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A Trilogy of Care: What Every Skilled Counselor Must Know

To be a counselor is to care for others. And while having a heart to help others with their struggles is honorable – even biblical – we must understand the Bible in its fully intended form in order to care for others well. If we can’t understand the Bible as it relates to people and their problems, we are bankrupt. If we don’t exposit the text in the counseling room, we’ll be penniless in spite of our wealth of personal experience and wisdom. If we can’t do these two things – exposit the bible and apply it to real life problems – why are we calling ourselves biblical counselors?

Often, New Testament scholars are good exegetes but struggle to apply the text of Scripture to difficult counseling situations. On the other hand, biblical counselors might be able to practically help someone, but there is a danger they might inaccurately handle the text of Scripture. We need both exegesis and practical help to counsel well.

I want to suggest to you that there is a simple three step process that can help us, a process I’m calling the Trilogy of Care. This three-step process can be expanded and developed further, but this post will provide a good starting point that you can use with any counseling case.

Each of the following points flows out of a view of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling: Exceptional Exegesis, Thorough Theology, Apt Application.

Defining Exegesis, Theology, and Counseling Application

Exceptional Exegesis

In their helpful dictionary of theological terms, Grenz and Nordling give this definition:

Exegesis: Literally, “drawing meaning out of.” It is the process of seeking to understand what a text means or communicates on its own.

Exegesis involves understanding what the Greek and Hebrew words mean, paying attention to sentence flow and structure, and investigating grammar. It seeks to understand the meaning in its context and how the arguments are intended by the original author.

Biblical counselors must be good at biblical exegesis. This should come out of our claim that the Bible is sufficient for counseling. It is like a deep cave full of diamonds and rubies that we can continually mine. I use the word exceptional along with exegesis because Biblical counselors should be the best at it. We should care the most about exegesis because we are the ones who believe the bible is our only necessary source of wisdom for the counseling task. We don’t need to spend our days examining what psychologists have to say about counseling because the crux of the issue is the type of change we are helping people pursue. We don’t just care about changing behavior – we care about change that is glorifying to God as we become more like Christ. And to do that effectively, we must put our energy into studying the Scriptures to see what they have to say about human behavior and practice.

Resources to Help Grow in Scripture Exegesis and Interpretation

It can be overwhelming to think about studying Greek and Hebrew, or to tackle the task of exegesis in preparation for a counseling session. I’d like to make a note here that I don’t think it’s necessary to master the biblical languages or to have a seminary degree in order to counsel faithfully. It is, however, important to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. Below are some resources if you’re not sure where to start on your journey of expositing the Bible in the counseling room:

  1. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer
  2. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules by Robert Stein
  3. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson

 

Thorough Theology

Grenz and Nordling use the following definition:

Theology: A religious belief system about God or ultimate reality. Theology commonly refers to the ordered, systematic study or interpretation of the Christian faith and experience of God based on God’s divine self-revelation…

How does a particular text fit in with what the Bible says in total about this issue? Biblical theology as a discipline seeks to understand the entire story of Scripture and understand how redemption and God’s unfolding plan impacts a particular verse. Systematic theology happens when we examine what the Bible has to say about a particular topic.

How does the whole of the Bible inform and shape a particular verse or how is a particular verse informed or shaped by the whole teaching of the Bible? Theological themes include topics such as Anthropology (Study of man), Soteriology (Study of salvation), and Eschatology (Study of the last things). It isn’t enough to say, “I know what these words mean in this particular context.” We must understand how they relate to the entire thread of Scripture.

I use the word thorough because our theology must be comprehensive. God gave us the whole Bible. He didn’t just give us a chapter. When we say the Bible is sufficient, we mean the entire Bible – the 66 books in the closed Cannon. This means that we must understand the theology that the whole counsel of God teaches if we are going to be proper counselors.

Resources to Help Grow in Theology

  1. What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns by James Hamilton
  2. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry by Michael Lawrence
  3. Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy
  4. Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem

 

Apt Application

Apt application is understanding the ramifications and practical relevance of a text for the personal life of a counselee. This requires understanding a person’s scenario and the details of their problem and then connecting it in a meaningful and tangible way to the intended meaning and implications of the text of Scripture.

Ultimately, it is understanding human nature in a fallen world as described by the Scriptures and then understanding and explaining anything Scripture prescribes for the situation. It is meaningless to say that the Scriptures are sufficient for counseling if we don’t understand how to use them in real life and actual godliness.

I use the word apt because it must be relevant for the particular situation a counselee is facing. Many sermons are applicable, but because they are preached to a crowd, they are applicable in the general sense by nature. Counseling, because it is the ministry of personal care, is applicable in particular.

Counselors must have precise, appropriate, relevant, meaningful, sensitive, tangible, concrete application that touches down and makes progress. This takes both a true understanding of human nature and careful thoughtfulness in how to apply what the Scriptures say. It is understanding the depths of a person’s struggle and connecting them to the depths of Scripture.

You can exegete well and have a comprehensive understanding of theology, but until you have apt application, it all falls short. This is why the trilogy of care (exceptional exegesis, thorough theology, apt application) matters so much. It takes a careful blending of all three elements to counsel biblically.

Resources to Help Grow in Application

  1. Counseling the Hard Cases by Heath Lambert and Stuart Scott
  2. Crosstalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet by Michael Emlet
  3. A Theology of Biblical Counseling by Heath Lambert

 

Is there a particular area of the trilogy that you need to grow in as a counselor and disciple of Jesus Christ? I’d encourage you to check out the resources mentioned with each aspect of care. They have been a great help to me as I continue to grow and learn as counselor of the Bible. We study to show ourselves approved workmen – may God’s testimonies be our delight and counselors. (Psalm 119:24)

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Sean Perron
Sean Perron is the director of operations at ACBC. He is the co-author of “Letters to a Romantic: On Dating” and “Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement.” (P&R, 2017)
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