The Master’s University & Seminary is touted as “one of the leading schools for undergraduate and graduate level training in biblical counseling.” In fact, The Master’s University and Seminary (TMU&S) conducted a survey of “all the Christian counseling programs that are accredited graduate level throughout the United States” and found that, as far as could be determined from the research, TMU&S “had the largest graduate program in the country.” They also reported that, whereas “the average Christian counseling accredited graduate programs has about 40 to 50 students in it,” TMU&S has 270 students. In addition to having a very large biblical counseling program, TMU&S, with its association with Grace Community Church, wields a tremendous influence in the biblical counseling movement (BCM) nationally and internationally, especially because of the leadership of Dr. John MacArthur. Because of its popularity and great world-wide influence, we will be answering this critical question: Is the highly touted, popular, and widely influential biblical counseling program at The Master’s University and Seminary truly biblical?
In this article we will demonstrate that the head of the biblical counseling program at TMU&S models the use of sinful speaking. This is not only taught to the students at TMU&S, but also spread worldwide. To determine whether or not the programs at TMU&S are biblical, it is necessary to put to the test primarily what they do and say during counseling, not just what they say about counseling. We all know the saying, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” We have often said that one must evaluate biblical counselors by what they do in the counseling room, rather than by what they hope to do based upon what they say and write.
In order to find out what they do, it is necessary to find actual live counseling sessions on video, audio, or print and compare what is seen and heard with the Bible. Compared to the plethora of counseling materials that merely talk about the various facets of counseling, there are very few that present literal live counseling. The ones we have examined demonstrate very clearly that the most popular approaches are actually unbiblical. This includes the approaches promoted by the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) [changed to the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)], the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), and the Biblical Counseling Foundation (BCF).
We have said for years that the major error of the biblical counseling movement is that they are problem-centered with sin-saturated conversations, just like the psychological counseling movement. We have proved repeatedly in our writings that problem-centered counseling inevitably leads to sinful communication. Some time back, to expose this issue in the biblical counseling movement (BCM), we presented the following challenge:
With the thousands of individuals claiming to do biblical counseling and the Bible colleges and seminaries that teach it, one should be able to find a biblical counseling session (or a series of sessions) in writing or on audio or video that is truly biblical and therefore having no sinful speaking. We challenge biblical counselors to provide a word-for-word counseling session or a detailed description of one to demonstrate that they are truly biblical.
To date no one in the BCM has answered that challenge.
Until recently we have had no literal counseling sessions to evaluate the counseling program at TMU&S. However, we found two videos of live biblical counseling sessions. The actual counseling is conducted by Dr. John Street, a professor of biblical counseling who chairs the graduate program in Biblical Counseling (MABC) at TMU&S. He previously served as a pastor for 22 years and also taught at Cedarville University and Cornerstone University. Street’s teaching and counseling reveal the influence of the three generations of biblical counselors found in the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), formerly titled National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), and the Biblical Counseling Foundation (BCF). Obviously what Street does in his biblical counseling is what he teaches his students and what he promotes through his numerous contacts worldwide.
We will now evaluate what Street does in his biblical counseling and demonstrate that he, like other biblical counselors, is contrary to the Bible, because in the context of problem-centered counseling he expects and encourages responses that necessarily involve sinful speaking.
Joe and Julie
Street is counseling Joe and Julie, a married couple. The couple Street counseled used their first names and identified the husband, Joe, as being a pastor at Faith Community Church. The wife is Julie, who is six months pregnant. After several email exchanges, we learned that Joe and Julie counseling sessions were re-enactments, meaning that these were not truly original live counseling, but play-acted. We asked if the Joe and Julie in the counseling sessions were the actual counselees and were told that the Joe and Julie in the recorded counseling sessions were re-enacting counseling with the actual couple.
As we asked at the beginning, “Is the biblical counseling program at TMU&S truly biblical?” It is not even how successful it may appear to be, but rather how biblical it is that counts. Street begins the counseling session in a manner quite similar to other nouthetic counselors when he says, “I want to be able to address everything that we can in order to be of help to you.” (Bold added.) Street elsewhere refers to Proverbs 18:13: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” This verse sets the stage for Street to ask Joe and Julie personal questions and to encourage them to hold nothing back that may be helpful, thereby pressing them beyond biblical limitations to sinful speaking. Yet, in order to honestly and accurately hear the matter, all parties involved should really be heard and that includes those not present, such as spouses, parents, in-laws, other family members, friends, coworkers, etc. All counselors would need to hear from all the people their counselees talk about behind their backs to really know what’s going on according to Proverbs 18:17: “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.”
What follows comes from some of the information gleaned from Joe and Julie each completing the Personal Data Inventory (PDI). The PDI requires one to list “Identification Data (Personal), “Health Information,” and “Marriage and Family Information.” At the end of the PDI are the following six questions:
- What is the main problem, as you see it? (Why are you here?)
- What have you done about it?
- What can we do?
- Describe your spouse’s personality in a few words (selfish, loving, etc.)
- As you see yourself, what kind of person are you? Describe yourself.
- Is there any other information we should know?
The use of the PDI amplifies the problem centeredness of the counseling because many more problems are brought up than necessary with more to talk about unnecessarily. The PDI also opens many doors to sinful, unbiblical speaking, which is amplified by putting such thoughts in writing.
Instead of counseling according to the PDI, which invites sinful communication, those who minister must bring the ones in need of help into a daily walk with God, in which they will seek Him in His Word, pray, and open themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they respond to God, they will know what to do by trusting and obeying Him. As God does the inner work and they respond, the glory goes to God and not to man. Personal ministry must be done without sinful, unbiblical conversations that regularly occur through the use of the PDI and other means of digging deeply into the lives of those in need.
Many problem-centered counselors consider the PDI, which only recently arrived in the history of the church, and other such inventories to be valuable, but they are often a detriment when ministering biblically. The PDI is just one more look-alike from the psychological counseling movement. Also, using the PDI is entirely unnecessary as thousands of individuals who call themselves biblical counselors and others who minister biblically have never used one and could claim equally successful cases as the one presented by Street. Prior to the creation and use of the PDI Christians throughout the history of the church ministered to one another and they were in no way hampered or restricted by the absence of anything like the PDI. Actually the PDI with its possible long list of problems could focus on the flesh and divert the counseling away from what the person truly needs: a growing daily spiritual walk with God.
Biblical Standards of Communication
The bottom line is whether or not the words spoken by Street, Joe, and Julie meet biblical standards. The counseling stands or falls on whether or not they meet biblical standards in practice. Joe and Julie are having marital problems. In this counseling session Joe does most of the talking, which is unusual for most marital counseling. Although Joe makes some self-effacing comments, he primarily complains about his wife, is highly critical of her, and exposes what he considers to be her faults to a third party. Such descriptions elicited in the biblical counseling environment are filled with violations of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 5:22-33; and 1 Peter 3:7. The third party (counselor) is usually only an acquaintance or a stranger, who is both eliciting and listening to these sinful conversations, all of which are expected as part of the usual biblical counseling process.
As with most biblical counselors, Street encourages unbiblical remarks along the way. The following are a few of the many questions Street asks in the process of digging for problems and their details:
Can you tell me a little more about that?
Are there any other areas?
Is there anything you want to add to that to help me understand it?
So what else would you like to add to that?
How are you dealing with that?
Street further advances openness and exposure of the couple by saying, “But what you’re sharing with me is helpful.” With Street’s encouragement, support, and expectation, Joe makes a number of clearly unkind, unbiblical remarks. He is clearly NOT loving his wife as Christ loves the church.
In the following video portion of Street’s session with Joe and Julie, we are providing only part of the first counseling session, uninterrupted by our comments. However, keep in mind that Julie is occupied teaching school while six-months pregnant. As you watch the video, note the number of times Joe makes sinful remarks about Julie and spiritually slanders her. Also , note how Street fishes for details of Joe and Julie’s sex life! We mention this to show that such excursions into this sensitive and biblically sacred area of marriage by biblical counselors are not unusual. Street is only doing what is standard for many and what he teaches others to do.
As we say about such needless excursions: This reveals how deeply worldly this counseling is and the extent to which psychological problem-centered counseling with its expected transparency resulting in sinful communication has been emulated and embraced by the church. As much as prying for details is expected and practiced in biblical counseling, details about a couple’s intimacy should not be shared with a third party in counseling. Nevertheless, such problem-centered counseling depends on such details even in these intimate areas. However, there are ways to minister to couples without invading their bedrooms and physical intimacy through unnecessary sinful communication.
The following video clip is a portion of Street’s first counseling session with Joe and Julie. The video clip begins after Street’s brief introductory conversation and prayer.
This video clip is only one piece of the clear evidence that biblical counseling elicits, engenders, and thereby encourages sinful speaking and other forms of corrupt communication, which calls for its demise. The Bible never set up a pattern of two people meeting together to solve problems through the kind of sinful talk that goes on in biblical counseling. Biblical counseling as conducted today is nowhere found in Scripture. According to Dr. David Powlison, a leader in the BCM, biblical counseling as conducted in the BCM is newly arrived in the church.
Too many in the church have viewed problems according to the secular view that is predominant in psychological counseling, in which one must talk and talk sinfully about self and others to find solutions to personal and interpersonal problems of living. Over the years and in spite of being on our mailing list for many years, many Christians do not get it—that the very words elicited and used in counseling by the leaders of the biblical counseling movement should be their very undoing.
The end of such unbiblical “Biblical Counseling” will only come when the church returns to its high calling of evangelizing, preaching, teaching, and living the doctrines of the cross and the new life in Christ; when believers are learning to walk according to the spirit rather than the flesh; and when mutual care in the Body of Christ thrives.We pray that those believers who have a heart for personal ministry, who desire to strengthen fellow believers in their faith as they are struggling with the difficulties and trials of life, will give heed to these serious faults that impede rather than inspire spiritual growth. We further pray that those Christians who are psychotherapists will realize that they are in even greater biblical jeopardy than the biblical counselors.
In the early years of the PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter we had a column titled “You Decide.” In it we presented a belief or practice and then asked readers to respond. Here we have presented 15 minutes of Dr. John Street’s counseling and made comments about it. Now it’s your turn to decide: Is this kind of counseling talk useful or is it sinful? If you wish to respond, please do so below.
 “Ministry Highlights: Biblical Counseling Programs @ The Master’s College,” Biblical Counseling & Discipleship Association Southern California (BCDASoCal) Training Conference, Fall 2011, bcdasocal.org.
 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Person to Person Ministry. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2009, Part Two; Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, Chapter 3.
 John Street counseling: Session 17 – “Actual Counseling Session: Clinical Depression” – Portions of Session 1 & 4, bcdasocal.org, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5tIOC_Sq90.
 John Street, https://www.masters.edu/faculty/john-d-street.
 John Street, “Gathering Data/Discerning the Problems Biblically,” Video Session Four, BCDASoCal Training Conference, op. cit., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvtvMMs3_Jk.
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