A Defense of Biblical Counseling

Introduction

Mankind is in trouble. This is evident in the multitude of problems that face society in the twenty-first century. Marital infidelity, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, common-law marriages, divorce and remarriage, rape, mass murder, spousal abuse, rebellious children, slothful men, blasphemy of God and the Holy Scriptures, abortion, warmongering, injustice in the courts, and suicide are just a few of the moral corruptions that plague many countries. Personal, communal, and ecclesiastical sin abounds in the world. As a result of this, mankind is plagued with troubled and guilty consciences, resulting in depression and mental anguish. Moreover, there is also great suffering brought about by God’s curse upon sin: disease and death.

However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ stands in radiant glory amid the utter darkness of this world. The Christian church proclaims salvation and hope for the desperately burdened slaves of sin. The Christian pastor preaches redemption from the pulpit, which, through the work of the Holy Spirit results in the conversion and salvation of lost sinners. But preaching is just one aspect of the work of the pastor. The pastor must also care for his flock by counseling them on a personal basis. When members come to him struggling with homosexual desires or an addiction to pornography what should he do? When somebody suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts seeks hope from him, what should he say? When a broken and abused wife comes to the pastor, how should he counsel her regarding her marriage?

It has often been the tendency of the Christian church to run to secular psychology in response to these problems. In the late 1900s, the church abandoned its calling to be a light amid darkness and instead encouraged many of its parishioners to seek help from godless, secular, and evolutionary psychologists. This not only resulted in Christians getting help from those who made a mockery of their faith, but it also resulted in Christian counselors mixing the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of these secular psychologists. This resulted in a weird hybrid of the Bible and evolutionary quasi-scientific philosophy. As MacArthur nicely summarizes,

there has been a strong and very influential movement within the church attempting to replace biblical counseling in the church body with “Christian psychology”— techniques and wisdom gleaned from secular therapies and dispensed primarily by paid professionals. Those who have championed this movement often sound vaguely biblical. That is, they quote Scripture and often blend theological ideas with the teachings of Freud, Rogers, Jung, or whatever school of secular psychology they follow. But the movement itself is certainly not taking the church in a biblical direction. It has conditioned Christians to think of counseling as something best left to trained experts. It has opened the door to a whole range of extrabiblical theories and therapies.[1]

In contrast to this, the Biblical Counseling Movement arose, urging Christians, and especially pastors, to take up their God-given responsibility in counseling. It not only urged a Biblical approach to counseling but demanded that the church take back its responsibility to care for the spiritual problems of its members. This paper is particularly interested in providing a defense of Biblical Counseling against psychology such that the ordinary layperson may understand the issues with unbiblical nature of psychology.

Defining and Understanding Biblical Counseling

Biblical Counseling is based on the most controversial and most published book in the history of the world: the Bible. It is not based on secular reasoning as found in Freud or Rogers; instead, it is based on God’s revelation of Himself. Thus, Biblical Counseling teaches that Scripture is sufficient to deal with the all the spiritual problems of mankind.

In practice, Biblical Counseling is the work of the Holy Spirit, who uses the Christian as a means of grace. Indeed, “Counseling, to be Christian, must be carried on in harmony with the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit.”[2] For the “Holy Spirit is the source of all genuine personality changes that involve the sanctification of the believer, just as truly as he alone is the One who brings life to the dead sinner.”[3] This means that Jesus Christ is at the centre of all Biblical Counseling, for the work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ as is stated in John 16:13 – 14, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. Perhaps surprisingly, this means that Jesus Christ is at the centre of all Biblical Counseling, for the work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ as is stated in John 16:13 – 14, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you”[4] (cf. Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 53).

Furthermore, counseling is a practice in which every Christian should engage, not just the pastor. To not counsel is to not fulfill a God-given duty. As MacArthur states,

Ever since apostolic times, counseling has occurred in the church as a natural function of corporate spiritual life [emphasis mine]. After all, the New Testament itself commands believers to “admonish one another” (Rom. 15: 14); “encourage one another” (Heb. 3: 13, KJV); “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4: 18); “encourage one another, and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5: 11); “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5: 16).[5]

Finally, Biblical Counseling is nouthetic in practice. Nouthetic is the transliteration of the Greek word νουθετέω (noutheteo). This word appears throughout the New Testament (Acts 20:31; I Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 3:16; I Thessalonians 5:12, 14; Romans 15:14) and it is often translated: to admonish or instruct. However, Jay Adams argues that this does not capture its full meaning.[6] He argues that noutheteo contains three basic elements. First, “the word nouthesis focuses on both confronter and the one confronted. Nouthesis specifically presupposes the need for a change in the person confronted, who may or may not put up some resistance.”[7] Second, nouthesis implies that the problems that necessitate the confrontation are to be dealt with verbally.[8] In other words, “it is training by word – by word of encouragement, when this is sufficient, but also by that of remonstrance, of reproof, of blame, where these may be required.”[9] Third, “nouthesis has in view the purpose or motive behind nouthetic activity. The thought is always that the verbal correction is intended to benefit the counselee.”[10]

Thus, in summary, Biblical Counselling is the work of the Holy Spirit using the counselor as an instrument to bring the means of grace of Scripture specifically to teach, reprove, correct, and instruct in order to lead the counselee to repentance and growth in sanctification (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15 – 17). In other words, Biblical Counselling is primarily interested in bringing the counselee into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ: it is discipleship.

Defining and Understanding the Problems of Modern Psychology

Psychology is a godless pagan religion that is fundamentally opposed to Christianity. This may seem like a harsh verdict, but the truthfulness of this statement can be defended. After all, psychology is

‘the scientific study of the behavior and thinking of organisms…. the study of how living creatures interact with their environment and each other, and how they cope (successfully or unsuccessfully) with that environment.’ . . . [psychology] represents a broad field that encompasses far more than simply psychotherapy (the direct interchange between counselor and counselee). It includes theories of personality, mind/body relationships, education, behavior, and socialization. It includes scientific testing and data gathering for each of these areas. It also includes theories of change in each of these areas, including the application of these theories in counseling situations.[11]

In other words, psychology is an extremely broad study of the human that not only is scientific but is also philosophical, sociological, and even religious. This can be easily argued because psychology not only works with that which is tangible and organic, but it also deals with the mind, which is intangible. Ultimately, this means that it is not an exact science. It has biases and a philosophy with which it creates a worldview. As MacArthur states,

psychology is not a uniform body of scientific knowledge like thermodynamics or organic chemistry. When we speak of psychology, we refer to a complex menagerie of ideas and theories, many of which are contradictory. Psychology has not even proved capable of dealing effectively with the human mind and with mental and emotional processes. Thus it can hardly be regarded as a science. Karl Kraus, a Viennese journalist, made this perceptive comment: “Despite its deceptive terminology, psychoanalysis is not a science but a religion— the faith of a generation incapable of any other.”[12].

The fact that psychology is not an unbiased science and that it deals so intimately with the human should be a cause of great concern for the Christian. If psychology is not based upon the right presuppositions and beliefs it can wreak havoc on sinful man. The Scriptures teach that the carnal mind is at war with God and does not comprehend the things of God (Romans 8:7; I Corinthians 2:14).

Jay Adams, in his book Competent to Counsel and The Christian Counselor’s Manual deals with two major trains of thought in modern psychology, namely, the teachings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers. While the reader is encouraged to read these books and Adams’ critique of them for themselves, this paper will provide a brief introduction to their train of thought as two examples of pagan and godless psychology.

To start with, Freudian psychology teaches that

Man . . . has basic primitive wants, impulses or drives which seek expression. These Freud called the Id (sex and aggression). But in man, there is also the Superego (roughly equivalent to what more often has been called the conscience). The Superego is socialized into the individual by his parents, the church, teachers, etc. . . . According to Freud, the problem with the mentally ill is an over-socialization of the Superego. An oversocialized conscience is overly severe and overly strict.[13]

From this, it is apparent that Freudian psychology is not only based on evolutionary thought, but it also teaches that man is an autonomous being. He is the sole arborator of truth. He needs to rise above his Superego and express his own independence. He gets to decide what is morally right for himself. Thus, for Freud, every religion (Christian included) “belongs to the infancy of the race. Man needs to grow up out of infancy, and that means out of religion…. When one comes of age, he no longer needs religion.”[14]

Nor is Carl Rogers that much different in his teachings. In fact, Carl Rogers is not that much different in his teachings. Rogerian psychology destroys man’s responsibility for it “confirms sinful man’s belief that he is autonomous and has no need of God…. It begins with man and it ends with man…. According to Rogers, men in sin must be ‘accepted,’ not admonished: ‘The counselor accepts, recognizes, and clarifies these negative feelings.’”[15] In contrast to this, God very clearly gave mankind a moral law to obey (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) and commanded that men repent (Acts 2:38) and confess their sins (James 5:16).

But what about psychology that deals with the tangible: the organic aspects of the human, such as chemicals in the brain? This study can be of benefit to the Biblical Counselor and the Christian. Indeed, a counselee may come to a counselor with a truly organic mental illness (brain damage, tumors, glandular or chemical imbalances) that results in personality and character issues. Adams states, “there is much for the psychiatrist to do medically to help persons suffering from problems in living whose etiology is organic cannot be questioned.”[16] Indeed, it is the duty of church leadership to seek medical aid for those who are truly ill as James 5:14 teaches: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”[17] Adams exegesis of this passage is especially helpful. He writes:

James clearly recognized two sources for sickness; one organic, one non-organic…. Olive oil was considered medicinal. In fact, in biblical times oil was used as the universal medicine…. James contemplated no magic, therefore, when he mentioned the use of oil.[18]

Yet some caution should be given here as well. Too often spiritual issues are given the vague term “mental illness.” Many materialist evolutionary psychologists look at depression as simply the result of a chemical imbalance, or they look at homosexual tendencies as the result of genetic development. While depression can have an organic starting point, more often it is the result of moral failure (e.g. laziness, anger, and self-pity cf. Gen. 4:6 – 7, Pss. 32, 51, 77). To argue that homosexual tendencies are the result of genetic development is a complete lie because the Bible teaches it is the result of the sinful depravity of mankind (Romans 1:24 – 28). This trivializing of spiritual issues is a major problem with psychology because it does not recognize or agree with Christian definitions of morality.

 Why Biblical Counseling Alone and Only?

Some may ask why is Biblical Counseling the only proper approach to counseling? Surely, the Christian can use some of the work of psychologists? Surely, there must be some truth in fallen man? To answer this, it is necessary to delve into some theology.

There are two types of revelation in the world: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is the created world e.g. the Rocky Mountains, maple trees, polar bears, the golden eagle, beavers, Saturn, etc. As such, general revelation is “before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His eternal power and divinity.”[19] So if Freud did not suppress the truth of God into a lie, he might have concluded that God does exist. However, he being a fool declared that there is no god. The major problem with general revelation is that it is only sufficient to leave men without excuse (Romans 1:20); it is not able to “give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.”[20]

Thus, God has also graciously given humanity His special revelation through His divinely inspired word: the Holy Scriptures. Being divinely inspired it is complete: it contains everything that mankind needs to know about God. It is sufficient: it contains everything necessary for the ordering of life in conformity to God’s will of command. Since it comes from a perfect God, it itself is perfect and inerrant. As the Westminster Confession states, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”[21]

It is because the Bible contains all things necessary for God’s glory, man’s salvation and the ordering of life and faith that Biblical Counseling has the presupposition that all counseling practices and material must be based upon the Bible. This is the belief in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. The Christian must hold to the sufficiency of Scripture if he wishes to be Biblical as II Timothy 3:16 – 17 teaches: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”[22] It is the Scriptures that enable the man of God to be complete. It is not Scripture and psychology. Nor is it the Scriptures and sciences. It is Scripture alone that makes men godly and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Nor does this do away with the notion that the Christian counselor may make use of secular medical knowledge in counseling. There remains in totally depraved man a natural light. Hoeksema states that after the Fall, man “retained a few remains of natural light; by the light of these remains, he perceives – and to an extent understands – the things that are made and is able to live his earthly existence.”[23] This natural light allows mankind to understand the human body and its natural functions. It allows mankind to treat physical illness and disease with success. It allows mankind to not only to survive but also to thrive. Thus, the Christian counselor should make use of physicians and surgeons to understand and treat physical illnesses.

But while this natural light may allow mankind to arrive at truth, it “does not guarantee that everything an unbeliever says is correct. Because of the injurious impact of sin on the mind, our thinking is damaged most significantly on the issues of maximum importance in our life.”[24] Indeed, as the unbeliever gets closer and closer to the “center of human existence (who we are, what is wrong with us, what needs to happen in order to change) [it is here that] . . . the noetic effects of sin are most prominent.”[25] Thus, the Christian may make use of the more tangible aspects of psychology, but he must completely do away with psychology that seeks to deal with the human soul. As Scipione states,

while all creation reflects aspects of God’s nature, only man is the image of God and reflects God’s nature in ways the rest of creation cannot. Therefore, the suppression of truth must be greater in the social sciences than in the hard sciences. The closer we get to psychology and theology the proportion of distortion will increase.[26]

This why the counselor, the counselee, and all of humanity needs God’s special saving grace. It is this grace, granted only to those whom God has sovereignly elected from before the foundations of the world, that makes man wise unto salvation. It is only this grace that causes depraved man to recognize his depravity. It is only this grace that causes him to see that Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sin and that he must have faith in Jesus Christ for his justification. It is only this grace that causes him to repent of His sin and live in a new life of faith and thanksgiving to God. It is this grace, this unmerited favour, that the counselee above all needs.

Conclusion

 

In conclusion of this defense of Biblical Counseling, it is necessary to say several things. First, the Christian may never use the failure of psychology to defend the practice of Biblical Counseling. Nor may the Christian ever use the perceived success of psychology to defend the use of secular psychology. It is the duty of the Christian to conform his life to the Word of God. The Christian must base his actions and beliefs upon the Bible and upon nothing else. This means that the Christian uses Biblical Counseling because it is what the Bible teaches and thus, what God commands. Second, in the face of much opposition, the Christian must boldly defend the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture. If the Scriptures are not sufficient for the ordering of life, then there is no firm and unwavering basis for truth. Finally, the Christian and especially the Christian counselor must declare Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. Without the declaration of the gospel there is never any hope for true meaningful and eternally relevant change in the hearts of men and women.

Bibliography

“The Westminster Confession of Faith” in The Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 2013: A-1 – A-106

Adams, Jay. Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970.

Adams, Jay. The Christian Counselor’s Manual. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008.

de Bres, Guido. “Belgic Confession” in The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville, Michigan: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005: 73 – 80

Hoeksema, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics Volume I. Grandville, Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1985.

Lambert, Heath. A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

MacArthur, John F.; Mack, Wayne A.; Master’s College Faculty. Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Passantio, Bob and Gretchen. “Psychology and the Church: Part One: Laying a Foundation for Discernment” in Christian Research Journal. Winter 1995: 21 – 38

Scipione, George. Introduction to Biblical Counseling: Course Notes. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: RPTS, Biblical Counseling Institute, 2017.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

[1] John MacArthur, Wayne Mack, Master’s College Faculty, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically (Thomas Nelson: Kindle Edition, 2005), 3 – 4

[2] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 20

[3] Ibid, 21

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 16:13–14.

[5] MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, 3

[6] Adams, Competent to Counsel, 44

[7] Ibid, 45

[8] Ibid

[9] Hermann Cremer, Biblio-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1895), 441, quoted in Adams, Competent to Counsel, 45

[10] Adams, Competent to Counsel, 49

[11] Bob and Gretchen Passantio, “Psychology and the Church: Part One: Laying a Foundation for Discernment” in Christian Research Journal (Winter 1995), 23

[12] MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, 10

 

[13] Adams, Competent to Counsel, 10

[14] Ibid, 16

[15] Ibid, 82 – 83

[16] Emphasis his. Ibid, 11

[17] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jas 5:14.

[18] Adams, Competent to Counsel, 106 – 107

[19] Guido de Bres, “Belgic Confession” in The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, Michigan: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005), 24

[20] “The Westminster Confession of Faith” in The Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 2013), A-5

[21] Ibid, A-9

[22] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 2 Ti 3:16–17.

[23] Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1, (Grandville, Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1985), 29

[24] Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 71

[25] Ibid, 73

[26] George Scipione, Introduction to Biblical Counseling: Course Notes. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: RPTS, Biblical Counseling Institute, 2017), 21

[27] Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling, 101

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