[The following is excerpted from Counseling the Hard Cases ~ A Critical Review, available as a free ebook at www.pamweb.org.]
Much of what co-editors Heath Lambert and Stuart Scott say in their “Concluding Reflections” is commendable regarding the sufficiency of Scripture and how believers can minister care and concern, guidance and compassion to one another in the Body of Christ. What they say about the power of Scripture and the power of Christ’s love expressed through believers to those experiencing challenges in living does apply to all believers. They aptly quote from Galatians 6:1-2, 9-10 to show the need for believers to actively care for one another. Indeed, we are to carry one another’s burdens, we are to listen compassionately, we are to minister hope, and we are to minister the Word of God as led by the Holy Spirit. However, nobody in the church needs to be a counselor, particularly following mindlessly the methodology presented in Counseling the Hard Cases (CTHC), some of which would be contrary to Scripture and reflective of psychological counseling.
What the biblical counseling movement has done is to formalize and systematize what should be a biblically based caring for one another in the local church. We have argued in the past that if God had needed psychotherapeutic systems and methodologies to minister to His people before the twentieth century, He would have included those theories and techniques in Scripture. Now we carry it a step further. If God had needed those methodologies of CTHC and the biblical counseling movement (BCM) that reflect psychological counseling theories and therapies, He would have included them in Scripture. Many of the specifics of what they do and how they do it are not all biblical. Too much has been recycled from psychological counseling.
Lambert and Scott speak of two kinds of people who avoid doing counseling, which is an either/or fallacy: those who do not understand the sufficiency of Scripture and those who don’t care enough to help (p. 303). We would add a third category and that would be those of us who believe in the sufficiency of Scripture to minister to problems of living and who care enough to become involved, but who eschew the rigid, authoritarian, one-up/one-down, certification-dependent methodology of biblical counseling that often reflects the problem-centered psychotherapeutic world in actual practice.
Lambert and Scott attempt to soften the authoritative and demeaning one-up position of the counselor by saying that:
When we are seeking to minister to others in need, it actually is a mistake to think that the counselee is the only one in need. Actually, all of God’s people in the counseling room are in need of growing in their faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit does not take a sabbatical on the counselor’s sanctification while he or she is ministering to others. Faithful counselors should regularly say after counseling, “Wow, I needed to hear what they said” or “I needed to hear what Scripture said” (p. 307).
We have read numerous counseling cases and descriptions but have never read such a statement following counseling as, “Wow, I needed to hear what they said.” It certainly was not said at the end of either Lambert’s or Scott’s cases.
Lambert and Scott are of the opinion that all pastors are biblically mandated to be counseling their people in addition to preaching. Although there are instances of personal ministry in Scripture, preaching and teaching are highlighted as the primary means of communicating the Gospel and the new life in Christ. Aside from Christ and the apostles being able to heal miraculously, their personal ministry was one of teaching. There is no instance of a married couple airing their grievances week after week. Paul simply taught believers how married couples should treat one another, e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:3-4; Ephesians 5:23-33.
Rather than emphasizing counseling, the Scriptures emphasize teaching. For instance, Paul wrote to Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The older women were to teach the younger women: “To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:5).
Every pastor should devote himself to praying, studying the Word, preaching, teaching, and equipping the saints, as they mature in the Word and the Spirit, to minister to each other as well as communicate the Gospel to others. A biblically based church with believers who have been well taught in the Word, lived accordingly, and have found the Lord faithful in small and great trials, will have sufficient resources to minister to the needs that arise. We have seen the Lord put people together for mutual care without any human assignment or imposed system. Sadly, however, people have learned, first from the world and then from the church, that they need experts in counseling, and so they may not seek help from “ordinary believers” unless they are trained and certified. Lambert and Scott, perhaps unknowingly, are promoting the myth of the superiority of the trained expert over the untrained ones who are living the Christian life and able to minister.
Erroneously, Lambert and Scott equate their kind of biblical counseling with the personal ministry people need. While their primary target is pastors, Lambert and Scott recommend that every believer become a biblical counselor, as they “urge all Christians toward the battlefield of love— the task of walking with broken people in the work of counseling” (p. 305, bold added). However, that would be very restrictive. Instead of following Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the pastors especially, along with all members of a congregation, would have to learn the techniques and methodologies of data gathering, delving into the past to hear unconfirmed stories (Prov. 18:13 misused), probing for more details (Eph. 5:12 abused), enabling and encouraging gossip, complaining (murmuring), and other forms of sinful communication, and confronting any sin in the counselee that may appear or even be suspected, such as unseen “idols of the heart.”
Lambert and Scott speak of the “hard work of loving people through counseling.” How much does a counselor love every client, particularly if the client is paying? Lambert is a great promoter of David Powlison, who is listed as the first endorser of CTHC and who is head of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), where counselees are charged fees for counseling. Lambert heads the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), which includes some certificated members who charge fees and a board member who charges fees as well. To our knowledge, neither Lambert nor Scott have publicly exposed the great unbiblical error of charging. Can one purchase love through buying into biblical counseling?
Love can more freely be expressed in a body of believers who grasp the truth about the sufficiency of God’s Word, the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, and the love of God, but who are not hampered by a rigid counseling format or requirements for specialized BCM training, credentials, or certificates. True ministry to one another is an act of love and we believe that many biblical counselors do love their clients. However, the structure of the counseling puts one believer above another in a one-up position. One-up is the counselor who diagnoses the spiritual problem, prescribes the homework, issues orders, and confronts major or minor sins of the one-down counselee, which may or may not be apparent. Here the counselor may assume too much spiritual authority, rather than simply teaching the authoritative Word regarding what may appear applicable and then trusting the Holy Spirit to make the direct application and conviction of sin, without usurping the husband’s headship or lording it over the wife.
Even within the description of CTHC one can see how counselees are sometimes demeaned rather than treated as equal at the foot of the cross. What would it be like to be in a church where everyone is busy counseling one another according to the BCM methodology? Not only would this fictionalize fellowship; it would displace the work of the Holy Spirit to convict according to His work in believers as they respond to preaching and teaching. Such an environment would be spiritually stifling! Thankfully, Christ did not include “counselor” in His ministry gifts to the church in Ephesians 4:11ff. Instead He sent the Holy Spirit to be our perpetual guide, who does not have to guess and presume, but who knows all things about every individual!
We conclude with this WARNING: Do not blithely, blindly, and blatantly play follow-the-leader with the ten case studies showcased in CTHC. Do not take literally these ten cases and the inferred claim that you, too, can cure through biblical counseling the hard cases listed in CTHC plus, by extension, the other 300 mental disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that do not have medical markers and where no organic issues are found after a full medical workup!
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April 2016, Vol. 24, No. 2)