Aargh!? Aargh is a word that is “used as an expression of anguish, horror, rage, or other strong emotion, often with humorous intent.”1 In our January-February newsletter we published our article titled “Hidden in Plain Sight” to make it clear that those in the biblical counseling movement (BCM) counsel sinfully by using a psychotherapy format (problem-centered), which supports and elicits evil speaking. The article is somewhat brief, but we thought it was a clear revelation of much of what we have been saying over the years. No matter the number of live or enacted biblical counseling sessions we have exposed, we have found that many of our readers simply have not seen what is hidden in plain sight, i.e., the sin-saturated nature of biblical counseling conversations—Aargh!
Based upon correspondence and personal conversations over the years, we have concluded that few Christians, whether biblically learned or not, understand our message, which clearly reveals the sinful nature of both psychological and biblical counseling. Some see the sinful nature of counseling immediately after reading our examples; but sadly many never see it! Aargh!
One of the responses we received was from a reader in the United Kingdom. Her email correspondence reveals that she is an intelligent, learned woman. In her response to the January-February newsletter, she asked our opinion about an article from a leader in the BCM having to do with the “danger of gossiping in counseling” but yet affirming that “counseling is possible for Christians if conversations are kept within the right limits and with the right motivation.” When individuals send us BCM articles and books, we know they have entirely missed our primary concern, because our challenge has to do with their literal live counseling, their enacted ideal counseling videos, and their case studies, all of which reveal the primary problem, which consists of an array of sinful speech and expressions that regularly occur and are further encouraged in counseling.
Even when attempting to curb gossip, the psychologically inspired format invites it and even supports it as the counselor hunts for clues to the source of the problems. It’s their counseling about which we are concerned, not their articles and books, unless they are teaching how to counsel or presenting case studies. Aside from writings about methodology or case studies, leaders and others in the BCM have written some excellent teaching material having to do with aspects of the Christian life. In response to this woman, we said, “If you believe the counseling example we give in the Jan/Feb newsletter is biblical, then you, too, are guilty of missing what is hidden in plain sight!”
A Pastor’s Response
Another response we received from our January-February newsletter was from a friendly supporter who had given the newsletter to his pastor. We checked his pastor’s church website and also went to another site with the pastor’s name as part of the website name. We briefly examined both websites and concluded that this is a church we could possibly attend if it were nearby. We also concluded that we could benefit from this pastor’s online teachings. Nevertheless this supporter’s pastor missed what is hidden in plain sight, for he responded as follows:
I’m no fan of psychology…but after reading the main article, I was troubled by all of the assertions without any documentation. Especially in light of the commandment not to bear false witness, the authors called out other men by name without showing where these other men have sinned. Even their example of counseling was invented. No doubt such a marriage “counseling” session could & likely does happen, but it’s a stretch to go from the imaginary session to an indictment of anyone and everyone involved in biblical counseling….
A major concern of this pastor was that we made “assertions without documentation.” Hidden in plain sight to this pastor was the fact that, according to The Institute for Nouthetic Studies, “Dr. Adams is the founder of the modern biblical counseling movement and is the author of the groundbreaking book Competent to Counsel.” As we noted in the article, Adams was influenced by “Dr. O. Hobart Mowrer, who was a research professor of psychology.” Adams clearly admitted that his experience with Dr. Mowrer, was “a turning point in my thinking.”
The Gold Standard
We often explain how Adams’ counseling model becomes sinful as follows: Adams’s pre- and post-Mowrer experiences led him to retrofit psychological problem-centered counseling conversations, which depend on data gathering, prying, and probing, which provoke sinful speaking, into what he named “nouthetic counseling.” It is important to note, as we said in the article, the turning point in Adams’ thinking resulted in the adaptation of the psychological counseling model in which sinful, problem-centered conversations become the means of cure.
Adams’ psychological counseling model then became the gold standard for all the biblical counseling that followed. All of the biblical counseling videos and written case studies we have seen and read follow the Adams’ gold standard of the psychological format of transparency. The sinful content of biblical counseling arises from Adams’ exposure to the kind of counseling that calls for transparency. Self-exposure during counseling is a psychotherapeutic necessity.
A transparent object is one that can be seen through. Metaphorically speaking, transparency in counseling means being personally open about oneself and one’s life so that the counselor can try to figure out how to help. Transparency may sound good, but no one is truly transparent in counseling and, worse yet, this openness results in sinful conversations in the counseling office as stories are told and enlarged by the counselors’ probing questions.
Both the counselee and the counselor are guilty of violating Scripture. Both the counselee and the counselor come into the conversation expecting that the counselee will transparently reveal the sins he perceives to have been committed by others. Then the counselor will typically seek for details and descriptions to determine how the sins of others have contributed to the counselee’s problems. Thus the means of help ends up being a sinful conversation as the result of expectations and excursions into areas that are prohibited in Scripture.
In the January-February article we include a marital counseling example by Adams. We say: The following example is of a couple in contention, who need instruction and perhaps discipline rather than a platform for complaining and demeaning each other. This example is from Adams’ book The Case of the “Hopeless” Marriage: A Nouthetic Counseling Case from Beginning to End (hereafter The Case) in which he demonstrates how to counsel. 2
Keep in mind that Adams fathered the Nouthetic counseling approach, which is, as we said, the gold standard for all the biblical counseling that followed. Adams wrote The Case to demonstrate how counseling should ideally be done by all biblical counselors. TheCase is more revealing than a literal, live case, because it shows the very best possible biblical counseling according to Adams, who, by fathering the movement, is the best possible counselor to construct the best possible biblical counseling case for all biblical counselors to follow. All the counseling we have seen from the leaders of the BCM essentially follow Adams’ prototype, illustrated in The Case.
Our full critical review of Adams’ counseling case of Bert and Sue (counselees) and Pastor Greg (counselor) can be found in our book Biblical Counseling Review (BCR), which includes six other counseling cases. All six leaders of the BCM will tell you these are live or enacted model cases, which we reveal are actually filled with sinful conversations. All six follow the Adams’ Nouthetic counseling format as showcased in The Case as the ideal way to counsel.
Invented or Quoted?
The pastor quoted earlier critically says that the Bobgans’ “example of counseling was invented,” and refers to it as “an imaginary session.” We did not invent the counseling quoted from Adams’ book The Case, nor imagine it. We merely quoted this ideal case according to Adams, which he set up for others to emulate. And they have emulated him, as one will see reading the six cases in BCR, which can be downloaded free at our website.
The pastor himself also lays some charges against biblical counselors, which are only sometimes true. However, he misses seeing what is uniformly true, but hidden in plain sight. Always following the psychological counseling gold-standard format, the biblical counselors are often into sin-saturated counseling, as we have demonstrated clearly, but the pastor did not see it.
Based upon his misunderstanding and misrepresentation of our “Hidden in Plain Sight” article, the critical pastor claims that we have made “an indictment of anyone and everyone involved in biblical counseling” and that we “group all biblical counselors into one lump general category, and publicly state accusations of others without documentation.” The present-day BCM has known and recognized leaders in the movement. All of the biblical counseling we have seen follows the Adams’ format as seen in The Case.
Because the most sinful counseling those in the BCM do is marriage counseling, we note in the article that, in viewing or reading over 50 biblical counseling cases conducted by leaders in the BCM, we found numerous violations of Ephesians 5:22-33. These leaders, in all these more than 50 biblical counseling cases, follow the Adams’ gold standard demonstrated in The Case. It is appropriate to lump them into one category of doing sinful counseling, because that is what they are doing by following Adams’ lead, but this pastor does not see what is hidden in plain sight. Furthermore, all of these cases with their multiplicity of sessions are set up as ideal examples to follow and are seen by a multitude of counselors in training and numerous others worldwide, all of which reveals the extent of the spiritual damage that has been done.
Hypothetical or Literal?
Contrary to what we have shown, the supporter mentioned earlier said of his pastor, “He makes some good points.” He also said that we “used a hypothetical for [our] Scriptural critique.” One can hardly call using Adams’ ideal example of biblical counseling as hypothetical, since he based his book on his past counseling experience and since he fathered the movement that all the leaders of the movement follow. Hypothetical? No. Ideal of what counseling is at Adams’ best? Yes.
Those who see what is hidden in plain sight will see Adams’ The Case as an excellent counseling case example, which exposes how sinful modern-day biblical counseling is because it has followed the psychotherapy transparency format. However, many will see nothing wrong in The Case or with the other live, literal counseling cases, in spite of all we have written biblically exposing the sinful conversations of counseling.
Latter Day Invention
Keep in mind the following: the first of the 50 States to issue a clinical psychologist’s license was 1958 in California, followed by the Marriage and Family Therapy license issued in 1963. The other States followed suit years later. Think about the fact that the modern-day BCM began in 1970 with the publication of Competent to Counsel by Adams. That book initiated the BCM promoting the copy-cat, psychological format of counseling learned from the psychotherapist O. Hobart Mowrer. A little over 60 years ago there were no licensed psychotherapists and less than 50 years ago there was not a BCM. According to Dr. David Powlison, a leader in the BCM, biblical counseling as conducted in the BCM is newly arrived in the church.3
Once upon a time there was no licensed problem-centered counseling as we know it today, except for psychoanalysis. There were no degreed and licensed counselors who charged money for ongoing conversations about the issues of life. That was sixty years ago. Now this sinful problem-centered counseling has become so much a part of our culture that speaking out against it, as we do, raises eyebrows and hackles. However, the problem we have with counseling is that it is problem-centered and inevitably leads to sinful speaking.
Problem-centered counseling is made up of conversations about the kinds of personal and relational troubles, difficulties, and dilemmas normally taken to a psychological or biblical counselor and discussed in detail and at length with the counselor. They are the mental-emotional-behavioral problems of living that are normally surfaced in counseling and constitute the center of the conversation. Although the counselees generally come in with a problem-centered mind-set, the counselors are the ones who are primarily responsible for the corrupt conversations that follow, through their questions and responses.
Problem-centered counseling is not the same as confession. We are not Roman Catholics, but give the following as an example. Problem-centered counseling is not like a Catholic confessional in which a person comes alone as a penitent, sorrowful about some sin or wrongdoing on her part and seeking forgiveness.4 Note the person (penitent) is confessing her own sin and not those of others.
Contrary to the Catholic confessional, problem-centered counseling generally flows in the opposite direction in that the counselee is typically confessing sins of others who are usually not present, thus making public to a third party what was formerly private and at the same time violating biblical admonitions to the contrary. The Catholic confessional does not consist of repeated meetings about problems with on-going discussions comprised of confessing the sins of others, unbiblically accusing and blaming them, and publicizing their personal and private lives.
The repentant sinner who confesses her own sins rather than those of others is unique in biblical counseling. While in many instances it would be beneficial if the one in need would first confess her own sins before discussing the reason for seeking help, it is unlikely to happen because we live in a 2 Timothy 3, last-days era. At least it has not happened in all the biblical counseling we have seen, heard, and read. And, it has not happened in almost forty years of our own ministry to others.
The theories and therapies and the current practice of biblical counseling have become so embedded in the minds of Christians that they have difficulty understanding that there is anything amiss with this kind of counseling. The definition of psyche is “the human soul, mind, or spirit.” In other words, the theories and therapies of psychology do not apply to the body, but rather to the immaterial part of the person, which is the realm of the soul, mind, or spirit. This is the very area of life that the Bible addresses. People come to psychotherapy because they desire help with their lives. The help they need is related to trials, tribulations, and troubles they are experiencing and for which they are in need. The Bible is sufficient to deal with such issues without the kind of transparency that is brought forth in counseling with its sinful conversations, which tend to impede spiritual growth.
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
The conversational approach of biblical counselors follows the conversational approach of psychological counselors, which is problem-centered. These psychological conversations are worldly verbal interchanges between a psychotherapist and a client. All of the many literal or portrayed as perfect biblical counseling cases we have observed include this worldly, problem-centered conversational approach. After a person comes into the Christian faith, “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). Problem-centered conversations open one up to all kinds of fleshly, sinful talk on the part of the counselee and unrestricted questions and responses on the part of the counselor that appeal to the flesh.
Those Christians who do not see what is hidden in plain sight are missing the answers already given in Scripture and thereby turning to the world, the flesh and the devil. The devil is pleased with those believers who do not see what should be obvious in Scripture regarding the answers to life’s problems. Satan is pleased when they turn to the arm of the flesh, whereby he can feed subtle lies about the sufficiency of Scripture, about themselves, and about others. There is much self-deception in counseling as counselees believe and tell their biased stories and as counselors enable sinful conversations.
Though naively or ignorantly done, those practitioners and participants in either psychological or current-day biblical counseling are by their very words following the world and the flesh and pleasing the devil! That applies to pastors, churches, Christian schools, bible colleges, seminaries, universities, denominations, and mission agencies. As we said in a prior newsletter, the president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, Dr. Lawrence LeShan, once said: “Psychotherapy may be known in the future as the greatest hoax of the twentieth century.”5 It may eventually be recognized as one of the greatest heresies of modern-day Christianity.
We repeat the challenge of many years: To Christians who support, promote, or practice either psychological or biblical counseling, we continue to offer the following challenge: “Provide one live, literal (not enacted) psychological or biblical counseling session that does not violate Scripture.” To date no one has been able to provide one for us! Please keep in mind that every word, every sentence, every expression in counseling must conform to Scripture. If contrary to the admonitions, prohibitions, and restrictions of Scripture, the counseling is sinful. Those who see what is hidden in plain sight, even with a minimal knowledge of Scripture, can win a debate with those who are most biblically knowledgeable—provided that the sole subject of the debate is centered on actual counseling conversations.
We hope and pray that our friendly supporter, his pastor, and many others will read the original article, as well as this current one, and see what should be obvious. In spite of all our efforts to expose the clearly sinful nature of counseling conversations, it appears that many, especially counselors and counselees, remain blind to what is hidden in plain sight. Thus we lament: Aaarrgh!
1 “Aargh,” https://www.oxforddictionaries.com.
2 Jay E. Adams. The Case of the “Hopeless” Marriage: A Nouthetic Counseling Case from Beginning to End. Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2006.
3 David Powlison, “Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies),” www.ccef.org/cure-souls-and-modern-psychotherapies.
4 We use the female gender, because women make up the majority of those who come to the Catholic confessional, psychotherapy, or biblical counseling.
5 Lawrence LeShan, Association for Humanistic Psychology, October, 1984, p. 4
(PALV28N2, March-April 2020)