The Inerrancy Debate and Counseling
The Inerrancy Debate and the Use of Scripture in Counseling
In attempting to side-step the crucial implications of the current inerrancy debate, many evangelicals have tried to suggest that the controversy is nothing more than a semantical battle of terminologies and definitions. In this article, the inerrancy debate is viewed as it affects the role of pastoral counseling. In particular, the author examines the issues of “Christian” feminism and homosexuality, concluding that a weak view of the Scripture will always lead to a weak view of morality. Serious problems result from allowing cultural hermeneutics to redefine clear biblical revelation.
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The vast majority of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals alike hold to a belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures in their original autographs as the proper view of biblical inspiration. Most conservatives base their position on the teaching of the Scripture itself and trace the formulation of the plenary-verbal inspiration concept to the crystalization of that position by Warfield and the Princeton theologians of the nineteenth century. To Fundamentalists, the inerrancy of Scripture is ultimately linked to the legitimacy and authority of the
Bible. We view the Bible as being God-breathed and thus free from error in all its statements and affirmations. However, today there is a debate raging within Evangelical circles regarding the total inerrancy of the Scriptures.
I. The Inerrancy Debate
The recent and explosive evaluation of the left-wing Evangelical capitulation to limited errancy by Harold Lindsell has raised strong objections to the drift away from inerrancy by many whose historical roots go back to the birth of Fundamentalism. In commenting on this drift within Evangelicalism from another perspective, Richard Quebedeaux observes that the old concepts of infallibility and inerrancy are being reinterpreted to the point that a number of Evangelical scholars are saying that the teaching of scripture, rather than the text, is without error. Some have gone so far as to recognize and even categorize the marks of cultural conditioning on Scripture. It is the latter issue which has such strong implication in relation to the use of scripture in counseling.
In current European theology we are told that truth is “near at hand in the Bible and yet will remain relatively hidden to us.” The Bible is “inspired” only in that in its human story we experience the Word of God as God, in a paradoxical manner, “speaks” to us through this volume of human writings. Thus, the ultimate issue of the truth of Scripture rests upon the subjective experience of the believer. The “Word of God” within the Bible becomes a “canon within a canon” and eventually contemporary theologians become reluctant to define what biblical content is in fact the “Word of God.” This leaves the biblical counselor with no absolute standard by which to minister God’s truth to people. Thus, it is not surprising to notice that the word “Scripture” does not even appear in several recent works on “Christian Psychology.”
II. Counseling and the Inspiration of Scripture
Have you ever tried to sell or promote something in which you did not really believe? It is a miserable experience! The salesman who has no confidence in his product will reluctantly knock on your door, hoping no one will answer. The same is true of the pastor who has no real confidence in the Bible or his ability to apply its truth to the lives of his people. When the counselee calls for help, he will think up an excuse to avoid answering him, or slip out the side door of the study while his secretary stalls the distressed soul in the outer office.
While engaged in a revival crusade in a large metropolitan city a few years ago, a dejected pastor came to me after a service and said,
“It all seems so empty.” “What does?” I asked. He went on to explain that he had visited someone in the hospital that day and after listening to the person’s tale of trouble, he replied (holding up his Bible), “God has the answer.” He felt like he was deceiving people, merely repeating an empty epithet or a corny cliche. “It just isn’t enough,” he muttered. “There must be something more I could have said.”
“Of course,” I responded, “there is much more that you could have said!” What was wrong? He believed the Bible, but he did not use it. “What concepts did you teach her? What verses did you give her? What principles did you develop from the Scripture that applied to her problem?” I asked. Why was he so dejected? Because he had failed as a minister and as a counselor. He lost confidence in his results because he had no method. That woman needed to be reminded of God’s sovereignty over sickness and his desire to teach and comfort her during this time (cf. 2 Cor 1:3–7). She needed to see this time as a meaningful, though difficult, experience in her life. She needed truth and he gave her half-truth. The effective Christian counselor cannot merely wave the Bible over people as if it were a magic wand. He must open it and explain and apply its truths to the soul in need.
A. Thy Word is Truth: Confidence in the Message
In Harold Lindsell’s important and controversial book, The Battle for the Bible, he raises the question of the trustworthiness of Scripture. “Is the Bible a reliable guide to religious knowledge?” he asks. If it is, then the minister of God has every reason to hold tenaciously to its truths above the prevalent opinion of his contemporaries. Nearly every major school of thought in philosophy
and psychology rejects the authority of the Bible. Therefore, it is virtually impossible and epistemologically disastrous to attempt a merger between biblical truths and anti-biblical concepts. This is clearly evident among those who have attempted to integrate liberalism and orthodoxy in theology.
The pastor as a Christian counselor stands in a unique position, having been equipped with a manual of instruction. All genuine biblical counseling presupposes the reliability of that book. Apart from the message of God’s truth, Charles Ping is right when he refers to religious language as “meaningful nonsense.” The minister of that word is more than an integrator of psychology and religion; he is the interpreter and applicator of that word. Therefore, all of his theological studies and their practical application rest upon his view of the Bible.
Edward J. Young raised the issue of the dependability of Scripture and related it to applied theology when he warned: “If, therefore, the Church today takes the wrong turning and finds herself in the land of despair and doubt, she has not harkened to the Guidebook, but has allowed herself to be deceived by signposts with which her enemy has tampered.”
John Warwick Montgomery has analyzed the modern preacher from the archetype of Rev. Eccles in John Updike’s novel, Rabbit, Run, where the minister feels deeply the needs of frustrated modern man, but is totally incapable of meeting those needs because he has no authoritative word of judgment or grace to offer him. Certainly such a biblically impoverished ecclesiastic has little real help to offer those with real problems. Thus, the ultimate origin of the erroneous idea that the pastor is not qualified to counsel has arisen from a theological lack of confidence in the power of Scripture. This leaves the so-called minister a victim of professional secular psychologists as his only course of help. The pastor’s escape from responsibility is: “See a psychiatrist.” The psychiatrist’s escape from responsibility is: “See a pharmacist.”
The Bible itself claims to be a divine message from God. It is not “the” truth; it is truth! All truth may not be in the Bible, but all that is in the Bible is true. The Bible itself is the standard of what is in fact true. Jesus himself prayed, “Sanctify them through thy word: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). He proclaimed that his words were not his own, “but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:24). The psalmist sang, “The words of the Lord are pure words as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps 12:6). The Apostle Paul wrote: “…but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess 2:13). That the Scriptures claim to be, and that Jesus Christ believed them to be, the infallible revelation of God is a matter beyond dispute.
The Bible is indispensable in our knowledge of God and of his will. Young urged: “A return to the Bible is the greatest need of our day…unless the church is willing to hear the Word of God, she will soon cease to be the church of the living God.”
B. Thy Word Works: Confidence in Counseling
If the Bible is the inspired word of God, then it will prove to be so in that it fulfills its claims and promises. I once sat next to a young college student on a flight from Indianapolis to Detroit. We began talking about religion and the Bible. After listening to the claims of Scripture, he asked, “But how do you know for sure that the Bible is true?” I explained that if he took a course in chemistry and the textbook claimed that the mixture of two chemicals would produce a certain result, he could only prove that for certain by personal experimentation. “How could you know the book was correct?” I asked. “When I did what it said,” he replied, “it would work.” “That is exactly how you can know that the Bible is true,” I announced. “When you do what it says, it works!”
The Bible, I further explained, tells me about a Person who can change my life by faith in him alone. When I did what the Book said, I experienced exactly what it claimed I would: the assurance of eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.
Not only does the Bible claim to prepare men for heaven but for life on earth as well. The significance of the Sermon on the Mount is that it is a spiritual message designed to equip man to live on earth. This is also emphasized in the well-known passage from Paul: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16–17). The “man of God” in the context is the minister of God’s word. He has been fully equipped by that word to teach, reprove, correct, and instruct the people of God. The Christian counselor must operate in the confidence that the Bible works because it is truth.
It is exactly in this regard that Jay Adams has challenged self-styled “Christian counseling” which wants the Bible as a “tack-on” to its ideas, but not as the sole foundation of its methodology. It is with complete confidence that God has designed the Scriptures to speak to the inner emotional and spiritual needs of man that this article has been prepared to apply a specific body of Scripture to those needs through the means of nouthetic counseling.
For Adams, the use of Scripture in counseling involves an interaction of five essential factors:
1. A biblical understanding of the counselee’s problem, from…
2. A clear understanding of the Holy Spirit’s telos in scriptural passages appropriate to both the problem and the solution, and…
3. A meeting of man’s problem and God’s full solution in counseling, according to…
4. The formulation of a biblical plan of action, leading toward…
5. Commitment to scriptural action by the counselee.
Nouthetic counseling requires a prior knowledge of Scripture on the part of the counselor. He must be “thoroughly furnished” in order to teach, reprove, correct, and instruct the counselee. It is the fear that the Bible does not have the answer to the problem that forces many pastoral couselors to abandon it in favor of some other approach. This practice must be stopped before the pastoral counselor finds himself adrift in a maelstrom of conflict and confusion.
Most non-Christian and non-biblical counseling errs on the very first point of Adams’s scheme. It fails to understand the counselee’s problem biblically and hence is able neither to diagnose it adequately nor to treat it effectively. The basic understanding of man is essential to one’s personality theory and method of therapy. Thus, the use of Scripture in nouthetic counseling could just as easily be called “Bible therapy”!
As the counselor studies the principles of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is building a reserve bank of divine truth from which he may draw during the counseling process. The counselee also has the opportunity to learn from these truths himself as he studies and applies his “homework” assignment in Scripture.
Nouthetic counseling is really Christian or biblical counseling. Adams has emphasized the word “nouthetic” simply to distinguish a system of biblically oriented counseling in contrast to semi-secularized, quasi-christianized, so-called Christian counseling. Nouthetic counseling takes seriously the biblical commands to “admonish,” “teach,” “exhort,” “reprove,” “correct,” “instruct.” The Greek word νουθήσις focuses upon confrontation of the client by the counselor, with the aim of bringing about repentant change of behavior. The fundamental
purpose of nouthetic confrontation is to effect personality and character change by the power of the Holy Spirit using the inspired Word of God to speak through the counselor to the counselee. Nouthetic counseling is an applied confrontation with the inspired truths and principles of Scripture.
III. Counseling and Cultural Contextualization
Probably the most crucial issue of the inerrancy debate relating to the area of Christian counseling is the attempt of the so-called “Biblical Feminists” to discount the implications of scriptural statements regarding the male-female relationship as it is defined in the Bible. Thus, the “Biblical feminists” encourage a hermeneutic of “deculturization,” arguing that one cannot “absolutize the culture in which the Bible was written.” Hence, the “cultural contamination” of the biblical writers leaves their statements open to reinterpretation in light of a different culture which exists today. That which is judged to be culturally conditioned is then rejected as “not binding” on today’s believer.
A. Cultural Discrepancies
While Jewett affirms the “inspiration” of Scripture, he definitely allows for some discrepancy between God’s eternal “Word” and the words of the biblical writers. In wrestling with the apparent contradictions between what he views as the biblical view of women and St. Paul’s emphasis upon female submission, Jewett concludes that Paul’s human limitations dominate in the passages that teach female subordination.
In her evaluation of their position Susan Foh states:
To summarize, the biblical feminists see irreconcilable contradictions in the Bible’s teaching on women. These contradictions are resolved by acknowledging that the Bible reflects human limitations. The culture in biblical times was patriarchal, and the men who wrote the Bible were inextricably influenced by their culture… Therefore, the biblical feminists reason, we must remove cultural elements from the Bible to recover God’s truth; we must deculturize the Bible.
Thus, the “Biblical Feminists” actually carry Barth’s exposition of Eph 5:21–33 even further than he intended by advocating a total reversability of male/female roles. The more liberal “Christian Feminists” go further yet, denying the legitimacy of any sexual identity and advocating a non-divine, fallible Christ.
In the realm of Christian counseling, such an approach to the authority and meaning of Scripture becomes ludicrous. The Biblical statements may be flatly rejected as being propositional and may be reinterpreted solely in the light of one’s contemporary culture. Thus, culture, not the Scripture, becomes the ultimate authority in one’s life. However, a sound exegesis of biblical passages reveals just the opposite! The Scripture consistently speaks against the culture of its day. Therefore, it is tragic to see the unwitting capitulation of writers such as Helen Beard who adopt Jewett’s reasoning as an excuse for “elevating” women beyond the “limitations of culturally-conditioned” Scripture in order to free them for a more “positive ministry.”
An honest study of the Scripture would never raise such issues as marital role reversal or the ordination of women. These have arisen within certain Christian circles only because they are related to issues in the wider secular culture. The Church has always stood uniquely in her non-conformity to culture. She has had to place revelation over culture in order to determine God’s sure word of direction in moral and ethical issues. Like the first-century church, we dare not base our Christian ethics upon a fallible contemporary culture but upon the unchanging principles of God’s inerrant word.
B. Moral Discrepancies
The legality and non-legality of specific sexual acts is currently a very controversial topic. In every era there have been conservative people who held traditional beliefs about the dignity of the family. Based upon the heritage of the Judaeo-Christian ethic, they have believed that forms of sexual activity which violate the monogamous male/female relationship are injurious to the health of society and, therefore, should be declared unlawful.
Whereas adultery is now looked upon by many as an “unfortunate disloyalty,” it is called an act of sin in the Bible (1 Cor 6:18). Homosexuality is equally condemned in both the OT and NT (Deut 23:17; Rom 1:26–28). Incest was prohibited by the Law of Moses (Lev 20:11–17) and denounced by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 5:1–5).
1. Biblical Ethics Vs. Natural Ethics
To biblically committed people the ultimate issue in ethics is that of revealed ethics as opposed to natural ethics. Thus, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews acknowledge a common ethic based upon theism (belief in God). The Judaeo-Christian theistic ethic finds its basis in the OT and NT scriptures. Cornelius Van Til clarifies this matter, stating: “What we mean is that the Old and the New Testaments together contain the special revelation of God to the sinner, without which we could have no true ethical interpretation of life at all.”
Likewise, the theist’s view of the function of law is based upon the legal-ethical commands of God as revealed to the writers of Scripture. Russell Kirk notes that even Plato argued that the achievement of justice could not be gained by following nature (as some sophits had declared); rather, it could be found only by obeying the νόμος (law). The question is, whose law? Are we to acknowledge the laws of God as revealed in Scripture or the general consensus of society?
The maintenance of any society depends upon the conscious holding to an enforcing of some form of law. The function of law is essential to any society’s stability and perpetuity. Jewish and Christian concepts of law go back to the self-revelation of God to man. “Thou shalt not” is the basis of divine law from the opening chapters of the Bible. It is reinforced in the commands of Moses which governed every aspect of Jewish life and in the teachings of Jesus who urged his followers: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19–20). Thus, human consent to any matter is irrelevant if it does not bear the sanction of God’s approval.
2. “Christian” Homosexuality and the Bible
In both liberal and evangelical circles the issue of homosexuals demanding sanction by the church has become a volatile issue. In some denominations, homosexuals have even demanded acceptance into ordination of the professional clergy. Some have gone so far as to use the contextualization of culture as an argument for reinterpreting the Biblical statements about homosexuality as merely reflecting an overt heterosexual bias against homosexuals. One author argues that Paul’s restrictions regarding homosexuals in Romans 1 are based upon a pro-Roman (anti-Greek) cultural disposition and not the heart of a loving God. Thus, apostolic “opinions” are neither applicable to nor infallible for today’s society. Hudson argues:
1. Man did not fully understand or comprehend the “sexual nature” of man before or during the time of Paul’s apostolic ministry.
2. Homosexuality was a forbidden practice of the Jews, and so traditionally held by Christians as well.
3. Prior to Paul’s conversion he was a member of the Pharisees…which oriented his thinking about “right and wrong” practices for conduct.
4. Jesus did not speak on the subject of homosexuality.
5. Therefore, Paul was in error when he made culturally-conditioned statements about homosexuals without any clear revelation from God.
The basis of this type of reasoning denies the legitimate inspiration of Scripture and the inerrancy of its statements on moral issues. The implications for Christian counseling are overwhelming. Since counseling involves the interpretation and application of the scriptures to moral and ethical issues, it is of vital importance that one’s doctrine
of inerrant inspiration form the basis of his approach to counseling. if the Bible is not really the Word of God, then propositional revelation is not binding upon the Church. Thus, every generation could subjectively interpret for itself what Biblical concepts it would accept as legitimate for its culture.
The Bible is the basis of all Christian ministry. Its doctrines form the standard of conduct for the Church. With these as his foundation, the pastoral counselor must reprove, correct, and instruct (2 Tim 3:16). The time has come for an avalanche of biblical materials for use in counseling. It is time the pastor equipped with the inerrant Word of God began using it with confidence to the glory of God and the benefit of his congregation.
Grace Seminary, Grace Theological Journal Volume 3
(Grace Seminary, 1982; 2002), 3:207-219.
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