Why the Gospel Matters in Counseling (Part 1)

Dr. Tim AllchinFor Those Giving Help4 Comments

Isn’t it odd that some Christians in the mental health field act like the Gospel and the Bible aren’t needed in the counseling office?

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 article addresses whether biblical counseling is a viable (or even better) alternative than secular counseling.

Many years ago, as I headed to an ACBC conference in California, I reflected on this article in Pacific Standard magazine. Quite a few people had asked me for my thoughts on it. The 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 arguments that critics of biblical counseling have spent decades advancing and biblical counseling proponents have been seeking to answer. These arguments and the proponents of biblical counseling are not going away anytime soon.

So, how do we answer the critics interviewed by Kathryn Joyce, who wrote the Pacific Standard magazine’s article? Is biblical counseling really a viable alternative?

Part 1 of this article will address the first two claims against biblical counseling.

1. Competency Questions

Claim: 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, or are struggling with pedophilia … Biblical counseling is really not designed to handle big-ticket items.”

Professional Christian counselors with psychological training and mental health credentials often state they are more prepared and competent to counsel than those trained in seminaries as biblical counselors.

The article by Kathryn Joyce also articulated concerns about biblical counseling and its increasing prominence in the evangelical church and seminaries. Many people in the church have similar concerns or questions.

Here’s my main response. Why can’t someone have adequate training in the social sciences and be a biblical counselor as well?

The biblical counseling movement is full of those who have been trained in psychology but 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 may be true in some cases, but it’s not true here at BCC.

We believe biblical counselors should be well-trained and equipped, especially in The Gospel. The Gospel is the source of true hope and the means to lasting change. The Gospel makes sense of the suffering, hurt, and pain that the 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 counseling.

2. Understanding Medical Issues

Claim: Psychologists understand physiological/medical issues; Biblical Counselors don’t know how to recognize these more complex issues.

The voice of a critic: “…biblical counseling becomes far more dubious when it disregards evidence of traits that are beyond a person’s control.”

One example of this thinking about “traits beyond a person’s control” is the often debated issues surrounding chemical imbalances. I pick this example because it is one where the lines are blurred and the science is hotly debated by counselors in every stream of the mental health field.

Chemical imbalances are presumed to be the cause of many mental/psychological/emotional struggles, thoughts, and behaviors in those we seek to help. There seems to be credible scientific evidence that treatments addressing these chemical imbalances help to stabilize these individuals even though the exact mechanisms of how these medicines work are not clear. The Bible would encourage Christian leaders to advocate for medical remedies that would help stabilize those suffering from physical and emotional pain.


Chemical imbalances are not the same thing as psychological/emotional problems, even though they may contribute to them. Those with psychological/emotional problems may or may not have a chemical imbalance. Any chemical imbalance would be a medical issue, however, the psychological/emotional response is always a spiritual issue. These challenges do impact our spiritual responses, but they do not cause our responses.

Most counselors (LCSW’s, LMFT, LCPC’s, Biblical Counselors) are not professionally qualified to determine whether a chemical imbalance is truly occurring in a counselee.

Counselors may make recommendations based on their professional experience and schooling, but they are not legally qualified to prescribe medical interventions to treat chemical imbalances and must refer to someone qualified to practice medicine.

Those trained in medicine are most qualified to assess the likelihood of a chemical imbalance and the probability of success in alleviating the effects of the imbalance. However, many have come to question if the chemical imbalance theory and treatment paradigm is sufficient to explain the cause of psychiatric illnesses.


Some psychological/emotional problems are likely the result of a chemical imbalance, hormonal issue, or other neurological medical problem, but other problems may also cause the imbalances. Many struggles seem not to be related to a chemical imbalance at all.


Biblical counselors who care about those with psychological/emotional problems must be concerned about the causes and results of chemical imbalance. We must also recognize that many psychological/emotional problems are not the result of chemical imbalances but rather the results of thought patterns and willful actions that lack maturity and wisdom.

We should be concerned if we discover that counselees are attributing behaviors and thought patterns to chemical imbalance and encourage them to evaluate whether or not that has truly been the cause with their doctor. Biblical counselors should also be concerned when counselees refuse the stabilizing effects of medicine and counseling and often hurt those around them with their unstable choices.

For more insight on this topic, read these other articles I wrote:


Biblical counseling does not have to ignore the insights of the social sciences; however, our confidence is in Scripture to guide us when we need further detail and insight.

Sometimes, Scripture informs us to examine the world around us as a wise sage and find the best ways to live out the principles wisely. Social science studies can help us counsel people to live for the glory of God.

However, social science studies that are not guided by the message and motives of the Bible will not accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, social science thought is dominated by secular voices. No secular therapy or method leads people back to the Gospel.

In Christian counseling offices, it shouldn’t be this way because the Gospel matters.

Part 2 of this article will discuss more claims against biblical counseling!

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4 Comments on “Why the Gospel Matters in Counseling (Part 1)”

  1. Thank you for this timely and well-written article. Our counseling meeting this month is focusing on The Gospel in Counseling and I will definitely reference your material. Looking forward to Part 2 as well!

  2. Pingback: Why the Gospel Matters in Counseling (Part 2) | BiblicalCounselor.com

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