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Counseling Using Biblical Narrative

As biblical counselors, we believe Scripture is both inerrant and sufficient. In fact, the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and sufficiency should be seen as two sides of the same proverbial coin. When we speak of these doctrines, we recognize and affirm several things about the Bible at once. We affirm that its source is God. The Bible is inspired by God, literally “breathed out” by Him (2 Timothy 3:16). Christianity is a revelatory religion, and the Bible is the vehicle by which God has revealed to us His sovereignty, our sin, and good news of the Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:19-21). In turn, we also affirm that these “sacred writings” provide wisdom leading to salvation; therefore, their purpose is our holiness, spiritual maturity, and preparation in order to do the good work of God (2 Timothy 3:15, 17; Ephesians 2:10).

It is incumbent upon us as stewards of Scripture to not just affirm these doctrines, but to practice them. One obvious way we practice these doctrines is through counseling. The Bible provides the means, manner, and mode for counseling. While this is true, there are many who are still unsure about how to use the Scriptures in counseling.

In some ways, using the Bible in counseling can be straightforward. For instance, when there is a clear command given to us by Paul in one of his pastoral epistles, application seems easy to grasp. However, the Bible is a book comprised of several literary genres and sub-genres including songs, poems, prophesy, epistles, even law codes, and more. The most common literary style found in the Bible is historical narrative.

This being the case, what are we as counselors to think about the various scenes and personal profiles that make up much of the greatest true story ever recorded? How are we to counsel using historical narrative with application in view?

While there are multiple benefits and ways to counsel using biblical narrative, I will focus on two. Biblical narrative provides an accurate portrait of real-life human existence and it provides a portrait of God’s character as He relates to His creation.

A Portrait of Real-Life People

One of the major components of biblical narrative is the portrayal of individuals as they interact with God and others and choose to respond to various life circumstances. Take the life of Abraham, for example. The forefather of the Israelites is best known for hearing and heeding God’s voice. In many instances Abraham trusted and feared God, but there are many other times when he responded in unbelief and doubt. In spite of this broad spectrum of human motivations and emotions, Abraham ultimately placed his faith in God and this was “credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6; Hebrews 11:8-10). In fact, Paul refers to the life of Abraham when he states, “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:23-24).

For our sake.

Did you catch that? It would be a mistake to rush past this important phrase. When reading through biblical narrative, our counselees encounter much more than interesting details, historical facts, or intriguing plot twists (although these exist in great supply). Instead they see the most accurate picture of what real life holds and how we can learn from the well-worn travelers of the past as we traverse the road of life set before us today.

Whether the narrative depicts a desert-rebel seeking to overthrow authority (Numbers 16), an attendant reaching out his hand with good intentions (2 Samuel 6), a barren woman praying to God in her grief (1 Samuel 1), an Ethiopian eunuch searching for the truth (Acts 8), a seller of purple cloth confessing Jesus as Lord (Acts 16), or a misguided disciple reprimanding the Son of God (Matthew 16), biblical narrative brings to full view the struggles, burdens, desires, and questions that people face in life. Paul makes this once again clear when he recounts the sins of ancient Israel for the sake of the Corinthians believers. He writes, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved…they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-12).

Through the examples of lives recorded in Scripture, we want to show our counselees that human experience should not be informed by what we create in the fantasy worlds of our own minds. Reality is born out of the mind of God as revealed in His Word. I go to the stories of Scripture to bring principles and precepts to bear upon the lives of my counselees.

A Portrait of God’s Faithfulness

What I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t depict the saints of stained glass. Along with Abraham, these seemingly larger-than-life biblical figures (including Noah, Sarah, Moses, Rebecca, David, Peter, Paul and countless others) were flawed. What is remarkable is that they were pursued and loved by a holy and perfect God. What encourages my soul, and what can encourage the souls of our counselees, is that our pursuit of God is not dependent upon our perfection.

As we engage the Bible, we see God sovereignly working in the midst of people’s strivings, complaints, hurts, fears and anxieties, musings, pride, schemes, lusts, and ignorance in order to produce—through repentance and obedience—the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Psalms are some of the most compelling and beloved passages of Scripture to me. They offer fragrant truths that bring us to adoration and worship of God. In Psalm 34:19-22, David provides one such offering:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the soul of his servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

While poetic in literary style and form, these songs and prayers of Israel are born out of narrative. Here we see the real-life, human experiences of David as he walked in-step (and out-of-step) with the Lord as they are expressed in the musical language of the soul. David knew what it was to be hunted down. He knew what it was to suffer the loss of his closest friends and family members. He even had his wife, Michal, unjustly taken from him. Yet, in spite of these ash-heaps of mourning, difficulty, and despair, David’s life showcases the crown of beauty reflected in God’s redemption and watch-care over His own (Isaiah 61:1-3). If this doesn’t bring us to praise, I don’t know what will!

The narrative of Scripture provides for our counselees not only the most realistic portrait of the human life and experience, but also the most compelling and glorifying portrait of God, our Creator and Redeemer. By remembering and recalling the storylines of countless saints of the past, we as biblical counselors can equip our counselees to successfully navigate their lives with faith in their God for today and hope for what tomorrow will bring.

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Samuel Stephens
Samuel Stephens has served in local churches and various para-church organizations relating to collegiate ministry, counseling, and discipleship. After earning a Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Stephens has become a certified member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and is currently engaged in counseling ministry along with contributing to various writing projects. He and his wife Hannah were married in 2014 and have two daughters.
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