Counseling & Christianity Review

August 21, 2013

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A Helpful Guide

Being a native of the Hawaiian islands, I can spot someone who is lost from a mile away. They’re called tourists. They all have a similar look, equal parts confusion, desperation, and defeat, and an obnoxious Aloha shirt, loud shorts and knee high socks, on the beach no less.  But more importantly I know what they need: a guide; someone who can help them navigate the terrain and help them understand the culture; someone who can make the unfamiliar seem more familiar by helping them bridge the gaps between what they know and what they don’t. 

What is true of popular vacation spots is also true of fields of knowledge. A guide is necessary to help make sense of things that seem simultaneously familiar yet foreign, similar yet different. Counseling and Christianity is such a guide to the burgeoning world of Christian soul care practice.

While Counseling and Christianity can certainly stand as its own work, it is helpful to see this text as the practical application of its theoretical predecessor; Psychology and Christianity: Five Views. Taken together, these two books form an excellent foundation for student and teacher.

A Helpful Introduction

From the science-based levels of explanation on the one hand, to the Scripture-based view of biblical counseling on the other, Counseling and Christianity is a helpful introduction to the methods, techniques, and visions of the five most prominent schools of thought regarding counseling within Christianity today.

Counseling and Christianity shines as both a pedagogical textbook and practical skills primer. The book accomplishes both these goals through the ingenious use of a single case study of “Jake” that each representative practitioner counsels based upon their model. This is the core of the book, which then concludes with an impressively evenhanded treatment of each view and analysis of the corresponding strengths and weaknesses in relation to the others.

Such an evenhanded response is no small feat considering the vast foundational differences between some of the views presented. Biblical counselors will appreciate Dr. Stuart Scott’s chapter because of his clear use of Scripture and shared core convictions. However, there is information to be gleaned from each chapter even if it is only awareness of the other representative views, methods, techniques, and weaknesses. The gracious spirit that marks this book makes Counseling and Christianity so worthwhile for those new to the field.

Lifelong Learning

Another strength of Counseling and Christianity is the desire to help the reader develop his or her own framework for understanding the various models of counseling and to self-consciously adopt a particular model after thoughtful engagement. “The intention of these pages is to guide counselors to initiate a lifelong helping journey with confidence and conviction” (203). Clear and specific learning objectives strategically placed at the beginning of each chapter and insightful follow-up questions for review also aid in this process.

Finally, by raising questions of assessment, mental health, pathology, methodological practice, treatment goals, and understanding of the therapeutic alliance the reader grasps each model clearly so he or she can have a better understanding of which view most closely aligns with his or her own convictions when it comes to counseling practice. 

Masters at Practice

Furthermore, since counseling is about working with actual people, the focus of this text is to expose its audience to masters at practice. After all, counseling is not simply knowledge of a theory but also its skillful application. “The best gauge of helper proficiency for bridging theological perspectives and ethical Christian service is the active application of a cognitive framework that facilitates counseling connections and conversations” (202).

The bulk of this book is an opportunity to “listen in” and learn from some of the most well known contributors in the field like Mark McMinn, Stuart Scott, and Thomas Plante as they ply their trade. Biblical counselors will clearly resonate with Stuart Scott’s skillful presentation in chapter seven. Scott’s assessment, approach, and understanding of “Jake” truly represent some of the finest in the biblical counseling movement today. These five chapters are a treasure trove of case analysis and practice that any practicing counselor will cherish and return to again and again. 

All Roads Do Not Lead to the Same Destination

If Counseling and Christianity suffers from any weakness it is a weakness shared by all such “five views” books. When competing views are compared and contrasted in such a gracious manner, it is sometimes easy to forget an important fact. Some views are closer to the truth than others and not every view, and certainly not every aspect of every view, should be given the credibility it receives. 

When dealing with soul care this is an especially critical reality to keep in mind. The more a counseling model drifts away from the revealed truth in Scripture, whether explicitly or implicitly, the more scrutiny and discernment must be practiced. This is not to say the model is false, it is merely to point out that the practitioner needs to be vigilant in keeping Jesus Christ at the center when the model would dictate otherwise. 

After all, all roads don’t lead to Rome or Waikiki Beach in keeping with my opening illustration. Some roads take you where you need to go and others can lead you to a dead-end. A wise tour guide will know the difference. 

In spite of this shortcoming within comparative views books, Counseling and Christianity serves as a wise tour guide. Both student and teacher are served well in learning to navigate this important topic with knowledge, skill, and discernment.   

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