Biblical Counseling: Integrationism vs. Dispensational Approach (Part Two).

Biblical Counseling: Integrationism vs. Dispensational Approach (Part Two).

In the last article, the term integration in light of Biblical counseling was explored.  It was shown that the word integration was about the worldview, which is how a person perceives the world around them. Furthermore, when a person attempts to reconcile two different worldviews this is what the author had termed “worldview integration.” By contrast, a counselor, working from a dispensational system would not engage in a synthesis of worldviews but would reject all worldviews that were not compatible with a Biblical worldview.

This left two unanswered questions from the last article:  What does an integration of worldviews look like, and what are its implications?

In an article titled, “The Integration of Christianity and Psychology” Psychologist Sara Rainer gives her perspective on how to integrate Christianity with psychology. This author encourages you to read the article in its entirety, which can be found here. At the start of her article, Sara Rainer writes:

Secular psychologists operate on a biopsychosocial model of human development and behavior. This model proposes humans develop and operate according to biological, psychological, and social influences. Accordingly, we are products of our biology and environment, both bearing equal importance.

In more recent years, psychologists have begun recognizing that our spirituality impacts our lives, but have yet to say it is imperative for life. While the traditional psychological theories and models that are based upon naturalism are insufficient from a Christian worldview, not all of secular psychology is wrong. Indeed, there are many helpful and positive aspects of psychology to consider, which is why there is a need for integration.

Sara Ranier commented that secular psychologists operate on a biological, psychological (or cognitive), and sociological model (i.e., a biopsychosocial model). She mentioned that these aspects of man the secular psychologist focus on carry equal value. Additionally, she added that these qualities of mankind are not bad, however, they must be considered when counseling, emphasizing the need for an integrative psychology. 

Even though there is a benefit to understanding these aspects of man there is one thing that is missing from her paragraphs. Sara Rainer does not define the term secular. This particular word originated from the 13th century and is defined as “living in the world, and not being a part of a religious order.” As a worldview, the word secular is a term that focuses on the well being of man in this present life, without any regard for the afterlife (since there is a disregard for God’s existence). Sara Rainer admits even though a secular psychologist may find the spiritual aspect of mankind important, to the secular psychologist, or counselor, spirituality is perceived as a coping strategy to assist counselees with the overwhelming problems in a temporal existence. This is the reason why secular psychologists, or counselors, do not primarily focus on the spiritual aspect of man because their worldview does not account for this reality.

In another section of her article Sara Rainer writes that a believer who is counseling should operate on what she referred to as a middle ground:

As a trained secular doctor, I appreciate the biopsychosocial model of human nature. Learning about the complexities of humanity provides me with a better framework for understanding and helping my clients. The intricacies of the human brain, the environmental influences on our personality, and the social and culture impact on our lives remind me that pathology cannot simply be reduced to issues of morality or sin..

On the other hand, as a Christian, I acknowledge that all humans are inherently separated from God. This separation causes disorder, sin, and disease of every kind. However, we serve a loving and just God that provides a way out of our depraved state through Jesus Christ. He longs for us to seek Him and His promise of eternity.

Due to the love of this God, I also cannot reduce all pathology to a naturalistic model of humanity. I propose that Christian mental health professionals operate on a middle ground, the bio/psycho/social/spiritual model, which considers both our dignity and depravity as humans

There are several things to observe in these above paragraphs. Sara Rainer acknowledged the doctrine of sin. She argued the reason why there are diseases and illnesses was due to the curse of the Fall. She also endorsed that all mankind has a depraved nature and that Jesus Christ is the only hope to be redeemed from this corrupted state. Furthermore, Sara Rainer also admitted that mental illness and pathology cannot be boiled down to just naturalism, which those who hold to a biblical worldview can appreciate. However, within Sara Rainer’s article, there are several concerns to highlight, which are explored below:

  • Addressing herself as a trained secular doctor: Sara Rainer wrote that she was trained as a “secular doctor.” Even though she mentioned Christ and the forgiveness of sins in her article this is incompatible with the word secular, which she uses to define herself in terms of her training. As previously mentioned above, secularism, due to it’s forsaking God in its worldview, only seeks to find pleasure and purpose in this temporal life, and disregards an afterlife.
  • There is no “middle ground:” Sara Rainer commented that believers who work in the mental health field should operate on a “middle ground.” When it comes to a secular worldview and the Biblical worldview there is no middle ground. The primary presupposition of the secular worldview (i.e., “there is no God”) is antithetical to the central presupposition of the Biblical worldview (i.e., “in the beginning God…”). There cannot be a middle ground in terms of a secular and biblical worldview.
  • The bio/psycho/social/spiritual model: The word of God does speak on these aspects of man. However one of the shortcomings of biopsychosocial model is that it places the order of the spiritual quality of man last, not first. This is not consistent with Scripture where God created the man out of the dust of the earth, and it was only when God breathed into man’s nostrils that he became a living being (c.f., Gen. 2:7). In other words, the spirit God gave man animated the body. Therefore there should be a greater importance placed on the immaterial aspect of man, in relation to the material (perhaps the spiritual/bio/psycho/social reality). 
  • This argument assumes the biblical worldview lacks an aspect of mankind: Sara Rainer, in desiring to seek a middle ground between the two adds the spiritual to the biopsychosocial model. This assumes that believers need to add the spiritual component of man rather than recognizing it is the secular humanist that has removed this aspect of man. The biblical worldview underscores all these qualities of man because this perspective begins with the presupposition that God created mankind with these qualities. It is the secular humanist that borrows from the biblical worldview, not the other way around. 
  • The spiritual aspect of man in this model deemphasizes the doctrine of sanctification: The bio/psycho/social/spiritual model that Sara Rainer promoted in her article is one that is only concerned with the salvation of man from wrath and eternal damnation from God, which is important. However, there is not an emphasis in this article about the importance of positional and progressive sanctification under the grace of God, and looking forward to the blessed hope of Christ appearing (c.f., Tit. 2:11-14). While there is an emphasis on justification in Christ alone, there is an underemphasis on sanctification in the Holy Spirit (i.e., positional, progressive, and perfect).

This article is an example of worldview integration. Sara Rainer has taken two worldviews and attempted to find centrality between these perspectives, when in fact these positions, at their core, are diametrically opposed to one another. As a result of wanting to be neutral Sara Rainer has unknowingly given much ground to the psychologist who denies that God exists. In addition, it is more justification driven, affirming the gospel of Christ (which is important), but ironically it gives little to no emphasis on the life to come. Furthermore, there is still greater weight placed on the “here and now” only, rather than a “here and now” in terms of positional and progressive sanctification, and future glorification. 

Let us as believers seek to understand the aspects of man from what God has revealed to us within the pages of sacred Scripture. Additionally, let us refuse to  integrate the biblical worldview with perspectives put forth by secular humanists, who begin with an incorrect presupposition that “God is not.” By doing this we glorify our God and His revealed word, and we decrease the risk of adopting beliefs that could be potentially misleading to us and the counselees we look to serve.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

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Biblical Counseling: Integration vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part One).

Biblical Counseling: Integration vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part One).

In the last series, we discussed the distinctions between a Reformed (Covenant) approach and a dispensational approach to Biblical counseling. It was observed while the Reformed approach uses Scripture and the Reformed tradition, a dispensational approach uses Scripture alone relying on a consistent literal-grammatical historical (and even cultural) hermeneutic to solve problems with counselees. As a result of these two approaches, both would result in different ways of how to assist people in counseling.

There are some in Biblical counseling who are convinced that the integration of psychology with a Biblical worldview should be pursued and encouraged. However, there are Biblical counselors, within the Reformed tradition, who do not believe psychology is not only unnecessary, but unbiblical, and should be avoided. Jay Adams, the founder of nouthetic counseling comments below:

Integrationist counseling seeks to combine the insights of psychology with those of the Bible. From my perspective, such counseling, though it purports to be biblical, is not, no matter how well intentioned the one who does it may be. The danger is that believers who are the subjects of such counsel think that they are being counseled to do God’s will, when they are not.

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/competent-counsel-interview-jay-adams/

When it comes to the issue of integration of psychology within Biblical counseling there are people on both sides of the spectrum of this particular topic. Furthermore, there are many other counselors who believe that psychology in the study of Biblical counseling does have merit, although some fail to tell us what these specific merits are. In light of this subject, one question from the writer’s observation should be asked, and answered: what is exactly being integrated into Biblical counseling? This writer submits several reasons below:

  •  The meaning of words matter: The etymology of the word psychology is “the study of the soul” or “the study of the mind.” It comes from two Greek words psuche meaning “soul, or mind” and logos meaning “the study of.” In other words,  psychology is simply a discipline, or a field of study, which a person observes plainly. Just like biology is the study of all types of life, and astronomy is a study of the heavenly bodies and phenomena found seen in the physical universe (i.e., sun, moon, stars, planets, orbits, etc.) psychology is no different than these other fields people engage.
  • Adjectives matter: When the name of a discipline, or field of study, has an adjective this describes how one approaches or perceives this particular field of study. For example, the term secular philosophy tells you not only the field of study being investigated but the worldview that is used to examine this discipline. The word secular describes to a person how he/she is going to approach the discipline of philosophy. A person with a secular worldview will approach this discipline without any regard for God and His truth.

So examining the points above what are we talking about when we speak of integration? This author is convinced when one is speaking of integration in Biblical counseling they are primarily addressing the worldview of the counselor. 

Our worldview is the way we perceive the world around us. If a secular counselor believed, according to their worldview, counselees are only made up of hormones and neurotransmitters (i.e., the material aspect of mankind), neglecting the reality of an immaterial spirit, then their approach, and goals, to resolving the counselee’s problem will originate from this perspective. By contrast, if the Biblical counselor, holding to a biblical worldview affirms the reality of both the immaterial (i.e., spirit) and the material aspects of man, then the biblical counselor’s goals and approach will be very different than a secular counselor. The biblical and secular counselors may even use some of the same techniques for their counselees, but the ideology of why these techniques are used will be different. This is what Gary Barnes highlights when he comments below:

“Some argue that the Bible and psychology are competing truth systems, that their sources of knowledge are different, and that their resulting understandings cannot be compatible. They conclude that an integration of psychology and theology is not only unnecessary, it is, more importantly, impossible.”

Cary Barnes (2006). Can Biblical Counseling and Psychological Counseling Somehow Fit Together? Retieved from https://voice.dts.edu/article/can-biblical-counseling-and-psychological-counseling-somehow-fit-together-c-gary-barnes

How do counselors, working from a dispensational system address this issue of integration in biblical counseling? The dispensational counselor, holding to a consistent historical-grammatical approach to Scripture, which is their ultimate source of authority, will refuse to combine any other worldview with the biblical worldview (this is what the author will call worldview integration). In fact, the dispensational counselor will be quick to point out, and reject, any other worldview that runs counter to Scripture because these competing worldviews ultimately do not support the sine qua non of the glory of God. 

This is why Paul warned the saints in Colossae not to be robbed through the philosophy, vain conceit, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8). All of these things Paul mentioned in this verse have everything to do with how one perceives the world around them. A person who integrates, or attempts to harmonize, a false worldview into the biblical worldview would be like placing excrement in their cake batter and mixing it before one bakes a cake. Just like they have spoiled their cake batter, they have spoiled their worldview.  

It appears there must be some caution in how biblical counselors use the word integration. Integration in Biblical counseling has to do with a counselor’s worldview. The trouble begins when one attempts to harmonize an opposing worldview to make it compatible with the biblical worldview (i.e., worldview integration). The dispensational counselor will reject any worldview that is not compatible with their source of authority (i.e., the Bible) using a consistent literal-grammatical historical method because they understand this conflicting worldview would not give glory to God.

However, this leads us to another two other questions: What does worldview integration look like and what are its implications? These will be the questions this author will answer in next article.

Until Next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

Reclaiming A Historical Behavioral Science: How The Reformation Laid The Groundwork For A Biblical Psychology

Reclaiming A Historical Behavioral Science: How The Reformation Laid The Groundwork For A Biblical Psychology

There have been many believers, in modern times that have been apprehensive when it comes to the study of psychology.  This has been with good reason since there have been theories and models have been antithetical and hostile to the teachings of sacred Scripture. One such person is Sigmund Freud, the creator of the psychoanalytic theory, who believed that religion (specifically Christianity) was just an invention of the mind to deal with the guilt that human beings experience.

There are many believers that state that the field of psychology has found its origins in Sigmund Freud. After detailing what a chaplain said regarding how “the religious approach” was no good in a mental health institution, one such person wrote the following sentence:

How has [this rejection of a religious approach] come about? What is its base? The answer lies in the fundamentals of Freudian theory and therapy.

Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 10.

This author even goes on to say that Sigmund Freud is the chief propagator for the justification of sinful behavior in modern times:

Freud has not made people irresponsible; but he has provided a philosophical and psudeoscientific rationale for irresponsible people to use to justify themselves. Freud is a cause of the ills in modern society only as a complicating factor and not a basic cause of those ills. The ultimate cause is sin

Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 17.

There is no doubt that Sigmund Freud and his ideas found in the psychoanalytic model have run against a biblical worldview. There are some who teach because Freud had a significant impact on this discipline that the origin of psychology began with him, and that a Christian who is serious about counseling should not engage with the field or study of psychology.  However, what those who state this fail to observe is that the field of psychology may actually find its roots, not in Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic theory, but in the Protestant Reformation under a man by the name of Philip Melancthon.

October 31st, 1517 marked the start of the Reformation when Martin Luther took the 95 Theses, a treatise on some of the works of indulgences that were among the Roman Catholic Church, and nailed it on the door of the Wittenberg church in Germany. This act was the foundation for returning back to the Scriptures alone for life, doctrine, and practice rather than church tradition or ecclesiastical authority.  It was a year later (1518) when Philip Melanchthon held the position of Chairman of Greek at the University of Wittenberg and became acquainted with Martin Luther. From this point Philip Melanchthon worked alongside Martin Luther and became extremely influential in the Reformation as an author comments below:

A valuable ally, who later supplemented Luther’s bold courage with his gentle reasonableness, came to Wittenberg as a professor of Greek in 1518. At the age ot twenty-one Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was already well trained in the classical languages an Hebrew. While Luther became the great prophetic voice of the Reformation, Melanchthon became its theologian. 

Cairns., E. (1967). Christianity through the centruies. Zondervan. Grand Rapids. p. 315. 

Philip Melanchthon believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. He was a defender of sola Scriptura, rejecting the ecclesiastical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, the Magisterium, and canon law. Philip Melanchthon was also a major proponent of what became known as the Augsburg Confession, which was (and still is) the official creed of the Lutheran church.

Philip Melanchthon also desired to conform disciplines to the teaching of the Scriptures. He commented on the topic of psychology in his writings known as Loci Communes (1521), and Commentaruis de anima (1540) with each book having been revised many times. In his forward Commentaruis de anima (1553) Melanchthon wrote in the foreword to his book as follows, “…eam partem doctrinae, quae de anima agit” (i.e., “the part of the physical doctrine that deals with the soul.”) (cited by Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G, 1999). Historically Philip Melanchthon did not see psychology as a stand-alone discipline but as a discipline that was under the umbrella of philosophy, which an author notes below:

According to Melanchthon philosophy includes three branches: 1) artes dicendi (dialectics and rhetoric), 2) physiologia, which contains for example physics, psychology, and mathematics, and, 3) praecepta de civilibus moribus (ethics). Melanchthon assigned psychology to physiology-the scientific branch of philosophy. That is why he saw his treatise upon the soul as a part of a conception of physics.

Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.7

Philip Melanchthon rejected the ideas and the notions of a philosophy that did not have God at the center. He believed that God was the Creator of all things, was the Source of all truth, and that the Scriptures undergirded the basis for scientific rationale in the modern era. The ideas outlined in his books were taught in universities around Europe for over 150 years. His legacy left an impact not just in the area of theology, but also in the field of psychology found in philosophy.

However, despite the significant contributions to this field of study, and his central focus of sola scriptura, there was a limitation concerning his view. Even though he promoted the instruction of sola scriptura he looked to the philosophers of Aristotle to build and established his psychology:

Melanchthon structured the field of psychology following Aristotle, who differentiated between the soul of plants, animals, and humans.

Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.8

In his attempt to build a God-centered approach to psychology he took most of his influence from a philosopher, not from sacred Scripture. It is clear through his works Loci Communes, and Commentaruis de anima he attempted to build and establish a cohesive approach that was God-glorifying. However, even though he was pursuing to harmonize the study of the soul with theology, due to his philosophical approach, he was inconsistent.

This is a brief study observing the life of Philip Melanchthon and his observation in the field of psychology, however, one thing is clear: Psychology, as a discipline, does not find its origin in Sigmund Freud or the Psychoanalytic theory. Philip Melanchthon who played a significant role in the Reformation sought to observe the discipline of philosophy and all of its “branches,” such as psychology, from a theological worldview desiring to establish the discipline in its proper place. Yet he failed in this endeavor due to the fact his psychology built on a theological/philosophical perspective, not from a Biblical perspective. Nevertheless, psychology (or pyschologia as he called it) has a history within the Protestant Reformation, and he sought to observe God’s truth in all areas and subjects of life.

There should be a healthy caution when approaching this discipline of psychology in light of its theories and concepts. As Christians who are pursuing the truth let us not be afraid of the discipline itself. In fact, let us take the passion of Martin Luther, and Philip Melanchthon in desiring to stay true to the Scriptures and continue the reformation not just in the area theology, but also in the field of psychology. The Reformation was established on challenging and reforming the ecclesiastical ideas and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church back to Scripture alone, and believers in Christ should do the same with the ideas and concepts found in psychology.

Let us take up the challenge and continue the rich legacy of the Protestant Reformation, not to throw away the field of psychology, but to reform it, and continue to reform it in accordance with the Scriptures, all for the glory of God. Amen.

Semper Reformanda!!

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Five)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Five)

In the last article a fourth sola of the Reformation, sola Scriptura (scripture alone) and how this influences a biblical counselor was observed. The biblical counselor, using God’s word, works with the believing counselee equipping them for good works. In addition, the biblical counselor works alongside the unbelieving counselee using the universal truth of God’s word looking for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ to them. Lastly, the counselor, holding to sola Scriptura, strives to explain and apply the truth of the Scriptures to the counselee’s problem accurately, using a consistent literal-grammatical and historical method when serving their counselees.

The last and final sola promoted by the Reformers was soli deo Gloria (i.e., glory to God alone). This last sola expresses the acknowledgment of who God truly is in how He has revealed Himself to mankind in His word. In addition, the glory of God also has everything to do with His works within the world. Martin Luther, in many of his writings, emphasized the glory of God in Christ Jesus and His perfect work on the cross for the salvation of man from eternal damnation. John (Jean) Calvin described the glory of God not just being found in the salvation of man, but in all of the works of God under heaven.

When it comes to the saint and the glory of God this is the reason the Christian lives and breathes. Paul mentions this reality of the glory of God to the saints who resided at Corinth:

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Cor. 10:31 NASB

In the immediate context surrounding this verse, Paul is giving some counsel concerning eating meat sacrificed to idols in the city of Corinth. Paul explains that if the saint purchased meat sacrificed to idols that they should eat it, understanding that idols (i.e., false gods) do not exist (v. 26). Furthermore, Paul informs the churches of Corinth that if an unbeliever invites them over for dinner not to ask questions about the food, but to eat freely, strengthening the reality that all things belong to the Lord (v. 27). However, if an unbeliever informs them that the meat was sacrificed to idols that they should not eat the mean, not for the sake of the believer’s conscience but for the conscience of the unbeliever (vs. 28-30).

Paul then wrote that whatever the saints in Corinth do, let it be to the glory of God (v. 31). Paul stated that all of the Corthinian saints’  intentional actions; even actions that were of human necessity (e.g., eating, drinking) were to be completed in a manner that acknowledged God in His proper place. No action or work for the saint was outside of the reality of God’s glory.

God’s glory is the central goal of the biblical counselor, not just for how they serve their counselees, but it is the goal for the counselees who come for guidance and direction. The main objective for the biblical counselor is to work alongside a counselee with God’s word so that the counselee observes the glory of God in every area of their life. For example, if a counselee comes to a biblical counselor because they are struggling with a specific active sin (e.g., uncontrolled anger), the biblical counselor knows that the counselee has a very hard time glorifying God with this particular behavior. The biblical counselor would work with a believing counselee, from the Scriptures,  in turning away from their sin of uncontrolled anger and turning to a more self-controlled response, because their uncontrolled anger does not glorify God (Tit. 2:11-12).

The biblical counselor may work with parents in learning how to train their child(ren). As a result, the parents are instructed on how to glorify God in training their children in His word (Eph. 6:3). Consequently, the child(ren) due to the training of the parents may glorify God by obeying their parents in a consistent manner (Eph. 6:1-2). In short, the biblical counselor works with the counselee to be intentional about glorifying God more than they did when they came into the office to receive counseling.

This sola is connected with all of the other solas of the Reformation. A counselee who is coming to resolve a matter may work with a biblical counselor to get refocused on the promises of God (sola fidae). The counselee is reminded that he is saved and sanctified by grace, and begins to ponder how this grace from God would instruct the counselee out of their current problem (sola gratia). The counselee is then reminded that it is due to Christ and His perfect work for the counselee, pointing that counselee back to the source of the believer’s faith (solus Christus). The counselee, along with the biblical counselor, examines the Scriptures taking into consideration context, language, and grammar so that there is proper explanation and application of the text for the counselee (sola scriptura). At the end of the counseling time, the counselee would have a plan of how to address their situation in a manner that acknowledges God (soli Deo gloria). 

How about the biblical counselor who works with an unbeliever?  The unbeliever does not have faith in promises that God has revealed so there is no way this counselee can glorify God. However, this does not mean that the biblical counselor working with the unbeliever cannot glorify God. If the unbeliever refuses to accept the truth of God’s word from the biblical counselor God is still glorified, not in the unbeliever’s conduct, but in the biblical counselor’s intentional actions to take into consideration the eternal, and the temporal problem of the unbelieving counselee, and pointing the counselee to the universal truth of God (c.f. Tit. 3:3; Col. 4:5-6).

Soli Deo gloria is the fifth and final sola of the Reformation. It is the sola that acknowledges God in His due place by thought, word, and deed. It is the sola which all of the other solas highlight. It is also the sola that guides the biblical counselor in everything the biblical counselor says and does in their counseling office. It is also the major motive of the biblical counselor concerning their counselees. All of the work and guidance that the biblical counselor does is to assist the counselee to glorify God more than when they walked in to be counseled.  Even with an unbelieving counselee, the biblical counselor still glorifies God due to the purposeful, and caring intentions the biblical counselor has for the unbelieving counselee.

The Reformation has such a great legacy and biblical counselors holding to these solas as they counsel others, share in this rich and glorious history. May this continue to be as biblical counselors by grace, through faith, in Christ, by the Scriptures serve their counselees all to the glory of God. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Four)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Four)

In the previous article solus Christus (i.e., Christ alone), one of the solas of the Reformation, was explained in light of the work of the biblical counselor. A biblical counselor, operates from solus Christus with the believing counselee, pointing them to the active and perfect finished work of Christ for the counselee. A biblical counselor also works from solus Christus with an unbelieving counselee, assisting them gently and being considerate of all of the problems they have, looking for an opportunity to give them the truth of the good news of Christ for them.

Now we turn our attention to a fourth sola of the Reformation and this is sola scriptura (Scripture alone). Sola scriptura is defined as the biblical teaching that the Bible is the absolute authority for life and worship, which is found by highlighting four aspects: God’s word is authoritative because the word comes from God Himself. God’s word is sufficient for knowing the will of God and what He desires from mankind. Scripture is clear to teach and instruct the saint, and the Scripture is self-explanatory meaning that unclear passages in God’s word are to be understood, not from theological opinion or ecclesiastical explanation, but in light of other clear passages in God’s word. Paul in his letter to Timothy underscores this truth:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Tim. 3:16 NASB

Sola scriptura was seminal during the Reformation for making the case for justification of the believer by grace through faith in Christ alone for salvation. This sola was in contrast to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church that believed Scripture, church tradition, and the Magisterium were authoritative over the body of Christ. However, the teaching of  Sola scriptura is also important in the process of the sanctification of the believer. Paul mentions this in the proceeding verse to Timothy below:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:16-17 NASB

This sola is important for biblical counselors because the Scriptures are the source by which the counselor assists the counselees in persevering in their progressive sanctification. In fact, this is the reason why the Scriptures are important for a believer because they are connected to the saint’s overall conduct and actions toward God and man.

One of the biblical counselor’s objectives in working with counselees, using God’s word, is guiding them to be equipped to do good works for their neighbor. For instance, for a biblical counselor working with a believing counselee in terms of active sins, they confront the counselee for the purpose of restoration. In effect, the one who is confronted would be admonished to perform good works, which would be to deny their ungodly behavior and act in a sensible and righteous manner (Tit. 2:11-13).  If a biblical counselor is working with a believing counselee who has suffered a loss or an extreme tragedy, the biblical counselor works in comforting the counselee with Scripture, offering them hope so that they may have the strength to continue to do good works (c.f., 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Jas. 1:2-12). If a biblical counselor is dealing with a presenting problem that is outside of the biblical counselor’s scope (such as evaluating an intellectual disability), it is a good work for a biblical counselor to provide a proper referral to the believing counselee so that the counselee can perform a good work to those in their family that have the intellectual disability (c.f. Eph. 2:8-10). All of this work the biblical counselor does with God’s word to assist the counselee in their progressive sanctification.

What about the biblical counselor serving the unbelieving counselee? Even though the works of the unbeliever is unrighteous in the sight of God (Rom. 1:18; 3:23), this does not mean that a biblical counselor’s works are in vain. In fact, the mere willingness of the biblical counselor to serve the person who is an unbelieving counselee is, in fact, a good work for the counselee. The biblical counselor understands due to the sola Scriptura, they are to be gentle and peaceable to unbelieving counselees, as they would their believing counselees (Tit. 3:2).

In addition, the biblical counselor, as I mentioned in the previous article, shows consideration for the cares and concerns of the unbeliever’s troubles, just like the believer’s troubles (c.f. Tit. 3:2). The biblical counselor in conjunction with the Scriptures uses their words carefully, with wisdom, attempting to respond to the believing counselee with grace and truth (c.f. Col. 4:5-6).  Furthermore, the biblical counselor, when working with an unbeliever, uses the universal truth of God’s word (e.g., the Proverbs of Solomon) to address their current problems also looking for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ Jesus, because God desires the unbelieving counselee to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

Sola Scriptura also has behind it the idea that a person, fellowship, etc is not to read and explain the Scriptures from the perspective of a religious tradition or perspective. Since the word of God is important to be equipped for good works it is also important to make sure that a biblical counselor explains the Scriptures appropriately. This is why reading the Scriptures consistently in their plain sense, taking into consideration grammar, language, and context is necessary. Moreover, making proper distinctions in the Scriptures is significant to understanding, and explaining, the Scriptures accurately. To misinterpret the sacred Scriptures may lead not only to an improper teaching of the Scriptures but to a misapplication and an improper practice for the counselee.

Sola scriptura (scripture alone) is the doctrine that instructs saints that due to God revealing Himself by special revelation with His word,  it is this particular revelation that He has provided for the Christian that is the ultimate authority for life and practice. However, sola Scriptura is also important for the believer’s progressive sanctification as the word of God alone equips the believer for every good work.  This also includes a biblical counselors observation of the text. A biblical counselor should be careful not to read their traditions into the text, but interpret the Scriptures from a consistent literal-grammatical and historical approach, knowing that a proper explanation leads to a proper application of the text. 

As a biblical counselor continue to trust in sola scriptura (i.e., God’s word alone) for your counselees. By doing this the biblical counselor will be guiding the counselee knowing God’s word equips the believing counselee for good works and leads the unbelieving counselee to the Source of all truth. By doing this you will be honoring and acknowledging God who has given mankind the Scriptures alone to know Him and serve one another.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Three)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Three)

In the previous article, the importance of sola gratia (grace alone) and biblical counseling was examined. It was shown that grace (i.e., undeserved merit) was not only important for justification but also important for sanctification. Observing Titus 2:11-14 it was shown that the grace which has appeared motives the believer in Christ to do two things: to deny ungodliness wicked living,  and promote the believer to live righteously, and godly in an age of evil. A biblical counselor, in light of this truth, would not attempt to use the Law to conform behavior but will work with their counselee from a perspective of grace, knowing it is this attribute that instructs a person to conform their life to God’s word.

In this third article, we turn our attention to another sola in sacred Scripture and this is solus Christus (Christ alone). This doctrine instructs the believer that the source of their justification, that is reconciliation to God Himself is found in placing our faith in Jesus Christ, and not by any other human work.  This is highlighted by Jesus Himself when He says to His disciples before His death:

1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
John 14:1-6 NASB emphasis mine
Paul in the epistle to the Romans highlights justification by Christ alone when he writes:
16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NASB emphasis mine

A believer in Christ can truly say they are saved by works…that is they are saved by the work of Christ and His perfect obedience to the Father alone. It is because of Christ’s work for us: His perfect obedience to the Law of Moses (Matt. 5:17-19), and his attitude of taking on a form of a servant up to the point of death so that we may be forgiven of our sins (Phil. 2:3-11).

Solus Christus is significant for the Biblical counselor. Jesus Christ is the foundation by which the biblical counselor is able to work with the counselee. The biblical counselor who works with a believer, in regards to shame, points the counselee back to the reality that they have been reconciled to God in Christ alone.  In addition, solus Christus is also the foundation by which the sanctification of the believer is built. It is because of the Lord Jesus and what He has done for the Christian that a Biblical counselor has the authority to confront a believing counselee when they actively sin, and refuse to live under the grace of God (1 Cor. 5:6-8). In addition, it is because of the grace of God in Christ that motivates the believer to deny ungodliness behavior and be sensible, righteous, and godly in their conduct (Tit. 2:11-12). Jesus Christ and His attitude of being a servant compel the believer to love their wives (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19), respect their husbands (Eph 5:22, 33), and train their children (Eph. 6:1-2). Furthermore, the believer’s attitude is to be like Christ, specifically to have the character of observing other believers better than themselves (Phil. 2:1-11).

Solus Christus is also important when a Biblical counselor works with unbelievers. A Biblical counselor works and strives because they have focused their hope on Jesus Christ and knows He is the savior of all men (1 Tim. 4:10). In addition, the Biblical counselor strives to serve the unbeliever by being peaceable and gentle taking into consideration not just their eternal state, but also the unbeliever’s current problem (Tit. 3:1).

Solus Christus is essential to the biblical counselor because it is the source of why the biblical counselor serves both the believer and the unbeliever. For the counselee who is a believer, especially those who deal with shame, the biblical counselor points them back to the active and perfect work that Christ has done for them. Solus Christus is also the reason why a Biblical counselor can confront the counselee concerning their active sin. For the counselee who is an unbeliever, the biblical counselor is motivated by Christ Jesus to serve them in a way that considers their current, and eternal problem important. 

Let us continue as biblical counselors, who hold to solus Christus to serve counselees with grace and truth. For the believing counselee, the biblical counselor points them not just to their justification in Christ but working with them in regards to the counselee’s presenting problem for the sake of their sanctification. The believer, being peaceable and gentle, assists the unbeliever by working alongside them with their current problems, all the while waiting for the opportunity to share Christ with them. By serving our counselees in this manner the biblical counselor, trusting in Christ alone, glorifies God.

Until Next Time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

 

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part One)

The 500th year of the Reformation is quickly approaching and Protestants all over the world are reflecting on this significant time in history. It was on October 31st, 1517 where an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther took what became known as his 95 Theses nailing it to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany. This one document sparked a doctrinal revival that sought to return the church back to the fundamentals of the biblical faith all over the Western world. Over time, through many other Reformers like Jean Calvin and Urich Zwingli (who even knew Martin Luther), they penned the ideas of what became known as the five solae, which are as follows: sola fidae, sola gratia, sola Scriptura, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria.  These solas and their respective emphases sought to highlight the following points:

  • One is declared justified (i.e., “not guilty”) before God, by faith alone, and not by faith and works.
  • That Scripture alone is the final authority for life, instruction, and practice, and not by Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Magisterium.
  • That one can go to God themselves and has no need for an earthly mediator (i.e., the priesthood of the believer).

Historically, this had everything to do with how a person is justified before God and how one is saved from eternal damnation. These solas, which are at the very heart of biblical truth, are also the very focus for the biblical counselor who assists their counselees. How do they relate to Biblical counseling? Let us observe one for this particular article: Sola fidae.

Sola fidae is the Latin phrase for “faith alone.”  This sola (as mentioned above) states that one is declared just before God by faith and not by any personal merits of the individual. Paul writing to the Roman saints draws attention to this truth:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

Romans 4:1-5 NASB emphasis mine

The writer of Hebrews also highlights this truth of sola fidae in the epistle to the Hebrew believers:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him

Hebrews 11:1-6 NASB emphasis mine

However, this begs the question: What does faith mean? The author of Hebrews tells us that it is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). However, what are these things that those who have faith hope for? How does this relate to our work as biblical counselors?

When it comes to faith a Christian does not just have faith in God, but a believer also has faith in what He has said to the saint. If you recall in verse in Romans chapter four, it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Abraham believed the promises God concerning making Abraham a great nation (Gen. 12:2), and that his descendants would be blessed (Gen. 17:7), and that the nations through him would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 17:4-5). These were promises that God gave to Abraham and Abraham believed them. This faith in God’s promises underscored Abraham’s (and many of the other Old Testament saints) deeds, not because they were attempting to earn God’s righteousness, but because they had already received His righteousness by believing in what He told them (cf. Jas 2:14-26). 

This is also found in chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews. After the author spends a great deal of time telling the reader about the saints of old and some of the things they accomplished, and endured, because of their faith the author of Hebrews writes:

…And all these [saints], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:39-40 NASB

A believer in Christ has faith that Jesus Christ was sent by God, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and was raised three days after he was crucified. The saint also believes that God the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, guaranteeing they will be glorified when Christ appears (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14). These specific promises, and many other promises found in His word, are what Christians believe (i.e., have faith in) because God has revealed these promises in His sacred word.

When a biblical counselor is confronting a counselee about their sinful behavior they do so pointing them back to the promises of God for the church, and the example Christ set for believers (Heb. 12:1-3). When counselees are grieving the loss of a saint in death, the biblical counselor points the counselee back to the promise that they will be reunited with the saint who passed when Christ appears to gather His church age saints (1 Thess. 4:13-18). If the biblical counselor has the privilege of working with a person who does not believe in the promises of God (i.e., an outsider), then because of the assurance in the promises of God the biblical counselor believes, they are to assist this person with grace and truth in their words (cf. Col. 4:5-6).

Sola fidae, one of the cries of the Reformation, is at the heart of biblical counseling pointing the counselee, and the biblical counselor, back to the promises that God has given the saints in Christ as He has revealed them in His word. The biblical counselor helps the counselee to fix their gaze back on these promises to give correction, encouragement, comfort, and strength to the believer in difficult times. In addition, sola fidae becomes the motivator for the biblical counselor to serve unbelievers well in their speech and actions, being able to respond to them in a graceful and peaceful manner.

Let us as biblical counselors continue to set our gaze to God and the promises He has freely given to us. For by this we are declared righteous by God, and it is this quality that drives us to serve both believers and unbelievers with excellence.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.