Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling

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Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling from 2000-2009
Part 2: Trends 5-1

Note: For Part 1 and trends 10-6, please visit here:

It’s hard to believe that the first decade of the 21st century has come and gone.

As the decade ends, I’ve been pondering the top ten positive trends over the past ten years in biblical counseling.

It’s exciting to reflect on what God is doing as He empowers His Church.

Enjoy trends five-to-one (in reverse order to heighten the anticipation!). And please join the conversation and let me know what your selections would be.

5. Culturally-Informed Approaches

There was a time when “modern biblical counseling” consisted of “a bunch of white guys.” Thankfully, the “movement” is maturing due to the contributions of a growing multiethnic group of women and men. Elyse Fitzpatrick (, Lucy Ann Moll (, and Susan Ellis ( are just three examples of women leading the way in biblical counseling. Pastor Deepak Reju of Nine Marks Ministries (, Dr. Elias Moitinho (, Pastor Dwayne Bond (, and the Black African American Association of Christian Counselors (BAACC) ( are representatives of a multiethnic group of individuals and associations promoting biblical counseling.

My own books, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction (, and Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith ( each seek to teach biblical counseling from a multicultural perspective. There’s also an encouraging movement of international biblical counseling with Wayne Vanderweir’s Overseas Instruction in Counseling ( being just one such examples.

4. Comprehensive Models

Once upon a time, biblical counseling could be labeled one-dimensional with a focus on combating the impact of the fall/sin on human nature. Today, biblical counseling comprehensively examines creation (understanding people from God’s original design), fall (diagnosing problems resulting from sin), and redemption (prescribing God’s solutions through our salvation and sanctification in Christ). Models also formerly tended to highlight the behavioral aspects of growth in grace. Today they emphasize our relational (spiritual, social, and self-aware), rational (images and beliefs), volitional (motivational and behavioral), emotional, and physical nature in a comprehensive manner. Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care (, and my work Soul Physicians ( are just two examples of books written in the past ten years to offer comprehensive theological foundations for biblical counseling.

3. Progressive Sanctification Focus

Current models of biblical counseling have made great progress in teaching that the counseling process is simply a sub-set of the discipleship process, both of which God designs to assist us to grow in grace. The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) ( has spent the past decade equipping pastors and lay people to assist God’s people in the progressive sanctification process. The mission of the BCSFN is to link biblical counseling and spiritual formation to develop theological models and methodological approaches leading to progressive sanctification.

2. Sufficiency of Scripture Emphasis

Rather than harp on what’s wrong with other models, over the past ten years there has been an increasing focus on the sufficiency, relevancy, profundity, and authority of God’s Word for Christian living. David Powlison’s Seeing with New Eyes ( and Speaking Truth in Love, Michael Emlet’s Cross Talk (, and my Spiritual Friends ( all practice the sufficiency of Scripture by teaching why and how to saturate biblical counseling with scriptural explorations and spiritual conversations

1. Christ-Centered Purpose

Biblical counseling over the past ten years has re-committed itself to the primary purpose of glorifying Christ. It’s all about Him. For instance, the use of Scripture to assist one another to grow in grace (progressive sanctification) has as its final goal helping one another to exalt and enjoy Christ now and forever. Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Counsel from the Cross ( exemplifies Gospel-centered biblical counseling.

We can bring together these top ten trends of the past ten years to offer one working definition of biblical counseling.

Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling depends upon the Holy Spirit to relate God’s inspired truth about people, problems, and solutions to human suffering (through the Christian soul care arts of sustaining and healing) and sin (through the Christian spiritual direction arts of reconciling and guiding) to empower people to exalt and enjoy God and to love others (Matthew 22:35-40) by cultivating conformity to Christ and communion with Christ and the Body of Christ.

Join the Conversation

What top trends would you add to this list?

What individuals, groups, and books would you add to trends 5-1?

In 75 words or less, how would you define biblical counseling?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Going Rogue

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Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin
Book Review by Bob Kellemen

Book Details

*Author: Sarah Palin (with Lynn Vincent)
*Publisher: HarperCollins(2009)
*Category: Autobiography, Politics
*ISBN and Length: 978-0061997877, 413 Pages

Reviewed By: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC, Author of Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, Beyond the Suffering, Sacred Friendships, and God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. Find all of Bob’s book reviews, blogs, books, and free resources at

Recommended: Going Rogue offers Sarah Palin’s fast-paced, well-written, personal account of her American life from her relative obscurity in Alaska to her meteoric rise as John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate.

Review: Living the American Dream

Reviewing Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue: An American Life must be an American pastime. Within three weeks of publication, Amazon.Com already lists 536 reviews. No surprise, given that as of December 6, 2009, it remains Amazon’s number one best seller, and perhaps the most talked about autobiography since Bill Clinton’s mammoth My Life.

What Others Are Saying

I find many of the reviews, along with the comments and criticisms of the “liberal pundits,” to be almost laughable. Many complain that Going Rogue is “self-serving.” Such a statement is not a book review; it’s a judgment of the motives of the heart. Ironic, isn’t it, that those who claim Sarah Palin is a “judgmental Evangelical” turn around and judge her motives?

Others grumble that Going Rogue is “self-focused” or overly “self-referential.” Pardon me for being a tad slangish, but “Duh!” “Hello!” It is, after all, an autobiography. Read Bill Clinton’s My Life (all 957 pages) and guess what, it’s self-referential. The same is true of Hillary Clinton’s Living History and of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. Yes, by definition, an autobiography offers an individual’s personal slant on their life, perspective, beliefs, and impact.

The Foreshadowing: Living the American Dream

Being a political biography and autobiography “junkie,” I didn’t know what to expect when my copy of Going Rogue arrived. I’ve read autobiographies that creep along at a terminally slow pace. Not so, Going Rogue. Palin’s writing is fast-paced and captivating. (Yes, she has a collaborator, Lynn Vincent, which is common-place in such political autobiographies. However, the fact that Sarah Palin is a college-educated journalism major also likely has much to do with how well-written her autobiography is.)

Palin begins by foreshadowing the rest of the book.

She’s zig-zagging from booth to booth at the 2008 Alaskan state-fair, her four-month-old son, Trig, in her arms, Piper, her seven-year-old daughter her constant companion. Her phone rings and it’s John McCain asking if she “wanted to help him change history.”

From state fair to world politics. From babe-in-arms to fighting for the life of the unborn. From the obscurity of the Alaskan outback to the notoriety of vice-presidential candidate. Hers is “an American life”—where an individual can rise from a working-class home and work her way from city council, to major’s office, to governor of the largest state, to a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the land.

Her American Life

From there, Palin transports her readers back in time to February 11, 1964, the day she was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. Within three months, her family is moving to the remote frontier town of Skagway, Alaska.

Palin tells the revealing story of her first attempt to fly. Four-years-old, she leaps off the wooden plank sidewalk. Her description is metaphoric for her life.

“I got to thinking: I had seen eagles and dragonflies and ptarmigan fly, but I had never seen a person fly. That didn’t make any sense to me. Hadn’t anyone ever tried it before? Why couldn’t someone just propel herself up into the air and get it done? I stopped and looked up at the summer sky, then down at the dirt road below. Then I simply jumped. I didn’t care who might see me. I wanted to fly more than I worried about what I looked like. My knees took most of the impact, and I scraped them both. ‘Well, that didn’t work,’ I thought. So I got up, dusted myself off, and kept walking.”

That’s the story of Sarah Palin’s life in just over 100 words. Like her or hate her, agree with her or disagree vehemently, Sarah Palin is a flyer. A risk-taker. She’s resilient. As Yukon Cornelius would say, “She’s like a Bumble. Bumbles bounce.”

I enjoyed her first fifty pages perhaps most of all. Her readers learn not only of her upbringing, but of her ancestry, back several generations to well-educated, middle-class, hard-working Americans. We also learn of her husband, Todd’s, background and Yupik Eskimo ancestry. Additionally, we learn of her athletic accomplishments, her working her way through college, her childhood and young adulthood friends, and of her meeting and marrying Todd.

Why the Feminist Hatred?

Palin not only traces her early years, but also outlines her political rise: from city council, to major, to governor, to vice-presidential candidate. Reading these pages, I couldn’t help but ponder, “Why the feminist hatred?”

Let’s be honest. If her political and religious views were liberal, then her back story would be the darling of the feminist world. Born without any silver spoon. Not making it in life and politics because of the help of a well-connected father, or on the coattails of a politically-powerful husband. Working her own way through college. Raising a family and becoming a working mother. Getting involved in local causes. Fighting the old-boys’ network to be elected to the city council, to be elected mayor, and then governor. An athlete. A beautiful woman who never used her physical beauty to gain political clout.

I mean, what’s not to like about her radical womanhood?

No doubt, it’s her conservative values that prompt the feminist hatred.

Painful Reading

Reading about Palin’s rise within Alaskan politics was enjoyable reading. However, once she made the transition to the national scene, I cringed as I turned every page. Not because of poor writing, but because of the documentation of the constant attacks—attacks on her family, on her intellect, on her views and values.

I’m no Sarah Palin apologists. I don’t agree with all her views—whether religious or political. I’m not even claiming she was the most qualified vice-presidential candidate in American history (she certainly was not the least qualified and she had more political and executive experience than many presidential candidates).

It’s just the sheer unfairness of the attacks. Consider just one small, almost ancillary example: her college education. She was mocked by the media because it took her five years to graduate from college. That’s because she worked her way through college and had to take time off to earn enough money to pay her tuition. Sounds rather honorable.

Others mock the schools she attended and the degree she earned. True, she did not attend an elite, Ivy League, Eastern university. Then again, neither did arguably one of America’s most successful Presidents, Ronald Reagan (Eureka College). Perhaps most ironic, those complaining the most about her college education had the identical degree: a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Of course, that’s pretty trite stuff compared to the way Palin was savaged as a hick, an anti-intellectual, a religious extremist, dangerous, totally unqualified and unfit, etc., etc., etc.

Yes, it was painful to re-live those excruciating months of national “notoriety.”

Then again, it was instructive finally to hear “the rest of the story.” Sure, as an autobiography, you read Sarah Palin’s personal slant and biased perspective. At least her side of the story is finally told.

What About Christ?

Many may be surprised where I do find fault with Going Rouge.

Where is Christ in Going Rogue?

I’m not questioning Sarah Palin’s personal Christian faith in Christ. Nor am I questioning her religious values. Neither am I denigrating her Christian lifestyle. She prays. She depends upon God. She attends church. She loves her husband and family. She lives out her pro-life beliefs. Etc., etc., etc.

I also realize that Going Rogue is primarily a political autobiography, not a religious one. I understand that Palin’s purpose was not to make converts. Still, Sarah Palin is not afraid, throughout Going Rogue, to speak her mind and to share her heart. In fact, she’s not afraid to talk about her relationship to God.

All that said, I ask again, “Where is Christ in Going Rogue?”

My antennae first went up when I read Palin’s two explicit descriptions of what Evangelicals might call “conversion.” The first, on page 22, describes her personal conversion.

“I made the conscious decision that summer to put my life in my Creator’s hands and trust Him as I sought my life’s path.”

The second, on the last page of her book (page 413), involves what some might describe as an “altar call.”

“And I do know there is a God. My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over . . . then see what He will do and how He will get you through. Test Him on this. You’ll see there’s no such thing as coincidence. I’m thankful for His majestic creation called Alaska, which has given me my home, and for His touch on America, which has given us all so many opportunities. By His grace, an American life is an extraordinary life.”

What’s missing?

Christ is missing.

Sin is missing. Confession of guilt before a holy God is missing. Salvation is missing.

My antennae alerted, it then dawned on me that I didn’t remember hearing any Christian salvation concepts anywhere in Going Rogue. Perhaps my memory was bad, especially since I wasn’t consciously looking for these concepts in a political autobiography.

So I performed an Amazon “Search Inside” the book.

How many times in her 413 pages does Sarah Palin mention Christ? Zero.

Christian? Zero.

Christianity? Zero.

Salvation? Zero.

Sin? Twice. However, both are said sarcastically about journalistic sins of omission. So, sin? Zero.

Grace? A dozen times. However, not once in the context, or with the meaning of, “saving grace.” So, saving grace? Zero.

Evangelical? Twice. Once about her mother being invited to an Evangelical church, and once about Sarah being called a “book-burning Evangelical extremist.”

Lord? Eleven times. Several in Old Testament quotes. Several in prayers, such as “Dear Lord.” Several in slang, such as, “Dear lord, you call that a good interview?” Never in the Evangelical sense of Christ as Lord.

Church? Eleven times.

God? Forty-two times.

If Palin had never shared her conversion experience (page 22), or never broached the topic of encouraging her readers to do what she did many years ago (page 413), then I would have been a little less concerned. I could say, “It’s a political memoir, that’s why Christ is missing.”

However, having addressed the topic, plus having mentioned God 42 times, and then leaving Christ, sin, and salvation totally out of all 413 pages… I have to ask, “Where is Christ in Going Rogue?” “Why was Christ omitted from Going Rogue?”

What to make of this? Again, I’m not questioning Sarah Palin’s Christian faith or Christian life.

However, I am raising the important question of how she chose to describe her conversion and her Christian faith in her autobiography, where on so many other personal issues she’s so unafraid to speak her mind boldly.

Honestly, it’s scary. Scary because it’s illustrative of our post-modern conception of religious faith.

It’s religion lite. It’s conversion without Christ. It’s salvation without the cross. It’s redemption without sin and guilt.

It’s “AA Faith”: putting our hands in the hands of an anonymous, generic “Higher Power.”

If the “Religious Right” is behind Sarah Palin, it had better not be because of her depiction of salvation from sin by grace through faith in Christ alone. At least not on the basis of 413 pages of autobiographical narrative where she mentions Christ zero times, where she never once mentions sin and salvation from sin.

Yes, unfortunately, it is a typical American life. We pray to God in the hard times. We mention God. But we eschew explicit dependence upon Christ as our only Savior from sin by grace through faith.

A Political Autobiography

As a political autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life is an excellent read. If you want Sarah Palin’s defense of Sarah Palin’s political life (which is what every political autobiography offers), and you want it in a tell-all, fast-paced, well-crafted book, then do what 2.5 million people have done already—buy Going Rogue.

However, if you want a personal autobiography (of someone who claims to be a spokesperson for the Evangelical Right) that at least provides a snippet of content about conversion to Christ from sin by faith—then Going Rogue will disappoint. Going Rogue, while it is a defense of Sarah Palin’s life and politics, is not a defense of Christ’s saving life, death, burial, and resurrection for our sin. Which, in my conviction, is not only America’s only hope, but the only hope of the world.