We are apparently having only minor success with our “Hidden in Plain Sight” articles, which clearly reveal the sinful nature of the biblical counseling movement (BCM). An old adage we all know is: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” So, here we go with another attempt to help more people see what is “Hidden in Plain Sight.” We again remind our readers that the Institute for Nouthetic Studies states that “Dr. Adams is the founder of the modern biblical counseling movement and is the author of the groundbreaking book Competent to Counsel.”1 Adams set the standard that all those in the BCM follow. It is a problem-centered standard, which begins with questions by the counselors and ends up in sinful conversations because of what the counselors and counselees say to each other. We have used many Bible verses to expose the sinful conversations between biblical counselors and their counselees. In our book Counseling the Hard Cases: A Critical Review we list a number of Bible verses misused, abused, and missed by the leaders of the BCM, which compound the sinfulness of the conversations.2 To simplify as much as possible, we will refer primarily to marriage counseling as practiced by all the leaders we have seen, read, and heard in the BCM, because it is a most often sought-after form of counseling. We begin with two Bible verses from Ephesians, because they are the most violated verses in the marriage counseling done by those in the BCM.
Ephesians 5:22 and 25
Ephesians 5:22 and 25 give clear instructions for marriage: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” These verses are all imperatives—commands. They are not optional suggestions. We hope we can all agree that Christians should follow biblical guidelines and, yes, admonitions concerning what they say and the emotions they express. For instance, in ordinary conversations Christians are disobeying the Lord if they engage in gossip or say rude things about others. In fact, all conversations should honor the Lord—at least not dishonor Him! Further, we hope that we can all agree that conversations between believers must conform to Scripture, particularly when one is attempting to help a fellow believer. If the words used in counseling by either the counselors or counselees are contrary to the admonitions, prohibitions, and restrictions of Scripture, the counseling is sinful.
Ephesians 5:22 instructs the wife to submit to her husband “as unto the Lord.” God’s order of governance in the marriage is not optional. The phrase “unto the Lord” qualifies the height, depth, length and breadth of the submission and implies the eternal source for doing so: because of her relationship to the Lord, who loves her and gave Himself for her. Her submission is therefore not dependent on whether or not the husband is following verse 25. Her submission to her husband is dependent on her relationship to the Lord and therefore reflects the quality of her submission to the Lord and her love for Him. Submission does not imply inferiority, but reflects Christ in His submission to God the Father. It is a place wherein the woman can bring love, joy, and peace into the relationship and a place where she can grow in long-suffering, faith, meekness, and self-control. In an attitude of humility, she can exercise her creativity and bring forth wisdom for her husband and children (Proverbs 31). As a woman follows this one command in the normal course of marital relations, she will honor the Lord and her husband by not saying unloving and rude things to her husband or complain about him to others.
Ephesians 5:25 instructs the husband to love his wife, “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Such love as this sounds impossible and must be found in a man’s relationship to the Lord Himself. All governance is to be in love and for the wife’s well-being in the Lord. As Jesus sacrificed Himself for the church, the husband is to love and govern sacrificially, not to please Himself, but to please the Lord. The husband carries the grave responsibility to care for his wife sacrificially. That includes paying attention to her and regarding what she has to say. When a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, he does not harm her with words or actions, he does not demean her directly or in front of others, and he does not complain about her to others. Instead, he lifts her up and encourages her in her relationship with the Lord and with himself.
Sinful Questions and Answers
Although these verses would be the goals of biblical counseling, the counseling process itself invokes just the opposite. BCM counselors invite the couple to express why they have come for counseling and proceed to ask for details and examples of what needs to be changed. In every live literal marriage counseling session we have seen or read, Ephesians 5:22 and 25 have been violated at or near the beginning of the counseling conversation. In violation of Ephesians 5:22 and 25, the live counseling sessions for which we have copies contain conversations in which couples complain about each other, demean each other, and say cruel things about each other and often about parents and others who are not present to defend themselves. When they do so, the counselor regularly asks for more details. After all, counselors think they must get all the problematic issues out on the table in order to solve the multitude of problems. Thus counselors are active participants as well as precipitants in these sinful conversations.
In Adams’ The Case of the “Hopeless” Marriage many words coming out of the mouths of Bert and Sue, the counselees, and Greg, their pastor/counselor, are in violation of Ephesians 5. Couples in contention with each other and airing their grievances to a biblical counselor are in violation of Ephesians 5. And, every biblical counselor who enables them to do so is encouraging them to amplify their sin by asking the kinds of questions that bring out more complaints along with their details. Every marital counseling case we have seen by the leaders of the biblical counseling movement has included such sinful interchanges.
Our whole culture has been psychologized into thinking it’s not only okay, but beneficial to be transparent and to be free to say mean things about others, to complain about their faults, to gossip, to speak rudely, and, frankly, to reveal the sinful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). In fact, we have heard people joke about the love chapter in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), about how it is read at weddings, but no one follows it. We are a very self-centered me-culture, even in the church. Therefore when entering into a counseling relationship, counselees expect to talk about problems they are having with others and counselors seek to find out as much as possible, as if they are attempting to diagnose a disease. The entire process ends up dishonoring the Lord and spiritually harming all participants. Counselees are invited to sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1). That is because all theproblems must be expressed and explored prior to any teaching about what the Bible says, such as what Ephesians 5:22, 25 has to say about marriage.
The following are the types of questions that are prolifically used by those in the BCM that always end up with sinful speaking:
What things in your marriage make you sad?
How would you characterize your communication with your husband/wife?
Describe how you as a couple resolve conflicts.
What do you see as the weaknesses of your marriage?
What could your spouse do to greatly change your marriage?
Pick one area of your marriage where you think you have problems. Describe what is wrong and what each of you has done to solve it.
Can you tell me a little more about that?
So what else would you like to add to that?
Is there anything you want to add to that to help me understand it?
How are you dealing with that?
Are there any other areas?
Although counselors may believe that they are simply exposing what needs to be addressed, they are actually exacerbating problems through inviting and listening to such sinful communication.
A Psychologized Society
We have given many examples of sinful conversations that go on in the biblical counseling movement. Good sources for readers to see how sinful biblical counseling is would be the following books, which are free to read or download from our website pamweb.org:
Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!
Person to Person Ministry: Soul Care in the Body of Christ
Christ-Centered Counseling versus Problem-centered Counseling
Counseling the Hard Cases: a Critical Review
In addition we have many articles on our website that expose the sinful conversations of biblical counselors.
Almost everyone in America, including Christians, expects this type of conversation in counseling. Counselees come prepared to reveal as much as possible about their lives, people in their lives, and their problems. Counselors are ready to ask questions that will bring out all the details in order to solve the many problems. These problem-solving methods all came in with the growing influence of psychological ideas about the nature of the psyche, why people do what they do, and how they change. These ideas were created and advanced by all psychological counselors and quickly engulfed both society and the church. Many books have been written about our psychologized country, such as The Psychological Society3 and The Shrinking of America.4
Sins of Selfism
Rarely do counselees come to a counselor to confess their own sins, particularly when there are interpersonal problems involved. More often they expect others to change or at least recognize what they are doing wrong. After all, it is easier to see the sins of others than one’s own sinfulness and failings. Thus, Jeremiah 17:9, the deceitful heart, is allowed to play a huge role in counseling.
Eva Markowitz, in her book In Therapy We Trust, subtitled America’s Obsession with Self-Fulfillment, shows how early marriage counselors practiced the “therapeutic gospel” of happiness through encouraging people to talk about their problems and dissatisfactions “down to the last detail.”5 The transparency mantra of letting it all hang out came to full bloom as a hoped-for means of achieving happiness and self-fulfillment, spread its tentacles throughout all of American society, and morphed itself into the church, both through Christian psychological counselors and biblical counselors. Moskowitz says, “It is practiced in every conceivable institution.”6 Worse yet, it is practiced in nearly every conceivable Christian institution.
Markowitz describes some of the early means of psychologizing our society, “The public, but especially American housewives, learned an entirely new way of thinking about their lives, and a new language that went with it. Terms such as ego, inferiority complex, and self-esteem, which had been obscure before the war, became, quite literally, household words.” She says, “This domestication of the therapeutic gospel was an important episode in America’s journey to the therapeutic altar.”7 Women’s magazines furthered the therapeutic gospel with articles that gave women a psychological perspective by which to view life. Markowitz says, “The content of these magazines also dovetailed perfectly with mental-health professionals’ message….Psychological professionals could not have created a better vehicle for disseminating the therapeutic gospel.”8 She further says:
The women’s magazines also provided women with an entirely new language for expressing their feelings of dissatisfaction, terms such as unconscious, ego, inferiority complex, psychosomatic, defensive reaction, and self-esteem. The use of these terms legitimatized women’s psychological inquiries and complaints.9
The dissatisfied self was the target and the more the counseling mentality took hold, the more people identified with a keen sense of victimhood at the slightest provocation. The mentality of so-called mental health being achieved through endlessly focusing on self, problems, complaints, and negative feelings became the norm in the world and in the church. Hardly a soul thinks that emotional problems, interpersonal issues, unhappiness, grief, or any other negative issue in life can be helped without investigating all the details. Our entire culture has been sucked in and too many in the church have as well. Even though they may add Scripture into the mix, they end up with sinful conversations.
If you now see what is hidden in plain sight regarding the BCM counseling, remember that it applies doubly to psychotherapy. The psychological format of problem-centered counseling is shared by both the BCM and the psychological counseling movement. It is therefore clear that no Christian should be a psychotherapist or a biblical counselor practicing problem-centered counseling.
True Gospel Needed
Finally, we all must admit that all of us are involved in sinful conversations when we are walking after the flesh (the old nature) rather than walking according to the Spirit. In fact, our thoughts, words, and actions can reveal the source: the flesh or the Spirit. We all need to practice moving away from sinful conversations by grace through faith. Marriage and other family relationships are a good place to start. May we all disentangle ourselves from the bondage of a psychologized culture and exercise our freedom in Christ to walk according to the Spirit. And may those in the biblical counseling movement see what is hidden in plain sight and help fellow believers to move away from a therapeutically inspired gospel to the true Gospel that gives new life whereby believers are enabled to walk according to the Spirit.
1 Institute for Nouthetic Studies, www.nouthetic.org/.
2 Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Counseling the Hard Cases: A Critical Review. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2016, Chapter 4,pp. 69-88.
3 Martin L. Gross. The Psychological Society. New York: Random House, 1978.
4 Bernie Zilbergeld. The Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983.
5 Eva S. Moskowitz. In Therapy We Trust: America’s Obsession with Self-Fulfillment. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, p. 83.
6 Ibid., p. 3.
7 Ibid., p. 149.
8 Ibid., p. 170.
9 Ibid., p. 169.