You or one of your loved ones runs into difficulty in life or in solving problems. Maybe it is a marriage or family problem, maybe a personal problem. Whom are you going to call for help? A friend? A relative? Your pastor? A professional counselor? In our secularized and psychologized culture and churches.1 it is imperative that you know both the integrity of heart and the theology of the person to whom you bare your soul and whose advice you embrace. Because there are only two kinds of counsel and God insists that you listen to His counsel and not to that of His rival. you need discernment (Ps. 1).2 What Biblical counseling is and why it is important are questions you need to ponder before you pick up the phone.
Let’s define what Biblical counseling is, as over against secular approaches or those religious approaches that attempt to integrate religious truth with secular psychologies, because definitions are foundational to discernment. Secular psychiatrist Thomas Szasz perceptively points out:
Definitions, especially the power to construct definitions and to impose them on others, are of great importance in all aspects of human life. In psychiatry and psychotherapy, because these disciplines deal with human relations and with the influence of persons and groups on one another. how words are used is extremely important.3
Your definitions of the process of counseling and the problems to be addressed and solved will largely determine the methods used and adVice offered. If your foundation Is not Jesus Christ and Scripture, your system will be corrupt; if your foundation is Christ but your materials are non-Biblical and secular, your edifice will bum (l Cor. 3:10–15; Eph. 2:19–22; I Pet. 2:6–8). As Szasz and others note. until recently counseling was defined as giving advice; but now all sorts of activities are viewed as therapeutic or counseling.4 In western culture, especially due to secularized philosophy and science, there are 250+ recognizable counseling systems.5 But God’s Word6 and history point to counseling as giving advice in the form of a plan to accomplish goals. Biblical Counseling is giving Biblical advice in the form of a Biblical plan to accomplish God’s revealed goals. Jesus was called the Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6) and the Holy Spirit the Other Counselor (John 14:16.17, 26; 15:26; 16:7–11 , I John 2:1).7 Paul viewed counseling as a necessity part of his ministry of God’s Word (Col. 1:27–29; Acts 20:20–21, 31).8 Therefore, the activity of counseling is a subset of the Christian ministry. Biblical counseling is ministering God’s Word in a discipleship relationship.
Secular counseling is viewed as the application of a natural science which can and should function totally apart from God and His Word. All secular systems are purportedly self-contained and reject the necessity of revelatory references: materialism, naturalism and humanism reign supreme. The presuppositions of Biblical counseling are those of the Bible. This extensive data about God, creation, the world. the fall, God’s promise of salvation in the covenant of grace, the history of God’s redemption, salvation by sovereign grace, the person and work of Jesus Christ. the necessity of special verbal revelation from God, the written canon and its infallibility, sufficiency, clarity and comprehensiveness in all areas of ethics (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 3: 15–17; 2 Pet, 1:3–4) Is the mother-lode from which we mine the pure ore of truth that is refined and forged into a counseling system.9
Every variety of secular counseling builds its system on non-Biblical presuppositions: evolutionary materialism, mystical pantheism or some other pagan world and life view. In secular circles the definitions of the nature of man, his problems and their solutions are hotly debated. Even the very validity of many psychological concepts are under heavy fire: self-esteem,10 mental illness,11 the medical model of addiction and recovery,12 psychotherapy,13 the precision of the psychiatric bible, i.e. the DSM.14 Why would Christians want to buy into this cacophony ofconceptual confusion?
The goal of Biblical counseling is to counsel and teach every man so that he might be presented complete in Christ (Col. 1:27–29). Christ-like maturity or holiness is the goal of Paul’s instruction so that the counselee will love God and his neighbor (I Tim. 1:5). Such godly disciples glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question and answer #1). Secular counseling has a plethora of goals, usually centered around personal well-being or happiness. The counselor and counselee, in some combination, determine the goals for the counselee. Such man-centered decisions amount to man making himself into his own image or imaginations and therefore, is a form of idolatry (2 Cor. 10:7–12) from which Christians must guard themselves and flee (1 Cor. 10:14; I John 5:21). Unregenerate counselors will never aid Christian counselees in their efforts to conform to the image of Jesus Christ.15
The method of Biblical counseling flows from the presuppositions and nature of counseling. The model of a shepherd ministering the Word of God to a disciple is normative. The counselee is to become like his teacher-counselor (Matt. 10:24–25; Luke 6:40).
The secular model revolves around a professional medical practitioner-patient relationship. While not totally devoid of personal elements, this mechanical model is not pastoral, nor is the populist model of the self-help group movement.
The organizational and functional control over Biblical counseling is the church. Because counseling is a ministry of the Word, the ordained elders are to oversee the process. While much informal counseling and care come under the “one-anothering” of the New Testament, when counseling moves into the formal stages the elders must take charge (Matt. 18: 15–20; Acts 20:17–35; Heb. 13:7, 17; I Pet. 5:1–5).16
State licensed and controlled counseling takes away prerogatives of the family and church. This state directed monopoly is fraught with many negative implications; only the state and third-party payment supported therapists gain. While seemingly benign, this secular model robs the church of her God-given duty and vitiates its authority. Secular self-help groups often avoid state control. but still rob the church by substituting themselves for her.
The participants in Biblical counseling are ordained elders and men and women under their oversight (Titus 2:1–8). This model has implications for evangelism as well as pastoral care. Just as the church’s loss of deaconal ministry to the state’s socialized welfare system means that the culture looks to the heart of the government for compassion and not to the family and church, so too state licensed counselors are the chief advice givers and helpers and not the family and church. Womb-to-tomb, the state becomes the exclusive father and mother of all. Germany and Russia are grim reminders of the bitter fruits of such a system.
Secular licensing replaces ordination as the guarantee of quality help. Today, while church discipline of elders and parishioners is often neglected or botched, state oversight of licensed counselors is even worse, This statist system rivals God’s church. As Jay Adams says, God does not bless His competition. Jeroboam found that modifying God’s ordained methods brings His wrath, God not only judges gross manifestations of Sinful rebellion, e.g. abortion, adultery and homosexuality, but also more subtle usurpation of His ordained ways, e.g. feminism, egalitatianism and state encroachment on the authority of the family and the church.
Biblical counseling trains believers to use their spiritual gifts through discipleship. The pastor-teacher should discover, develop and deploy those with the gift of counseling (Rom, 12:8). While all Christians counsel, just as all evangelize, not all are gifted to evangelize or counsel as a callIng within the body of Christ. Since the Holy Spirit gifts some, formal training and use of these gifts should be available in every believing congregation. For example, trained couples could do the bulk of the pre-marital counseling and older women could do the bulk of the counseling with women (Titus 2:3–5). This would also help the marital fidelity of elders and parishioners alike.
The secular model is one of professional graduate education. While graduate work is not wrong per se, a pagan-Greek academic model, coupled with modem humanistic content does not produce godly counselors. The local congregation following the Biblical model of intense discipleship will produce godly counselors, Secular graduate school in the social sciences in general and psychology in particular. is like a mine field booby-trapped with pagan religious assumptions and pleasant pagans with an abundance of superficial substitutes for the fruit of the Spirit. Every graduate school of psychology or psychiatry should have inscribed above its portal: WARNING: The Good Shepherd has determined that graduate school in psychology can be dangerous to your spiritual health.
Is this an over-reaction? listen again to secularist Szasz:
In short, psychotherapy is secular ethics. It is the religion of the formally irreligious—with its language, which is not Latin but medical jargon: with its codes of conduct, which are not ethical but legalistic; and with its theology, which is not Christianity but positivism.17
This then is WHAT Biblical counseling is: a radical return to a Biblical model and method of dealing with moral ethical issues. The physician works with the body; the pastoral counselor with the spirit or soul. But WHY is it important?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1 gives us our answer: What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Nothing less than God’s glory is at stake in Biblical counseling. God’s character is impugned if we do not believe that His counsel and His method of counseling in the Bible are sufficient. Has or has not God given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3–4)? God has not revealed everything that we need for physics or auto mechanics, but He has in the area of holiness in our relationship with Him. others and ourselves. God’s Word brings about conversion, sanctification and wisdom that can come through no other instrument (Ps. 19; Rom. 1–2; Heb. 4:12–13; Heb. 5:11–14). The Inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of Scripture are at stake. General revelation, common grace and general wisdom can never replace the Word of God.
We live in an age of apostasy. Harold O.J. Brown points to the near death of orthodoxy.18 The great battles early in this century between liberals and conservatives over Biblical inerrancy have become the battles over the Bible’s sufficiency,19 between neo-evangelical and historically reformed people and true Biblical scholars and believers. Biblical counseling is at the center of this battle.20
Man’s enjoyment is inextricably bound to God’s glory. Individuals will not become Christ-like except through the Word (2 Tim. 3:15–17). Families will not be strong covenantal units without God’s Word (Ps. 127:1; Pet, 1:18–19). Our churches will continue to mime the world until God’s Word once again becomes the true foundation of Christian scholarship.
Most undergraduate and graduate programs at Christian Institutions are as bad or worse than their secular counterparts. Neither Biblical fish—in the exegetical Augustinian, Reformed tradition—nor humanistic fowl in the enlightenment critical tradition—they become more and more like Jesuit institutions rationalizing all kinds of integration of paganism into the church. Therefore, they do justice to neither general revelation and scientific study nor to special revelation and Biblical theology. Modeled upon secular education, they are worldly clones in the deepest sense. Most Christian hospitals and counseling centers fall into this paganized pattern. Reformed groups are no better. The meaning, model and methods of the church have lost their saltiness and light. Exaggerated? No.
The history of Holland’s slide from the day of Abraham Kuyper into its present socialized paganism is being repeated in the U.S.A. and Canada. While each country dIffers sIgnificantly, the demise of Reformed churches in each has lead to cultural decline. The very future of western civilization hinges on Christianity. Biblical counseling is one key factor in this war to preserve Biblical orthodoxy and western culture.
The church at the end of the twentieth century must decide between the City of God and the City of Man. Which will it be? Reformed churches must decide who is Lord and Master. Choose this day whom you will serve. Whom are you going to call?
1. For proof of this trend within the church as well as the general culture see David A. Powlison, “Integration or Inundation,” Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?, ed. M.S. Horton (Moody, 1992), 191–218.
2. Jay E. Adams, A Theology of Counseling (Zondervan, 1979).
3. Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Psychotherapy: Mental Healing as Religion, Rhetoric and Repression (Oxford U. Press. 1979), 4.
4. Idem. xii.
5. R.A. Harper, Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: 36 Systems (Jason Aronson, 1974) is a good overview of some.
6. G.C. Scipione, “The Wonderful Counselor, The Other Counselor and Christian Counseling,” Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. XXXVI, No.2, 174–197; No. 3, 261–389.
8. Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Zondervan, 1970).
9. David A Powlison, “Which Presuppositions: Secular Psychology and the Categories of Biblical Thought,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1984, Vol. 12. No.4, 270–278. Jay Adams says the Bible designates three things that can go wrong in man: physical, spiritual, demonic. For example, the concept of mental illness is not Biblical. This article is too short to deal with such issues. See Competent to Counsel.
10. Newsweek, Vol. CXIX, No.7, Feb. 17, 1992. The front cover bears the title, “The Curse of Self-Esteem”; J. Adler, P. Wingert, L. Wright, P. Houston, H. Manley, A D. Cohen, “Hey I’m Terrific,” 46–51.
11. T. Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness (Harper & Row, 1984).
12. H. Fingarette, Heavy Drinking (U. of California Press, 1988); S, Peele, Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control (Lexington Books, 1989); S. J. Katz. A G. Liu. The Co-Dependency Conspiracy: How to Break the Recovery Habit and Take Charge of Your Life, (Warner, 1992); W. Kaminar, I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional (Addison-Wesley, 1992).
13. T. Szasz, The Myth of Psychotherapy.
14. E.E. Goode, “Sick of just quirky?: Psychiatrists ore labeling more and more human behaviors abnormal.” U.S. News and World Report, Feb, 10, 1992, Vol. 112. No. 5, 49–50; T. Szasz. “Diagnoses are not diseases,” Lancet, Vol. 338, Dec. 21/28, 1992, 1954–1976. The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is going through its fourth revision.
15. Jay Adams, Change Them–lnto What? Counseling in America Today (CCEF, 1978). Adams gave this lecture at the University Psychiatric Clinic in Vienna, Austria.
16. Jay Adams, Handbook ofChurch Discipline (Zondervan, 1986).
17. Szosz. Myth of Psychotherapy, 9–10.
18. Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy (Baker,1984).
19. Noel Weeks, Sufficiency (Banner of Truth, 1988).
20. John MacArthur. Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ (Word 1991).
George C. Scipione has been the director of the San Diego branch of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation since 1982. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has earned an A.B. degree in history from Temple University, a B.D. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary, an M.A. degree in psychology from Temple University and a M. Th. degree in New Testament from Westminster Theological Seminary.
Mr. Scipione was the pastor of Calvary Community Church mHarmony, New Jersey from 1974–1982 when he moved to San Diego to establish CCEF.
Not only does Mr. Scipione counsel hundreds of people on a yearly basis, he also trains Christians, ordained and non-ordained, to counsel people from God’s Word. He also teaches pastoral counseling at WestminsterTheological Seminary in Escondido, California.
Mr. Scipione, his wife Eileen and their five children are members at Bayview Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Chula Vista, CA.