A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the second post in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Higher Education. In today’s post, Dr. Robert Jones of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary discusses 8 Reasons Why Theology and Theological Training Matter. You can read Part 1, by Dr. Howard Eyrich, here.
Why did I leave a happy, nineteen-year, lead pastor ministry in 2004 to become a seminary professor? One reason rose above others: to train pastors, church planters, and vocational Christian workers to counsel people biblically. Those receiving theological training need biblical counseling training—to know how to take that Word they study and to learn to apply it in practical situations to help struggling people.
But the opposite is also true. Biblical counselors need theological training. Why? Because theological training in a school committed to biblical counseling gives people maximal opportunity to master their Bibles so they can use God’s Word to minister confidently to people. We want to produce a generation of theologically-trained biblical counselors (TTBCrs).
Let’s consider eight categories of theology that directly pertain to our counseling theory and practice. These are not only questions that seminarians wrestle with, but also questions that every Christian counseling approach—however “biblical” or “integrationistic” it claims to be—implicitly answers in some way, rightly or wrongly. We can use these eight categories to fortify our own counseling, but also to assess other approaches that purport to be biblical or Christian.
1. The Bible
What is the source of truth for a counselor? In any particular counseling approach, is the Bible used at all? If so, how? To what degree? Is it interpreted and applied accurately, according to standard methods of exegesis? TTBCrs believe that Scripture itself teaches that all Scripture is God-breathed, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, and superior to all other sources of knowledge. We believe that the Bible actually drives not merely controls our approach—that biblical counseling theory and practice emerges from the Bible, not merely somehow fits with the Bible.
How do we understand and present the triune God, especially Jesus Christ? When TTBCrs read the pages of the New Testament, we behold a Messiah who is the crucified Sin-bearer and risen Empowerer of His people. We see a reigning, interceding High Priest and a returning Savior, Judge, and King over all humanity. Is this the Jesus we see in contemporary Christian counseling? Does the typical Christian therapy book require a personal Redeemer who must die for sinners and then be raised to enable us to live?
How do we think about people? TTBCrs view people as an essential unity consisting of both outward and inward dimensions—a material (physical body) and an immaterial substance (heart, spirit, soul, mind). We are embodied spirits/souls. Whatever bodily problems doctors prove or presume, we must always address our counselee’s soul. Moreover, we believe that God created people in His image, with active hearts inescapably connected with God. Whatever past or present hardships people have suffered (and many of these make us weep), their active hearts are always in some measure responsible and response-able to turn toward or away from God. This perspective alone yields hope (you are not doomed!) amid various forms of victimization people face.
What is the problem that humans face? Why do people sin? Why do people suffer? How did evil enter this world? TTBCrs understand that all human problems ultimately began with the Fall and continue because of both original sin (the sin nature that reigns in unbelievers and remains in believers) and actual sin. Yet we do not hold a simplistic view of sin. As David Powlison puts it,
“Sin, in all its dimensions (for example, both motive and behavior; both the sins we do and the sins done against us; both the consequences of personal sin and the consequences of Adam’s sin), is the primary problem counselors must deal with.”
We deal with both the sins our counselees commit and the suffering they experience from the sins of others. We deal with sin as both our inborn condition and our behavior, as both unbelief and rebellion, as both desiring forbidden things and desiring good things too much, as both internal (concealed) and external (revealed), as both commission and omission, as both rational and irrational, and as both degenerative and self-contained.
Why do people do what they do? What should motivate them? Flowing from our view of people as divine image-bearers, TTBCrs recognize that people are ultimately and always driven by the desire to please, worship, obey, and trust in God or in some thing(s) or person(s) or allegiance(s) other than God. Moreover, we don’t believe that human motives are best explained as inaccessible psychodynamic drives but by the flesh, idolatry, false treasures, and spiritual adultery—inner realities that God’s Spirit and God’s Word bring into the light.
How do people actually change? What is the best mode of counseling therapy? TTBCrs see Christ-centered change occurring through a process of renewing our minds and affections, putting off sin, putting on righteousness, prayer, Scripture reading, serving, worship, etc. In other words, change comes as God’s Spirit progressively uses His public and private means of grace in each counselee’s life.
7. Our Goal
What does the ideal person look like? If all counselors exist to help people to change (in some definition), then what standard do we hold forth for the counselee? When therapists use terms like mental illness, abnormal behavior, and psychological disorders, what does mental health, normal behavior, and “ordered” psyches look like? TTBCrs answer with two words: Jesus Christ. We want people to think like, desire like, talk like, and act like God’s Son, into whose image all of God’s redemptive work aims.
8. People Helpers
Who are the people God uses as His instruments? What do these people do to help people change? TTBCrs grasp the centrality in Scripture of both pastors and godly laypeople in helping people grow and change. We see the church as God’s designed agent and setting for mutual care. Not apart from the God’s Spirit and God’s Word, but as men and women empowered by His Spirit, wielding that Word with grace and wisdom.
Biblical counselor, do you want to grasp and apply these eight scriptural categories more deeply and practically? Then consider basic or advanced theological training.
For biblical counselors, theological matters intensely matter.
Join the Conversation
Why do you think that Christians who want to counsel people biblically should study theology (either formally or informally)?
What dangers do we risk if we counsel without a sound grasp of the above theological categories?
See Robert D. Jones, “The Christ-Centeredness of Biblical Counseling,” chapter 6 in Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, eds. Bob Kellemen and Jeff Forrey (Zondervan, 2014).
David Powlison, “Biblical Counseling in Recent Times,” chapter 2 in John MacArthur and Wayne A. Mack with the Master’s College Faculty, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, (Thomas Nelson, 2005), 28
See Robert D. Jones and Brad Hambrick, “The Problem of Sin,” chapter 9 in Christ-centered Biblical Counseling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth, eds. James MacDonald, Bob Kellemen, and Steve Viars (Harvest House, 2013), 139-152.
At the seminary where I teach, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC (www.sebts.edu), we offer specialized, fully accredited Certificate, MA, M.Div., D.Min., and Ph.D. programs in Christ-centered biblical counseling.