Written as a general introduction to biblical counseling, Counseling by the Book is an excellent resource to learn the fundamentals of biblical counseling. Written by a collection of a dozen authors, John Babler and Nicolas Ellen compiled a list of topics that would serve anyone who wants to learn what biblical counseling is about and how to start doing it.
The first two chapters are devoted to explaining the secular nature of most pastoral counseling prior to the biblical counseling movement. We see the history of psychology’s influence on the church which is still significant today, particularly in the field of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) that the author states is, “in practice, secularized soul care” (page 9). Unfortunately, this influence led many pastors to consider psychological theories and social sciences as “truth that is on equal footing with God’s Word,” and the author explains why this is so very wrong (page 30ff).
As we proceed through the next two chapters, the authors lay a solid foundation regarding the basic principles of biblical counseling. Their working definition of biblical counseling is comprehensive, as it includes being a ministry of the local church to believers, as well as evangelizing unbelievers, using the Word of God, based on the conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture. Also included is the necessity for confronting sin as well as comforting the suffering (page 47). This definition is then explained in more detail that is clear and practical. At the completion of these two chapters, one has a firm grasp on the essence of biblical counseling, including the understanding that “the heart is the target of counseling” (page 58).
The book progresses in a logical way. After explaining the background and the basics, essential doctrines are dealt with. These doctrines include the inspiration, authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the doctrine of God, man, the Church, and the Great Commission. Each of these topics is dealt with in a manner that is accessible and understandable to anyone and explains its application to biblical counseling. These are doctrines that are pertinent to every biblical counselor as they explain these truths to others and help them see how important these doctrines are and how they apply to daily life.
Chapter 13 is essentially a methodology chapter. In it, the authors provide both the “what” and the “why” of each step. They include suggestions similar to what one would see in most biblical counseling training books—build a connection, provide encouragement, listening skills, and data collection. These steps are followed by an excellent discussion of how to explain the real problem (heart issues and relationship with God as opposed to presenting problems). Targeting the heart is a consistent theme throughout the book, which keeps the reader targeted on the main issue in counseling. The section entitled “Explain the Solution” is short but very helpful in keeping a biblical counselor properly focused: when explaining the solution, “the counselor must start with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Discussion about Jesus’ identity is essential” (page 231). The authors then encourage the counselor to explain the role of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to the counselee. The final portion of the chapter deals with assigning “Projects for Change” (I would consider this to be a much better term than “homework”!) that, as with the other sections, is practical and useful.
The final two chapters of the book are designed to help people who want (or need) to start counseling now. In these chapters, issues are addressed from a “50,000 foot” level, by which I mean each issue is addressed very briefly. While dealing with each of these issues would certainly require more in-depth work, the authors provide a helpful starting point by explaining a definition, general manifestations and causes, and a suggested approach to counseling, along with supporting Scripture.
Overall, Counseling by the Book captures the essence of biblical counseling and can serve as a very helpful introduction to the emergence, theological foundation, principles, basic methodology, and starting point for biblical counseling.
- “A biblical counseling ministry focuses on intensive personal discipleship in order to effect gospel-centered change” (page 53).
- “One of the most important responsibilities of a biblical counselor is to listen for unbiblical thinking and correct it with biblical truth” (page 55).
- “How we view God will determine how we counsel and how our counselees view God will determine how they respond to our counsel” (page 81).
- “Biblical counseling does not maximize the emotions of people but evaluates them to discern the heart of the individual” (page 107).
- “A God-centered anthropology changes the way we assess things, the way we live, and the way we counsel” (page 117).
- “Admonition in the sense of placing God’s Word into a person is ultimately what biblical counseling is all about. It is placing Scripture into someone so it impacts not only their mind or thinking, but their will” (page 123).
- “When counseling we must take people away from the self-centered question, ‘How can I get my needs met?’ We must lead them to a point where they are ready to genuinely ask, ‘How can I bring glory and honor to God?’” (page 156).