What kind of counseling do you teach?


Thought I’d take a crack at answering (briefly) the question regarding what model of counseling we follow here at Biblical Seminary. Want the short answer? Part Biblical Counseling, part Christian psychology, part interpersonal process (or said another way: biblical anthropology plus skills plus the art of discipleship). Or for a bit longer see what follows below.

Every counselor and professor has his or her theory of change—stated or otherwise. I happen to live between two such grand schemes: biblical counseling and Christian psychology. These two ways of looking at people’s problems and the best solutions have been quite disparate over the years. Biblical Counseling tends to be distinguished by the following marks:

à       A transforming encounter with Christ: Seeking the Glory of God and the sanctification of his people

à       Belief that the Scriptures speak to (are useful to) every person and to every situation and struggle. They are our primary guide

à       Conviction that secular models of change will always and significantly distort the Gospel and God’s plan for sanctification

Notice that the primary goal is not symptom reduction. Biblical Counselors tend to support the idea that symptom reduction is a secondary (but not unimportant!) goal, after increasing faith and trust in God. A few have suggested that symptoms (suffering) reduce when we are more like Christ. However, most would deny that premise as true.

In somewhat of a perpendicular response, Christian psychology (a professional science-based approach to change) has emphasized

à       Finding ways to reduce and end inter and intra personal problems by studying them in minute detail

à       All truth is God’s truth; general revelation is given to anyone, therefore scientists of any ilk can provide helpful knowledge and insight

à       A Christian worldview will help eliminate those minor ideas that are not in keeping with Christian tradition

Notice here, that symptom and problem reduction is a primary goal. This group would not diminish spiritual growth, but it would not likely make it a priority as that would be the domain of spiritual leaders. Some of the differences between the two models have to do with differences between a dichotomous and trichotomous view of mankind. Christian psychologists of the integrationist kind tend to see their work as limited to the psyche while the spiritual director deals with the soul and physician with the body. Biblical counselors tend to deny that tripartite view and see everything in context of body/soul.

The Best of both Worlds?

I find that wise counsel takes the best from both schemes. Biblical Counseling authors and model builders like David Powlison have amply articulated the rich biblical material on human problems and suffering. Biblical counseling offers both the view from 40,000 feet as well as reminders as to what it means to suffer well and to seek the face of God in the midst of a broken world. Change is simple: it is putting one’s trust in God and using the body of Christ to fight the effects of living in a fallen world. It puts no trust in personal insight (though it does not deny the benefits of it either), but uses the Scriptures to comfort, rebuke, encourage and remind us what is right, good, and true. Biblical Counseling has done less well to consider the minute details of how certain problems develop and even how we might reduce suffering.

While it is important to keep our eyes on the big picture, we must not forget that change takes place in the trenches, one millimeter at a time. Christian psychology has been more willing to consider these minute details (though I will admit that a good chunk of what operates as Christian psychology is merely bad science and pop psych). Not merely interested in pointing out the goal (from 40,000 feet), Christian psychology has spent considerable time trying to focus on the skills and processes that commonly help a given population of people. In my mind, we sum up this kind of symptom reduction effort as a ministry of mercy. Who says that we shouldn’t reduce an individual’s panic symptoms or depression despite their unwillingness to take comfort in the Gospel? Clearly God provides rain and sun for the just and unjust alike.

Wise counsel seeks to bring both of symptom reduction and spiritual renewal together. What are there dangers in doing so? It is possible to so focus on skills that the less flashy, sometimes more murky, biblical material seems to fade to the background. The Scriptures sometimes ask different questions then that of professional psychology. If we are not careful, we only approach the Scriptures with a set of questions formed by professional psychology and so the bible only becomes a proof text. On the flip side, it is also possible to become overly critical of every little idea formed by nonChristians. Rather than take the time to see what the individual is observing in life, we can take shots at their less than biblical anthropology and so dismiss their capable observations of the world, (even if distorted).

In an effort to bring these two models together, we articulated the following core values to undergird our program at Biblical. We want to be

à       Christ Centered (The primary goal in everything we do)

à       Redemptive (2 Cor. 5:16f)

à       Spirit Guided (Luke 12:12, The Spirit, not skills is what changes people)

à       Culturally Engaged (able to enter into the lives of others where they are at)

à       Interdependent (Humility and community focus)

à       Interpersonally and Professionally Competent (Skill and interpersonal process proficient)

3 Comments

Filed under biblical counseling, christian psychology, Uncategorized

3 responses to “What kind of counseling do you teach?

  1. The lead prof at RTS while I was there was big into Object Relations. Very interesting stuff.

  2. Especially helpful are the discussion on attachment (first done by Bowlby and other Object Relations theorists). You might run into couples whose marriage problems seem to stem from chronic distrust of each other. For some its helpful to see that distrust started long before they met their spouse. It can help some to see that its not that their spouse is a monster but represents some things that they have longterm reactions to.

  3. Phil,

    Excellent job at a succinct summary of your model.

    You made a comment: “Biblical Counseling has done less well to consider the minute details of how certain problems develop and even how we might reduce suffering.”

    I would say, “Some segments of the modern biblical counseling movement…”

    In actuality, true biblical counseling, will, has, should, and must deal with “the minute details…” and “how we might reduce suffering.” I call these the profundity of Scripture–dealing with details of real life in depth, and the relevancy of Scripture–relating God’s truth to all of human life, including suffering.

    Your readers might find of interest my summary of last week’s symposium on biblical counseling where Eric Johnsons (SCP), myself (BCSFN), David Powlison (CCEF), and Steve Viars (NANC, FBCM) discussed with Jeremy Lelek (ABC) the state of biblical counseling/Christian psychology:

    http://tinyurl.com/r8kf7r

    To me, true biblical counseling and true Christian psychology should be the same thing. They use biblical psychology (understanding people, diagnosing problems, and prescribing solutions) theory to guide their biblical counseling (sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding) practice.

    Bob Kellemen

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