Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ Interview

September 7, 2015

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BCC Staff Note: In this Biblical Counseling Coalition Author Interview Q & A, we connected with Dr. Bob Kellemen to learn more about his very important and unique new book on being equipped for one-another ministry: Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ.

BCC: “Bob, thanks for joining us. With all the books available on biblical counseling, what prompted you to write Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ? What is unique about this book?”

BK: “You’re correct that we live in a wonderful time where many fine books are being published on gospel-centered living and on biblical counseling. However, there are very few books designed as a training manual for becoming more like Christ in how we help hurting people.

Gospel Conversations walks readers through a biblical process for learning 21 biblical counseling relational skills, and it does it with one overarching strategy in mind:

We learn to become effective biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community.”

BCC: “Tell our readers more about this strategy of ‘learning by doing’ that you emphasize in Gospel Conversations.”

BK: “Here’s part of the problem, as I see it, in our equipping of biblical counselors and one-another ministers: most of our equipping is done by lecturing. As a result, many of our trainees end up thinking that counseling = lecturing. Counseling training becomes a ‘brain dump’ of content, rather than the personal application of God’s truth to our lives.

Instead, Gospel Conversations teaches that biblical ministry is always a combination of Scripture and soul, of truth and love. That’s why I designed Gospel Conversations with literally hundreds of built-in interaction guides where users of the book can give and receive counseling in their own lives. So much counseling training uses role play (which can be helpful) and observation of others being counseled (which also is very helpful), but it rarely says, ‘We’re human, too. Let’s place our lives on the table in our training group, and let’s give and receive counseling with one another.’

Gospel Conversations is a relational training manual. In Gospel Conversations, we not only gain counseling competency to care like Christ, we also grow in Christlike maturity as we become more like Christ.

Additionally, if people work through Gospel Conversations individually, there are 100s of built-in prompts for ‘self counsel’ so that readers are learning to apply truth to their lives as a foundation for learning to apply truth to other’s lives.”

BCC: “Clearly, Gospel Conversations is not your father’s textbook in biblical counseling equipping! So, what is a ‘gospel conversation’?”

BK: “In the book, I describe ‘gospel conversations’ in several overlapping ways:

  • In gospel conversations, together with our counselees we derive our understanding of earthly life from heaven’s viewpoint—we see life with Cross-eyes.
  • In gospel-centered counseling and gospel conversations, the whole Bible story impacts the whole person’s whole story.
  • Gospel-centered conversations promote personal change centered on the Person of Christ through the personal ministry of the Word.
  • In gospel conversations, we first understand the gospel story, then we seek to understand our friends’ stories, then we journey together to intersect God’s eternal story and their temporal story.

Let’s ponder that last description. Picture yourself with a hurting and struggling friend. You’ve embedded gospel truth in your soul, but you don’t just shout, ‘Gospel!’ the second they ask to talk. No. You listen well and wisely, compassionately and comprehensively, to their journey. Then, rather than just quoting a verse, perhaps out of context, together you explore the narrative of God’s Word as it specifically relates to their life—the whole Bible story impacting the person’s whole story.”

BCC: “You outline gospel conversations with the picture of two guideposts of biblical counseling. Help our readers to understand these guideposts.”

BK: “Again, let’s place ourselves sitting across from a troubled, hurting, and confused friend. They’ve just ‘spilled their guts.’ Our minds are racing. Where do we start? Where do we go?

We need a GPS—Gospel Positioning Script. We need some basic biblical handles to provide some wisdom structure to our counsel. Here’s a phrase I use to help us to ponder those handles:

‘We are saints who face suffering and fight against sin on our sanctification journey.’

I’ve found that some counseling seems only to focus on suffering. Other counseling seems only or primarily to focus on sin. Instead:

‘Biblical counseling must deal thoroughly both with the evils we have suffered and with the sins we have committed.’

So, in Gospel Conversations, readers (users, active participants, group members) learn a compassionate, comprehensive approach to one-another ministry that addresses both suffering and sin and sanctification:

  • Parakaletic Biblical Counseling: Biblical soul care for suffering and sanctification.
  • Nouthetic Biblical Counseling: Biblical spiritual direction for sin and sanctification.

These guideposts help us to know where we are entering our friend’s earthly story and where we can journey together to help them to intersect God’s story with their story.”

BCC: “You then build upon these two guideposts by talking about ‘4 biblical compass points for biblical counseling.’ Introduce our readers to these compass points.”

BK: “Real life is messy, right? As is real and raw counseling. And most counseling situations will always deal with suffering (parakaletic care) and sin (nouthetic care). But the question is, ‘How do we care like Christ in suffering and sin?’

Based upon my examination of Scripture and of church history, in Gospel Conversations, I outline four compass points to give us some wisdom-based direction. The first two relate to suffering/sanctification and parakaletic care:

  • Sustaining and the Earthly Troubling Story: ‘It’s Normal to Hurt’
  • Healing and the Eternal Faith Story: ‘It’s Possible to Hope’

As you engage with a suffering friend, picture yourself pivoting between two worlds: the earthly world of their suffering where life is bad, and the eternal world of their hope in Christ that reminds us that God is good. We always listen with both ears—to our friend’s story and to God’s story. In sustaining, we offer comfort by empathizing with our friend and communicating that ‘it’s normal to hurt.’ In healing, we offer encouragement by enlightening our friend to the gospel truth that in Christ ‘it’s possible to hope.’

The second two compass points relate to sin/sanctification and nouthetic care:

  • Reconciling and the Redemptive Story: ‘It’s Horrible to Sin, But Wonderful to Be Forgiven’
  • Guiding and the Growth-in-Grace Story: ‘It’s Supernatural to Mature’

Here we are once again pivoting—this time between sin and grace. And we always do so with a Romans 5:20 mindset that where sin abounds grace super abounds. Further, we maintain the mindset that grace is not only salvation grace but also sanctification grace—so we help people to grasp the depth of their sin (‘it’s horrible to sin’), the infinite depth of Christ’s grace, (‘it’s wonderful to be forgiven’), and the power of grace to make us more like Christ (‘it’s supernatural to mature”).

Gospel Conversations journeys with readers through 21 biblical counseling skills of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Through counseling illustrations, through 100s of personal and/or group interactions, through biblical truth applied to life, and much more, you learn the art of biblical parakaletic and nouthetic counseling.”

BCC: “We understand that there is a companion book to Gospel Conversations called Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives. How do these two books relate to each other?”

BK: “Both books are part of a two-book series I’ve published with Zondervan called the Equipping Biblical Counselors Series. As we’ve seen, Gospel Conversations is a training manual in biblical counseling methodology—relational competencies to care like Christ. Gospel-Centered Counseling is a training manual in biblical counseling theology—showing how Christ changes lives. In Gospel-Centered Counseling, we learn together how the gospel victory narrative relates to our counseling ministry. We learn how theology relates to counseling and to daily life.”

BCC: “How can people learn more about Gospel Conversations?”

BK: “Thanks for asking. At my RPM Ministries site, visitors can view blog posts about Gospel Conversations, they can read endorsements, they can read the Foreword by Pastor Brian Croft, and they can purchase Gospel Conversations for 40% off at the Gospel Conversations portion of my site.”

BCC: “Thank you, Dr. Kellemen, for interviewing with us. And thank you so much for crafting equipping materials that help people to relate the gospel to life and ministry.”

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