As a biblical counselor in the French-speaking province of Québec, I don’t often have the opportunity to discuss the issue of integration with other Christian counselors. The reason is simple. With less than 1% of Evangelicals in the population of 6 million French Canadians, we are just a handful of Christians who counsel in the province and rarely stomp on each other’s feet! For us, in this very atheistic mission field (a microcosm of France), academic dispute has a low place in our “to-do list.”
A Glance at Biblical Counseling and at the Concept of Integration
However, allow me in this blog to share with you some thoughts and pondering about the issue of integration and integrationistic counseling. For the reader who might not be familiar with this philosophical issue, I would define integration as “an effort to redeem psychological systems through the Bible (filter) in order to develop tools (systems and techniques) useful for the Christian who counsels.”
Before going further, allow me to tell you my core values about counseling. As a biblical counselor and also a biblical counseling professor at SEMBEQ Seminary in Montréal, I have 3 very firm beliefs:
- That the Bible is sufficient to address any situation in human life on the spectrum of progressive sanctification.
- That the gospel should be connected richly and relevantly at the center of every counseling intervention.
- That we, as counselors, must as much as possible make the distinction between body issues and sinful patterns of the heart (and, yes, I know there is a very complex overlap here, but that is perhaps the subject of another post).
A Few Practical Observations
With that being said, I made two very practical observations about counseling cases (mine, my student’s cases, and also other colleagues which I will call for the purpose of this blog—“Integrationist Counselors”).
- The reality is that sometimes I did observe fruits of spiritual growth in people that consulted those integrationist colleagues.
- At other instances, I saw biblical counselors give counseling where I had difficulty seeing the gospel and still I saw some clear spiritual fruits!
My conclusion is that God seems to enjoy using imperfect means to do His work and to advance His Kingdom. Does that mean that I don’t care about integration? No. I believe in striving to provide counseling that will be the most relevant and powerful as is possible. And for me that means striving to give sound gospel-centered biblical counseling. Nevertheless, I think that the gospel is so powerful that God can use it even if it is diluted by adapting secular views.
I could end this post here saying that God can use all kinds of counseling because I think that I didn’t say anything too controversial so far. But, if you want to read the whole of my musings on integration, you and I need to go a bit further as I will tell you another realization I made.
I think that to a certain extent we are all integrationists. Wow! I think I need to explain myself here.
When I had my biblical Greek class at Reformed Theological Seminary under Dr. Miles Van Pelt, he taught us that there was a certain paradigm attached to each language, and that it was why some words were very difficult to translate from biblical Greek to English. He taught that in any given language, there will not only be a value system but also a way of seeing things. We see that even more clearly if we read the poetic books of the Old Testament in biblical Hebrew. We see all the parallelism and idioms that were used by the ancients to communicate their reality. So, in a way, reading the Old Testament in biblical Hebrew gives us a glimpse of how the ancients saw and understood their world. As you are probably well aware, a big part of the exegesis process is being able to extract the true meaning of a text. And for that, we must understand the context and worldview of the original author.
Each of us, like the biblical author, has a worldview, familial values, and cultural influences.
So, whether it pleases us or not to admit it, all of us bring our paradigms and our ways of seeing the world when we approach the biblical text. And all of us bring a diversity of baggage when we connect the Scriptures to people’s lives in counseling. Of course, one can be mindful of his biases, and there are certainly techniques and precautions to minimize the impact of our “glasses” when we study Scriptures and do counseling. But at the end of the day, I think it would be arrogant for any biblical counselor to pretend that our counseling is 100% pure and not integrating any bits of our worldviews, cultural presuppositions, and value systems.
That is the reason why I said that we are all integrationists to a certain extent. So, what is the difference between integrationistic counseling and those like me who use the label of biblical counselor to describe them?
What, Then, Makes Biblical Counseling Truly Biblical?
I like to think of two essentials for one to give himself the right of calling his counseling biblical:
- The content of his counseling (both interpretation and intervention).
- His intention about the gospel.
For sure, one could hardly call his counseling “biblical counseling” if it is not biblical (and I might add gospel-centered). That would be one very obvious essential. I don’t think I have to write more about that.
The other essential, in my opinion, is one of intention and this has no relation with the type of degree you have or with the school you graduate from (that is not necessarily what makes you a biblical counselor or an integrationist counselor!). When we talk about how intentional a counselor is about the gospel, there are two sides of the coin. Are you, as counselor, very intentional about not only connecting wisely, relevantly, and richly the gospel to the person you are seeing, but also about living it yourself and enjoying to the full extent how much it indeed tastes good? I believe that kind of intentionality is a very important essential.
If what’s exciting you are only integrationist systems because you find it easier and more efficient to do counseling this way, I don’t judge you and even less prophesize that God won’t use you (that is up to Him!).
But if this hat fits you, let me warn you, dear reader, that any system (even our own culture, worldview, education, and even denomination) tends to give us blind spots. And as counselors trying to probe the complexity of the human heart, we certainly want the fewer blind spots that are possible!
So, Where Does This Bring Us?
So, where does that brings us? Can it be useful to read psychology books? I think it can be. Can it be useful to have “psychological” training? I think it can be.
Not to use it integrally for spiritual growth because that is not what psychology is intended for. So, what’s the use? But to better understand the worldview (each secular psychology school of thought is attached to a unique worldview) of the people we counsel—so we can better apply the gospel specifically to their lives.
In the Gospel Coalition this year (2015), Dr. Tim Keller gave a workshop titled “Preaching to the Heart.” In his lecture, he said that he read a lot and made sure that he didn’t only read Christian books. He advised the preachers in the room to read not only their Bible, but also secular philosophy, politics, fiction, biographies, poetry, etc. When asked why he read so much, he said that it was because he is desperate. Desperate to reach the heart. He explained that to preach the gospel in a manner that is relevant to his audience, he needed to understand them. I think that most of the people who know Dr. Keller’s ministry would agree that his ministry is very gospel-centered.
As a biblical counselor, are we desperate to reach the heart with the gospel? I hope we all are!
I think that the same principles explained by Dr. Keller for pastors and preachers can be applied to biblical counselors. We need to read a lot, not to dilute to gospel, but rather “to connect” it in a more relevant way in a manner that will make sense to people.
Don’t get me wrong, the gospel remains the real thing (the only thing that will make you move ahead, by God’s grace, in the progressive sanctification spectrum), and this is where I want to be primarily fed. But there are at least two reasons for being educated about secular or integrationist psychology.
- Sometimes, because of God’s common grace and God’s imprint still being in them (don’t worry here, I am Reformed and believe in man’s total depravation), we see unbelievers articulate compassion related to specific areas of suffering and share some observational insights about common human experiences.
- As I said in my 3 core beliefs in the beginning of the blog, I think that it’s crucial to situate ourselves on the spectrum of progressive sanctification and be discerning of body issues and medical conditions. Gaining an understanding of those disorders is an asset. I humbly believe that we, as biblical counselors, have some things to learn from psychiatry and psychology. Of course, it is not to find in their field of studies the solution for growing in Christ. But it allows us to have a clearer understanding of the scope of our practice and also of how efficient teamwork with psychiatrists and psychologists can take place. The acquisition of relevant scientific data can be helpful. Will there still be overlap and differences of opinions between psychology and biblical counseling? Yes.
Now, I could reverse the question for the biblical counselor and ask, “Is it useful to study the Scriptures and theology?” Yes! Extremely useful because that is the most important knowledge, especially for us to carry out our mandate. A good knowledge of sciences and of worldviews can be an asset, but the knowledge of Scripture is essential. I believe that a biblical counselor should pursue serious and rigorous study of the Bible, and I am not only speaking about getting a theological degree but also about lifelong learning. As you see, there is a question not only of attitude but also of balance.
I hope I did not offend anyone with my musings! May God bless you richly as you incarnate His love based upon His truth in your counseling.
Join the Conversation
Do you believe that any counseling is free from all integration from the counselor’s worldview and culture?
What do you believe are the essentials that make one’s counseling truly biblical counseling?