Saturday, July 01, 2006

Musings on Biblical Counseling: Teaching an Old Dog, New Tricks

Musings on Biblical Counseling

In seeking to launch the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network (BCSFN), I’ve invited over 100 “experts” from various backgrounds. Many e-mails have been quite encouraging.

However, one, from a leader in the field, who has never met me and really did not even know of me until my invitation, was disappointing. I wasn’t so much disappointed in what he said about me. I was more disappointed because what he said spoke volumes about his practice of his model of counseling. I won’t even go into what he said. Let’s just say that it was negative and confrontational.

I began to ponder this e-mail from a biblical counseling perspective. Step one in any biblical model of communication involves earning the right to communicate. Solomon reminds us that the wounds of a FRIEND are faithful. The Hebrew word for “friend” literally means “lover”—one who has demonstrated love for you. I was not “feeling the love” from this stranger. Not having established a friendship with me, biblically, his words were not “faithful wounds.”

Another common “step” in biblical counseling is data collection. After opening his e-mail with the words, “"I did not know of you before your e-mail,” he continued by confronting the motives behind the launch. Mind you, he did not interact about the lengthy document attached. It made me think, “If I had some questions about a complete stranger’s motives, would I drop them like a bomb? Or, would I ask questions to clarify, before confronting from a lack of knowledge?”

Another core aspect of biblical counseling is humility. Paul warns that those who seek to help a stumbling brother should do so in a spirit of meekness. They should demonstrate a conscious awareness of their own frailty, failings, and fallenness (Galatians 6:1-3). In this, Paul amplifies the words of Jesus regarding looking at the two-by-four in my eye before pointing out the sawdust in my brother’s eye. So, I thought, “How would I have wished for this brother to have responded to me, if he had questions about the motivation and sincerity of the BCSFN launch?”

First, if it were me, I doubt that I would have used e-mail which is notorious for miscommunication of tone and tenor. Second, whether by e-mail, phone, or in person, I would have liked for the brother to say, “Wow, what an intriguing endeavor. More power to you in trying to develop a network of biblical counselors and spiritual friends. However, I have some questions. Some things that potentially raise some red flag. I don’t mean to be judgmental nor condescending, so, could we dialogue a bit—some good old fashion give and take?” That would have been inviting. And humble.

Additionally, true biblical counseling is “holistic.” It seeks to sustain (“It’s normal to hurt”), heal (“It’s possible to hope”), reconcile (“It’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven”) and guide (“It’s supernatural to mature”). My sense with this e-mail was that the approach was only one-half of one aspect of true biblical counseling. Its focus was on “It’s horrible when YOU sin!” There wasn’t any reconciling grace. Nor any guiding grace.

The approach of this e-mailer actually clarified further, even after a quarter-century of biblical counseling, the goal of biblical counseling. The goal of biblical counseling is NOT to spot sin. That is one sign post along the journey, not the destination itself.

The ultimate goal of biblical counseling, spiritual formation, and of life, is to fulfill the Great Commandment: to love God and love one another. We glorify God as we exalt Him BY enjoying Him and His children.

In biblical counseling, we glorify God as we help others to become more like Christ by exposing grace: we are to “spot grace.” In Romans 5-6, Paul reminds us that where sin abounds, grace superabounds. Counseling that has as its main goal to “spot sin” falls short of the glory of God. It falls short of glorifying God.

When we expose sin, it is an intermediate step toward exposing the grace that forgives, which in turn is an intermediate step in exposing the grace that guides—that empowers us to supernaturally mature. Biblical counseling with Christian seeks to stir up the grace-gift of God that God has placed in His regenerated children so that they love God and others better so that God is rightfully glorified.

So, what mood could the e-mailer have set if his goal were to “spot grace” and stir up the gift of God? What biblical and historical “method” could he have followed if his goal was to glorify God? Maybe something like this. . . .

“Wow, I bet launching this BCSFN is a wild and difficult endeavor fraught with risks” (sustaining).

“I’m praying for you that by God’s grace and by clinging to His Word, you and the team that God calls together will find His hope and peace and power” (healing).

“I do wonder if I see some red flags. If so, could we talk about a more godly way to go about this, and about God’s grace to forgive any sinful ways that might have crept in?” (reconciling).

“Most importantly, could I join you in the journey, as a co-laborer, if not with the BCSFN, at least in your life, helping you to be the most loving leader of the BCSFN that you can be?” (guiding).

“Because, more than anything, I want to see God glorified as you and your team love Him and love others well, and as you equip others to disciple people to love well” (the ultimate goal of true biblical counseling).

It’s amazing what an e-mail about biblical counseling can teach a biblical counselor. I guess that you really can teach an old dog (me) new tricks. You can even do it by throwing some rather distasteful bones at the old dog—because God can take our bones and use them for His best—to nourish us so that we glorify Him.