I was already a pastor when I discovered the biblical counseling movement, but I wasn’t a very wise one.
I had already been to a great Bible college and seminary, and I was already preaching, teaching, discipling, and counseling. I had learned, however, very early into my first pastorate that I was woefully unprepared for ministering to people face to face. A couple came to me with marital problems, and even though I knew my Bible and theology in the abstract, I had very little more than platitudes to offer them in the counseling room. They soon divorced, and I started searching high and low for some more wisdom.
At that time, a pastor friend, Robert Jones (now a BCC council member), introduced me to the biblical counseling movement and, in particular, The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). I began to wolf down the Journal of Biblical Counseling each quarter and take in as much biblical counseling training as I could—which led, in time, to receiving the D.Min in pastoral counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary under the direction of the faculty of CCEF. Clearly, I was hooked.
When I discovered the biblical counseling movement, I felt like I had found the mother-lode of wisdom ore for pastoral ministry. I still feel that way, and know there is much more to drill down into. Let me tell you what I love so much about biblical counseling (when it’s at its best).[i]
When It’s at Its Best, Biblical Counseling Is Multi-Chromatic
Biblical counseling addresses the whole person, body and soul. It recognizes both suffering (what comes at us) and sin (what comes out of us) as causes and effects in life-problems. Biblical counselors understand that life is not “thin” and always reducible to simple principles. Life is richly multi-layered and surprisingly complex.
For example, not all worriers worry the same way even though their anxiety is part of the same family of problems. Some depression stems from fear, some from anger, and some from who-knows-where. Someone who cuts herself may be saying something very different with her behavior than someone else.
When It’s at Its Best, Biblical Counseling Is Fearless
Biblical counseling does not shy away from the “hard” problems. The gospel addresses things we’d rather run from, such as addictions, depression, anxiety, and self-injury.
It is also not afraid of engaging with powerful secular theories (ex. addiction as disease) or half-truth Christian psychological theories (ex. “rest in God’s love so that you don’t have to rely on the affection and admiration of other people”). Because of common grace, Biblical counselors can recognize and rejoice in the good of these other approaches while graciously and vigorously setting out the biblical alternative.
When It’s at Its Best, Biblical Counseling Is Realistic
Biblical counselors recognize that change is progressive. Most often, life change is a process that can take time and involve setbacks. Change is possible (optimism), but change is difficult (realism).
It helps that our goal is increasing conformity to the image of Christ, not well-oiled, functioning lives. Biblical counselors (at their best) don’t aim at simply “making life work”—which, in some situations, could be an almost impossible goal.
When It’s at Its Best, Biblical Counseling Is Heart-Focused
Even though biblical counseling addresses the whole person, it is particularly focused on “the heart,” the spiritual control-center of our lives. Biblical counselors know that we live “out of our hearts” and are driven, not by psychological “needs,” but by our worship, beliefs, inner motives, wants. Our hearts are “radically vertical.” All of life is worship—whether true or false.
Biblical counselors apply biblical categories to heart-motives. Two examples: (1) shifting “kingdom allegiances” can drive our fear, worry, and anxiety, and (2) “idolatry” is a helpful biblical category for understanding addiction.
Biblical counselors know that sin is not “thin” and can’t be reduced to our transgressive behaviors. Indwelling sin taints our whole person—desires, thoughts, attitudes, and all. The true and lasting solutions to our life problems have to address the heart with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When It’s at Its Best, Biblical Counseling Is Horizontal
Though our hearts are radically vertical in orientation, our lives are lived horizontally in community with other people. And we are all fellow sufferers and fellow sinners. Biblical counselors know that there is no “us” and “them,” no “priestly counselor class.”
Each believer is a priest, and each believer needs ministry. This actually helps the biblical counselor because he/she knows that they have a common experience of life with those they are helping. This horizontal dimension is simply a practical ecclesiology.
When It’s at Its Best, Biblical Counseling Is Truth-In-Love-Speaking
Biblical counseling involves talking. The talking, however, is not just a Rogerian feeling-fest, but the speaking of biblical truth in love to the person caught in the problem. The content of the talking is the gospel displayed in its rich and manifold ways.
Just as the biblical counselor knows that life is not “thin” and neither is sin, the counselor also knows that the Bible is not “thin.” The Bible, even with its one unified gospel message, is like a symphony carrying its melody into the variegated richness of everyday life.
Biblical counseling is biblical. It believes that the Scriptures sufficiently speak to everything—not saying everything there is to say about everything—but saying the most important things about everything that there is. The Bible does this in helpfully multi-chromatic ways.
Biblical counseling (at its best) does not say, “Take two Bible verses and call me in the morning.” Instead, it employs the rich and colorful depth of Scripture’s Big Story about Jesus and its multiple useful genres overlaid on the vicissitudes of life.
Join the Conversation
Your turn—what do you love about biblical counseling (at its best)?
[i]Obviously, biblical counseling is a movement of various ideas and approaches and is not always “at its best.” If you want to read the history of this movement, two helpful books are The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context by David Powlison and The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams by Heath Lambert.