12 Wisdom Principles for Hearing and Responding to Critiques

May 11, 2015

Howard Eyrich

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Howard Eyrich

A Word from Your BCC Team: Today’s post is a very important contribution from an individual who has been a leader in the modern biblical counseling movement since its launch—Dr. Howard Eyrich. Dr. Eyrich is addressing an issue—how to humbly and wisely respond to and engage with those who critique us—that the BCC addressed in our launch document known as the BCC Confessional Statement. In the Introduction to this document, we noted that:

“We confess that we have not arrived. We comfort and counsel others only as we continue to receive ongoing comfort and counsel from Christ and the Body of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). We admit that we struggle to apply consistently all that we believe. We who counsel live in process, just like those we counsel, so we want to learn and grow in the wisdom and mercies of Christ.”

In the final of 12 statements, we addressed the importance of Christlike and Christ-honoring engagement with others—both inside and outside the modern biblical counseling movement:

“We want to present the claims, mercies, hope, and relevance of Christ in a positive, loving, Christ-like spirit (1 Peter 3:15). We seek to engage the broad spectrum of counseling models and approaches. We want to affirm what is biblical and wise. Where we believe models and methods fall short of Christ’s call, we want to critique clearly and charitably. When interacting with people with whom we differ, we want to communicate in ways that are respectful, firm, gracious, fair-minded, and clear. When we perceive error, we want to humbly point people forward toward the way of truth so that we all become truer, wiser, more loving counselors. We want to listen well to those who disagree with us, and learn from their critiques. Our mission to spread the truth and fame of Jesus Christ includes a desire that all counselors appreciate and embrace the beauty of a Christ-centered and Word-based approach to people, problems, and solutions.”

Dr. Eyrich writes in the spirit of the BCC’s Confessional Statement as he lays out for us 12 wisdom principles regarding how those in the modern biblical counseling movement can respond to critiques—whether from others who self-identify as being within the movement or from those who self-identify as being outside the movement.

The Modern Biblical Counseling Movement as a “Profession”

Biblical counseling has become a “profession.” It may not have been the intention of Jay Adams and other early leaders to create a profession, but the result of their work has produced one.

Hence, we find ourselves in the position of facing critics from a variety of directions. The following twelve statements spell twelve recommendations that I hope will be helpful guides for us in the coming days. There is a bit of an overlap between several of these recommendations, but the emphasis is a bit different in each one.

Statement 1: We need to labor at a continual renewal and refreshing of our biblical theology. These critiques are far wider and deeper than counseling methodology. They are distinctly theological.

Statement 2: These critiques call us to disciplined clarity. The broad strokes of our earlier historic approach are insufficient to address the sophisticated criticism of today. It was easy to distinguish the error of Freud and contrast ourselves to his philosophy.

Statement 3: These criticisms demand that we do not depend upon our passion to carry the day. Reasoned responses, formulated through a theological framework with effectiveness illustrated by good research, is essential. A passionate address without substance to a friendly audience will gain applause, but to the professional world it will yield being discounted. We cannot be satisfied with talking to ourselves.

Statement 4: These criticisms call for refined language carefully chosen to say precisely what we desire to say. We must articulate in perspicuous language that is clearly expressed and therefore easily understood.

Statement 5: We must read and listen carefully to our critics and we must answer with preciseness. We must learn to ask penetrating questions. We do not have to have the answer on the end of our tongue. We must admit when we do not readily have a well-thought-through formulated answer in some instances, and then we must take up the challenge to develop the answer.

Statement 6: We must take up the “offensive” without being defensive or attacking. We need to anticipate the next round of challenges, articulate our perceptions, and deliver the answers.

Statement 7: We must demonstrate in our writing and our counselor training a Christlike level of compassion. There should be no cause for someone who comes to us out of a life of sexual and personal abuse or unbiblical lifestyle to ever level a charge that we were cruel or lacking in compassion. Biblical truth in that person’s life may call for difficult wrestling with personal responsibility, but that must come only after we have formed a bond of love and trust in which such work can be done with love-rooted security.

Statement 8: We must do a better job of grasping secular modalities, understanding them, and being able to give a credible biblical response to them. Simply retreating into our theological presuppositions without a clear, well-reasoned, and knowledgeable grasp of the nuances of the argument, the technique, and the analysis will no longer serve our movement, or worse yet, the gospel.

Statement 9: We must encourage a cadre of next generation biblical counselors, who are cross-trained, practitioner-academics. That means that many of us need to have an eagle eye out for such promising individuals, mentor them (at the expense of our own success if necessary) as they move through their academic training and their daily practice of ministering to people.

Statement 10: These criticisms must motivate us to regular, thorough, theological, prayerful, and devotional investigation of the Scriptures seeking the face of God so that the glory of God is reflected in our persona, our practice, and our teaching.

Statement 11 on Clarity: When critiquing one another, are we sure we are assessing the biblical counseling person or group accurately, including a comprehensive firsthand understanding of the person or group’s writing or ministry practice. We easily slip into the journalistic style so common today that takes a sound bite or blog bite and turns it into something quite different than the intended meaning of the author. Are we distinguishing the difference between an exploratory opinion and a serious deviation? In other words, because someone may nuance a view differently than we do, does that come to the level of error?

Statement 12 on Charity: Are we willing to and engaging in the ministry of speaking the truth in love? We must be willing to follow the biblical principle articulated in Matthew 18 that we advocate in our counseling practice. We must be willing to interact with the person privately expressing our concern in humility and love before we are willing to go public with our critique even if the self-identified biblical counseling representative has gone public with his/her criticism.

A Final Analysis

I am suggesting that we, like the Apostle Paul, must write and teach Romans-style. We need to present the truth. We need to anticipate the critique. We need to own the objections and critiques and with careful, precise language address them. We must learn to frame the argument or set the course of the discussion and provide rationale for what we think, propose, and do in language that can be understood by those who disagree with us, rather than react to the critiques.

Join the Conversation (Added by the BCC Team)

What are your reflections on these “12 Statements”?

What additional “Statements” would you add concerning how to respond in a Christlike and Christ-honoring way to those who offer critiques of the modern biblical counseling movement?

2 thoughts on “12 Wisdom Principles for Hearing and Responding to Critiques

  1. Well conceived and said. I hope to adhere to these principals. Our upcoming ACBC conference promises to be challanging in this area.

  2. Thankful for this post. It articulates key points that the BC movement must continue to develop. I’ve been considering a couple issues myself, and I think this post plays into them: 1) A number of folks have written about the “2nd generation” of BC—when will we know that we’ve entered a “3rd generation”—what are the benchmarks (I think some of them may be contained in this article)? and 2) BC currently relies heavily upon empirical research coming out of the purely scientific arena (where needed or helpful) and then is forced to nuance them theologically—when does the BC movement establish its own biblically faithful research projects, if ever?

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