Seven Problems I Have With "Christian" Counseling - Part 2
If you are a guy and subscribe to Field and Stream magazine, I officially give you 1,000 bonus man points. I love this magazine, and I have been familiar with it since I was a young boy. I grew up on lakes, fishing every day after school. I’ve done my fair share of “pest relief.” I love pocket knives. I crave woods. While I live near the central business district of Chesapeake, the pages of this magazine are a temporary escape for me to no-shave land.
And it makes me laugh. The last page of every issue is a column called “The Sportsman’s Life.” Often written by Bill Heavey, the insights, sarcasm and humor capture me.
The current July 2013 issue of F&S landed in my mailbox this past weekend, and Heavey did not disappoint. He describes his rare descent into his basement to clean out his fishing gear. His editorial starts out…
About every 10 years, I organize my fishing tackle. Before entering my basement, I should don a safety harness, leave a note stating my intentions, and stamp a footprint in aluminum foil. Instead, I just wear heavy shoes and a headlamp. And then I go down into damp and dim Deal-With-That-Later Land. Stick to the narrow path to the washer and dryer and you’ll be O.K. Off-trail, you’ll encounter strings of pre-LED Christmas lights that make the neighbors’ flicker and dim when plugged in, ammo dating from the Spanish-American War, or my three vacuum cleaners, one of which still works.
I love it—he takes a simple process (going into the basement to reorganize his gear) and makes it complicated (just shy of a Discovery Channel reality show).
This is funny in Field and Stream. It’s not funny in the realm of discipleship. Yet this is exactly what many “Christian” counselors do when they attempt to give counsel in print or in person—they take a simple process (i.e., being a tool in the hand of the Redeemer to mature another believer towards Christlikeness) and make it complicated (i.e., reaching into the pool of unredeemed, secular reasoning to address spiritual issues).
This is wholly unnecessary. Biblical counseling is simple (although hard work), but it is not complicated. As I wrote in my previous post (Part 1), I believe that God's written Word (special revelation) speaks sufficiently (completely) to any spiritual need in any man in every generation, without exception. Paul is explicit that it is all that we need for salvation, doctrine, reproof, correction, and training (2Tim 3:15-17). Yes, it alone gets to be the final word on spiritual issues like marriage, spiritual depression, worry, anger, and all sinful reactions. The Redeemer is overwhelmingly present, powerful, and clear as He conforms His redeemed into His image through all of life’s trials (1Cor 10:13, Phil 1:6).
I am writing this short series of blogs on the topic “7 Problems I Have with ‘Christian’ Counseling.” In my blog post last month, I listed out my first two problems:
1. Its Origination in Humanistic Philosophy—Proverbs 4:19 warns, “The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.” Why would I ask dead men for life answers?
2. Its Toleration of Unbiblical Terms—First Corinthians 2:13 is clear: “Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” If I need spiritual answers to spiritual issues, I must use biblical terms at all times.
While I have your attention, let me point out two more “problems” that I have with any type of “Christian” counseling that falls short of complete contentment with the sufficiency of Christ, Scripture, and the gospel.
3. Its Preoccupation with Unmet Needs—The next time you visit your local Christian bookstore, stop over at the counseling resources. Check out the titles. Listen to the authors’ podcasts. Almost universally, outside of the truly biblical counseling movement's authors/teachers, the focus will be on un-met needs in your upbringing, your friendships, your marriage, your parenting, and even your church. And mark it down: unmet needs always become the excuse for our disobedience to the First and Second Great Commandments (Matt 22:37-40). Perceived unmet needs poison worship and relationships.
I better be sure that my list of “needs” matches God's. He knows me exhaustively. “O LORD, You have searched me and known me” (Ps 139:1). He alone tells me what my “needs” are (e.g., seeking first His righteousness, conformity to His Son, 1st & 2nd great commands, self-denial, wisdom from above, etc.; C.f. Matt 6:25-34, 16:24-26, 22:34-40; Jam 3:13-18; Gal 5). Our ultimate need is fellowship and discipleship with our Rescuer…our Redeemer…no matter what circumstances and losses we find ourselves in (2Cor 12:7-10).
4. Its Desertion of Progressive Sanctification—Reading through key progressive sanctification texts such as Second Corinthians 3:18, Romans 6-8, Ephesians 4:20-24, Colossians 3, and James 1:19-25 teaches me that God's priority in every moment and every circumstance is to make me progressively more like Jesus Christ. Sadly, these texts are rarely used by “Christian” counselors as they handle problems of the heart. Often they are cited as parenthetical window-dressing or are read as the music comes up to close the podcast. If progressive sanctification is central in God's plan...if it is the essence of discipleship...if it is the call of the Great Commission...then why is it not the centerpiece of every "Christian" counseling textbook and model? I need an answer. The silence is deafening.
To Be Continued….
Dr. Jim Newcomer is the Professor of Biblical Counseling at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary.