The Most Important Principle Underlying IRBC’s Philosophy of Counseling: The Sufficiency of Scripture

In recent articles we have discussed some of the foundational principles underlying IRBC’s philosophical model of counseling. Last time we focused our attention on the fact that man was created to work. In Genesis 1:28 (New International Version), God commissions man to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” While some have associated work with the curse, God’s Word is clear: the command to work preceded the entrance of sin and the curse. Additionally, the average person spends a significant amount of his or her time working. Thus, it should not surprise us that disruptions in people’s lives that impinge upon their work life have the potential of negatively affecting their personal well-being. These disruptions might include retirement, physical inability to work, job loss, and under- or over-employment.

The principle to which we will direct our attention now is one of the most important because it expresses what we believe concerning the sufficiency of Scripture. We firmly believe that the truth revealed in Holy Scripture is entirely sufficient to meaningfully and relevantly address and fulfill every person’s spiritual needs in every situation, in every period of time.

Due to its inspired nature, Scripture is “living and active” and therefore able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” of every living person (Heb. 4:12, New American Standard Bible). Whenever evil intentions are discerned by the Word and properly confessed and turned away from, the Spirit revives and makes that human heart wise with truth contained in the Scriptures (Ps. 19:7). This wisdom is applied specifically to each person in association with the general purpose for which mankind was created: the glorification and enjoyment of God. God is glorified and enjoyed by each person as he or she seeks to fulfill all of his or her positions and roles in accordance with Scripture.

Because the authority of Scripture has been brought into question by many who profess to be Christians in our day, we believe it is necessary to declare what we believe concerning God’s Holy Word itself. This declaration will be followed by statements indicating what we believe about its sufficiency to address man’s spiritual needs, as well as its ability to serve as a lens to evaluate various propositions of truth (knowledge) propagated within counseling-related fields. The essence of the statements which will be shared are not wholly original or exhaustive.

Declaration Concerning the Author-ity of Scripture

• We believe that each of the sixty-six books which comprise the canon of Scripture are verbally inspired by God in their entirety. Holy Scripture is therefore infallible and inerrant.

• We believe that all of the teachings, principles, and promises contained within Scripture are altogether true and without fault. They are completely trustworthy and are therefore a sure, safe, and reliable guide in all matters.

• We believe Scripture represents God’s authority and viewpoint in all of the matters it touches upon, including its literary origins, God’s acts in creation, the people spoken about within its pages, and the events of world history. It is entirely faultless and trustworthy in all its assertions.

The Transitional Statements

• Holy Scripture can be inwardly authenticated and believed in human hearts, as well as properly understood and applied to any matter, only through the work of its divine Author, God the Holy Spirit.

• Special revelation (Scripture) and general revelation are of divine origin.

• The triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) of the universe spoke everything into existence in the span of six days. He sustains and governs all things by his Word of decree, including the progressive insights he allows mankind to individually and collectively gain concerning his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence as expressed through the created order.

• No human being can properly understand the things revealed in general revelation without the aid of the Holy Spirit and the proper use of his divinely inspired instrument, the Holy Scriptures. Statements About the Sufficiency of Scripture

• Holy Scripture is entirely sufficient to address meaningfully and relevantly all of man’s spiritual needs in every situation in every period of time.

• Holy Scripture is the only sufficient means whereby a comprehensive system of counseling principles and practices that can affect genuine change in the human heart can be derived.

• Holy Scripture is sufficient to be used as a lens to discern truth from error in all of the fields of knowledge. The spectacles of Scripture alone provide for the human mind a world and life perspective which will enable one to think correctly about and critically evaluate information and actions from any human source, whether that be a thought or a system of thought derived from an individual or a collective entity.

• Scriptural truth is timeless and comprehensive in wisdom and is therefore sufficient in its ability to aid the regenerated mind in understanding, ordering, and applying all truth in all places at all times.


Concluding Statements About God’s Truth as It Specifically Applies to Biblical Counseling

• All truth in the realms of special and general revelation is God’s truth and should be used for the glory of God in all of our counseling-related endeavors.

• Jesus Christ is the head of the church and the member of the Trinity in whom all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are revealed (Col. 2:3). Biblical counselors are utilized by Jesus Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring the truth of Scripture to bear in the lives of counselees for their regeneration, edification, and particularly sanctification. God is glorified through the truth of special revelation as counselees respond to it by faith and are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

• Biblical counselors are used by Jesus Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring applicable truths from general revelation to bear in the lives of counselees, in order to minimize the effects of sin and the Fall and/ or restore the bodily components of the capacities associated with various aspects of the Primary Dominant Domains. Such work can and often does positively affect the regenerated person’s soul, thereby enabling it, along with his or her body, to be more productive in service to God.

The content of some of the preceding statements lay the groundwork for our discussion on the final two foundational principles underlying IRBC’s philosophical model of counseling. We will look at one of them now and the other next time (D.V.).

God’s truth revealed through the medium of general revelation is sufficient to minimize the effects of the Fall by providing insights and applications connected with the general operations of the natural capacities associated with the Primary Dominant Domains.

Most Christians would agree that our first parents’ fall into sin deeply affected the world and everything in it. Yet, there are some who either explicitly or implicitly deny the fact that the Fall has affected and continues to affect negatively the functioning of some of the organs (particularly the brain), biological systems, and structures associated with the main human capacities (i.e., intellectual, emotional, social) involved with living in communion with God and neighbor. It seems that if one was to uncover the central presupposition undergirding such a mindset, it might be expressed as follows: “Spiritual rebirth involves an automatic and complete renewal or instantaneous healing of the central nervous system (i.e., the brain and spinal cord) and/or other bodily systems that are involved with living in coherent communion with God and neighbor.”

Although I never really explored the presuppositions underlying this mindset, there was a time when I thoroughly and enthusiastically ministered under it. My reasons were more reactionary than philosophical. To explain what I mean, I will share with you a little of my Christian journey.

When the Lord “removed the scales from my eyes” while on the campus of Colorado State University, and I saw for the first time in my life (through the medium of special revelation) my precious Savior Jesus Christ (Truth incarnate) and the “pure jot and tittle” truth that graces every word of every sentence of the Sacred Writ, I rejoiced greatly and correctly identified special revelation as God’s primary source of truth. In association with my vocational call to the ministry, I shifted the focus of my studies from general revelation (God’s truth revealed through the things he has created and which is studied via science) entirely to special revelation (God’s infallible and inerrant Word).

While serving in the pastoral ministry, the Lord providentially guided the focus of my theological studies toward biblical counseling. As I became more engaged in these studies, I abandoned all studies in science, including the behavioral sciences. I also began to look with disdain upon most of the branches of science because of the suppression of truth and the multitude of anti-Christian philosophies being propagated within them. In time, however, I came to realize within my pastoral counseling experiences that not all of the problems with which I saw Christians struggling were rooted in personal sin—an assumption that I used to make, and which is made by many within the broader field of biblical counseling. Some had struggled with problems that were the result of functional impairments of various elements of the mental capacity of the brain (i.e., perception, memory, reasoning). Others struggled emotionally, apart from any recognizable thought, behavior, or speech patterns that were sinful. Indicating that such individuals struggled with emotional turmoil does not mean to suggest that they were devoid of the underlying joy of their salvation. That glorious fruit of the Spirit and frame of heart was expressed by most of them. Yet, some of them experienced severe episodes of emotional suffering. It seems the suffering some of them experienced was similar to the kind of struggle that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Scripture tells us that “for the joy set before Him, [He] endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2, New American Standard Bible); yet in this episode of his life, he was emotionally taxed to the point that it affected the manner in which his human body perspired.

Other emotional strugglers wrestled with what appeared to be something related to a bodily impairment, particularly the brain (i.e., the specific area of the brain associated with the expression of human emotion) failing to properly mediate between soul and body. One would wrestle with controlling emotion after a stroke; another would have an ongoing struggle with either (severe) anxiety or depression that was reflective of similar struggles from (Christian) family members from prior generations. To assume that these strugglers were all experiencing problems that were directly rooted in personal sin did not seem right.

Still others wrestled deeply with the pervasively evil speech and/or behavior they regularly encountered in the home and/or workplace. In some cases, the counsel that needed to be prescribed was not “respond to evil with good” or “endure mistreatment viewing it as a means God is using to strengthen your character.” The appropriate counsel was “begin to take the necessary steps to bring God’s discipline/ judgement to bear in the situation via church office-bearers or the law” or “flee from evil.”

As I encountered these and other types of problems, the Lord granted me the insight necessary to capture the basic understanding of the areas wherein problems arise in the lives of his people. Thus I was enabled to give expression to The 7 Dominant Domains of Origin for Human Problems.

While praying and pondering the Mental Domain, it became evident that my love and zeal for the truth that God reveals through the medium of special revelation had almost completely eclipsed my former love and appreciation for the truth he reveals through the medium of general revelation. My earlier reaction to unbelievers’ suppression of the truth within various academic fields was, upon further reflection, an error rather than a virtue as I had originally surmised. Our job as Christians is not to become reclusive as we encounter people enslaved to Satan’s schemes as we sojourn on our earthly pilgrimages. We are to be the salt of the earth by living in accordance with God’s Word, sharing the gospel, and correctly interpreting and applying the truth God reveals through the media of special and general revelation for the salvation and restoration of soul and body—all for his glory. In short, we are to be led by Jesus Christ via the ministry of the Holy Spirit into all academic and vocational fields, seeking to obey his commission to make disciples of all men. We are not to retreat and then complain about how bad everything has become. We are to be salt and light!

Today, I still greatly rejoice in special revelation and view it as God’s primary source of truth. Yet, I also rejoice in the truth that he reveals via general revelation. It truly is sad to see the state of the sciences today. Christians must, indeed, be very discerning as they interact with ideas and teachings propagated by public as well as private Christian institutions. Yet, with the spectacles of Scripture we can and must take truth discovered from both pagan and priest, and profitably apply it to those we counsel. To be sure, sin often lies at the core of most Christians’ personal and interpersonal problems and must be faithfully confronted. It must not be masked or explained away by fine-sounding arguments. Yet, are we not less than wise and compassionate counselors if we do not realize that the Fall has caused various bodily organs, systems, and structures to function in impaired or disordered ways, thereby causing people to suffer and/or be more prone to sin in certain ways because of such operational deficiencies?

Wise and compassionate counselors who genuinely love people will not fail to minimize the effects of the Fall. Nor will they turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to sin. Their love and concern for the glory and honor of their God and the ultimate good of the sufferer they have been called to serve is too great to do such an evil and unkind thing. Shouldn’t the same love that motivates us to be the keeper of our brother’s and sister’s souls move us to pray compassionately that the Great Physician of soul and body will provide remedies, cures, and/ or ethically sound techniques that will minimize the negative effects of the Fall in their lives? For example, wouldn’t a compassionate counselor who worked with a beloved member of Christ’s body with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—with one who struggled with forming and maintaining relationships— desire to know more about this neurologically based problem? Wouldn’t he or she desire to make proper application of research and findings that provided insights and help into the social aspects of an ASD counselee’s struggle? We would hope that the answer would be yes for any counselor who ministers in the name of Jesus Christ. If such isn’t the case with you, dear reader, we would humbly ask that you pray that the Holy Spirit would make your heart merciful, as is the heart of Jesus Christ. We would also urge you to remember that as Jesus sojourned on earth, he was concerned to minister to people as beings comprised of body and soul, not disembodied spirits.

While we are on the topic of ASD, the question needs to be asked, “How will the Reformed segment of the visible church respond to the explosion of people possessing an ASD in our time?” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 68 children has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This new estimate is roughly 30 percent higher than previous estimates reported in 2012. Will the mainstream of the conservative Reformed church compassionately address the spiritual as well as mental, social, and other needs of their existing and future members with ASD, should the Lord tarry? Or, will we give them pat religious answers and sit back and watch them quietly suffer? Members of Christ’s body who consistently fail at relationships are deprived of the rich blessings of the communion of the saints and do greatly suffer! People with ASD are not the only ones who suffer; their families do as well. Parents of children with ASD often suffer from exhaustion and burnout. Non-ASD siblings are usually deprived of parental attention because of the amount of time that is necessary to manage behavior and attend to the needs of their sibling with ASD. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that members of the covenant community provide assistance for families who have members with ASD.

The progressive insights into general revelation that God is pleased to unveil in each generation are sufficient to minimize the effects of the Fall in the lives of his children. As the hands and feet of our merciful God, in whom are found all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), we must be willing to bring faithfully and effectively the truth of special as well as general revelation to bear in the lives of those who suffer. May God give us the grace to heed the exhortation given in Proverbs 3:27 (New American Standard Bible) as it applies to the subject at hand: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Our business as biblical counselors is to observe and apply the precepts of Christ as well as imitate his example; to do justice, to love mercy, and beware of covetousness; to be ready for every good work.

Before ending our discussion on this underlying principle, a portion of IRBC’s greater vision for the propagation of the gospel via the ministry of biblical counseling, along with our associated desire to promote academic leadership, will be shared. It is hoped that the Lord will eventually provide opportunities for IRBC to introduce lines of inquiry associated with The 7 Dominant Domains in secondary and postsecondary Christian schools. The introduction of such lines will, we hope, guide students into meaningful research aimed at glorifying God by discovering different facets of his knowledge that can be applied to counseling-related issues, in such a way as to minimize the effects of the Fall. Such guided research will be used by the Lord to spark interest and provide an added sense of relevancy and purpose in the pertinent sciences. It will also be used to begin a new season of Christian leadership in the associated fields of knowledge. As the bride of Christ, we must remember that all of the fields of knowledge rightfully belong to Jesus Christ. May God be pleased to use small efforts such as those proposed here to promote the gospel and begin a new chapter of Christian leadership in our country and around the world. It is time for Christians to lead! May the Holy Spirit empower us with the courage necessary to hold high the torch of God’s truth and minister to the suffering with Christ-like humility and compassion.

Dr. Jeff L. Doll is director at The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling, director at The Shepherd’s Way Biblical Counseling Center in Holland, MI, and pastor of biblical counseling at Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.