Howard Eyrich, D.Min. and Ed Hindson, D.Phil.
The great themes of the Bible focus on what God does for us, rather than what we do for Him. These themes were the basis of the Reformation, and they form the central beliefs of Protestant Christianity today. Ultimately, they distinguish between a religion of works and one of evangelical faith.
The Bible teaches that we cannot work our way to God. We cannot reach heaven by human self-effort. Rather, God has worked his way to us. He has reached down to meet us at the point of our human inadequacy. That is what the biblical doctrine of grace is all about. It is about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Grace has always run counter to unregenerate human nature. Our flesh wants to justify itself – to ourselves, to others, and to God. “I can take care of myself,” it wants to shout back at God’s grace. “I will find the strength within me to solve all my problems,” it continues. “Thanks God, but I don’t need your help,” it insists.
This basic theological issue is at the core of all Christian ministry, including Christian counseling. How we do counseling will be determined by our theology – or lack of theology! A person cannot do distinctively Christian counseling without a distinctively Christian theology. He or she cannot properly evaluate the spiritual legitimacy of secular counseling themes without an adequate grasp of biblical truth.
The doctrine of grace alone eliminates all systems of self-effort, self-love, and self-importance. Grace causes us to see our total inadequacy in light of God’s total sufficiency. Grace irresistibly draws us to God, the cross, and the Savior. It is the expression of divine love; it tells us that there is hope. Grace tells us that God loves us in spite of our sins, our failures, our inadequacies, our guilt, and our pain. Grace tells us that God loves us in spite of ourselves.
Dr Chris Thurman, a licensed psychologist and popular speaker, has recently dealt with this issue in his book Self-Help or Self-Destruction?1 In the book, Thurman candidly shares about the struggles he faced in his attempts to balance biblical truth with popular psychology. As his own understanding of theology matured, he became less confident in many of the concepts he had learned in school. He said, ”It wasn’t untilI had been out of school for a number of years that it began to dawn on me … that some – maybe a lot – of what I had been taught was simply not valid.”2
In his book, Thurman attacks what he calls “ten pop psychology myths that could destroy your life,” arguing that each one is unbiblical and, therefore, untrue. Here is his list of dangerous pop psychology myths:
1. People are basically good.
2. You need more self-esteem and self-worth.
3. You can’t love others until you love yourself.
4. You shouldn’t judge anyone.
5. All guilt is bad.
6. You need to think more positively.
7. Staying in love is the key to a great relationship.
8. You have unlimited power and potential.
9. Your happiness is the most important thing.
10. God can be anything you want Him to be.
Years ago, a wise old preacher said: “Knowing the Bible will unfit you for a lot of preaching!” The same could be said for a lot of counseling. Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is true. And if it isn’t true, then it doesn’t really work.
TRUTH IS THE BOTTOM LINE
Businessmen are known for asking each other to cut through the sales pitch and “get to the bottom line.” In Christianity, truth is the “bottom line.” Truth and truth alone decides what is valid and what is invalid. The Christian faith sits on the pillars of basic truth claims. Without these basic truths there is no basis for claiming that what we believe really matters.
The essential truths of the Christian faith include:
1. The Divine Inspiration of the Bible.
If the Bible is not the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God, then it does not really matter what it says. It is nothing more than a collection of ancient myths, traditions, and human wisdom. Any counselor who claims to be a Christian yet doesn’t believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture will not take it seriously when it comes to telling a client what the Lord desires for our lives.
2. The Existence of an Infinite, Personal God
If the God of the Bible is not the true and only God then it does not matter what He thinks or what He has said. If each person can fashion his own “god” to meet his own needs, then counselees do not need a personal relationship with the God of the Bible. If they can subjectively find “god” within themselves, then they do not need objective faith in a God who is outside themselves. Counselors who do not hold a biblical view of God will have no incentive to introduce counselees to that God.
3. The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ
If Jesus is not really the divine Son of God, the promised Messiah, or the Savior of mankind, then He was nothing more than a fallible human being. In fact, He was a liar and a deceiver. Yet He claimed to be God (John 8:58), He received worship (John 9:38), He claimed to be able to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2–6), and He promised people eternal life (John 5:24). Either He was who He said He was or He was in desperate need of psychological help! As C.S. Lewis remarked, “Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of lords!”3
4. Salvation by Grace
If our personal salvation is not by grace alone, then we must teach people to work their way to heaven. There can be no legitimate Christian counseling that does not understand the biblical nature of God’s grace. Both legalism and liberalism miss the mark on the issue of grace. God must initiate the process of salvation by extending His unmerited favor to us. Any attempt at Christian counseling that falls short of understanding and emphasizing the grace of God is doomed to humanistic self-effort and failure.
5. Substitutionary Atonement
If Jesus Christ did not die in our place, taking the wrath of God for our sins, then we have no hope of eternal salvation. It does not matter if your religion satisfies you; what matters is that which satisfies God! And God is satisfied only with the substitutionary blood atonement of His Son. There is no other payment for sin that satisfies the righteousness of God. There is no other way to heaven. Jesus alone is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Until our counselees come face to face with the Savior, there is no hope of helping them to permanently resolve their problems in this life or the life to come.
6. Personal Spiritual Regeneration
The Bible teaches that we must be “born again” (John 3:3, 7) by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible views all people as spiritually dead (unregenerate). They can come to life only by the quickening process of the new birth. The Holy Spirit must regenerate us, infuse faith in our hearts, enable us to believe the gospel, convict us of sin, call us to the Savior, and seal us to God forever. Without personal regeneration there is no hope of permanent change for anyone. Every Christian counselor who believes this must seriously present the gospel message to unsaved counselees and call them to faith in Christ as a part of any true Christian counseling effort. To fail to do this is to leave people hopelessly in their sins.
7. Personal Spiritual Sanctification
Sanctification follows regeneration, and is the process by which the Holy Spirit progressively conforms u
s into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:1–2). It is that spiritual process by which the Spirit produces personal holiness within our hearts and lives. As with our salvation, our sanctification is His work, not ours. We are not saved by good works, nor are we sanctified by good works. We cannot work our way to a better life any more than we can work our way to heaven. Jesus said to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV).
TOTALLY SUFFICIENT FOR SANCTIFICATION?
It is this doctrine that is at stake more than any other in the “sufficiency debate” within Christian counseling. Most people would agree that the Bible is sufficient for salvation. But many are not sure that it is sufficient for sanctification. Instead of relying on biblical truth to help people with their problems, they are quick to offer the “insights” of psychoanalysis, long-term therapy, transactional analysis, behavior modification, selective abstraction, unconditional acceptance, dream analysis, hypnosis, and so on.
If biblical sanctification through spiritual growth is God’s goal for our lives, then why don’t counselors spend more time exploring this vital process? How can Christian psychological counselors skip over the issue of sanctification in the hope that some secular psychological exercise will bring the counselee the growth and maturity he or she needs?
It is our sincere desire to appeal to all Christian counselors (biblical or psychological) to re-examine the importance of Christian sanctification. We need to ask ourselves if we are really serious about the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
In his classic book The Work of the Holy Spirit, Octavius Winslow made this comment:
Sanctification has its commencement and its daily growth in a principle of life implanted in the soul by the eternal Spirit… The necessity for sanctification also springs from the work of Christ. The Lord Jesus became incarnate, and died as much for the sanctification as for the pardon and justification of His church; as much for her deliverance from the indwelling power of sin as from the condemnatory power of sin.4
The Bible assures us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” Again, we notice the importance of biblical truth as an essential agent in the process of sanctification, which involves a progressive conformity of the whole person to the divine nature. We are to become like Christ in personal holiness as we “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us]” (Colossians 3:16).
Without regeneration and sanctification, there can be no permanent spiritual change in people. Christian counselors know this is true, but often forget it in practice. As soon as we begin exhorting an unbeliever to forgive his or her spouse, accept his or her responsibilities, or live by some spiritual principle, we are asking him or her to do something that is impossible for unregenerate people to do.
Ask yourself: When was the last time I seriously challenged a counselee to examine his or her faith? When was the last time I shared the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ with a counselee? When was the last time I turned to the Bible to help my client evaluate his or her behavior, attitudes, or decisions? Then, ask yourself: Am I really doing Christian counseling, or just counseling?
AN APPEAL TO CHRISTIAN COUNSELORS
We have come to a time in the Christian counseling enterprise where we must begin asking ourselves the really tough questions about what we are doing. Is our counseling truly Christian? Is it firmly rooted in God’s truth? Does our counseling really work? Can it be used of God to change lives?
We suggest that it is time for Christian counselors to take the following steps:
1. Self-evaluation of Biblical Counseling
The time has come for those within the field of biblical counseling to provide a better self-analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our counseling methodology. We cannot merely assume that because our approach is “biblical” that it is beyond critical evaluation. More research is necessary to develop guidelines that help validate the success and effectiveness of biblical counseling. There are several areas of counseling for which more resources are needed; for example, little has been written on counseling children or adolescents. Clearer guidelines need to be established to distinguish between physically caused and spiritually caused problems. More emphasis needs to be placed on dealing with addictive patterns in counselees.
2. Projection of the Future of Biblical Counseling
Those of us working within the field of biblical counseling need to better develop a “self-portrait” of biblical counseling. John MacArthur and Wayne Mack have helped clarify many issues in their book Introduction to Biblical Counseling (1994). Ed Bulkley’s works have also helped clarify several issues of concern for biblical counselors. His case studies especially illuminate the differences between biblical and non-biblical approaches. We would encourage more people to write from the biblical perspective. David Powlison and Edward Welch have much more to contribute to the future of biblical counseling in the days ahead.
3. Further Discussion Between Biblical and Psychological Counselors
We sincerely need more honest discussion and interaction between Christian biblical and psychological counselors – especially those who are actually doing counseling. Presently, there have been precious too few attempts for both “camps” to speak effectively to one another. We need more examination of each other’s concerns with intellectual integrity and a renewed commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture in our professional and personal lives. We believe that many Christian psychological counselors have moved further away from their biblical roots than they ever intended initially. Many, like Chris Thurman, are now re-evaluating whether they have gone too far and need to return to a more biblical approach. We need to encourage fellow counselors to feel free to discuss such matters without fear of criticism, rejection, intimidation, or closed-mindedness. Opening lines of communication and discussion will be helpful to the Christian community in general. What is at stake is greater than our individual differences. We who are committed to helping others must be committed to helping one another to deal more effectively with the implications of Scripture.
4. Elimination of Incorrect Caricatures of Others’ Views of Counseling
It is time to eliminate closed-mindedness and pejorative labeling of representatives on both sides of the debate. Labels like “anti-intellectualism” or “psychoheresy” only further alienate us and prevent honest interaction. Godly counselors may differ in their views, but they are not the “enemy.” Men like James Dobson, Larry Crabb, Jay Adams, and Wayne Mack have all made substantial contributions to the evangelical cause in America. Biblical and psychological Christian counselors are brothers and sisters in the faith whether or not they agree with one another. At the same time, being Christians does not exempt us from the need to question, evaluate, and hold one another accountable to the standards of biblical truth.
5. Renewed Commitment to Helping Hurting People
Most Christian counselors, whether biblical or psychological, genuinely want to help the people they counsel. Most sincerely believe their particular theory or methodology is helping people or they would discard it. Sometimes, however, in the theoretical debate over counseling theory and practice, it is easy to lose sight of the counselees themselves. They are the ones who need
to benefit from the counsel we provide. We all need to commit ourselves afresh to helping those who are hurting. We need to ask ourselves if God is truly pleased with our counseling methods. Is our advice consistent with biblical truth? Are we really seeing progress in our counselees? Are they resolving their basic life issues? Are they maturing in their walk with God and their relationships with others?
6. Strengthen the Theological Basis of All Christian Counseling
One of the essential commitments of those who are biblical counselors is that they maintain theological integrity. If we do not have a solid grasp of theology, then we really cannot do counseling that is distinctively Christian in nature. Therefore, we appeal to Christian psychological counselors to strengthen their understanding of biblical theology. Theological study and research will help your counseling, not hurt it. Those lacking a formal theological background need to pursue alternate theological study – personal reading, external degree programs, or video, audio, and correspondence study. Some counselors may live in communities where they can attend an evangelical seminary to further their education or expand their personal knowledge of a consistent biblical theology. Without such a basis, there can be no real interaction of theology and psychology that is meaningful and purposeful.
7. Improve Biblical Exegesis in Order to Determine Counseling Theory and Methodology
Most evangelical Christians affirm a belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture. Yet, few are willing to do the hard work of biblical exegesis. If we are going to be consistent with biblical truth in our counseling, we must carefully examine the biblical passages on marriage, divorce, remarriage, family life, child-rearing, care for the elderly, personal responsibility, and spiritual growth. These are subjects on which the Bible speaks very clearly. We cannot neglect the biblical truths on these matters and expect to do truly Christian counseling. Tragically, many “Christian” counselors are woefully lacking in this regard. They are quick to adopt every new fad in counseling whether it is biblical or not, and they use psychological definitions rather than biblical. For example, the Bible speaks of worry as a sin (that is lack of faith), whereas psychology defines sin as anxiety. In reality, they are one and the same. Philippians 4:6–7 deals with both worry and anxiety cognitively (thoughts), emotionally (feelings), and behaviorally (actions).
Biblical counselors believe that one of the great weaknesses of non-biblical counselors is that their lack of theological or biblical expertise causes them to use the Bible devotionally, analogically, and often incorrectly. True exegesis involves much more than simply trying to read into a passage of Scripture a possible psychological parallel. Calling Peter a sanguine or suggesting that Moses suffered from rejection is eisegesis and not true exegesis of the text.
NO PREMIUM ON IGNORANCE
Several years ago while I (Howard) was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, we had an exchange day with some students from Southern Methodist University. When we tried to discuss theological issues, we often found ourselves in totally different worlds. We didn’t even “do theology” in the same way. But as our discussions progressed, it became obvious they were completely unaware of our beliefs and positions. At least some of us had read some of the more liberal theological works and knew where the students from the other university stood in terms of biblical truth.
Finally, I suggested, “I don’t find any of our books in your library. Your institution functions as if we don’t exist!”
Too many times, that same problem has been prevalent in Christian counseling circles. We can choose to ignore those with whom we differ, but to do so is to function in ignorance. In 1982, I (Ed) had the opportunity to lecture on biblical fundamentalism at the Harvard Divinity School as the guest of Dr Harvey Cox. After a one-hour lecture and an hour of questions from the floor, I received a standing ovation from the divinity school student body. One student remarked afterwards, “I have never seen a real fundamentalist before!” To which Dr Cox added, “Or read one either!”
Later that evening, Harvey, myself, Cal Thomas, and Richard Lovelace went to dinner together at the Harvard Faculty Club to discuss the evening’s events.
“Ignorance is the great enemy of fundamentalism,” Dr Cox announced.
“What do you mean?” Cal Thomas asked.
“Ignorance of what fundamentalists really believe,” Dr Cox responded. “Most of our students know fundamentalism only through the lens of the secular media and liberal academia. Many of them have never spoken to a real one face to face before today!”
What was true on that occasion is all too often true in the debate between Christian biblical and psychological counselors. Many who are quick to criticize biblical counseling have never even talked to a real biblical counselor, nor have they seen biblical counseling in process. Their criticism is often based on speculation or assumption, not hard facts or personal observation.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It is our hope that in the future, non-biblical counselors will have a better and more informed understanding of who biblical counselors are and what they do. Our purpose in this volume has not been to rehash old arguments but to clarify the issues that distinguish our position. Biblical counseling is done by a wide range of professionals who work in various capacities. All of us, however, are equally committed to the sufficiency of Scripture as the absolute source of truth which defines who we are and what we do. Our ultimate confidence in helping people is not based upon any current psychological fad but upon the infallible truths of an inerrant Scripture.
As Dr Leonard Poom of the University of Georgia has so aptly said, “ ‘Therefore, we may conclude’ does not apply in the social sciences. We can only say, ‘It seems to be true that…’ ”5
Scientific social research certainly has its legitimate place, but we all must recognize that we can never fully conclude that we have discovered ultimate truth from it. Its veracity is limited by its very nature. Therefore, it is too simplistic to suggest that “all truth is God’s truth.” In the arena of the social sciences, from a purely psychological perspective, we have no way of knowing when we have discovered God’s truth – except as it is revealed in His Word.
Biblical truth is the ultimate truth. It is the propositional revelation of God’s will for our lives. Without hesitation, the Bible proclaims its total sufficiency to provide “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Scripture speaks to every area of personal and practical living; it is God’s blueprint for our lives. Yes, it tells us how to get to heaven, but it also tells us how to make the journey until we get there.
1 Chris Thurman, Self-Help or Self-Destruction? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996). Thurman quotes Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper in the frontispiece of the book: “When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day… you must at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”
2 ibid., p. xxi.
3 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960), p.56. Quoted in Richard Lee and Ed Hindson, No Greater Savior (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), p. 77.
4 Octavius Winslow, The Work of the Holy Spirit (London: Banner of Truth, 1972 reprint of 1840 edition), pp. 105, 108.
5 Comment by Dr Leonard Poom, Director of Center for Gerontology, University of Georgia (Athens, GA) course lecture, 1985
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.