G. K. Chesterton noted that, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
The same could be said for biblical counseling. “The sufficiency of Scripture ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
I was stuck by this realization while working on a presentation paper for the 2011 Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting in San Francisco. My topic is: A Theologically-Informed Approach to Sexual Abuse Counseling: Implementing the Hermeneutical Spiral.
With an issue like sexual abuse counseling, I believe we potentially tend toward two extremes.
Extreme # 1: A One-Verse, One-Problem, One-Solution “Concordance” Approach
We can illustrate this extreme approach with another important life issue—anxiety. Someone comes to us with “anxiety issues” and we quote Philippians 4:6 about being anxious for nothing.
We would be like a physician who says, “Take two pills and call me in the morning.” But we’re really saying, “Take one verse and don’t call me!”
This would be a shallow, non-relational approach to ministering to people. It also would be ineffectual and unbiblical.
Extreme # 2: A Solution-Focused, “Secular” Approach
Because of the stereotype of extreme # 1, people—pastors, Christian counselors, educators, and “lay” spiritual friends—potentially tend toward the opposite extreme. We don’t want to be shallow and non-relational, and we don’t find the phrase “sexual abuse” in our concordance, so we wrongly assume that the Bible does not adequately address real life issues.
So, if we’re a “lay person,” we race to the self-help shelf of our local bookstore, or we open the Amazon Books tag in our web browser and type in “sexual abuse.” Thinking there’s not a quick biblical answer addressing sexual abuse recovery, we assume there’s no biblical answer at all.
We abdicate our time-tested (two-thousand years of church history), biblical responsibility to be soul physicians who understand life from the perspective of the Author of life, who understand the creature through the words of the Creator.
Sad Example A: The “Secular” Approach in the Church
What’s really sad is when we find this approach in churches, especially churches where in the pulpit the “sufficiency of Scripture” is taught and modeled. Think about that. You have a church where the pastor faithfully exegetes God’s Word, develops a passage in context, and applies it accurately to real life. Yet, in the same church, in the “counseling wing,” in the “personal ministry of the Word,” an entirely different mindset holds sway.
Rather than trusting the authority, relevancy, profundity, and sufficiency of God’s Word for real life issues in the counselor’s office, the counselor turns to and depends upon secular concepts in an attempt to address issues of the soul. That pastoral counselor might actively pray for and with parishioners. The pastoral counselor might “baptize” the counseling appointment by sprinkling in the occasional verse of comfort or guidance. However, the counselor fails to develop a comprehensive, compassionate, Christ-centered approach to the life issue.
Sad Example B: The “Secular Approach in Christian Higher Education
I find it equally sad when we see this approach in Christian higher education. This is especially sad and even maddening in schools where the Bible department, the biblical languages departments, and the theology departments all model a trust in the sufficiency of Scripture. Yet, in the pastoral ministry department or the counseling department, that trust is less evident.
Rather than teaching their pastors-to-be and their counselors-to-be how to engage Scripture deeply and how to relate truth to life wisely and lovingly, the bulk of the time is spent in examining what the world has to say. And a decent amount of time is spent criticizing those “naïve biblical counselors” with their one-verse, one-problem, one-solution approach.
There has to be a better, more biblical way, right? These two extremes can’t be our only options, can they?
A Biblical Way: A SOUL-u-tion-Focused Christ-Centered “Concept” Approach
Anyone who reads my blog posts or my books knows that I’m not a “psychology basher.” I don’t spend my time and expend my energy on “what I’m against.” I focus on “what I’m for”—changing lives with Christ’s changeless truth.
While I can’t reproduce my entire ETS paper here in blog form (it’s over 10,000 words), I can offer a way forward. For those convinced that the Bible provides wise counsel for specific and significant soul issues, the core question is, “In what form are those answers provided?”
We won’t find the biblical answer in the “concordance form”—one-problem, one-verse, one-solution. Instead, the Bible provides counsel for specific and significant soul issues in a “concept form.” This requires that we conceptualize problems using biblical wisdom principles that address the complexity of real and raw life as lived in a fallen and broken world.
This takes time, effort, training, work, energy, prayer, and dependence upon the Spirit. That’s why it is so seldom done.
We race to one verse or one secular book rather than entering the marathon of the hard work of studying the Bible cover to cover to relate God’s truth to human life. While our concordance may not contain the phrase “sexual abuse,” the Bible comprehensively and compassionate addresses life concepts such as gender, sexuality, sexual sin, shame, shalom, masculinity, femininity, power and powerlessness, abuse, voice and voicelessness, hiding, longings, desires, mindsets, motivations, emotions, self-protection, comfort, healing, forgiveness, confrontation, mind renewal, the image of God, and so much more.
The Bible offers a robust, relevant, and relational understanding of the damage done by sexual abuse and of the way forward toward Christ-centered healing from sexual abuse. What we need is a biblical and theological approach that provides a way of viewing and using the Bible to develop a theology and methodology of sexual abuse counseling.
The intent of my ETS paper is to share “the how to.” For far too long we’ve told people to trust the sufficiency of Scripture, yet we’ve failed to teach people how to view the Bible and we’ve failed to equip people in how to use the Bible to relate truth to life.
The intent of this blog post is to raise awareness, to provoke toward deeper thinking, to challenge each of us to “put feet” to our trust in God’s Word.
Join the Conversation
Do you trust your Bible?
When you or someone you care about is struggling with an intense, real-life issue, where do you turn?
If you turn to your Bible, do you turn there in a way that produces a robust, relational, relevant, Christ-centered approach for changing lives with Christ’s changeless truth?
Note: After November 20, 2011, you can visit the RPM Ministries Free Resources Page to download the ETS paper. Scroll down on that page to the ETS label and click on: A Theologically-Informed Approach to Sexual Abuse Counseling: Implementing the Hermeneutical Spiral.