Monday, June 01, 2009

Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical

Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical
Part One: The Gravity of Grinding Affliction

*Note: If you find yourself upset that I am saying that some biblical counseling is only half biblical, then I would ask you to be sure to read my comments at the end of this blog post. Thanks!

Thankful for Modern Biblical Counseling

I thank God for modern biblical counseling and biblical counselors. I consider myself one of them. That’s why I direct the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network ( And it is why I speak, write, and consult on Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling and spiritual formation (

I also know that any human “movement” is imperfect and that all human beings are finite and are born fallen. Thus, we need to and are called to learn from one another.

My Premise: Half Biblical Counseling

Having said that, here’s my premise:

Some modern biblical counseling considers the seriousness of sin—sinning, but spends much less time equipping people to minister to the gravity of grinding affliction—suffering.

When we provide counseling for sin, but fail to provide counseling and counselor training for suffering, then I am of the conviction that such biblical counseling is only half biblical!

My Premise Expanded: One-Quarter Biblical Counseling

Throughout this blog post mini-series (first run from June 1 to June 18, 2009), I will develop a further premise:

Even when some biblical counselors do address suffering and sufferers, their focus seems to be upon “directive” counseling that exhorts the suffering Christian to be faithful. When we provide only or primarily directive exhortations to faithfulness, but fail to engage in biblical “sustaining” (empathy, compassionate commiseration, weeping with those who weep, sharing Scripture and soul, “climbing in the casket”), and when we fail to engage in biblical “healing” (encouragement, collaborative exploration of biblical responses, trialogues, spiritual conversations, scriptural explorations, “celebrating the resurrection”), then such biblical counseling is only one-quarter biblical. (For a fuller development of biblical and historical sustaining and healing, please see Spiritual Friends:

The Evils We Have Suffered and the Sins We Have Committed

Over a quarter-century ago, when I was a seminary student, “counsel wars” erupted over two “competing models” of counseling. As I watched the wounded souls strewn across this Christian battlefield, I kept saying to myself:

“Surely the Church has always been about the business of helping hardened and hurting people.”

After over twenty-five years of biblical and historical research, I can assure you that the Church has always been about the business of helping hardened people to deal with their sin and helping hurting people to deal with their suffering.

When we fail to deal with both, then our biblical counseling is, at best, only half biblical. Frank Lake says it well,

“Pastoral care is defective unless it can deal thoroughly with the evils we have suffered and with the sins we have committed. The maladies of the human spirit in its deprivation and in its depravity are matters of common pastoral concern.”

When the Rubber Meets the Road

Of course, every Christian biblical counselor is loving. As bearers of God’s image and as renewed image bearers because of our redemption in Christ, we all love the people we minister to.

And, of course, every Christian biblical counselor spends time at the bedside of a cancer victim, or at the gravesite of grieving loved ones.

But please hear this. That does not mean that our focused approach to biblical counseling comprehensively emphasizes suffering and sin.

I’d ask you to do this. Browse through some of the comprehensive biblical counseling texts. Review your notes from a biblical counseling training seminar. Read the typical definitions of “biblical counseling.” How much time is spent on how to deal with sinning counselees versus how to help suffering counselees? How often is “suffering/hurting” included in definitions of what makes biblical counseling biblical?

In my book, Soul Physicians (, I attempt to address both sin and suffering throughout, and I add two core chapters on biblical sufferology. In my book, Spiritual Friends, half of this biblical counseling training manual focuses on equipping counselors to provide sustaining and healing care for suffering counselees (pages 39 to 214).

Now, let me be clear—my works are just as imperfect as any other books. I am not saying that I’ve cornered the market on the perfect balance.

I am simply saying, when the rubber hits the road, when we train people in our books and in our seminars, when we offer definitions, when we launch lay counseling ministries in our local churches, are we dealing both with the evils we have suffered and with the sins we have committed?

Where Do We Go From Here?

I know, you have a million or even a bazillion questions. I’m glad. So do I!

This is just one post in a series of blog posts. In future posts I’ll try to address some of the questions that I imagine that you have. Questions like:

1. So, are you watering down sin?

2. So, are you saying that Christ came to heal our suffering and not to save us from our sin?

3. So, are you saying that our primary problem is our suffering rather than our sin?

4. So, has anyone else in Church history ever said we must focus on both sin and suffering?

5. So, what would it look like to focus on both sin and suffering?

6. So, what’s your definition/description of truly biblical counseling?

7. So, why do you think this “imbalance” exists?

8. So, how can we equip people for comprehensive biblical counseling?

9. So, how can we shape biblical counseling so that it deals comprehensively with real life issues?

10. So, how can biblical counseling become a natural part of one another ministry in the local church?

I’ll address questions like these and quite a few more.

As I do, please feel free to post comments on my blog, or to email me ( with your questions and thoughts.

*Note: Why I Am Addressing This Topic

All who have followed my ministry know that I am about bridge-building and not about wall-building. You might wonder then, “Bob, why blog about something that is surely to be controversial?”

Those who follow my ministry also know that I am about equipping God’s people to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth through Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling and spiritual formation.

Biblical counseling that fails to deal with suffering, fails the test of Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling. I would be a hypocrite to my calling if I remained silent.

Others might wonder, “Are you talking about a particular ‘model’ of modern biblical counseling, or about a particular person or persons who are writing today?”

No. I am not. This is not an attack against. These blogs are not directed toward any one person or group.

These blogs are directed to all of us—myself included—who love biblical counseling. They are for all of us—myself included—who need good Bereans to help us to assess how biblical or unbiblical our approaches to biblical counseling truly are.

Still others might wonder, “But why not at least name names?” Frankly, I am not called to be part of the growing blog movement known as the “Discernment Movement.” Their calling seems to be to call out publicly those they feel are psycho-heretics. I have no desire to engage in such tactics.

If my blog posts were an “academic” tome, then for scholarly purposes I would quote some people directly. But these are simply blog posts and I am not attempting to demean any person or group.

Additionally, some pastors, students, lay people, and counselors who may practice “half biblical counseling,” are “nameless” to me. I have had numerous godly, mature Christians tell me of pastors and others who have confronted their sin but never comforted their suffering. It would be neither possible nor wise for me to try to name names.

I write to help, not to hurt. I write to equip, not to attack. I write to start a conversation, not to finish one.

Please join the conversation (


Hip Hop Preacher said...

I've always been interested in the stats or testimonies of the "sin focused approach" I've yet to meet or talk with persons who have been helped by such a narrow perspective

Christian Psychologist said...

Excellent posting. I came to Christ after receiving training and licensure as a psychologist. At first I was baffled that there was such a sharp division among the faithful about using *any secular approaches* to help the hurting.

Through indepth scriptural study, leaders such as Townsend, Cloud, Allender, Crabb, Johnson, Adams, and associations such as the AACC, I learned how to wed opposing views by weaving a seamless conceptual and treatment modality.

Scripture trumps every teaching of man. By sifting secular teachings through the plumb line of God's Word, I believe we arrive at most excellent ways to address sin and alleviate suffering.

Doc. K. said...

To Christian Psychologist: Thanks for the shout out. I would frame my own personal convictions a bit differently. I don't sift secular teaching. I do believe that scientific research is part of the God-given creation mandate, and thus descriptive psychological research can play a role. Our interpretations of Scripture then must provide the prescriptive answers for understanding people, diagnosing problems, and prescribing solutions--biblically.

Doc. K. said...

Hip Hop Preacher. Thanks for sharing. I have met people helped by the "sin only approach." It can be helpful for putting off and putting on sin. Of course, I think comprehensive care that includes suffering is the most biblical.