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David Powlison

A Tribute

Grace and humility adorned Dr. Powlison's faithful leadership in the biblical counseling movement.

Jun 20, 2019

David Powlison wanted us to celebrate his life in color. In part, because he lived life in color. He saw deeply and observed keenly the beauty of God through the lens of Jesus Christ. So, a few days ago, I purchased a Hawaiian shirt to wear at his memorial, the first one I’ve owned since my college days. It was a special joy to see all of the color at the memorial service Tuesday, as many of the people attending followed David’s request as a way of remembering his life and celebrating his rest with the Lord Jesus.

Outside of Jay Adams, David Powlison is probably the most recognized name in the modern biblical counseling movement. That statement might have caused David to blush, and if you were to say that to him, he would certainly begin reminding you of all of his inadequacies. It’s undeniable, however, that he was a faithful leader in the movement. Yet, he led contrary to the way many in the modern world believe is necessary for leadership. There was no iron fist or heavy hand, but grace and humility adorned his ministry. He was known among us as a gentle spirit with a keen sense of the fear of the Lord. His ability to express the raw realities of life with the truth and relevancy of Scripture was unique and we will all continue to learn from his biblically saturated expressions of human life. Whether we recognize it or not, much of the language that couches biblical counseling discussions and descriptions was born from the pen of Powlison.

Dr. Powlison is probably most well-known because of his work at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). I was introduced to him during my seminary days, as so many others, by reading several of his works. So much of the early literature that defined biblical counseling was stirred by Dr. Adams, but much of it was fostered under David’s leadership at CCEF. The first book of David’s that I read was Seeing With New Eyes. As if the title were a self-fulfilling prophecy, David helped so many of us see the Scripture’s vitality and necessity for the counseling task. He gave us a deeper gaze through Scripture to see the frailty of humanity while fixed upon the hope of Christ. So many times, when reading his work, I remember pausing to ponder how he had put into words things I had been thinking but could not articulate. He had a unique ability to demonstrate the practicality of ancient words as ever true for daily, mundane moments.

David embodied the mission of CCEF to restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church. By staying on mission, he served the church of Jesus well by consistently expounding the beauty of the Scripture for all of the difficulties of life, pointing us to the vitality of the church of Jesus as the most critical institution for the care and cure of souls.

For those of you who may not know, David served for years as a faithful board member with NANC/ACBC. Because of his significant contributions to the biblical counseling movement, David was also recognized as a member of the Academy of ACBC. David served as a trusted counselor to many counselors and a sage to so many leaders throughout the biblical counseling movement and our organization. David will be remembered in the biblical counseling movement for many reasons, but one certain way is his literary contribution. Titles such as: Seeing with New Eyes, Speaking the Truth in Love, Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, Power Encounters, How Does Sanctification Work? and countless articles in the Journal of Biblical Counseling. This list is only a small sampling of the literary contribution he made for all of us and generations to come. I know that my students will be reading David’s works in many of my classes. He has been read widely and he will continue to be read widely. In fact, as I began to write this on the plane from Charlotte to Philadelphia for the memorial, I noticed a familiar book cover. . .the red one, Good & Angry, was being read by a lady on the next aisle over.

David died at peace because he had died to himself on many occasions, as he consistently grew in Christ. . . gracefully. . . humbly he wrestled with his own mortality to trust in the finished work of Jesus on his behalf. Not only did David model a sturdy faith in the face of one of our greatest enemies, but he demonstrated a living faith for all of the issues of life. As we consider the magnitude of a life submitted to Jesus, may it spur us on to live by dying and lead by serving. May we honor him by our continual focus on the necessity and sufficiency of Scripture for the counseling task and our unwavering commitment to Christ’s church as the institution to restore such deep and abiding care. So, we remember David in the days to come by several ways. One of these is to live life in color. See deeply, observe keenly the beauty and majesty of God’s world and the wonder of humanity through the vivid hue of our resurrected Lord Jesus, who brings life with all of its brokenness into focus, into beautiful and colorful shades of hope. Thank you, David, your ministry to us lives on. May you enjoy the rest promised by the righteous life, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.

Below is a sampling of resources from David over the years at our Annual Conferences. We hope they are a blessing to you!

Facing Death | 2007

How to Interact with Contemporary Psychological Theorists | 2009

The Question Every Counselee is Asking | 2009

Good News for the Mentally Ill | 2014

Gripping Fears | 2014