In Part One of this article we ask the following question: “Is the highly touted, popular, and influential biblical counseling program at The Master’s College and Seminary truly biblical? For reasons listed in Part One, we conclude, “Our answer is an emphatic No!” Here in Part Two we examine teaching by Dr. John Street, Chair of the graduate program in Biblical Counseling (MABC) at The Master’s College and Seminary (TMC&S). In this Part Two we reveal that Street’s attempted biblical justification for his counseling is not biblically justifiable.
Street’s Attempted Justification for Biblical Counseling
In his talk “An Introduction to Biblical Counseling,” given at the Biblical Counseling and Discipleship Association, So. Cal. (BCDASoCal), Fall 2011 Training Conference, Street attempts to justify his current biblical counseling practices by using examples from the Apostle Paul’s ministry.1 However, before looking at the verses he uses, let’s consider a man meeting privately week after week for about 50 minutes at a time alone with an unmarried woman talking about her personal life or with a married woman who is possibly complaining about her husband. Would any of the apostles put themselves and others in such a vulnerable position in which sinful communication is surely inevitable? Is there such an example in Scripture of cross-gender, private counseling during which personal problems and feelings are discussed at length, with the counselor asking probing questions to find out as much as possible about the counselee?
While there are examples of personal ministry in Scripture (Galatians 6:1-2; Titus 2:3-4), we see no biblical authority for the counseling that is done in the biblical counseling movement (BCM), let alone for cross-gender counseling. Also, there is no precedent for an apostle to probe into the private lives of individuals or married couples during which a husband and/or wife complain about one another, as well as about others not present, such as their parents, dishonoring them in the process. Street himself counsels women privately, which conveys to his students and others that such cross-gender counseling is biblically acceptable. We demonstrate elsewhere the biblical and practical reasons why cross-gender counseling should not be done.2
Now we will look at some of the Bible verses Street uses to justify this practice of problem-centered counseling where people complain about each other and about people who are not present to be able to respond or give their point of view. Street first uses Acts 20:20 in which Paul says:
… I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the context of this verse Paul is teaching and testifying “repentance and faith in Christ.” He is teaching them the Gospel and all that it means in the life of the believer who has been given new life in Christ. Street says:
Now you will notice, Paul presents his ministry in a two-fold fashion. There was a public proclamation of the Word of God. That’s the form of preaching. And, there was the private proclamation of the Word of God that was counseling from house to house.
“Counseling” House to House?
Notice how Street inserts the word “counseling” when it is house to house. Was Paul counseling in the manner of today’s problem-centered biblical counseling? No, Paul was teaching, not probing into private lives or encouraging people to give details about their personal problems and talking about individuals who are not present. In context, Paul would be teaching families and small groups of believers the very same things that he taught publicly. There is not a hint in this verse that he is privately meeting with women or listening to married couples complain about each other and their parents, all of which happens in contemporary biblical counseling. Neither is there any example of Paul gathering data by listening week after week to a man’s complaints about his wife, employer, parents, or others. In language that sounds biblical, Street is using Paul’s words “house to house” to condone such personal, problem-centered counseling.
Some commentators consider Acts 20:20 to be referring to house churches as suggested by Acts 2:46 where they were “breaking bread from house to house.” Others believe that he visited families in their own homes for the purpose of encouraging and instructing them in the faith. No doubt there were questions about conduct, but they would not have been expressed in such sinful, self-centered talk as in our own lovers-of-self, psychological society and as expressed in the kind of biblical counseling Street does in his acted-out demonstration of counseling Joe and Julie described in Part One.
Even the question about sexual relationship, about which Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7 would have been handled discreetly and briefly as in Paul’s letter, rather than with long-winded complaints expanded by requests for details about spouses and sometimes extending over weeks and months as done by Street and others.
Rather than using Acts 20:20 to justify biblical counseling, pastors and elders should take note of the possibility of restoring this practice of visiting members of their congregation in their homes. After all, they are to be the shepherds of the flock of God. How can they do that if they don’t even know the people God has placed under their care. Such visitation would certainly reveal what doctrines may or may not be understood or practiced so that they would know how to feed their flock. While biblical counselors may teach doctrine, we wonder how many truly grasp the doctrinal understanding and beliefs of those who come to them for counseling.
“Noutheteo” Equals Present-Day Private Counseling?
Street next uses Acts 20:31 to justify present-day private counseling sessions, during which some of what is said is surely to be biased, sometimes untrue, even slandering, and downright mean: “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Street emphasizes that the Greek word that is translated here as “warn” (but as “admonish” in the Bible version he uses) is noutheteo and explains that “nouthetic means to admonish, to warn, to counsel.” Street then says:
It [noutheteo] can mean any of those things. To instruct, but in this particular case you notice who he instructed. Not just the groups. It says he instructed or he admonished—very deliberate Greek terminology here—each one.
Evidently to Street “every one” and “each one” means separately and privately, not the idea that Paul ministered to everyone—whomever, wherever, and whenever (no class, station in life, or gender left out).
This Greek word noutheteo is very important to those counselors who follow the teachings of Dr. Jay E. Adams, who translated every form of noutheteo into some form of the word counsel in his particular translation of the New Testament. His translation is unique in that other translations do not translate noutheteo as counseling or counsel or nouthesia as counseling.3 Adams named his form of counseling “nouthetic,” which, of course, makes it sound more biblical, and the organization that represents his work is the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). Translating noutheteo and its various forms into counsel and counseling gives the impression that this kind of counseling existed in the New Testament, thus masking its recent origin and its obvious relationship to secular self-centered, problem-centered counseling conversations.
While Street confesses that he has shed tears with his counselees, there is no hint that Paul’s tears were due to digging into details about married persons’ discontents with each other or about other grievous situations made more grievous through the kind of sinful communication we describe in Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!4 While Paul did not cease to “warn every one,” there is no indication that he did the problem-centered counseling currently conducted by Street and others in the BCM. In fact, in the context of Acts 20:29-31 Paul is warning the Ephesian elders to watch out for false teachings and to warn the flock just as he had done, even “with tears” because of the seriousness of false doctrines and distortions of the truth. John Walvoord says:
These verses explain the need for the command to elders to guard themselves and the flock (v. 28). False teachers, called savage wolves, would enter the flock, or even some of their own would distort the truth. This warning is attested by subsequent references to the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:6-7, 19-20; 4:1-7; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17-18; 3:1-9; Rev. 2:1-7). Again Paul urged the leaders, Be on your guard! He had repeatedly warned them of the danger of doctrinal error. In fact he had done so with tears (cf. Acts 20:19).5 (Bold his.)
Paul had the heavy responsibility of explaining all that is involved in the death and resurrection of Christ, teaching believers about their new life in Christ, and warning about errors. In contrast, Street and others are bound by their nouthetic methodology to open Pandora’s box to hear as much as possible about all the counselees’ troubles, trials, and tribulations.
The next verse Street calls upon to support his methodology is Romans 15:14:
And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
The Greek word translated “admonish” is noutheteo. Therefore, Street says:
Admonish. There’s our word. To warn, admonish, or counsel. They were able to counsel one another. This is what Paul didn’t just do himself. This is not just something he admonished the elders of the church to do. (Bold added.)
He’s addressing the entire church here. He’s saying, “I’ve trained you. The leaders in your church have trained you. Now you need to get busy counseling one another with the Word of God, ministering the Word of God to others who are hurting in the church. (Bold added.)
We certainly agree that believers need to minister to one another, and there are times when we need to admonish and warn (which we are doing in this article), but Street uses this to justify the methodology of problem-centered probing as done by present-day biblical counselors—a methodology which would have been foreign to Paul and the early church, since it did not appear until the twentieth century. The evidence for its late arrival is found in Dr. David Powlison’s essay “Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies).” Powlison’s essay explores the source and development of what he calls “comprehensive models of counseling” in the Protestant church. He begins his section on “The Counseling Revolution” with these words:
We live in the epoch of a great revolution. Consider that in 1955, believing Protestants had nocomprehensive models of counseling. Theological conservatives had no educational programs to train pastors or other Christian workers in the face-to-face cure of souls. Christian bookstores contained no books on the problems of everyday life and the processes of change. No evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal, or reformed leaders were known for their skill in probing, changing, and reconciling troubled and troublesome people.6 (Italics his, bold added.)
Yes, this is a new kind of biblical counseling—with the work of changing “troubled and troublesome people” dependent on those specially trained counselors who are skilled in probing, which often leads to sinful speaking. In contrast, Paul confidently relied on the Holy Spirit to direct, encourage, and empower individuals to change as he faithfully taught the Word and prayed. Paul recognized the power of the Word and the Spirit to conform believers into the image of Christ. Paul preached, prayed, taught and gave wise counsel, but his ministry did not include conversational methods gleaned from the world. His refusal to rely on the flesh brought forth true spiritual change wherein people grew in their faith and God was glorified.
Does Paul’s “Every Man” Justify Current Biblical Counseling?
Street next refers to Colossians 1:28, which says in reference to “Christ in you, the hope of glory”: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Street says, “Here Paul again talks about his own personal ministry and sets up his ministry as the model to be followed.” Then Street once again emphasizes the “every man” and says:
What’s repeated three times in that verse? “Every man.” The emphasis is not upon groups of people. The emphasis is upon individuals. Teaching every man. Admonishing every man, so that he can present every man complete in Christ.” Paul said, “That was my ministry.” And that’s exactly the kind of ministry you’re supposed to have in the church. (Bold added.)
Paul’s use of the expression “every man” meant that he did not neglect anyone. For instance John Gill says that Paul’s “warning every man” and “teaching every man in all wisdom” “extend to all sorts of men, rich and poor, bond and free, greater and lesser sinners, Gentiles as well as Jews.”7
Matthew Poole says that by “every man” Paul “means all collectively, not distributively…excluding none from the communion of so great a benefit, having no acceptation of nations or persons, making no exception of any condition, but inviting all men to Christ.”8 After looking at a number of commentaries we found no indication that Paul departed from teaching the sound doctrine recorded in his epistles or descended into the kinds of conversations typical of the biblical counseling movement.
Colossians 1:28 does not support Street’s practice of problem-centered counseling. The early believers needed solid teaching, not a venue for complaining about others, especially with the kinds of “personal struggles and difficulties that they were facing,” which included persecution and various forms of serious loss. Moreover, from the context of Scripture, the content of teaching every man and house to house would be similar to what Paul taught in his letters.
Paul was not asking them about their childhood, their interpersonal problems, or their sex life, etc., but teaching them about their new life in Christ and how to conduct oneself in this new life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We do not have a hint of Paul gathering data about counselees’ complaints about other people behind their backs and bad-mouthing spouse and parents or fellow workers.
There is too much in modern-day biblical counseling that is culture-bound. Yes, Paul was answering their questions about personal relationships, marriage, etc. in his letters, but can you imagine Paul listening to a woman complain about her husband not putting his dirty socks in the laundry or a man complaining about his wife’s cooking?9
After reviewing this Part Two of the above critique, one theologian wrote the following:
That you document Street’s misuse and contextual abuse of Scripture is extremely helpful and convincing (even to the casual reader).
Your comments on the biblical use of noutheteo are right on target.
Moreover, the Divine design is for “group-type” communication in the ecclesia, the assembly, the thing we call the local church (which each individual is to personally apply to his/her life). The communicator (the pastor or Bible teacher) teaches in shotgun fashion, not rifling in on individuals. The believer-priest walking in fellowship with the Holy Spirit incorporates the truth of the Word under the convicting ministry of the Spirit and adjusts his life-style and/or practices accordingly. Thus, he/she grows in grace and knowledge of our wonderful Lord Jesus Christ and His grace provision for success (success as God defines it). It is this scenario that was created and ordained by God. Obviously, the exhorter/encourager type ministry can be one-on-one, but not the Freudian/Watson nonsense advocated by Street and others… and certainly not to be paid for!10
In Part Three of this article we will be revealing two more serious errors on the part of Street and making recommendations to right the wrong that exists in the biblical counseling master’s degree program (MABC) at The Master’s College and Seminary.
1 John Street, “An Introduction to Biblical Counseling,” Video Session One, Biblical Counseling & Discipleship Association Southern California (BCDASoCal) Training Conference, Fall 2011, http://bcdasocal.org.
2 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011. Chapter 5.
3 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Person to Person Ministry. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2009, pp. 44-46.
4 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!op. cit., Chapter 2, “The Deceitful Heart.”
5 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Ac 20:29–31). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
6 David Powlison, “Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies),” www.ccef.org/cure-souls-and-modern-psychotherapies.
7 John Gill. Exposition of the Entire Bible. E-Sword, www.esword.com.
8 Matthew Poole. A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008, p. 713.
9 Jay E. Adams. The Case of the “Hopeless” Marriage: A Nouthetic Counseling Case from Beginning to End. Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2006, pp. 36, 71.
10 Dr. Ron Merryman, Merryman Ministries, www.merrymanministries.org.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, September-October 2012, Vol. 20, No. 5)