There is no doubt that Jay Adams has had an indelible mark on the Christian counseling movement. While he was not the first to place a high view of Scripture as the ground of the practice, he certainly brought a renewed focus to the role of Scripture in Christian counseling. There are many pastors, counselors, and Christian counseling organizations that owe a debt of gratitude to his work.
While the role of Scripture in counseling is often touched on in a general manner, it is not often enough treated as thoroughly as it should be, given its foundational nature for counseling. We often say that Sscripture should guide our counseling but what does that look like face-to-face? Filling this much needed area The Biblical Counseling Coalition has brought together a group of qualified pastors and counselors to write Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World edited by Bob Kellemen & Jeff Forrey. This book provides not only a biblical and systematic theology of Scripture’s role in counseling but it also provides the counselor with a step-by-step guide in practicing the application of Scripture to the life of the believer.
Role of Scripture
“The Bible is Relevant for That?” While this is the title of a single chapter in the book, it is a question that is answered throughout the book. There are so many counseling situations where someone might ask, “Is the Bible relevant in this situation? Does the Bible speak to this issue? Can the Bible give me guidance here?” The unanimous answer to those questions and more is yes. Since “the Bible is about what life is about”, Kevin Carson argues, then there is no situation to which it does not have something to say. If the Bible gives us a lens through which to view the whole world then it can certainly be a lens through which to view my life. Jeremy Pierre writes:
Scripture is sufficient to frame the entirety of both human experience and the context in which that experience occurs according to God’s essential purpose for people to reflect His personhood by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (p. 105)
The first section of the book presents a theology of for how we are to view Scripture as it relates to counseling. The primary goal of this book is to develop “a biblical theology of Scripture for counseling” (p. 17). The authors of this book firmly believe that, whatever else Christian counseling is or isn’t, it is “unapologetically” a Word ministry (p. 20). Scripture is the foundation and center of counseling which determines the shape of the ministry. But why is Scripture the thing that guides Christian counseling? “The Bible is necessary,” Kevin Carson writes, ” because God calls us to glorify Him by becoming like Christ. It is in the pages of Scripture where we learn who He is, why we need Him, and how to be like Him” (p. 34). Since the Bible is necessary then it is also sufficient for counseling. “Scripture is both necessary and sufficient for giving you a framework for understanding every aspect of your life” (p. 94) Scripture is the place where we are called by Christ to be like Christ. No other source can do this. It is where we are told what is wrong with us and the only way to become right again.
In turn, this makes Christian counseling uniquely Christ-centered. Because counseling should be Bible-centered it is Christ-centered because the Bible is about Christ. The Bible point us to Christ and Christ points us to the Bible. The Christ-centeredness of the Bible points us to the totality of the gospel which in turn places the gospel at the heart of our counseling.
Role of Psychology
If Scripture is the foundation for Christian counseling then is there a place for psychology, and if so, what is it?
There is no doubt that Christian counseling and psychology have had a rocky relationship. Christians are divided on the place of psychology, if it has one at all, in Christian counseling. There are some who wholesale dismiss anything that psychology might bring to the table for Christian counseling. On the other hand, there are some who utilize so much psychology that the voice of Scripture is almost muted in the practice. But is there a better way?
The authors of this book take a somewhat middle of the road approach to the use and benefit of psychology to Christian counseling. In his chapter, What is Psychology?, Jeffery Forrey defines psychology as “the scientific study of behavior and mental process” (p. 78). Behavior being what can be observed by others and mental processes being those aspects of a person that one cannot see such as thoughts, feelings, and emotions. At this point there should be no tension between Christian counseling and psychology. Further, at some level, everyone engages in psychology—even the Bible.
To some, even many, the idea of a biblical psychology (as opposed to a secular psychology) might seem contradictory. But, as Bob Kellemen points out, it is actually as old as the church (p. 135). There is nothing inherently secular about studying human behavior and mental processes. All over Scripture there are observations and remarks about them. What biblical psychology does is give a person the grid through which to assess and judge those behaviors and mental processes. Merely observing a behavior does not tell us whether or not it is right or wrong.
So the fruit of psychology for Christian counseling is that of descriptive research. “We can learn useful descriptive information from the secular psychologies as they research humans” (p. 175, 220). This is not capitulation to secular psychology. This is the recognition that, while secular fields have their faults and start with different assumptions, they still discover truth even if they do not recognize its source. There are still some (many?) that will say no to this, but that would be unwise.
The second half of the book gives chapter after chapter of practical advice for the practice of counseling as well as walking the reader through the various genres of Scripture to show how they contribute truth to counseling. In chapter eleven Bob Kellemen outlines a counseling guide to help walk the counselor and the counselee through their struggles/pain/problems and Scripture. Chapters 17-20 are, among others, chapters that will need to be read time and time again as they help the counselor see how to use Scripture in counseling. Since they are divided by genre, they appreciate the different ways in which each genre communicates truth that can be applied to counseling.
After only reading a few chapters of this book I told a friend that this book was worth its weight in gold. The more I read the further that initial thought was confirmed. Scripture and Counseling is a must have for all Christians involved in counseling. It has an uncompromising and unapologetic dependency on Scripture as the foundational tool box from which to draw upon for the counseling of souls. This book should have a broad reading and a long history of use.
Craig Hurst received his BA in Church Ministries from Clearwater Christian College and his MA in theology at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He currently lives outside of Grand Rapids, MI and attends Grace Community Church, where he serves as a volunteer youth worker (along with his wife), and teaches some elective classes. He blogs at Theology for the Road.