What was it about biblical counseling that first gained your affection? I know many people who have trained to become biblical counselors because they first experienced the transformational effect of the Word and Spirit in their own lives. I am certainly in that category. I’m also in the category of those who continually grow in wonder and confidence that the Scriptures are truly sufficient to both define human problems and, in the power of the Spirit, transform lives for the glory of God. The more I counsel, the more passionate I am about preserving the authority that defines the nature and practice of biblical counseling, the Bible. Perhaps this is why recent discussions about “types” of biblical counselors have caught my attention.
One example of this dialogue is a recent article written by Brad Hambrick1 Hambrick, “5 Types of Biblical Counselors | Brad Hambrick.” in which he discusses five “types” of biblical counselors. My quandary in these discussions may seem simplistic to some. If we are committed to the sufficiency of Scripture in biblical counseling, why would we define the nature and practice of our counseling by any standard outside of Scripture? In fact, I would suggest that Scripture itself gives us many indications of the danger.
When Paul writes to the church at Colossae, he carefully spells out how looking to Jesus gives them a comprehensive worldview to faithfully navigate their lives. In Colossians 1:15-20 we can know that Jesus is the self-existent Creator who is higher than every authority and power in every realm. He is the head and hope of the church as He is God who came to dwell with us and bring reconciliation of all things through the work of the cross. Paul is saying that when we understand the revelation of Jesus, we have a comprehensive worldview to navigate everything in life and live in hope. Paul also warns this church that when they integrate the ideas of the world, they lose the only true transforming power of Christ and His Word. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).
Paul gives the same warning to Timothy as he seeks to shepherd the church at Ephesus: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21). Biblical counselors ought to take this warning very seriously. The goal of biblical counseling is to glorify God and strengthen faith as we come alongside hurting people to provide the certainty of hope that can only be found in union with Christ. What we utilize as knowledge along the way is crucial. With this in mind, I propose that the idea of different types of biblical counselors undermines what has been entrusted to the church. We guard the testimony of the faith in the whole of the Scriptures for the sake of truth and godliness in those we seek to help. We are regularly encouraged that we can have the utmost confidence in the truth of Christ in the Scriptures. We also find that we are regularly warned about the undermining influence of worldly ideas that corrupt our counsel. If our counsel is to be defined by the Bible in any way, it is the Bible that must define our counsel in every way.
- We are all expository counselors.
In the context of the “God-breathed” inspiration of Scripture, every counselor should be an expository counselor. This means we draw God’s inspired truth from God’s inspired words. Expounding truth from Scripture is an essential requirement of biblical counseling to keep us from diluting God’s eternal hope with man’s temporal ideas. It is the Scripture that defines that biblical counselors are expository by the way that Scripture talks about itself. It is immediately after instructing Timothy on the “God-breathed” inspiration of Scripture that Paul further instructs to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Counseling certainly involves all these descriptions when we sit with hurting people in all seasons of life. We explain from the text of Scripture the truths to know and apply in the lives of those we seek to love.
- We are all shepherding counselors.
As we all follow the example of the Great Shepherd who cares for His sheep, every counselor is a shepherding counselor. It is the Scripture that defines that biblical counseling (caring for the soul of another) is also a shepherding practice. That shepherding practice can only truly exist where there is a flock of sheep —a local church. Some do so in the office of a shepherd/elder, and others through training by shepherds and elders as an extension of that shepherding ministry. 1 Peter 5:2-3 says, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Part of this shepherding ministry is to train all the saints to shepherd each other under the direction and care of the elders. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
- We are all counselors in a family.
If the church is the household of God, then we act and counsel as a family. This then means that every counselor is a brotherly or sisterly counselor. “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14). To remove counseling from the context of the local church is to remove the accountability and support structure that Christ has built for his family. It is the Scripture that defines that biblical counseling as an intimate and brotherly/sisterly practice. Galatians 6:1-2 states, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Brothers and sisters may not always counsel each other in a church building, but we do counsel each other as part of the household of God.
- We must be explorers of the Bible.
Because the Scriptures are vital in the treatment of the human heart, every biblical counselor is an explorer of the Bible. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It is Scripture that instructs biblical counselors that the confines of our exploration in counseling must be protected from human philosophies. Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” When we commit ourselves to the exploration of the sufficient Scripture, we find that it informs the questions we ask and the answers we give. We realize that we are finite. Every counselor battles with their own sin and suffering, and as we sit with those in need, we find ourselves having an even greater need to immerse ourselves in God’s truth. The more complex the case, the more we need to plumb the depths and riches in exploration of God’s glorious truth: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
- We are not professionals.
The only expert in our counseling rooms is the Holy Spirit and the truth of His word. It is the Scripture that commends the church to uphold and protect the truth that gives us the knowledge for how we must conduct our lives as God’s people. Therefore, to be subject to the conditions of professionalism based on worldly criteria and institutions is to give up the very nature of who God has called us to be. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” The glory of this truth that the church upholds is that it always centers in the eternal confession of hope in Christ. Immediately after telling Timothy that the church is the pillar and buttress of truth, Paul announces, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). No worldly professional standard makes this confession their aim.
Biblical counselors should be the most competent and confident counselors on the planet. Not because they are amazing people (and I think they are) but because confidence and competence are not ours. We are confident and competent to counsel in one truth alone. We have the truth from One who is all-knowing and all-powerful for the lives of those we are thankful to help. When we define our counseling by any other category, we diminish our competency and confidence by blending the fallible with the infallible. The defining category of biblical counseling must be the “B” – alone —the Bible.