A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the first of a two-part Biblical Counseling Coalition Grace & Truth blog miniseries. In this series, we’ve asked Dr. Bob Kellemen to introduce you to two new biblical counseling books he’s written: Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (October 2014, Zondervan) and Gospel-Conversations: How to Care Like Christ (October 2015, Zondervan).
Picture With Me…
Picture with me a committed Christian sitting at Starbucks with her best friend and fellow church member. Her heart is pounding as she silently prays, “Lord, please give me wisdom.” Her friend has finally opened up about the fear, anxiety, and panic she experiences daily, and shared, “I know the Bible talks about trusting the Lord and taking all my anxiety to Him. But how in the world do I relate who God is and what His Word says to my fears?” I’ve written Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations for this committed Christian friend and thousands like her—for folks like you—who want to know what to do after the hug.
Picture with me a pastor stepping out from behind the pulpit. He’s just finished confidently preaching on James 4:1-4 and the source of relationship problems. During the meet-and-greet time after the service, a visitor, not knowing that this is typically time for casual chit-chat, asks the pastor, “How could my wife and I apply your message to our marriage? We’ve seen a divorce attorney, but we’d like to save our marriage. Could you help?” While looking poised on the outside, inside the pastor is thinking, “They taught me how to preach in seminary, but not how to help a struggling couple to change.” I’ve written Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations for this pastor and thousands like him—for folks like you—who long for the same confidence and competence in the personal ministry of the Word that you have in the teaching ministry of the Word.
Picture with me a couple called by their church to lead their congregation’s new one-another equipping ministry. It’s designed to train “the average person in the church” to be “competent to counsel.” Sorting through literally hundreds of excellent books on counseling, the husband says to his wife, “So much great material. But where do we begin? My head is swimming with information, but at the same time drowning with overload.” His wife, nodding in agreement, replies, “We need something that ties this all together, that guides us from the big picture to the nightly lesson. You know, like the Evangelism Explosion training manuals do for sharing our faith.” I’ve written Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations for this couple and thousands like them—for folks like you—who long for a focused local church counseling curriculum. For folks who want a best-practice approach for equipping God’s people to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth so they can care like Christ.
Not “Smurfy” or Trendy, but Eternal and Daily
In Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson tells about a gospel-loving friend who asked him, “Do you remember The Smurfs? Do you remember how they used the word ‘smurfy’ for everything? If something was great, the Smurfs said it was smurfy.” His friend then wondered whether “all the gospel-centered this and gospel-driven that is just our version of ‘smurfy.’”[i]
It’s a legitimate concern. Is “gospel-centered” like “smurfy”? Are we just jumping on the proverbial bandwagon? Mimicking the popular lingo? Enjoying being trendy by dropping a gospel buzzword into every other sentence?
I’d prefer to think gospel-centeredness reflects Paul who said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). I’d prefer to believe that gospel-centeredness echoes the author of Hebrews who penned every sentence in Hebrews as a word of gospel encouragement (Hebrews 13:22) applied to the life of believers enduring suffering and battling besetting sins.
The KJV version captures well our potential attitude toward gospel-centeredness: “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6, KJV). We could be gospel-centered in a way that’s trendy or in a way that’s eternal. We could be gospel-centered in a way that’s “smurfy” or in a way that applies Christ’s changeless truth in our changing times to change lives.
I’ve been equipping biblical counselors in the local church and seminary settings for three decades. I summarized those thirty years in Soul Physicians:
I have doggedly pursued the fundamental question: What would a model of biblical counseling and discipleship look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace? What does the gospel offer? What difference does the gospel make in how we live, how we relate, and how we offer help?[ii]
I have had a lifelong passion for gospel-centered counseling—applying God’s eternal plan of salvation and sanctification in Christ to our daily lives and relationships.
What does gospel-centered counseling mean? When I joined three dozen counseling leaders in a yearlong process to craft the Confessional Statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, we united to describe counseling centered on Christ and the gospel.
We believe that wise counseling centers on Jesus Christ—His sinless life, death on the cross, burial, resurrection, present reign, and promised return. Through the Gospel, God reveals the depths of sin, the scope of suffering, and the breadth, length, height, and depth of grace. Wise counseling gets to the heart of personal and interpersonal problems by bringing to bear the truth, mercy, and power of Christ’s grace. There is no true restoration of the soul and there are no truly God-honoring relationships without understanding the desperate condition we are in without Christ and apart from experiencing the joy of progressive deliverance from that condition through God’s mercies. We point people to a person, Jesus our Redeemer, and not to a program, theory, or experience.[iii]
What does gospel-centered counseling look like? It will take me two books—Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations—to answer that question. But here’s a one-sentence summary:
Gospel-centered counseling promotes personal change centered on the Person of Christ through the personal ministry of the Word.
Life’s Eight Ultimate Questions
What does that look like in “real life”? In my study of Scripture, I’ve found that the Bible’s grand gospel narrative defines for us eight ultimate life questions.
- The Word: “Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?”
- The Trinity/Community: “What comes into our mind when we think about God?” “Whose view of God will we believe—Christ’s or Satan’s?”
- Creation: “Whose are we?” “In what story do we find ourselves?”
- Fall: “What’s the root source of our problem?” “What went wrong?”
- Redemption: “How does Christ bring us peace with God?” “How does Christ change people?”
- Church: “Where can we find a place to belong and become?”
- Consummation: “How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference in our lives today as saints who struggle against suffering and sin?”
- Sanctification: “Why are we here?” “How do we become like Jesus?” How can our inner life increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ?”
Together, these eight ultimate life questions seek to answer the biblical counselor’s foundational question:
“What would a model of biblical counseling and discipleship look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?”
In Gospel-Centered Counseling, I explore, chapter by chapter, each of life’s ultimate questions as they relate to your life and ministry as a biblical counselor.
Join the Conversation
How would you define “gospel-centered counseling”?
[i]Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, 213.
[ii]Robert Kellemen, Soul Physicians, 3.
[iii]The Biblical Counseling Coalition Confessional Statement: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/about/confessional-statement/.