Affirmations & Denials: A Proposed Definition of Biblical Counseling (Excerpt)

October 21, 2011


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(NOTE: The following is an excerpt of a longer article by Dr. David Powlison. You can read the whole resource by visiting Affirmations & Denials on CCEF's website.)

Some 1500 years ago, the warrior-chief of a primitive, Germanic tribe bluntly questioned a visiting missionary, “Why should I believe in this Jesus that you tell me about?” The man of God answered, “Because in Jesus Christ you will find wonder upon wonder—and all true.”

That same Counselor is full of fresh wonders today. How do any of us come to serve Him well? How do all of us come to serve Him well? We must know some things.

We must know the gravity of our condition as human beings. We tend to defect. We are false lovers. We are traitors—compulsively, blindly. We want the wrong things. We are doomed. We need rescue from ourselves and what we bring upon ourselves. This isn’t a general problem, a theoretical problem, the other person’s problem. It’s my specific problem, and yours, and the other person’s, too: “There is an evil in all that is done under the sun, in that there is one fate for all. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts while they live, and then they die” (Eccl. 9:3).

We must know the sheer glory and goodness of what our Father has given us in Jesus Christ. To know Jesus in truth and love is to find the one thing worth finding, the one lasting happiness, the purpose of life: “He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Rev. 21:3-5).

We must know the stunning wisdom of the Word of God. God speaks profoundly and comprehensively to the concrete conditions of every person’s life. He speaks with intent and power to change us: “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.…Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:79, 14).

We must know our calling as children of such a Father. Jesus announces His kingdom with the words, “Repent.” That means, “Change.” His grace and truth gets about the business of changing us. We are called to realize the new creation onto the stage of history, into the details of our lives. We are called to change, and to change the world. We run a race of repentance and renewal. Jesus intends to teach us how to live as “disciples” (changers, learners, students), so that we become His instruments of change in the lives of others. The Counselor full of wonders makes Christianoi, “Christ-people,” apprentice counselors also full of wonders: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

We must know that God’s way is qualitatively different from everything else available in the bazaar of options, of other counsels, other schemas, other practices, other systems. The only sanity and wakefulness is to know Him-who-is. Anything else perpetuates our insanity, our sleepwalk: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

We must know these things, live them, minister this Christ to others.

Attempts to define Christian faith and practice more accurately and helpfully always arise in a context of controversy. These affirmations and denials are no exception. They are about “counseling.” But a mental health system that knows no Christ dominates the counseling landscape and shapes the mind and practices of the culture. Even the “Christian” counseling field has largely taken its cues from the secular psychologies, as if Scripture did not really have much to say beyond religiosity and morality. But as we look more closely at life, as we learn to look with God’s eyes, as we come to know ourselves truly, it becomes clearer and clearer that Scripture is about counseling: diagnostic categories, causal explanations of behavior and emotion, interpretation of external sufferings and influences, definitions of tangible and workable solutions, character of the counselor, goals for the counseling process, configuring the professional structures for doing counseling, critique of competing models. These are all matters to which God speaks directly, specifically, and frequently. He calls us to listen attentively, to think hard and well, and to engage in a worthy labor to develop our practical theology of face-to-face, conversational ministry. These affirmations and denials attempt to state what our Lord sees, says, and does.

Section I treats the sufficiency of Scripture. Unless God lies, we have the goods for developing systematic biblical counseling, just as we have the goods for preaching, teaching, worship, mercy, and missions. In order to counsel others well, we need a comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the human condition: Section II. We must bring to bear effective solutions, equally penetrating and comprehensive, the Redeemer who engages the variety of persons and problems appropriately: Sections III and IV. We must embody counseling in social structures: Section V. We must have a standpoint from which to interact with other systems of counseling: Sections VI and VII. Scripture intends to teach us how to know and do these things, that we might cure and care for souls the way Jesus Christ does.

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