by a counselor who has had specific education and training.
Let us now briefly summarize Crabb’s counseling approach.
First man has the need to feel worthwhile. This need can be broken into two specific parts: the need for significance (Impact, power), and the need for security (Relationship, unconditional love). Nobody in this world has these two needs totally fulfilled. There are people around each person who have caused them pain because of failing them, conditional love, etc.. Because man is fallen and sinful, man has a thirst that drives them to find love and meaning. Only God can fully meet these needs and so the person ends up with even more pain.
To help someone in counseling, several things need to be done. The first is the person must "feel" their pain that they have pushed into their unconscious. Next they have to see how they have chosen wrong images and wrong beliefs about how these needs should be met. If the client can understand how their wrong beliefs and faulty images of reality have caused them to reach for the wrong goal, their behavior will change and the goal which they are trying to reach will also change.
Though Larry Crabb claims to be biblical, there are many Christian counselors who believe his approach to be unbiblical. Some of these points of difference will be discussed both pro and con.
One argument against Crabb’s teachings is that his education and thinking is as a psychologist. Owens (1993) says, "He thinks like a psychologist, talks like a psychologist, and derives most of his presuppositions. . . from non-biblical, psychological sources rather than from the Scriptures" (p. 22). This argument is only correct if, as Owens assumes, all psychotherapy is unbiblical.
Crabb’s method of integrating theology and psychology, called spoiling the egyptians, places a priority on making sure the foundation of his counseling system is biblical. His approach is to begin with the Bible and a theological framework. The data gathered by psychology can be used to fill in the theological framework. There are as many different theologies as theologians. Crabb’s teachings need to be measured by the Bible, and not rejected, out right, just because of his background.
Some critics also try to find fault with him on his view of the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bobgans’ (1989) say Crabb is, ". . . adding unverified psychological theories and techniques to biblical data. . ." (p. 120). Crabb believes that a counseling theory mustemerge from the Bible, and not just be consistent with it. The Bible does not answer every question directly. All important questions though will fit into a theological category or biblical principle. No psychological theory or idea that violates any biblical truth is to be accepted as true.
One of the major points of argument between Crabb and his critics, is the theory of the unconscious. Crabb’s critics usually place Freud’s view of the unconscious onto Crabb’s. Most miss the point that while there are similarities, there are also many differences between Freud and Crabb. A few of these differences are: the unconscious does not control us, we are not victims of our unconscious, the fact of sin and movement away from God, and human responsibility.
Some Christians differ from Crabb on the importance of the fifth level of Maslows need theory, self-actualization. Crabb believes that on this level, the person becomes non-egocentric, or other-centered. Adams (1986) says, "To speak of ‘the last need of self-actualization’ as ‘non-egocentric’ makes no sense. The actualization of my need-even the need to give-is clearly egocentric in motivation" (p. 34). God can give us the ability to give in a godly way, without getting anything in return. Crabb does believe that only a Christian can reach this last stage (Maslow’s last stage or level). Crabb speaks to this subject when he says, "If we are to to be more than humanistic, relying on our own resources to become all we can be, then dependence on God as we seek to obey Him must go beyond inspiring rhetoric, it must become vital reality" (Crabb, 1989, p. 21).
Crabb understands than it is possible for people to spend so much time on trying to meet their own needs, that the
Morrison shows how easy it is for someone who is set on finding error in another’s teachings to find it, if they look hard enough, and also how easy it is to misrepresent someone, even if your on their side. Crabb has to be understood for what he teaches, not what others teach on the same subject matter.
Tony Walter ( 1985) believes that, ". . . human need was never central to Christian theology. What was central was God’s grace, not human needs" (p. 13). Some counselors are so afraid to admit that people might have needs or longings that could prevent them from being responsible for their behavior, that they eliminate all needs as unnecessary and psychological. We can admit that people have needs or desires without allowing that belief to control all our thinking and behavior.
Crabb is not the only Christian who believes that the need for significance and security are important. Neil Anderson (1993) has written a book on the subject which says, "Our tendency is to think only of our physical needs, but the critical needs are the "being" needs, and they are the ones wonderfully met in Christ" (p. 14). The well know author, R.C. Sproul (1991) wrote, "Deeply ensconced in the marrow of our bones is the aspiration for significance" (p. 20). Both of these books go into great depth discussing the need of every person for love and impact in their world.
One other point of difficulty with Crabb, is the idea that his system of needs only takes into account good desires or longings. He does not believe that the desires we experience are ever evil. Owens (1993) speaks to this point when he says, "But Scripture also speaks of evil longings or desires (Gal. 5:16). All the longings men feel are neither neutral nor related to our createdness" (p. 27). The NIV (1984) version of the Bible says, "But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:14). The NASV (1977) says, "and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. . ." (2 Pet. 2:10). Crabb’s system does not take into account that even our desires have become sinful. Crabb approaches the counseling situation with the idea that the client’s goal is wrong. The Bible shows that not only can the goal be wrong, the desire can be sinful also.
Speaking of the sufficiency of Scripture, Morrison says, ". . . the Bobgans’ seem to conceive of him as teaching that the Scriptures are a structure with holes in it. . ." (Morrison, 1993, p. 5). To this the Bobgans’ respond by saying, "Either the Scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness or they must leave room for extra biblical additions to diagnose the condition of man and prescribe treatment" (Bobgan, 1993, p. 15). Morrison seems to miss the point that Crabb uses the Bible to provide a framework of biblical categories. Psychology can then be used to fill in some of the more direct answers. The Bobgans’ would be right in their understanding if there is nothing good in psychology. Morrison is afraid to admit that Crabb might have used any psychology in his counseling.
In closing I would like to say that Crabb’s thinking has recently gone through a major change in emphasis. His thinking is now focused on God and how to grow closer in our relationship to him, instead of on personal problems to the degree he used to. His brother died in 1991 and it caused him to rethink his priorities. His basic system is still the same though. Some things he says now are, "As we explore our own lives, we must never get so immersed in ourselves that we fail to remember that there is something far more wonderful to ponder" and "I am not the point. He is. I exist for him. He does not exist for me. . . are we committed to knowing God. . . to becoming like the Son whom the Father adores. . ." (Crabb, 1993, p. 41). This particular book by Crabb has one goal, the only important goal, finding God.
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Anderson, N., T., (1993). Living Free in Christ: The truth about Who You Are in Christ and How Christ Can Meet Your Deepest needs. Ventura: Regal Books.
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Bobgan, M., & Bobgan, D., (1993). Trevor Morrison: Devoted to God and His Word, or to Dr. Lawrence Crabb and His Teachings? Santa Barbara: EastGate.
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Morrison, T., (1993). Misunderstanding People: A Rebuttal of Martin and Deidre Bobgans’ Criticisms of Dr. Lawrence Crabb. Unpublished manuscript.
Owens, J., (1993). Christian Psychology’s War on God’s Word. Santa Barbara: EastGate.
Owens, J., (1993). Inside and Back Out With Dr. Larry Crabb. Santa Barbara: EastGate.
Sproul, R., C., (1991). The Hunger For Significance. Ventura: Regal Books.
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