Triumphalism Versus Dependence

March 26, 2012

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Jeremy Pierre

Triumphalism Versus Dependence

New “converts” are dangerous. To the guy who just switched to Mac, everyone who owns a PC is a technological dinosaur. To the teen who just discovered indie music, everyone who listens to mainstream is a mindless drone. To the young professional who just got his first BMW, people with Hondas are an unfortunate subset of the demographic.

This can be the case with those discovering the wonder of biblical counseling. Let me establish something now, though: The point I will be making is not that biblical counseling should avoid defending its convictions over and sometimes against other forms of counseling. We should not give up the apologetic task of compelling people to see the authority of Scripture in counseling. Rather, I’m pointing out that sometimes we can be so sold on the strengths of our own model that we begin to place our confidence in those strengths.

Confusing the System with the Source

New converts are particularly prone to this, but even those of us who are more established can stumble into it. I have had many a conversation with folks who (rightly) are excited about the promise of biblical counseling, but (wrongly) view it as the solution to the problems of human life. The solution to the problems of human life is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our model of counseling is merely our best attempt to keep God’s activity central to our own.

Sometimes in our attempts to defend the effectiveness of biblical counseling, we can inadvertently slip into an ugly form of triumphalism. By triumphalism, I simply mean the assumption that with enough careful thought and practice, we’ll be able to solve any problem.

Such an assumption may be confused in two primary ways: First, it may be confusing confidence in the Word of God with confidence in the methods and skills we have sought to develop from it. We can subtly equate the excellence of our system with the power that changes lives. Second, it may be confusing our goal of solving a particular issue with God’s goal of glorifying Himself in often mysterious ways.

A Wise Man Who Claimed No Wisdom

To avoid triumphalism, we must remember that God alone grants wisdom to solve the mysteries of human experience, no matter how excellent the avenue of providing that wisdom. Consider Daniel. He was excellent in every way—“without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:4). Though a captured servant, he was greatly honored by his superiors as well as endowed by God with incredible powers of wisdom. In fact, there were none among the wisest of the people like Daniel and his companions (1:19). His answers were prudent, discrete, and full of knowledge (2:14). He was as excellent a counselor as they came.

Yet, when called on by the king to give counsel, he first went to his friends to ask for prayer, and they sought the wisdom for the situation that God alone grants. And when he opened his mouth to counsel the king, he gave an all-important caveat before his advice: “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries… But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living” (2:28, 30).

I wish I were that strikingly dependent on God. I wish everyone practicing biblical counseling were so. The folks who seek us out for counsel should regularly hear from us our utter inability to figure out their particular trouble except the Lord grant wisdom. Our confidence is not in a system, but in a God who reveals mysteries.

Consider two primary ways we can cultivate such dependence.

1. Acknowledge our dependence regularly before God in prayer.

Wisdom is not merely a matter of reading the right book or getting advice from a more experienced counselor. These are helpful, but wisdom’s source is God alone, and He grants it to those who ask. In fact, He demands that we ask it of Him with an undivided heart (James 1:5-8).

So, as you pour over his Word, ask for wisdom as Daniel did. The wisdom He grants will be to accomplish the ends that He wants in your life as well as the person you are counseling.

The complexities of a person’s life involve thousands of details that aren’t always immediately clear to figure out biblically. When has a marital environment become too dangerous for a wife to stay? Who should you believe in a conflicting story when you weren’t there? Should a young man struggling with pornography quit his late-night job at the convenience store? What are proper expectations for the social behavior of the mildly autistic man you’re caring for?

God forbid that we ever act superior to Daniel by consulting our own wisdom and not acknowledging our need for it to be granted by God. We must never allow our understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture or our love for biblical counseling to undermine prayerful dependence upon God for wisdom.

2. Acknowledge our dependence regularly before your counselees.

The folks we help should not hear from us self-confident assurances of specific solutions, but rather dedication to what God is seeking to do in them. Like the people seeking Daniel for wisdom, our counselees should hear of our need for God alone to grant wisdom. We should pray in front of them regularly—not as a perfunctory opening to a session, but as a true expression of our dependence for God to move in that specific meeting time. We should pray for God to accomplish what He wishes through our counseling arrangements.

And that may not always be a solution to all of their troubles. It may not even be a solution to the main trouble they came to you about. We certainly pray and hope for this, but God has purposes larger than ours, and often He wants it to be clear that triumph belongs to Him alone, and according to his timing alone.

Let’s not assume we know the solution.  Let’s ask for God’s, who alone triumphs over the corruption and confusion of the human soul.

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How can confidence in biblical counseling as a model undermine our seeking the wisdom of God?

2 thoughts on “Triumphalism Versus Dependence

  1. Pingback: A good reminder concerning biblical counseling « Nathan Millican's Blog

  2.  Good reminder. I have never been able to put a word to it until I read “triumphalism” in your post, but that is the feeling I got listening to my biblical counseling professor in seminary. His attitude seemed to be “I know the correct way to counsel and anyone who doesn’t agree with me is wrong at best and is probably sinning.” Even though I agree with the theology behind biblical counseling, the
    sense of arrogance I felt from him turned me off to the subject. I still struggle with wanting to reject out of hand whenever I see someone quoting from any of the authors he suggested that we read.

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