Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The DNA of Biblical Counseling

The State of Biblical Counseling Today: Discussing the ABC Symposium, Part II—The DNA of Biblical Counseling

Note: This is Part Two of a several-part blog about the Symposium on Biblical Counseling that took place on May 14, 2009 at the Association of Biblical Counselors’ National Conference. For Part One, in which I highlighted the bios of the speakers, visit: http://tinyurl.com/pvq3wj.

The Plan

My plan, Lord willing, is to blog (
www.rpministries.blogspot.com) several days this week about this significant event. Today, I summarize the unique biblical counseling DNA of each speaker.

“But You Didn’t Disagree Enough!”

It was interesting during the Intermission, directly afterwards, and the day after the Symposium, how many times the four speakers plus President Lelek heard comments like, “There wasn’t enough disagreement!” Perhaps some people were expecting a “Biblical Counseling Four Views Debate.”

More likely, most people simply wanted to hear how four leaders from four different counseling organizations distinctively nuanced what makes biblical counseling truly biblical. I’d challenged readers to purchase a copy of the DVD (the ABC will have them for sale on their website soon:
www.christiancounseling.com). Then…do what good biblical counselors do—listen well. I guarantee that you will hear the distinctive vision and passion of each speaker.

Tertiary, Not Primary Differences

What may surprise many is that the differences you will hear are, as David Powlison noted, tertiary (third level) and not primary. Primary differences would be foundational differences in our beliefs about the sufficiency of Scripture.

We don’t have those! David Powlison (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation—CCEF), Steve Viars (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors—NANC, Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries—FBCM), Eric Johnson (Society of Christian Psychologists—SCP for the American Association of Christian Counselors—AACC), and Bob Kellemen (Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network—BCSFN for the AACC, and RPM Ministries) really are “on the same page about primary issues like the sufficiency of Scripture.”

The Unique DNA of Each Speaker

That said, the four speakers were not clones of one another. Again, listen carefully to the DVD and you’ll hear clearly the different perspectives, the unique passions, and the individual emphases of each speaker.

My goal today is to highlight something of the unique thumb print of each speaker. Obviously, I can do a better job remembering my own words and conveying my own passion, than I can those of my three fellow speakers. I’d love to hear each of them summarize what they shared during the Symposium.

Eric Johnson’s Unique DNA

Listen to Dr. Eric Johnson’s (see
http://tinyurl.com/pvq3wj for his bio) interactions throughout the Symposium and you’ll hear several messages.

1. A Humble, Gentle Heart and a Brilliant Mind

First, Eric uniquely balances a gentle heart and a brilliant mind. Eric is a theologian/philosopher of biblical Christian counseling. Yet, he is no mere “academic.” His passion for people, his humble heart, and his desire for people to grow in grace all came across loud and clear throughout the Symposium.

2. Reclaiming “Psychology” for the Church

Second, listen to Eric on the DVD and you will pick up his passion for “psychology”—Christian psychology, biblical psychology. Eric, like myself, is a student of Church history. He knows that psychology is native to our faith—not secular psychology, but biblical psychology. Eric wants to build a foundation for soul care from a biblical and historical (Church history) basis. He wants the biblical counseling movement to reclaim what is rightfully theirs—understanding people, diagnosing problems, and prescribing solutions—biblically. Eric spoke consistently about how biblical counseling must mine the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God’s Word to develop a theological grid out of which we then build our counseling approaches.

Steve Viars’ Unique DNA

Listen to Pastor Steve Viars (see
http://tinyurl.com/pvq3wj for his bio) interactions throughout the Symposium and you’ll hear several messages.

1. A Passionate Heart and a Love for the Church

Steve got people fired up about biblical counseling in the church—because Steve is fired up about it! And his words are not mere theory. Faith Baptist Church practices what Steve preaches. They are on the cutting edge of equipping people to be biblical counselors. They are not a church with biblical counseling, they are a church of biblical counseling. Principles of progressive sanctification flow through everything they do. How they preach, teach, do small groups, do evangelism, etc.—all flows from their model of biblical counseling.

2. Reclaiming Biblical Counseling for the Community

What may surprise some, because it blows away the false stereotypes about Nouthetic counseling, is Steve’s passionate commitment to community outreach through biblical counseling. Every Monday nearly 50 people from their community receive biblical counseling through Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. These are not church members (they receive counseling from one another and from the staff throughout the week). Unbelievers are coming to Christ, having their sins forgiven, and their lives healed every week through biblical counseling.

Another example is Faith Baptist’s Vision of Hope Ministries. Vision of Hope Ministries recognizes the worth and sanctity of human life by ministering to young women, children, and families in a Christ-centered environment. They offer a faith-based residential treatment program for girls age 14 to 28 struggling with: unplanned pregnancy, alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders, and/or self-harm. Steve Viars is convinced that God’s Word has real answers for real people with real problems.

David Powlison’s Unique DNA

Listen to Dr. David Powlison’s (see
http://tinyurl.com/pvq3wj for his bio) interactions throughout the Symposium and you’ll hear several messages.

1. A Love for People and a Love for God’s Word

Clearly, David Powlison loves people and loves God’s Word. He uniquely united these twin loves in every interaction during the Symposium. He is a biblical scholar with a pastor’s heart.

2. Reclaiming the Sufficiency of Scripture for Theory and Practice

Repeatedly I heard David highlight the sufficiency of Scripture in theory-building and for counseling practice. David does not believe in a one-verse-one-problem-one-solution simplistic approach to biblical counseling. Rather, he wisely builds his model on a thorough, theological-biblical understanding. Every life issue, when considered conceptually, is addressed with wisdom in the Bible. Our role is to trace conceptual categories of living throughout the Bible and relate those to modern categories people face today.

No mere theoretician, listen to the DVD and you will hear great practical wisdom from David about how the counselor/pastor can interact in love, insight, creativity, and engagement with a counselee/parishioner. You can tell quickly that David has remained active in the field—as a practitioner. His use of images, humor, stories, biblical vignettes with people bring his counseling to life.

Bob Kellemen’s Unique DNA

Listen to Dr. Bob Kellemen’s (see
http://tinyurl.com/pvq3wj for his bio) interactions throughout the Symposium and you’ll hear several messages.

As I noted, obviously I know my own passion for counseling better than the passion of Eric, Steve, or David. And, I remember better what I said—because it is what I would say in any setting. Anyone who knows me will listen to the DVD and say, “That’s Kellemen! I’ve heard him highlight that a million times!”

Since it would seem arrogant for me to attempt to categorize my own “heart” and “mind,” I’ll let others attempt that. Instead, I’ll share two summary areas of theory that I recall highlighting during the Symposium.

1. Reclaiming the Profundity and Relevancy of Scripture for Theory and Practice

If I said it once, I said it half-a-dozen times, “true biblical counseling must be comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed.” The “comprehensiveness” of biblical counseling comes out, in part, when we think of the profound nature of Scripture. I believe 100% in the sufficiency and supremacy of the Word of God. I also happen to believe that if we talk about the Scripture’s sufficiency but ignore how it deeply relates to life, then we’ve missed the point entirely. Our calling is to relate Christ’s changeless truth to our changing times. Our calling is to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth. God’s Word, rightly interpreted and aptly applied, has real answers to real problems of real people. During the Symposium, I shared the example of 2 Samuel 13 and the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon. Carefully exegete that passage in context, and you begin to see the profound wisdom of the Word for the horrors of sexual abuse and sexual sin. You begin to see the amazing timeliness and relevance of God’s Word for life as we live it today.

2. Reclaiming the Necessity of Compassion for Theory and Practice

I also highlighted passages like Romans 12:15; Philippians 1:9-11; Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; and 1 Thessalonians 2:8; all of which insist upon speaking the truth in love. I called upon us as biblical counselors to be like the Apostle Paul who said that he loved the saints so much that he gave them not only the Scripture, but his own soul, because they were dear to him. Do a DNA analysis of Kellemen’s biblical counseling approach, and you will find truth and love. I believe that in modern biblical counseling we have not emphasized enough the relationship of the counselor to the counselee. We have at times been too focus on “information in” (listen to data) and “information out” (read a verse/apply a principle). Instead, when listening—we should be engaging, feeling (that’s not a bad word!), empathizing (another good, biblical word), and climbing in the casket (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-11) as we weep with those who weep. And, when sharing truth, we should be doing it soul-to-soul, in a three-way trialogue relationship—counselor, counselees, and the Divine Counselor—it is a collaborative, relational, even intimate interaction.

Part of that truth-compassion connection that I highlighted at the Symposium also means that we must deal both with the evils people have suffered and with the sins people have committed. Modern biblical counseling has done good work dealing with sin. But it has, at times, not done as much work developing a biblical “Sufferology”—a theology of how to apply God’s Word to suffering parishioners and spiritual friends. It should never be either/or: suffering or sin. Biblical and historically, the Church has always dealt with both. We need to develop biblical approaches to soul care for the suffering through sustaining and healing. And we need to develop biblical approaches to spiritual direction for sin through reconciling and guiding.

The Distinct DNA Was There!

I could go on and on about each of us. The differences were there. God fearfully and wonderfully and uniquely created each of us with individual passion, calling, life experiences, personality. It all came out in numerous ways during the Symposium.

And Tomorrow . . .

Tomorrow I take a risk. I’m going to address some stereotypes and the dangers thereof. See you then.

1 comment:

Bill Blair said...

Good stuff.

We live in a very interesting time in regards to the care of human souls. I am very encouraged to hear of the common beliefs and I look forward to seeing nuances as well as your stereotype discussion.

On a side note, I would like to see ABC forego the DVD and put the discussion on the web so the info could spread like a virus. I know that is not your call but I just want to throw it out there. My membership probably does not carry much weight at this point. ;-)