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Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Few Misconceptions About Biblical Counseling

Biblical counseling is going to be a huge component of the ministry of Providence Bible Fellowship, both within the body and in our outreach to the lost around us. This form of counseling is founded on belief in the sufficiency of Scripture to guide us in all matters of salvation and sanctification (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). Also known as nouthetic counseling, biblical counseling has been caricatured by some within the church due to a limited understanding of what it actually is.

I’d like respond to a few of the most common misunderstandings about biblical counseling.

“Biblical counseling is simplistic.” Biblical counseling is simple, but it is not simplistic. It does not minimize the seriousness of heart issues and it does not minimize the difficulty of dealing with heart issues. God has given us in His Word His understanding of man’s problem and His understanding of how to address it. He knows what He is talking about. And often His solution will be far simpler than a man-centered approach. That God’s method of counseling is less complicated than methods created by man does not mean that God’s way is simplistic. Rather, it shows that man, in his effort to make his own way, has missed the real issues of the heart and has complicated things.

“Biblical counseling is against science and medicine.” Biblical counseling does not seek to address problems that are legitimately physical issues. In fact, a biblical counselor would be foolish to not encourage a counselee to not seek medical attention for proven diseases. Biblical counseling does not set itself against hard science – that is, science based on the empirical method. We do differentiate psychology from hard science, though. Psychology is a discipline, not a science. Some consider psychology to be a soft science since it is not based on the empirical method.

“Biblical counseling is harsh and confrontational.” Of course, there will always be bad apples in any bunch. But a biblical counselor should seek to be like Jesus, full of grace and truth (John 1:17). It is possible to err by being all grace and it is possible to err by being all truth. There must be a balance. We see the ideal heart of a biblical counselor in the words of Paul to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:31: Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. Biblical counseling seeks to speak the truth in love out of a heart that truly cares. Certainly, there are occasions where confrontation is necessary and is the most loving thing to do. In those instances, even confrontation should be done with sensitivity and care.

“Biblical counseling is based on the idea that every problem is a sin issue.” It cannot be denied that a great deal of the problems that we face are the result of sin, whether that sin be our own or someone else’s. However, it is not true that biblical counseling sees a sin under every rock. Sometimes a person may come for counseling who just needs encouragement during a difficult trial. In such a case, the counselor will open God’s Word and seek to encourage. A person may come for counseling who is having a difficult time dealing with the loss of a loved one. The counselor will open God’s word and seek to speak words of comfort, as well as to show the path toward God-honoring grief. Sometimes there is a legitimate medical issue that is causing the problem. So there are a host of issues in which the biblical counselor would not be addressing a sin issue. On the other hand, much psychological theory is based on the assumption that there is no sin, there is only disease, which runs counter to biblical teaching.

“Biblical counseling is just for smaller things like worry. It won’t help people with real mental illness.” There are some organic problems affecting the brain such as genetic disorders, brain damage, chemical/glandular disorders, and tumors that are accurately termed
mental illness. However, much of what is called mental illness today are issues for which there is no evidence that they are caused by disease or illness. Scripture recognizes organically based problems as well as problems that result from sinful behavior and attitudes. However, there is no Scriptural support for a third source of problems that comparable to what some call mental illness today. Rather, 2 Pet 1:3 tells us that in the knowledge of Christ, we have been given everything pertaining to life and godliness.

Providence Bible Fellowship is committed to biblical counseling. In the coming weeks, we will have more blog posts about what it is and the theological foundations for it.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

1 comment:

Brian Jonson said...

Thanks for this article, Greg. I think correcting misconceptions is an important first step to understanding biblical counseling. Well put.