A Short History of Biblical Counseling and Higher Education

August 20, 2015

Howard Eyrich

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Howard Eyrich

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the first post in a several-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Higher Education. In today’s post, Dr. Howard Eyrich explores the history of the modern biblical counseling movement and higher education.

The Intriguing Journey of Seminary Education

Seminary education has been an intriguing journey as well as a major spiritual warfare battlefield. New School Theology of the 1830’s had its roots in the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards impacted by the New Haven Theology of Nathaniel Taylor who integrated Scottish commonsense philosophy into his theology producing a semi-Pelagian framework for Charles Finney’s revivalism.[1] By the late 1800’s there was general movement to moderate the Old School New School difference.

Emerging out of these tensions grew two other sets of tensions. One was the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture over against the humanistic view of the Bible which fueled the liberal/fundamentalist debates. The other was between the traditional academic training of seminaries and the push toward practical theology. The latter was typified when Charles Erdman was called from the pastorate to the newly established Chair of Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary where the board concluded the need to supplement the more academic offerings in the curriculum. This was in contrast to the appointment of J. Gresham Machen (both in 1906) who had little time for “Practical Theology” as a New Testament professor.[2]

Biblical Counseling in the Milieu of Higher Education

There are a number of other such tensions we could trace to elucidate both the intrigue and the spiritual embattlement of seminary education. However, the point of this essay is a focus on biblical counseling in the milieu of higher education.

In 1970, there was no academic education in what we now label the “modern biblical counseling movement.” I was enrolled at CCEF (in its infancy). A number of us pressed Dr. Jay Adams to develop a doctoral program at Westminster Seminary. He indicated that it was several years away from a reality. At his encouragement, I enrolled in a D.Min. program at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary which allowed me to fashion a specialty in counseling, though the sheep skin does not designate it as a counseling degree.

During that same period of history, Dr. Clyde Narramore developed the Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology to provide a Ph.D. with a biblical perspective on psychology/counseling. Around the same period, Fuller Seminary developed a similar program. Thus, a new tension began. On the one side was the integrationist perspective, and on the other side was the biblical perspective.

The now well-known battle at Southern Seminary led by Dr. Al Mohler[3] typifies both the fascinating journey and the spiritual warfare often behind these machinations. This type of skirmish, with much less public scrutiny, has occurred in other seminaries and Bible colleges. Today a person can pursue academic training in a number of institutions where biblical counseling is a well-developed discipline.

There are other sophisticated integrationist programs where respected advanced degrees may be earned by those of this approach.

The Tension Continues

Hence, the tension continues. We should not be surprised. The last I checked the Bible, spiritual warfare played out in various venues remains a real threat. However, the same refining continues as it did with the Apostle Paul. When challenges arose (spiritual warfare) in the church, his responses brought preciseness to the theology we now have in the New Testament (Romans 8:28). So, these tensions push us to sharpen our theological, methodological, and psychological understanding.

In our Doctor of Ministry program at Birmingham Theological Seminary, in addition to our biblical content, we include the ever-evolving literature of both the secularist and the integrationist perspectives.

While we may be a little known regional seminary, we desire to produce biblical counseling practitioners who are culturally aware when they graduate and who are trained to stay culturally aware throughout their career of service in the Kingdom. I have been encouraged in my association with the Biblical Counseling Coalition that this is the trajectory of many of the institutions of our members. Nonetheless, there is an on-going necessity for all of us as leaders to proceed with caution and alertness[4] (1 Thessalonians 5:6, Ephesians 6:10-18).

Join the Conversation

How important is it for biblical counselors to be culturally aware?

[2]Bradley J. Longfield. The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalist, Modernist and Moderates.
[3]See his 20-year reflection: http://www.sbts.edu/resources/towers/twenty-years-%E2%80%A8and-counting-%E2%80%A8mohler-reflects-on-his-presidency-of-southern-seminary/
[4]See the Biblical Counseling Coalition volume, Scripture and Counseling, pages 157-176. Also, Totally Sufficient edited by Ed Hindson & Howard Eyrich, and in particular the first and last chapters.