The Gospel matters in counseling. Isn’t it odd, then, that some Christians in the mental health field act like the Gospel has no place in the counseling office?
This Gospel Matters series shares the Christ’s compassion for the broken. The Gospel is good news for every person who chooses to trust Christ and accept the gift he offers: new life in him. Life change happens when the broken begin living for God rather than self. The Gospel becomes personal, leading to peace and contentment in every circumstance.
This series answers the question, Is biblical counseling really a viable, possibly a better, alternative than secular counseling?
A few months ago, as I headed to the Annual Conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors in California, I reflected on an article in Pacific Standard magazine. Quite a few people had asked me for my thoughts on it. The Pacific Standard article gives an outsider’s perspective on the strengths and weakness of biblical counseling, though slanted in favor of secular counseling.
Overall, the piece was fairly objective, well-written, and reasonable. However, it proposes many of the arguments that critics of biblical counseling have spent the greater part of the last four decades advancing and that biblical counseling proponents have been seeking to answer. It is clear that neither these arguments nor the proponents of biblical counseling are going away anytime soon.
I grew up in the biblical counseling movement. (My dad was president of ACBC in years past, serves on its board, and has directed Biblical Counseling Center, which has counseled and trained thousands of people in biblical counseling.) I’m now executive director of Biblical Counseling Center, based in the Chicago area, so I do have vested interest to answer these types of critiques. More than this interest, I help people because Christ says to. As a servant in Christ’s church, I am called to be a good shepherd in my relationships.
If the current mental health paradigm was the best means to do so, I could enjoying practicing psychology just as I have enjoyed being a biblical counselor. However, it’s debatable whether those who practice psychological counseling as a means of curing souls are more effective than biblical counselors. As a local church pastor, I came to the conclusion that the mental health paradigm had no such corner on the cure of souls.
How we do answer the critics interviewed by Kathryn Joyce, who wrote the Pacific Standard magazine’s article. Is biblical counseling really a viable alternative? This series will seek to answer this question.
Here’s is a preview of the upcoming posts in this series, addressing Claim #1.
Claim #1: Christian Psychologists are well trained; Biblical Counselors are often poorly trained and ill-prepared.
Here are common criticisms of Biblical Counseling on training:
“Often, the stories of failure concern counselors who are simply in over their heads—overly confident of scripture as a handbook and high-handed about applying it to complex cases.”
“(Biblical Counselors) thought they could send someone to a six-week training with a white binder and that they’d be prepared to do counseling for people who are suicidal, anorexic, who are struggling with pedophilia … Biblical counseling is really not designed to handle big-ticket items.”
Are Christian Psychologists really more competent than Biblical Counselors?
In the community where I live, professional Christian counselors with psychological training and mental health credentials often state that they are more prepared and competent to counsel than those trained in seminaries as biblical counselors.
This is certainly oft-noted theme in articles that critique biblical counselors. The article by Kathryn Joyce also articulated the concerns that many have about biblical counseling and its increasing prominence in the evangelical church and seminaries. Excerpts from the article illustrate the concerns about biblical counseling that many in the church continue to have. My remarks in this series seek to illustrate how Biblical Counseling Center (and others like us) has sought to address these concerns with credible answers.
My Main Question
My main question is why someone can’t have adequate training in the social sciences and be biblical counselor as well? The biblical counseling movement is full of those who have been trained in psychology but who want to practice biblical counseling.
The Pacific Standard magazine article paints it as if biblical counselors refuse to interact with social sciences and have little to no knowledge of what state-licensed counselors do in their therapies. That’s not true at Biblical Counseling Center but it may be true among other biblical counselors.
Motives are important in biblical counseling. It is clear that biblical counseling is dissatisfied with behavior modification. Rather, the goal of The Gospel is learning to live more effectively for the glory of God. The Gospel is the source of true hope and the means of lasting change. The Gospel makes sense of the suffering, hurt and pain that they psychologically traumatized have suffered through. The Gospel helps us sort through complicated stories and life situations and prioritize the things that ultimately matter most. The Gospel matters.
In the next post in this series, Tim Allchin addresses how the church can effectively deal with subjects such as mental health, chemical imbalances, and Biblical Counseling.