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Biblical Counseling Journeys (feat. Cheryl Bell)

Truth In Love 449

Dr. Cheryl Bell's journey to biblical counseling.

Jan 22, 2024

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me my dear friend, Dr. Cheryl Bell. She’s the wife of one, a mother of four, and a grandmother to four precious grandchildren. She holds a BS in nursing and an MA in religious education. After raising and educating her children, God called her to return to school where she completed her PhD in biblical counseling with a minor in women’s studies, her dissertation addressed the issue of child sexual abuse. Let me pause and just say, Cheryl and I were classmates together. We actually entered the Ph.D. program at the same time at Southwestern Seminary. So this is where I got to know Cheryl and really appreciate her and her work, and I would recommend if you can get your hands on her dissertation. Yes, it is the academic version, but it is very helpful in understanding the history and how we conceptualize, even in a modern sense, child sexual abuse. Now, let me continue; she currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at Southwestern and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries, she writes and equips for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, and she counsels women who are struggling to meet life’s challenges. She loves to see God transform his children’s lives by His spirit and through His Word in the classroom and in the counseling room. Well, Cheryl, it’s so good to be with you today. Thanks for joining us. 

Cheryl Bell: It’s my pleasure. Thank you. 

Dale Johnson: Now, we’re going to talk today about your journey to biblical counseling and honestly, this has become one of my favorite segments that we do is telling stories and the Scripture tells us that our lives are stories to be written out and proclaimed to people of the beauty of God’s grace. Paul describes this to the church at Corinth, and I think it’s important that we go back and we assess the beauty of God’s grace not to proclaim or boast in anything that we’ve done, but we proclaim the grace of the Lord in our stories. And so, I just want to start here Cheryl, describe your life before maybe even conversion to Christ before you came to faith in the Lord Jesus. And then, before you understood biblical counseling.

Cheryl Bell: Well, I came to Christ very young, but like many people in my generation, once we were saved, everybody breathed a big sigh of relief, and we just kind of waited till we saw Jesus. So before I was introduced to biblical counseling, I didn’t understand the concept of sanctification. I was saved but I didn’t know what it meant to die to my flesh and grow in my faith. And I remember even as a young woman, I was captured by the beauty of 2 Corinthians 3:18, “but we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the spirit of the Lord.” But I didn’t understand what this meant practically. I now understand this is a reference to worship. I also understand that worship is sanctifying for worship transforms me into the image of the one I worship. Well, this can be a positive transformation like that laid out in 2 Corinthians; Psalm 115:8 lays out the antithesis when God tells us that all those who worship idols are like them.

So, for example, practically in the counseling room, when I counsel women who are bitter against an enemy, often their mothers, I see women sitting before me who are becoming just like those they resent as a result of their single-minded investment of time and energy in condemning another person, which actually is a form of worship. They are being transformed into the image of the person they despise, so through biblical counseling, I’ve come to understand the transformative nature of worship. Before my exposure to biblical counseling, I sometimes saw time spent in Scripture as an obligation of my professed faith, not understanding the truth of John 17:17 that I’m sanctified by time spent with God and His Word that this God-breathed Word transforms me by its inherent power.

In addition, I didn’t understand that God’s purpose for suffering that He intended to use it for good to make me like His son Jesus Christ. We see these truths in Romans 8:28, Romans 5:1-5, and James 1:2-3. I also came to understand that he planned to use the comfort that He had given me in my suffering to comfort others. My affliction was not just for my transformation but for the comfort and salvation of others; once He, through His Word, explained His purpose for my suffering, my perspective changed. It was no longer meaningless pain but something He could use to change me and help others. These were the truths imprinted on my heart by biblical counseling and the ones He has and is using to transform me. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s amazing. And I wanted to take that a little bit further. I know a little bit, you know, more details about your story and where the Lord has brought you from, talk about a little bit about how you were exposed to biblical counseling and why you sought this avenue out. 

Cheryl Bell: Well, as a young mother, God gave me the gift of a difficult child, seldom slept and the sins of my heart were exposed under the pressure of this trial and I was desperate and I asked a friend for help. She invited me to her Bible study and I went, the teacher of the class was an older Presbyterian woman named Virginia Smith. She told me on the first day of class that I was vain. Now. I was a young mother who lived in sweatpants and a big t-shirt and on that day, I had taken a special effort to look my best, but she saw right through it and she said you’re vain and yet she faithfully prayed for me, paid for a nursery, so I could bring my children and come sit under her instruction. A few months later, she rebuked me for giving my opinion on Scripture. She said what does God say? Where do you find it? She admonished me, and this began my own passionate pursuit of biblical truth. I didn’t want to be asked that question ever again. One time, one of my students asked me why I went back, and admittedly, my pride was wounded, but I explained that Virginia had the Words of life when no one else seemed to, and I was desperate to hear them and be transformed by them. 

Dale Johnson: That’s good. And I’m sure that none of our listeners can resonate with having a difficult child or living life in sweatpants and a big t-shirt, right? So, I think that’s the story of many of our lives, right? the Lord chooses to use pretty pointed moments in our life and difficulty and struggle often before we start grasping for help, and I’m so thankful for people that the Lord puts in our life like Virginia, and He put Virginia in your life to point you to biblical truth.

As you think about you and I’ve heard this talking to you a lot, your love for the Scriptures and that love for the Scriptures wasn’t really formulated into, hey, biblical counseling as this sort of professional or set apart way of thinking, it was more of, “man, I love the Scripture and the teachings in biblical counseling point me to love the Scriptures and to apply in a particular way.” So, talk about your experience with biblical counseling and how you’ve seen the concepts of biblical counseling really impact your life.

Cheryl Bell: Well, biblical truths saved me from despair. It transformed my life. My testimony is kind of laid out in a portion of Psalm 107:17-22, which puts my story into words in this way: “Fools, because of their transgression and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their souls abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; and He saved them from their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. O, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness. And for His wonderful works to the children of men. Let them sacrifice the sacrifice of thanksgiving and declare His works with rejoicing.” In turning away from God because of the difficult things He had allowed in my life, I was a fool, we tried to live life without Him and by doing so, I afflicted myself.

While I didn’t abhor food, food was an issue. I turned to it for comfort instead of going to God. This is a common behavior in women who experience child sexual abuse like I did. When I finally cried out to God in my trouble and distress, He sent His Word and healed me, delivering me from my own destructive choices. The biblical truths that I learned from Virginia didn’t come from a trained biblical counselor but from a woman who had taken 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to heart; in me, she saw someone who was unruly, and she admonished me with biblical truth. My heart was desperate and therefore fertile ground for truth, by God’s living and active Word and through the power of His Holy spirit, I was transformed. To this day, biblical counseling impacts me. I employ biblical truth by applying it to the women God sends me for counsel, and each time I address their hearts, He addresses mine with the same truths. The Holy Spirit is faithful to hold me accountable to change, as I hold others accountable to change.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, it’s so good, and it’s interesting how I tell my students all the time, what makes you a very effective biblical counselor is the way in which the Word affects you first and you walk in the room with confidence that man if the Word can change me, then it can change the person who’s sitting across from me. I appreciate you sharing that part; you’re still very involved in biblical counseling, counseling women, as you’ve mentioned. You spend a lot of your time engaging with young ladies and you’ve served us at ACBC, you served on our abuse task force where we put together studied for over three years and wrote our abuse statements “Committed to Care.” You’re a frequent speaker, breakout speaker at our Annual Conference. What keeps you involved now in biblical counseling? Why do you pursue biblical counseling as an avenue of ministry in your own life? 

Cheryl Bell: I’m involved with biblical counseling because this is the ministry God entrusted to me. I initially trained as a nurse because I wanted to help hurting people but I discovered through this work that it was not their physical illnesses I was drawn to, but their spiritual distress. After raising and schooling my children, I asked God how I could finish this life well, and that left me to pursue and complete the Ph.D. in biblical counseling. It’s an honor to hold this degree and to employ it for the good of God’s people.

I know biblical counseling works because God affirms that it does and because He did and does change me by His Word, and because of the work I see God do through this ministry in the lives of others. Ultimately, though, I practiced this discipline not because it works but out of obedience to Christ. He’s commanded every believer to admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, and help the weak. It’s a blessing to have had the training that helps me think and practice in biblical ways. But ultimately, I’m motivated by my desire to be obedient and to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dale Johnson:  Amen. And I think that’s really important and I’m sure that our listeners can resonate with that. Now Cheryl, we’re running out of time today, but I want to dive a little deeper and maybe ask you to come back next week. I want to talk a little bit more detail about your life and your story and give a few more of those particular experiences as we think about your journey to biblical counseling. So, thanks for sharing with us today. I want you to join me again next week as we talk a little bit more detail about this. 

Cheryl Bell: I’d be glad to.

More resources:

Booklet Series

Committed to Care: Statement on Abuse and Biblical Counseling