Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him
David Powlison’s now classic work, Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture, offers a Christ-centered, comprehensive model for building a biblical theology of biblical counseling based upon a biblical psychology of human nature. Powlison is one of the foremost theologian-practitioners in the biblical counseling world. Seeing with New Eyes compiles articles previously penned (over a period of two decades) by Powlison, all centered around the theme of a theology of biblical counseling.
Powlison defines counseling very practically as “intentionally helpful conversations.” His goal in Seeing with New Eyes is to equip readers to look at such spiritual conversations through God’s perspective—this encompasses the “new eyes” of the title. We see everything in life and ministry entirely differently when God’s eyes become our lens.
Powlison uses the common and very helpful model of Creation/Fall/Redemption to unfold Scriptures’ view of people/problems/solutions. It is through this three-fold conceptual grid that Seeing with New Eyes seeks to assist the church in the care and cure of souls.
The premise is simply profound: Does God have a take on counseling? Powlison answers in the affirmative: God’s gaze has everything to say about the myriad issues counseling addresses. Seeing with New Eyes aspires to listen well, to look closely, and to think hard within the patterns of God’s gaze.
Opening Blind Eyes
Powlison organizes his thoughts in two parts: “Scripture Opens Blind Eyes” and “Reinterpreting Life.” In part one, readers enjoy a biblical theology of biblical counseling from three books of Scripture: Ephesians, Psalms, and Luke. In part two, readers benefit from a biblical psychology of biblical counseling: what is the nature of human nature and why do we do what we do?
In several chapters on Ephesians, Powlison examines how Paul uses Scripture and thus how we should do so in practical theology. He then explores Paul’s view of God and the titanic difference our image of God must make in our lives and ministries. In a final chapter on Ephesians, Powlison uses Ephesians 5:21-6:4 as a model for understanding human relationships. Throughout this section Powlison artfully crafts a pastoral theology for real people with real life issues and a real God with real answers.
At times, biblical counseling has been somewhat slower to emphasize suffering, instead focusing more on sin. So, it is encouraging to see Powlison spend two important chapters on the why and how of suffering, using the Psalms as his guide. These chapters provide a biblical sufferology useful both for the person going through suffering and for the person called along side to help the sufferer.
His chapter on Luke is a sermon on Jesus’ sermon on worry. What Powlison does here is reflective of his entire purpose: he takes one section of Scripture and not only applies it, but models how we can apply it in biblical counseling.
For readers wanting a full-blown, systematic, detailed theology of biblical counseling, Seeing with New Eyes may fall a little short. However, that was not Powlison’s purpose. But for readers wanting an excellent introduction into how to view and use Scripture to begin to develop a biblical model of biblical counseling, Seeing with New Eyes is an excellent primer.
What Is the Nature of Human Nature?: Why Do We Do What We Do?
Having shared a foundational model of biblical counseling theology-building, Powlison now illustrates how to build a biblical psychology—a biblical view of “personality theory.” Put practically, he asks and answers the question, from the perspective of the Creator, “What makes us tick?”
The strength of this section is found in Powlison’s insistence on building a view of human nature not coram anthropos (from the perspective of humanity), but coram Theos (from the perspective of God). We can understand people via people, or we can understand people via God. Powlison rightly chooses to understand the creature not through the creature but through the Creator.
These nine chapters cover, in overview form, almost every issue a biblical counselor needs to ponder when developing a Christian approach to human nature. In each case, Powlison shows insight into the world’s perspective, shares his view of God’s perspective, and does both with a keen eye to practical application and ministry implications.
Chapter 7 develops the big picture of human motivation theory. It explores God’s “X-ray” of what He sees when He looks at why we do what we do. The 35 X-ray questions are worth the proverbial price of the book—practical, theological, psychological, motivational, convicting.
Chapters 8 and 9 present a theology of desire and affections. Biblical counseling at times has been seen to deemphasize desires, affections, and longings. These two chapters go a long way toward reemphasizing the biblical importance of and place of desire, rightly understood, in the Christian’s life. Powlison accurately demonstrates that desire and affection are good terms and core aspect of God’s design, but that because of the Fall we must always battle the temptation to orient our desires away from God.
No pie-in-the-sky theologian, Powlison shows the practicality of a theology of desire/affection in chapter 10 when he addresses the question, What if your father didn’t love you? How does a biblical counselor deal with the legitimate but unmet desire (see James 4:1-4) for a father’s love?
Similarly, Powlison’s chapter “What Do You Feel?” explores another area that at times had previously seen limited press in biblical counseling. How do we understand emotions biblically and how do we mature as emotional beings? Powlison strikes a good balance between living for feelings and ignoring feelings.
In his final chapter, Powlison addresses the complex issues surrounding bio-psychology: what is the role and relationship of the body to the mind? Powlison, in the space allowed, provides a nuanced approach. For instance, Powlison summarizes supportively the historic rule of thumb in biblical counseling: “See a doctor for your body. See your pastor, other pastoral counselors, and wise friends for your heart, soul, mind, might, manner of life, and the way to handle suffering.” But perhaps because the mind/body issue is so complex in its God-designed interworking, this chapter at times felt a little less “deep” and a little too “definitive” compared to the rest of the book. The possible interrelationship of mind/body, brain/soul could have been developed more. That said, Powlison acknowledges the potential ambiguity and encourages the biblical counselor to keep abreast of accurate medical research.
Living Life Well
Seeing with New Eyes is about living life well for God’s glory. It is a surprisingly cohesive book given that it pulls together over a dozen articles written over nearly two decades. It provides a consistent sampler of how to erect a biblical, God-honoring, God-following approach to one-another ministry. It supplies a compass, GPS, directional marker, or map to guide, without being a strait-jacket to follow blindly. The gaze of Christ does in fact shape the spiritual conversations between real people in the real world.
Note: This review was originally posted at the Discerning Reader book review site. It is re- posted here with permission of Bob Kellemen and Discerning Reader. You can read the original review at Seeing with New Eyes.