A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry Book Review

September 14, 2017

Countercultural Claims

The most recent study on healthcare costs in the United States indicates that Americans collectively spend over $200 billion in mental health care per year.[1] This dollar figure easily eclipses heart disease, runner up with a price tag of $147 billion. These figures indicate something that we on the inside of the biblical counseling movement have known since our inception – our philosophy of counseling is countercultural.

Heath Lambert is not naïve to the contrary position he’s espousing in A Theology of Biblical Counseling. The first words of the first chapter declare, “Counseling is a theological discipline. There. If you have continued to read beyond the first sentence, you have already completed the most controversial part of this book” (p. 11). The disagreement between integrationists and biblical counselors has always been largely jurisdictional. If counseling is fundamentally a theological enterprise, then the proper location for people to gain help is the church through the aid of the Word. If counseling is fundamentally a psychological enterprise, then the proper practice of Christian love means referring someone to a psychiatric professional.[2]

Lambert makes clear what every biblical counselor believes without reservation: counseling is a theological discipline. And if we are going to make that kind of counterclaim against the overwhelming beliefs of contemporary culture, we must be able to demonstrate how specific doctrines coherently and effectively connect with the human experience. Lambert’s book is an attempt to do just this.

A Theology of Common Grace

Of the ten doctrinal categories explored by Lambert (Scripture, common grace, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, suffering, salvation, the church), his exploration of the doctrine of common grace rises to the top. We rightly emphasize the sufficiency of Scripture in both private and public discussions about the nature of counseling. Our mentions of common grace are often negative in tone as we seek to correct the integrationist tendency to equalize science, rationality, and revelation. This emphasis, however, can lead to questions about the place common grace holds for the biblical counselor. Lambert summarizes, “The criticism of the biblical counseling movement seems to be that there is a confessional belief that common grace allows unbelievers to know the truth, but the information they produce is of no real use” (p. 75).

Such a position would constitute a de facto denial of the doctrine of common grace. Lambert insists, however, that this accusation is a caricature of the biblical counseling viewpoint. “This objection is a concern because it overlooks the overwhelming evidence that biblical counselors have been engaged with scientific information that exists outside the Bible” (p. 75). Building upon the work of theologians John Frame and Cornelius Van Til, Lambert reminds us that the “belief that someone could make an uninterpreted observation is a myth” (p. 77). This presupposition informs the biblical counselor’s careful evaluation of common grace. Rather than automatically labeling secular claims as “common grace,” the wise counselor carefully weighs whether such insights are observations, interpretations of observations, or interventions based on interpretations. The critical rejection of secular-sourced interpretations and intervention theories does not constitute simplistic thinking, but biblical discernment.

A Theology of Humanity

A second particularly helpful chapter addresses the theology of humanity. “The Bible, which is God’s Word, describes to us that we are made in the image of God and tells us what it means to be made thus. Since counseling problems are related to some failure to accurately represent God, we need the Bible to show us where we are off course and to help us know how to get back to where we ought to be. This requires biblical counseling” (p. 190). Christian anthropology is unique in its assumption that humanity can only be understood in reference to God (Acts 17:28). Consequently, we need God’s revelation in order to understand who we were meant to be, what has gone wrong with us, and how we might be redeemed.

Lambert is correct to assert that a biblical anthropology requires biblical counseling, for only biblical counseling addresses every category of man’s brokenness. The importation of secular theories onto a “biblical framework” introduces dissonance as two very different foundations regarding counseling collide. This theme is woven throughout every chapter of the book. “It is impossible to claim that the Bible is insufficient to develop counseling principles seen in secular therapy, but then use the Bible to adjudicate which of those secular principles are faithful and are unfaithful. Christian counselors have to choose. Either the Bible is insufficient for counseling…or the Bible is sufficient to develop counseling principles, and the secular therapies add nothing essential to the church’s counseling wisdom.” (p. 99).

Conclusion

A Theology of Biblical Counseling provides exactly what its subtitle indicates – the doctrinal foundations of a counseling ministry. This is not a practical book in the sense of outlining the mechanics of counseling. Rather it demonstrates how our theological presuppositions dictate the kind of content we seek to impart to counselees. We need books like this to push us to explore how a more robust understanding of theology enhances our counseling. Effective counseling based upon strong theology demonstrates to the world that the biblical counseling movement is not an intellectual house of cards, but rather the natural conclusion of rightly understood doctrine.

Nate Brooks serves as the Coordinator of the Christian Counseling Program at Reformed Theological Seminary – Charlotte (www.rts.edu/charlotte). He counsels and teaches at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC where he lives with his wife Kate and two sons, Blaise and Gresham.

[1] Jordan Davidson, “Americans Spend Over $200 Billion Treating Mental Health Concerns,” The Mighty, May 31, 2016, Accessed August 31, 2016, http://content.healthaffairs.org.

[2] See David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016), 143-165.


Current server time: 2017-11-25 03:29:58 CST