Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling: Reviewing The Review

September 25, 2013

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BCC Staff Note: This article was originally posted at Bob Kellemen’s Changing Lives blog site. It is re-posted here with Bob’s permission. You can read the original post at The Sufficiency of Scripture

David Murray Reviews Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling

My friend, David Murray, has been reviewing, chapter-by-chapter, the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s first book: Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. To read a post that links to David’s reviews of the Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, go here

As one of the editors of the book, and as a chapter contributor to the book, I’ve appreciated, benefited from, and learned from David’s reviews. David is a deep thinker, a Christian leader with a shepherd’s heart, an experienced author himself, and a godly man with a kingdom focus.

David Reviews Chapter 6

Recently, David posted the latest chapter review in his series—Chapter 6, The Sufficiency of Scripture by Steve Viars and Rob Green. You can read David’s review here

David begins his review with a glowing recommendation for the book as a whole. He then continues in a gracious, positive manner by stating encouraging aspects of chapter six, including the fact that one of the co-authors—Steve Viars—made this a very personal chapter by weaving in the story of his special-needs son, Drew. David lists several other positives about the chapter.

Then, as any good reviewer will do, David turns his attention to suggesting “a couple of areas that need a bit more thought.” That’s a very gracious way to explore perceived weaknesses and to propose further thinking.

Why My Review of David’s Review

Some may wonder, “Bob, why review David’s review, especially if it contains some perceived weaknesses? Won’t this just make more people aware of some negatives about a book you co-edited?”

I’m okay with that. I hope many people read David Murray’s Head, Heart, Hand blog every day. More than that, the Biblical Counseling Coalition, in our Confessional Statement states several times that we want to learn from the critiques of others.

But there’s a second reason I want to review David’s review. I think it may be a microcosm of something all of us have a tendency to do when we assess an individual’s or a group’s writing. I think this tendency especially shows itself when the group is perceived to have a history of weakness related to a given topic. I’d summarize this tendency like this:

We sometimes see what we are looking for and we sometimes fail to see what we do not expect to see. 

Let’s put this in the context of Steve and Rob’s chapter.

The biblical counseling movement has historically been critiqued by others as not being robust enough in their presentation of the sufficiency of Scripture. Further, it has been critiqued by others as not thinking through clearly enough the relationship of sufficiency to physical issues. And it has been critique as not thinking through robustly enough matters of suffering.

 (See my two recent posts about an upcoming BCC book that focuses further on these issues here and here.)

Because Steve and Rob have been open and responsive to this past critique, they related the Scripture’s sufficiency to physical weaknesses and limitations. Some people call this the nature issue. They also related the sufficiency of Scripture to people who suffer, to people with a painful past. Some people call this the nurture issue.

They asked:

“Is the Bible sufficient to help us to respond in a godly way to all of life—including physical weaknesses/limitations and past and present suffering?”

Note that they did not ask, “Does the Bible tell us everything we need to know about the body, medication, and the impact of suffering on the complex mind-body interrelationship?”

In fact, they specifically acknowledge that the Bible does not do that (p. 90).

Summarizing David’s Suggestions

In general, David did not feel that the authors emphasized enough about the physical body.

For example, David suggested that the authors needed to explore further the relationship of “a physical element to at least some of our affections at least some of the time.” He continued, “I’d like to have seen a greater recognition here that at least some feelings, at least some times, have at least some physical component to them that requires more than Scripture to fix.” He wondered if Drew “takes some medications which, to some degree, helps stabilize him?” Later David proposes, “Another part of our imaging Christ is in caring for our bodies, which also involves researching training programs, diets, nutrition, etc.”

The implication is that Steve and Rob in this chapter (and, by inference, the book as a whole) do not address (at all or robustly enough) physical issues and medication….

David then accurately quotes Steve and Rob saying, “But God has given him (Drew) and us a Bible that is sufficient. He truly offers all we need for life and godliness.”

David then says, “No doctors?  No medications? No scans? No physical therapy? No child health experts? Of course not. That’s why such statements should be followed with important clarifications and negations.”

Here we have more than implication. We have a clear assessment that Steve and Rob in this chapter (and, by inference, the book as a whole) did not have any clarifications about doctors, medications, etc.

Now, it’s been over a year since I read Steve and Rob’s chapter. So, when I read David’s review, I kept thinking, “Didn’t Steve and Rob address that? Didn’t they address this? Didn’t they say that also?”

So…I went back to reread their chapter….

What I Think David Some How for Some Reason Missed…

On the second page of their chapter (page 90 of the book), Steve notes that Drew has been to dozens of doctors, specialists, neurologists, therapists, and consultants. Isn’t that a clear clarification?

Why say, “No doctors?  No medications? No scans? No physical therapy?”

Someone who reads David’s review without reading Steve and Rob’s chapter will clearly get a mistaken impression of what Steve and Rob actually said or did not say.   

On page 93, Steve explains that Drew has abnormalities in the development of his brain. He addresses the objective brain tests that demonstrate this. Steve and Rob address diminished physical capacities and the impact of suffering and then relate these to the inner person—an honest, comprehensive approach—nature, nurture, and heart.

Steve and Rob make the clear statement, “It is undeniable that our bodies impact us in all sorts of ways” (p. 98). And, “We all live in a body that is cursed by sin and impacts our choices on a daily basis” (p. 98).

They then address our nurture. “Our challenges are greatly magnified when we consider the power of our environment—the people and circumstances around us in both the past and present. Bible writers repeatedly encourage us to approach such challenges with authenticity and candor, acknowledging our past hurts and present suffering” (p. 98).

They summarize all of this as: nurture (sin-cursed world) and nature (sin-cursed body) and inner person (active worshipping heart) (p. 99).

Steve and Rob also discuss the role of psychological research (p. 105).

Aren’t those clarifications and negations? Why quote Steve and Rob without presenting the context in which their quote was given? The chapter did not ignore medication, doctors, scans, tests, experts, and psychological research.

To critique the chapter, one has to keep the laser focus of the chapter in mind. Remember my summary:

“Is the Bible sufficient to help us to respond in a godly way to all of life—including physical weaknesses/limitations and past and present suffering?”

 One also needs to review the chapter in the context of the entire book. Steve and Rob were not asked to say the final word on nature/nurture/heart and the Bible.

Just as a few examples (among 28 chapters):

  • Chapter 7 examines an anatomy of the soul/body looking at who we are as comprehensive embodied souls embedded in a fallen world.
  • Chapter 8 explores, in even greater detail, nature/nurture issues.
  • Chapter 9 discusses the impact of sin on the human personality and predicament.
  • Chapter 26 presents a compassionate biblical “sufferology”—how we minister to those who are suffering.
  • Chapter 27 highlights biblical counseling and our emotions.
  • Chapter 28 examines the complex mind-body connection—written by a Christian psychiatrist. It concludes with a testimonial of a biblical counseling leader who, in a holistic response to his depression, took anti-depressants.

So, I have to scratch my increasingly-balding head when I read David saying:

“No doctors?  No medications? No scans? No physical therapy? No child health experts? Of course not. That’s why such statements should be followed with important clarifications and negations.

Steve and Rob addressed all of that. The book addressed all of that.

Am I Just a Defensive Editor and Friend?

As much as I know my heart (and I’ve asked a couple of trusted friends to help me to assess my heart response to David’s post), I don’t think I am responding out of defensiveness as an editor. I don’t think I am responding out of loyalty to Steve and Rob—both dear friends.

I’m writing because I wonder if David has done what I know I have a tendency to do. I see what I’m looking for, what I expect to see. I don’t see what I don’t expect to see. I assume that a past characterization of an individual or group is true now. I critique a group for something and then I don’t’ allow them to grow beyond my critique.

I don’t think Steve and Rob’s chapter is perfect. I certainly don’t think my chapters in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling are perfect. But I do think Steve and Rob more than adequately addressed what David says they did not adequately address.

So What?

My personal “take-away” is:

I want to be more careful to read others with open eyes.

Now, David may read my review of his review and disagree. That’s okay. It won’t be the first time that David and I have agreed to disagree and remained loyal friends. Perhaps I’ve not read David’s review with open eyes. I stand ready to have my eyes opened.

Join the Conversation

What is your personal “take-away”?

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