Why Biblical Counsel?
In this article I will investigate the distinctives of a biblical orientation to counseling. While models are numerous in both biblical and nonbiblical traditions, examples from both will be limited. In particular, a discussion of the nouthetic model of biblical counsel will be addressed as an example of a well-developed approach. A general discussion of biblical counsel including distinctives, goals, and the role of the Holy Spirit will also be included.
Of particular interest is the variance of opinion concerning the role of “religion” by some clearly non-Christian theorists. Where one in particular, Freud, views religion as an enemy to be defeated, his follower Jung takes a much more positive view of the impact of a religious outlook.
A Comparison of Views
If there were but one theoretical framework to which all psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors subscribed which was so precisely formulated that it could be applied to explain all that people felt and did, the lives of those who offer counsel would be much simpler. Even though this framework does not exist, there have been some theorists who have written as if the subject were a monolithic whole with a unified body of theory which is at variance with Christian beliefs. Freud was one who believed not only that a conflict existed, but that religion must be defeated and replaced by psychology. He proposed that science would be able to accomplish what religion had failed to do throughout the centuries. In a lecture dealing with the question of a Weltanschauung, Freud wrote,
Religion is an attempt to master the sensory world in which we are situated by means of the wishful world which we have developed within us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. But religion cannot achieve this. Its doctrines bear the imprint of the times in which they arose, the ignorant times of the childhood of humanity. Its consolations deserve no trust. Experience teaches us that the world is no nursery. The ethical demands on which religion seeks to lay stress need, rather, to be given another basis; for they are indispensable to human society and it is dangerous to link obedience to them with religious faith. If we attempt to assign the place of religion in the evolution of mankind, it appears not as a permanent acquisition but as a counterpart to the neurosis which individual civilized men have to go through in their passage from childhood to maturity.
In the same lecture Freud stated that religion is basically an illusion which gets its strength from our instinctual desires. For Freud the Weltanschauung was science.
Other writers have not taken such an extreme point of view. Some give the impression that if aspects of religious behavior can be explained psychologically, they have been explained away; therefore, talking about the same events in religious language is either superfluous or false. Concerning this Jeeves wrote,
Some who do this believe that to behave religiously expresses a basic immaturity, and that once people as individuals, or as groups, grow up, then they will be able to dispense with the childish beliefs associated with religion and be able to face the world in a more mature fashion.
Confronted by the vast spectrum of humanity’s problems and the numbers of people who endure the pain, the inability of professional counselors to meet all the needs is obvious. The two hundred fifty or more different theories of psychotherapeutic treatment currently practiced serve to compound the problem as well. Professional therapists and counselors seem to be plentiful, but often people struggle with the expensive and lengthy series of sessions often involved in traditional psychotherapy. Also, with insurance companies becoming more reluctant to cover extensive therapies, the cost for many is prohibitive. Moreover, the questionable success record of contemporary psychotherapeutic technique (with its numerous and varied theories) may indicate that affordable treatment may still fall short of providing an answer.
The growing disillusionment of a large segment of the population with professional efforts to deal with the increase in personal problems has resulted in more openness to other approaches. Larry Crabb, a popular psychologist and author, has written that “the timing is right for Christians who take God seriously to develop a biblical approach to counseling which asserts the authority of Scripture and the necessity and adequacy of Christ.” Many Christians have suffered spiritual atrophy because of bitterness, guilt, worry, resentment, anger, self-pity, envy, and lust. A deeper commitment to Christ and dependence upon the power and leading of the Holy Spirit are believed by many Christians to be the source of healing. Others, however, have been convinced by the proponents of secular psychology that emotional problems are the result of psychological dysfunction and can only be successfully treated by the psychological specialist.
Crabb has written, “I am convinced that the local church should and can successfully assume responsibility within its ranks for restoring troubled people to full, productive, creative lives.” Crabb wrote further that one psychiatrist recently stated that the need for love and acceptance is basic for all. The Christ-centered local church should be the resource for meeting this basic need.Concerning the importance of an individual’s relationship to his religion or the expression of his religion in the context of his local church, Carl Jung wrote,
I should like to call attention to the following facts. During the past thirty years, people from all the civilized countries of the earth have consulted me. I have treated many hundreds of patients, the larger number being Protestants, a smaller number Jews, and not more than five or six believing Catholics. Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.
The degree to which the church implements the Lord’s design that it be a caring community will determine its ability to meet the deep need for love, which if unmet generates psychological problems. The need for addressing these problems in other than psychological terms has become important to many within the church. A description of a biblical orientation to approaching these concerns and what distinguishes this approach from traditional psychotherapeutic technique will follow in this article.
Distinctives of the Biblical Orientation to Counseling
A biblical view of counseling is in a sense timeless; it has made sense to people in all ages. “That it conveyed important truths in prescientific eras should warn us against misconstruing it and its vocabulary by attempting to endow its familiar terms with a precision never intended.” Unfortunate attempts have been made to copy what psychologists are doing and to produce from the Bible a model which emulates a scientific approach.
The emphasis in biblical counseling is not on man studying himself but on God’s revelation of a theocentric image of man and his place in the world. The point of origin is God. The emphasis is as much concerned with God’s relationship with man as with man’s relationship with man.
It should also be noted that the biblical view is for the present; it is for facing the problems of today. It is a living document and is not intended for designing psychological experiments. To clarify this last point, A. T. Welford has written,
The psychological view represents a working hypothesis designed to coordinate the facts obtained from a large number of scientific studies and to guide the search for further facts. It is thus tentative, subject to frequent modification, and clearly incomplete in mat it does not cover areas in which evidence is lacking, such as the nature of administrative skill, political acumen, or intelligence…
By comparison, and by contrast, Welford characterizes the religious view of life as one that aims at co-ordinating the common experience of ordinary men with the special experience of a few and the lessons of history, to provide an orientation towards the world and everyday life in it. As such it must be complete, in the sense of being able to provide some sort of answer to any question which arises in the course of daily living. The exigencies of moment to moment and day to day will not wait for a solution to be worked out to full scientific standards: man in his ordinary living cannot, like the academic psychologist, suspend judgment if evidence is lacking.
The apparent meaning that one finds in the pleasures of this life is tenuous at best, apart from meaning related to God. This is the message of the Book of Ecclesiastes: all activity is meaningless apart from the God of meaning. The writer of Ecclesiastes saw that one or another activities seemed to bring purpose to his life, but upon hard reflection, he concluded that each was no more than vanity. In the final analysis the author stated that fearing God and keeping His commandments bring wisdom.
Views of life which are short-term and long-term are contrasted frequently in the Scriptures. The accounts recorded in Hebrews 11, make it clear that the saints mentioned all gained power to act meaningfully in the present specifically from their orientation toward the future. The biblical principle is that it is only sight of the eternal that can fuse short-term purposes and goals into a meaningful overall pattern. Thus all of life takes on meaning only in a relationship to Christ. Apart from Him they are simply short-term objectives which randomly occur without any important connection and no ultimate purpose. Adams has written, “Indeed, if there is no ultimacy of purpose in one’s daily activities, there is no purpose at all.”
For counselors, this fact is of great significance. It should be noted that those who live for short-term goals alone will come to deal with the futility of such a life orientation. Many of them will seek counsel because they have come to see that the ultimate meaningless “meaning” upon which they have built their lives provides no foundation for them at all. They eventually reach the point of saying with the writer of Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity!” Persons in this condition must be confronted with the truth of the gospel because only in this can the eternal solutions to their temporal existence be found.
Some time ago, Jay Adams, author of more than fifty books dealing with a biblical orientation to counseling, led a seminar in which he described distinctives of biblical counsel. At the conclusion of that seminar, I spent some time with Dr. Adams and was able to ask him several questions relative to the particulars of what differentiates truly biblical counseling from other models. One question asked of Dr. Adams was, “Please describe for me the distinctives of a truly biblical system of counseling.” What follows is a portion of his answer:
Truly biblical counseling, just to give you a summary, is using the Word of God considered exegetically and theologically to understand what God has said about man, and his problems, and the solutions that God has provided for them. Counseling is a function of sanctification. A system of biblical counseling has to be developed out of exegetical and theological work in such a way that all the principles and practices of that counseling system not only emerge from biblical principles but are consistent with them at all points. That’s the key to the difference between a truly biblical and a supposedly, but not really biblical, counseling system. One must not take pagan methodology, principles, and presuppositions and try to put these together with biblical teaching. That really can’t be done. To have a truly biblical system means hard work including exegesis and theology that provides the principles that can be turned into methodology and practice in counseling. Anything less is sub-Christian and most probably, anti-Christian.
The basic presupposition of biblical counseling is that there is an infinite and personal God who has revealed Himself propositionally in the written Word, the Bible, and personally in the living Word, Jesus Christ. The testimony of both the written Word and the living Word is that the most basic problem of every human being is his separation from God. This separation is made necessary by the fact that He is holy and we are not. People may solve their personal problems temporarily and partially by approximating biblical principles, but they can never experience an absolutely fulfilling life here or eternally unless this separation is overcome by reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Draper has written that “when we want to know what we are to do, how we are to live, what we are to say, and how we are to act, we discover that by looking at the Word of God that was breathed out by God for us. The Scriptures themselves give testimony of their origin, content, sufficiency, applicability, and eternality, stating,
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
Being committed to this testimony leads to the application of Scripture in counseling. Therefore, the Bible can be used to diagnose and treat the problems of life. In making this application one must acknowledge that there are both physical problems and physical symptoms of spiritual problems. The recognition of need to be in close consultation with a physician is important. Acknowledgment must also be made that the Bible does not answer all questions, but it can lead a person to a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This relationship in itself fulfills the greatest need of mankind.
In Matt. 28:20, the Scripture reveals that Christians are to teach all that Christ commanded and taught. “This surely includes doctrines about God, authority, salvation, spiritual growth, prayer, the church, the future, angels, demons, and human nature.” The Lord also taught concerning such personal issues as sex, anxiety, fear, loneliness, doubt, pride, sin, and discouragement. These are all issues being brought to counselors today. “Teaching all that Christ taught includes instruction in doctrine, but it also involves helping people get along better with God, with others, and with themselves.”
In dealing with these issues of concern, some learn and are encouraged by lectures, sermons, or books; others from personal Bible study or group discussion; still others from formal or informal counseling. In fact, most have received counsel from some combination of these approaches.
The Christian’s basis for counseling, and the basis for a Christian’s counseling is Scripture and, according to Jay Adams, is his or her counseling textbook. The profundity of this is found in the fact that the Bible deals with the same issues that all counseling does. The Scriptures were given to lead mankind to a saving faith in Christ and then to transform believers into His image (cf. 2 Tim. 3; 14–17). This transforming power comes from the Scriptures used by the Holy Spirit as an instrument to affect change in the life of the believer. In 2 Timothy, testimony is given to this truth.
From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Because counseling is involved with changing lives by changing values, beliefs, relationships, attitudes, and behavior, the Bible is the Christian counselor’s basis.
Crabb has written, “In my view, many Christian counselors have adopted a method of study that treats the Bible as helpful, informative, and insightful— but neither authoritative nor sufficient.” The result is a Bible that is weakened and no longer permitted to speak with a final word. Answers to certain types of personal questions are rarely sought from the pages of Scripture. For many who would argue for revelation as the necessary route to knowledge psychology has usurped the place of the Bible.
When Christian counselors are encouraged to use the Bible as an authority, commonly the response is to argue that the Scriptures were never intended by God to serve as a textbook for counselors. God’s “other book” (nature or natural sciences), we are told, is better suited for that purpose.
This reasoning can lead one to believe that efforts to understand counseling, or the counseling process, need only be guided by the Bible. The main concern for those who follow this reasoning is that their counseling and theory be consistent with Scripture. Crabb wrote,
The difference between “guided by” and “consistent with” is enormous. The theorist who is guided by the Bible more fully acknowledges its authority. Someone who depends for guidance on another source and then seeks to maintain biblical consistency will tend to regard the Bible merely as helpful. The product of the latter way of thinking should not properly be called “biblical.”
For many, science has gained ultimate authority over Scripture. If the Bible is to regain a position of real authority over science, one must show that it is reasonable to place more confidence in ideas derived from Scripture than in
hypotheses generated from the study of psychology. Both models may contain error. But are we safer in relying on one more than the other? Crabb has offered four points to argue that less error is likely to infect a counseling model built on biblical foundations than one developed according to scientific research:
1. God’s purpose in revealing Himself in the Bible is different from His purpose in revealing Himself in nature. In nature, God unveils His “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20) in order to drive people to their knees in accountability to their Creator. Certainly it is proper to study the physical universe to understand better how things work so homes can be heated in winter and ear infections can be cleared up; but God’s moral purpose in nature is to make Himself known as someone with whom we must reckon
In the Bible, however, God does much more. His moral purpose in giving the Scriptures is to graciously point out our plight, inform us of His solution to the problem, and instruct us how to accept that solution. In a word, the Bible tells us how to find life. And that is what counseling is concerned with: helping people who are experiencing problems that rob them of life to overcome those problems and live as they were designed to live.
Nature was not designed to be a textbook on life. The Bible was. … If counselors are supposed to help people live their lives as life was meant to be lived, and if the Bible is the book where God tells us how to solve our problems in order to live, then it follows that we should expect the Bible to provide more help to counselors than the scientific study of nature.
2. The plainness of the Bible is reason to turn to its pages with confidence. Although there is much that is difficult to understand in Scripture, it still is revelation in propositional form; that is, it consists of ordinary words spoken by real people to other people about rationally expressible matters. Nature is not propositional revelation. It illustrates rather than speaks; it presents us with unspoken observations that require translation into verbal symbols in order to be understood. . . . The superior clarity of propositional revelation over any other form is argument for depending more on the Bible than on science in developing a counseling model.
3. The purity of the Bible as uncorrupted revelation contrasts with the defectiveness of a groaning and cursed nature. Whatever the Bible says can be trusted, because the effects of sin have been supernaturally blocked from staining its teaching. Nature has not been so protected, however. What we learn from nature may reflect the results of sin.
We may, of course, learn lessons about industriousness from the ant, but only because the Bible authorizes the instruction. If we were to follow other examples in nature without worrying about biblical warrant, we might prey on the weak, sleep all winter, or copulate at will. Whatever the Bible tells us to do, we may do with confidence that we are on the right path because the Bible is perfectly moral in its teaching. Nature is not Conclusions reached from biblical study, therefore, deserve more of our confidence than ideas we learn from natural study.
4. We have the explicit promise of the Holy Spirit’s help when we come to the Bible in an attitude of teachable humility and personal honesty. Scientists have no such promise in their study.
The Bible does speak to much of what a counselor deals with and provides a basis for understanding every essential issue with which counselors struggle. The conclusion is that one must come to the Bible in a spirit of expectancy and submission while regarding the ideas of psychology as stimulating and catalytic, but not as authoritative. The data of psychological research should not be totally disregarded; what is observed should be noted. Then one must come to the Scriptures for an understanding of why the data exist and what he should do in response to what he has observed. In every case, however, the instruction of Scripture must be final.
Possibly, the relationship of biblical counsel to secular counsel needs to be clarified. The final, crucial issue for biblical counselors is the need to define more clearly the nuances in their relationship to secular thinking. The relationship of consistent Christianity to secular culture is not simply one of rejection. Biblical presuppositions give us a way to discern the lie that people unwittingly accept who think about themselves as being autonomous from God. They also give us a way of appreciating, redeeming, and reframing the culture of those who have no concept of who God is. In a counseling setting the counselor is to gather data from a counselee and reinterpret his own perceptions back to him in biblical categories that turn his world inside out.
In the same way that Freud saw religion as an enemy to be defeated, many biblical counselors see secular psychology as an enemy of biblical faith and practice. There is, however, error to the left and to the right. Capitulation to and compromise with a world captivated by psychology is a danger to Christian counseling. However, there is also error in flatly rejecting insights of psychology or in fearing them. Many biblical counselors find themselves succumbing to the latter temptation. In his article dealing with crucial issues facing biblical counselors,
David Powlison describes three “beauties” for dealing with secular psychology. These are,
First, Christians should be stimulated by their enemies. We are forced to sort out what the Bible does say positively. Enemies are incredibly useful. In the sovereignty of God enemies act as catalysts. Unbelievers often have thought long and studied hard in areas that Christians have neglected. The close study of human beings for the purpose of changing them was one of these areas. Biblical counseling was a product of such negative prodding. Biblical presuppositions undergird a strategy of exposition provoked by questions that secular thought and practice raise for the church.
Second, Christians should oppose their enemies frankly. Knowing what we believe gives us a basis to reject what is wrong. Unbiblical concepts and practices have been understood, analyzed and rejected as false teaching. Biblical counseling is well known for rejecting secular psychology. Secular theorists are false prophets. Those who import their ideas into the church are deceived, at best, and wolves in sheep’s clothing, at worst. Biblical presuppositions undergird a strategy of negation.
Third, Christians should love and convert their enemies. We have answers that are richer truer, fuller, Our answers incorporate the very insights which non-Christians distort. We make these shine in their proper framework, proportion and balance within the categories of biblical truth. I am proposing that we think hard about this third strategy towards our enemies. Paul used this strategy in Acts 17:22–31. His evangelistic and apologetic strategy in Athens was based on capturing three particular unbiblical thoughts (verses 23 and 28). He reframed them, making them function in a biblical worldview. Did he ‘integrate’ paganism and the Word of God? No, Paul meant wholly different things from the original authors’ intent. Consistent presuppositional thinking comes to fruition not only in strategies of exposition and negation. Biblical presuppositions also undergird a strategy of capture.
The necessity of recognizing the ultimate authority of Scripture in counseling having been addressed, a specific model for a biblical orientation to counseling will now be the focus of attention.
Nouthetic Counseling: A Biblical Model
While there are numerous approaches to a biblical model for counseling (such as those developed by Charles Solomon, Neil Anderson, and Larry Crabb), the nouthetic model is widely considered effective and supported by a large body of literature. The Greek word nouthesia, which is literally translated, “a putting in mind,” is the word from which this model of counseling gets its name. “Nouthesia is ‘the training by word,’ whether of encouragement, or, if necessary, by reproof or remonstrance. In contrast to this, the synonymous word paideia stresses training by act, though both words are used in each respect.” Referring to the Col. 1:28 passage, Curtis Vaughan wrote,
Here it relates to non-Christians, the thought probably being that the apostle sought to awaken each of them to his need of Christ. Some interpreters think the word corresponds to the demand for repentance in the Gospels.
Johannes Behm wrote in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of The New Testament,
It seeks to correct the mind, to put right what is wrong, to improve the spiritual attitude. “The basic idea of the well-meaning earnestness with which one seeks to influence the mind and disposition by appropriate instruction, exhortation, warning and correction.” Hence the dominant meanings “to admonish, warn, soothe, remind, correct.” … It does not mean “to punish,” but through the consciousness to gain a hold over men and bring them to repentance and shame, so that punishment is superfluous. In keeping with pedagogic experience, however, the word can have the secondary sense of actively affecting the mind, i.e., “to discipline.” … It denotes the word of admonition which is designed to correct while not provoking or embittering.
Behm wrote further,
His [Paul’s] pastoral work in a congregation is retrospectively presented as a special, inwardly motivated cure of souls by means of indefatigable exhortation with a view to correction and amendment (Ac. 20:31). His sharp criticism in letters is simply the corrective word of a father to his children. … Similarly a congregation admonishes or corrects whether by its pastors … or by the reciprocal brotherly ministry of the member exercising pastoral oversight with a sense of congregational obligation.
Nouthetic confrontation consists of at least three basic elements. First, there is always the implication of a problem, and presupposes an obstacle that must be overcome. In the life of the one to be confronted, there is something wrong. The word nouthesia focuses on the confronter and the one being confronted. It is more than teaching which focuses on the learner. The need for a change in the person confronted, who may or may not resist, is presupposed. Adams has written,
In either case there is a problem in his life that needs to be solved. Nouthetic confrontation, then, necessarily suggests first of all that there is something wrong with the person who is to be confronted nouthetically. The idea of something wrong, some sin, some obstruction, some problem, some difficulty, some need that has to be acknowledged and dealt with, is central. In short, nouthetic confrontation arises out of a condition in the counselee that God wants changed. The fundamental purpose of nouthetic confrontation, then, is to effect personality and behavioral change.
The second element of nouthetic confrontation is that problems are solved by verbal means. Richard Trench wrote,
It is the training by word—by the word of encouragement, when this is sufficient, but also by that of remonstrance, of reproof, of blame, where these may be required; as set over against the training by act and by discipline, which ispaideia … the distinctive feature of nouthesia is the training by word of mouth.
The word presupposes a counseling-type confrontation in which characterological and behavioral change in the counselee is the object. The word does not imply nor exclude a formal counseling setting but encompasses both formal and informal confrontation. From a biblical perspective, the counselor who used nouthetic confrontation endeavors to change the patterns of behavior of an individual, to conform to biblical standards. Biblical instances of such activity may be seen in Nathan’s confrontation of David concerning his sin with Uriah and Bathsheba, or in Jesus’ restoration of Peter after His resurrection.
The third element deals with the motive behind nouthetic activity. Verbal correction is always intended to benefit the counselee, not destroy or tear down. The beneficent motive is never lost from view and was exemplified by Paul when he wrote, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” The term carries an inherent tenderness which accurately describes the concern of the parent for the child, being used frequently in parental contexts. Adams wrote,
Nouthetic confrontation implies changing that in his life which hurts the counselee. The goal must be to meet obstacles head on and overcome them verbally, not in order to punish but to help him… . The thought of punishment, even the idea of disciplinary punishment, is not contemplated in the concept of nouthetic confrontation. Nouthesis is motivated by love and deep concern, in which clients are counseled and corrected by verbal means for their good, ultimately, of course, that God may be glorified.
Consistent with Adams’ model of nouthetic counseling, is a list offered by Wayne Mack of a variety of ways to confront nouthetically:
Counselor gives instruction from the Scriptures about a particular issue in the session.
Counselees observe counselor or someone else who is a good model in the areas where they struggle.
Counselees learn by doing.
Counselees complete study assignments on topics that are relevant to their problems.
Counselees talk openly about the issue with the counselor and other knowledgeable people.
Counselor uses the Socratic method to lead counselees to a conclusion through their own responses.
Counselees read assigned books or listen to tapes and write down what they learned. This can be done during the counseling session or as homework.
Counselees evaluate and assess a statement, idea, or practice.
Counselor relates personal experiences relevant to counselees’ problems.
Counselor uses examples to help counselees understand a truth or to challenge them to think more deeply about it.
Counselor acts out instances of interaction between people to demonstrate examples of effective communication and the consequences of poor communication.
Counselees are encouraged to ask questions of people who are knowledgeable in a particular area or who have otherwise excelled in it.
Using a wide variety of instructional methods is helpful because people learn in different ways. The responsibility of the counselor is to identify the method or methods of instruction that prove most beneficial for each counselee.
The Goal of Biblically Oriented Counsel
Whatever direction counseling may take as the result of the presenting problem, careful thought must be given concerning the goal to be achieved. For what is the client asking, and what does he hope will happen as a result of counseling? People struggling with personal problems often seem to be pursuing objectives which are fundamentally self-centered. They say, “I want to feel good,” or, “I want to be happy.”
While there is nothing wrong with wanting happiness, an obsessive preoccupation with it can obscure the understanding of the biblical route to deep, abiding joy. Larry Crabb wrote in Effective Biblical Counseling,
The Lord has told us that there are pleasures forever at His right hand. If we desire those pleasures, we must learn what it means to be at God’s right hand. Paul tells us that Christ has been exalted to God’s right hand (Eph. 1:20). It follows naturally that the more I abide in Christ, the more I will enjoy the pleasures available in fellowship with God. If I am to experience true happiness, I must desire above all else to become more like the Lord, to live in subjection to the Father’s will as He did.
For some who are seeking solutions, the emphasis in counseling is finding happiness, while the biblical orientation focuses on becoming Christlike and glorifying Christ through the problem. The paradoxical truth is that the individual desires happiness but will never achieve it, if that is his primary concern. The overriding goal of the counselor must be to help the counselee respond biblically in every circumstance, to put the Lord first and then determine His guidance for action. As one devotes energy to the task of glorifying Christ and being what He wants, one finds the joy and peace that He promises. The emphasis is placed upon assisting the individual in rejecting the goal of happiness in favor of adopting the goal of becoming more like Christ. Crabb also wrote that “our modern emphasis on personal wholeness, human potential, and the freedom to be ourselves has quietly shifted us away from a burning concern for becoming more like the Lord to a more primary interest in our development as persons which, we are implicitly promised, will lead to our happiness.”
While the by-product of a relationship with God will be happiness, ultimately, neither the goal of the Christian life nor of Christian counseling is an individual’s happiness. A conscious effort to find happiness may preclude it from ever becoming reality. Is it possible that a seriously neglected truth in some Christian counseling is this: “The basic biblical reason for wanting to solve your personal problem should be that you want to enter into a deeper relationship with God, to please Him more effectively through worship and service.” From a biblical orientation, personal happiness is seen as a by-product of counseling and not the primary goal.
Jesus’ concern for people included not only their eternal security but also their well-being in this life. He stated that He had come to give life in abundance and in all its fullness. The implication is that He was dealing with a quality of life here and now and an everlasting life in the presence of the Father. The Christian counselor has the same ultimate goals of showing people how to have abundant lives now and how to enter into the eternal life promised to all believers. The Great Commission compels the Christian counselor to desire to see all his counselees become disciples of Christ. Collins wrote that “if we take the words of Jesus seriously we are likely to reach the conclusion that a fully abundant life only comes to those who seek to live in accordance with His teachings.”
Adhering to biblical directives in counseling focuses the goal for both counselor and counselee. Abundant life in Christ is the goal, but a major aspect of the goal is bringing glory to God. The Scripture admonishes us to do all for the glory of the Lord. So the ultimate goal behind all Christian activity, including counseling, is to glorify God. Christians are never totally humanistic; everything that is done involves the vertical dimension. While there are elements of human characteristics in what we do, the overarching goal is to glorify God.
This goal is not only in view for the so-called Christian “professional” or “pastoral” counselor. The same holds true for all those who are called to “bear one another’s burdens” (all Christians). In light of this ultimate goal, the chief objective of biblically oriented peer counseling must be considered. Adams has written,
Let us ask, then, “What is the overall objective of lay counseling?” We have already noted … that Paul calls us to restore erring brothers and sisters to their place of usefulness to Christ in His church (Gal. 6:1). Restoration to usefulness, therefore, is the objective of Christian counseling. Whenever you counsel another you must ask, “How has his usefulness to Christ been diminished by his problem?”
This goal of restoration should guide the attitudes and activities of the counselor. The desire is not to punish, expose failures, or gloat; counseling occurs for restoration.
The orientation of the Christian counselor, unlike other counselors, is not merely directed toward the counselee. The Christian counselor wants to honor Christ, and like Him, he also cares about the church. Failure of any part of the body adversely affects the whole. “Counseling, therefore, is not only an interaction between a counselor and one or more persons in a counseling room; it also interacts in any number of ways with the entire church and all of its activities.”Each counselor must understand that all that is done is not only for the counselee but for the glory of the Lord and His church.
Figure 1 reveals the structure of biblical change that will both benefit the counselee and edify the church. Heart leads to walk. Idolatry leads to disobedience. Faith leads to obedience. Change of heart leads to a change of walk. There is a massive, invisible sin that lies at the root of every visible one. What is the change for which biblical counseling aims? Powlison explains,
B M B* is rank moralism: “do’s and don’t’s.” A-B M A* is pietism: “Let go and let God.” B M A*-B* is a subtler error. The put-off (B), put-on (B*) and faith in Jesus Christ (A*) are all present. But the structure of “false faiths” (A) is neglected. This is the configuration into which I fear nouthetic counselors often drift. We fail to minister the full inner impact of the conviction of sin. Hence the desperateness of our need for Jesus Christ is weakened. Hence the renewal of mind and heart by the promises of God practically is downplayed. We become incipiently moralistic. Biblical change is A-B M A*-B*. The inordinate swarming desires of the flesh are treated in the same detail as the works of the flesh, the simple desires of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and the fruit of the Spirit. (See figure l)
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Earlier in this article it was demonstrated how the Scriptures themselves give testimony of their origin, content, sufficiency, applicability, and eternality. Careful study of the Scriptures will reveal to any inquirer these facts. But the Holy Spirit, who indwells the life of every believer, brings these truths to life and empowers the believer to act on them.
One of the fundamental messages of the Scriptures is that the Holy Spirit desires to assist all believers in the discovery of ways for living the Christian life to its highest potential. Included in this is equipping believers for fulfilling important ministries necessary for doing God’s will in the world. The teachings in the Bible concerning the personality and activity of the Holy Spirit offer a remarkable example for the counselor.
As described in Scripture, the Holy Spirit is seen as a helper or comforter. Counseling may be defined as a specially devised relationship in which one person, through knowledge and experience, serves to guide another through a process of clarification and resolution of basic life problems. This is a specialized form of helping people and one in which the Holy Spirit plays a vital role.
The Holy Spirit is referred to in the Scripture as the Person within the Godhead who makes application of the fruits of the finished work of Christ to creation until the end of time. Since Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit is the “down payment” of what is to come. Through Him reality is brought into our confused and broken time. “What Jesus—the First Helper—accomplished, the Holy Spirit—the Second Helper—was dispatched to make vivid and real.” The Holy Spirit applies the fruits of Christ’s achievement to mankind. The empty tomb is where Jesus triumphed over everything that destroys, even Satan himself. The mission of the Spirit is to point people to Christ. Without the achievement of Christ at Calvary and beyond, the work of the Holy Spirit would not be meaningful.
The significance for the counselor in these facts is that he would do well to model his ministry to others on the “Christocentric” principle. Not that he should ignore the work of the Holy Spirit, but that he will be continually mindful that his primary task is to bring people into vital contact with Jesus. This means that the Christian counselor will allow nothing to divert any primary objectives away from the truth that healing can only occur through Jesus.
An additional implication is that the counselor would do well to acknowledge that training in psychological theory and clinical techniques offers no guarantee of adequate wisdom to help a client. The counselor must play the role of a catalyst in the healing process. Just as the Holy Spirit focuses attention on Christ, so the counselor must stand aside and point the client to the One who alone has the power to deal with the fundamental problems of humanity, relying upon the Holy Spirit for guidance in that role.
What actualizes all true Christian helping is the influence of the Holy Spirit. His presence and influence make genuinely Christian counseling truly unique. Collins has written that “through prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, regular confessions of sin, and daily deliberate commitment to Christ, the counselor-teacher becomes an instrument through whom the Holy Spirit may work to comfort, help, teach, convict, or guide another human being.” This should reflect the goal of every Christian pastor, professional counselor, or lay counselor: to be used by the Holy Spirit to touch and change lives, and to bring them to both spiritual and psychological maturity through the teaching of Scripture.Adams has written that biblically oriented counseling must be carried on in harmony with the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called “Holy” because of his nature and his work. All holiness stems from his activity in human lives. All of the personality traits that might be held forth to counselees as fundamental goals for growth (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) God declares to be the “fruit” (i.e., the result of the work) of the Spirit. Not only is it futile to attempt to generate these qualities apart from him (as non-Christian and even some Christian counselors try to do), but such an approach is at bottom rebellion against God grounded upon humanistic assumptions of man’s autonomy. By-passing the Spirit amounts to the denial of human depravity and the affirmation of man’s innate goodness.
A legalistic “works righteousness” leads ultimately to despair in the counselee since it divests itself of the life and power of the Spirit and undercuts the need for grace and the atoning work of Christ.
There is no tangible element at work which moves the counselor or the counselee along a path leading to successful resolution of a problem. If so, it would quickly be packaged and snapped up at any price by harried counselors. Instead, the grace of God works by a demonstration of His love through His Spirit.
Through the work of God’s Spirit, potential for wholeness is realized in spite of an individual’s condition. The counselor becomes a catalyst for and observer of the work of the Spirit. The degree of success in counseling should not be attributed to the counselor, but rather to the activity of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, counselors should not emotionally divorce themselves from their counselees. Counselors must not see themselves as responsible for the emotional health of their clients but as those who can affect change by making their personal abilities available to the Holy Spirit. Anderson has written in The Holy Spirit and Counseling,
Scripture abounds with examples of the Holy Spirit at work in revealing truth and assisting those who are sensitive to the truth. Solomon asked for and received an understanding heart to judge, to be able to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 4:29). Elisha was observed by the Shunammite woman to be a holy man of God (2 Kings 4:9). Nehemiah discerned a false prophet (Neh. 6:12). Jesus sensed the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees (Luke 5:22), and the woman of Samaria perceived Christ to be a prophet (John 4:19). These few examples may only serve to illustrate how observant these people were, but just as easily, they may be interpreted to represent the activity of the Spirit in bringing or revealing the truth to these people. These illustrations may represent the potential interaction of the Holy Spirit with Spirit-directed counselors who, because of faith and counselor training, are set apart to utilize the intuitive function of the Holy Spirit in helping others.
The Spirit of God is a necessary factor in ministry. The Spirit’s power is seen in actions taken by the one who ministers at the Spirit’s direction and leading. In a sense, God’s Spirit can be used in us to reach out to minister in tangible levels of human existence. “In this manner, there is demonstration not only of one’s own spirit of concern, but, through the Spirit-led counselor, the presence of the Holy Spirit stands alongside as a Helper in the therapeutic setting.”
Every aspect of true spiritual growth in the life of the believer is prompted by the Spirit, using the truth of Scripture: “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” The counselor who discounts this point will experience failure, frustration, and discouragement. Fundamental changes in the human heart can only be brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the presence of the Holy Spirit is necessary in all effective biblical counseling. The counselor can offer objective guidance and steps for change, but unless the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of the counselee, any apparent change will be illusory, superficial, or temporary. The result will be the reappearance of the original problems or the appearance of new ones. John MacArthur wrote in his recently published book concerning the work of the Holy Spirit,
The true believer, however, does have a Helper who dwells within. He is the Holy Spirit, who applies the objective truth of Scripture in the process of sanctification. Yet even he does not draw our attention inward, or to Himself. Instead, he directs our focus upward, to Christ…Ultimately, it is unto Christ that the counselee’s focus must be directed. “Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). That is the process of sanctification. And it is the ultimate goal of all truly biblical counseling.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.