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Biblical Counseling Journeys

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast I’m delighted to hear the story of Dr. Jim Newheiser. He’s the Christian Counseling program director and professor of Christian Counseling and Pastoral Theology at RTS Charlotte. For 25 years Dr. Newheiser served as the preaching pastor at Grace Bible Church in Escondido, California. He’s also the director of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship and he served as an adjunct professor of biblical counseling at the Master’s University. Furthermore, Dr. Newheiser serves as a board member at both the Biblical Counseling Coalition and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Dr. Newheiser teaches many of the counseling courses as well as some practical theology courses and he’s been married to his wife Caroline since 1979 and they have 3 adult children. Jim, I’m so grateful for you brother, and your work. I’m really looking forward to hearing your story. We want to document these; I think it’s important. So welcome to the podcast.

Jim Newheiser: Yeah, I just became a senior citizen, so we better get this over with pretty fast before I die so you can hear my story.

Dale Johnson: Well, we don’t think that that’s imminent, Lord willing.

Jim Newheiser: I got the good parking place today though, I was really glad, since it’s for seniors only. I didn’t qualify 2 weeks ago. 

Dale Johnson: That’s nice, that’s nice. I love it. So, tell us a little bit about Jim, the man. A lot of people in our organization maybe know about Jim the professor, or they know about Jim the biblical counselor. Tell us a little bit about you, and I mentioned that you’re married to Caroline, so tell us about about Jim Newheiser. 

Jim Newheiser: Boy, that’s not my favorite subject. I just feel exceptionally blessed, like you mentioned with Caroline, and it’s just been amazing to see how the Lord has worked in her life. Every day we walk together for an hour, we talk about our counseling cases, and she helps me with teaching the women and counseling the women at RTS. That partnership is just tremendously meaningful to me. When the Scripture says we’re supposed to wash our wives with the water of the word for their sanctification —I thought when I got married I should give her back to the Lord someday better than I got her. I never imagined the Lord would do that much in her life. So that’s a good thing.

Another big element in our lives is that we have our 3 adult sons whom we dearly love who are not believers and that was something else I could have never imagined before. So I think it’s kind of the joy of marriage is a lot of what defines me, but also some of the suffering of having people I dearly love who aren’t walking with the Lord.

Dale Johnson: That’s helpful to know a little bit about you and your background, your story. There was a time before you knew biblical counseling. Everyone sees you sort of front and center and articulating the sufficiency of the Bible, leading out in how we should think as biblical counselors both theologically and practically. Tell us a little bit about Jim before biblical counseling came into your life. 

Jim Newheiser: Well, the Lord saved me out of a family that didn’t believe the Gospel when I was about 15. I went to an amazing church that taught the Bible and many famous people were on staff there. Ray Ortlund was my youth leader and Bruce Wolski was teaching midweek Bible studies. So I got a tremendous background in Scripture from a very young age.

The first time I heard of biblical counseling, actually, was when I was a student at Baylor University and we had a little group of kind of reformed Baptists underground and one person in our group was a psychology major and this was around 1977-8. He said, “There’s this guy that’s written this book saying that we should counsel from the Bible and that there are problems with psychology.” And I remember noting the book, but I was in college and didn’t read it then but a couple of years later when I was out of college, I did buy Competent to Counsel and Christian Counselors manual and read them straight through and immediately I was convinced that the wisdom of Scripture is the essence of what we need to do in terms of soul care. 

Dale Johnson: Tell us from the time that you heard about those books, maybe you purchased those books and you read some of those books, tell us the journey that the Lord took you on to where Jim became convinced to say, “Okay. There’s something to this.” Maybe it coincided with your conversion. I’m not sure, but just tell us a little bit about that. 

Jim Newheiser: I guess I was never that much attracted to psychology anyway, and so I was in a church which taught the Bible and, really, the sufficiency of scripture for all of life. They did not emphasize counseling very much but it wasn’t because they didn’t believe in biblical counseling, they just maybe didn’t so much believe in counseling, but that was something that just always fit in with the high view of Scripture.

Where it really became real to me was when I was very young. It would have been in 1981. I was 23 years old, and I was suddenly made the pastor of an international church in Saudi Arabia, and people started coming to me with their problems, and I was convinced that the answers were in Scripture. At that time, the biblical counseling library would have been maybe 3 feet of bookshelf at that, maybe a few books by Wayne Mack, several by Jay Adams, but immediately from a very very young age I was engaged and using the Scripture to help people and was impressed that there was never a problem someone brought to us to which the Bible did not speak. I would say even before that, I was a youth group leader during our first couple years of marriage in our church, and we’d meet with the kids, and it never occurred to me to do anything else but show them answers in the Bible.

Dale Johnson: Jim, you now lead IBCD, along with many of your other responsibilities. IBCD used to be CCF West and you talked about pastoral ministry in Saudi Arabia, and then the Lord had you in California and there were a lot of people who the Lord had you crossed paths with that were influential to you. You mentioned Dr. Adams and you mentioned Dr. Mack. Talk about some of the people who were influential in your life specifically related to biblical counseling and pastoral ministry. 

Jim Newheiser: Well, when we were kicked out of Saudi Arabia for the ministry we were doing there in 1987, I went to Westminster Seminary in California. At that time George Scipione, who is one of the stalwarts, was running the program in counseling at Westminster, California, then had a program very similar to what we now have at RTS (which is not there anymore), but it was there then and so I got all my basics under George up to being ACBC or NANC certified and then he asked me to start counseling for what was then CCF West. But also Jay Adams —that was his last formal Seminary stint, and he was actually running the doctor of ministry program in preaching and I got into that program and had courses by Jay, and he was my adviser on my project. So I got to build some kind of a relationship with Jay. I consider myself to be exceptionally blessed to have known the patriarchs. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s right. And I’ve heard you talk about Dr. Frame and maybe his influence as well. 

Jim Newheiser: I’m really convinced that a presuppositional apologetic (Van Til, Frame, etc.) goes hand in hand with biblical counseling. Another exceptional blessing is that I had John Frame for several classes in seminary and he and I are still friends now, 40 years later. He was an amazing teacher. He was tremendously irenic, but just giving the high view of Scripture and its sufficiency and its authority to speak to all of life was a great help, as was his ethics book. I got it in a class before it was a book, but the doctrine of the Christian life is really a manual for dealing with practical counseling issues. And, again, in addition to him being one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, teaching me kind of Van Til presuppositional apologetics, he is also one of the most gracious men I’ve ever known. This has been a model for me in the classroom, I’m not sure I’m following as well as I should, but Frame would talk about classical apologetics or other approaches to apologetics and he would do so in a way that if RC Sproul was in the room with his wife sitting next to him, they would have felt like it was kind and fair, and others would as well. So that became my objective as well when I teach. I’m very much about ACBC, biblical counseling, sufficiency, but I’m in an environment sometimes with a mixture of views and I want to be able to present my views as John Frame did, where I would be treating others respectfully and would represent them fairly. John Frame even admitted in class that the Baptists might be right. He still thought the Presbyterians were, but that’s how humble he was. 

Dale Johnson: That’s pretty interesting. I love hearing insights like that and learning about people that we’ve read about, and men that have impacted you, Jim. That’s really helpful. Now talk a little bit about how biblical counseling in its concept and core teachings has impacted you. I want to hear, in relation to you personally, and even how it’s transformed and impacted your your ministry, both pastorally and as a professor. 

Jim Newheiser: So there are a few impacts. One would be that since most of what I did in Escondido for 26 years was preaching, and most of what I did in Saudi Arabia was preaching, I think that counseling makes you a better preacher, and preaching makes you a better counselor. Preaching gets you into the word so that you have books of the Bible and not just proof texts. Counseling helps you to prepare sermons that will speak to people where they are rather than sounding like a commentary speaking to people in seminary classes.

Even in personal terms, the big challenge being that we’ve faced teenagers in life who started to turn away and have now grown into adult kids, the Bible is sufficient to give wisdom to address any situation that’s ever come up in life, personally. I’ve written a couple of books dealing with this where I started studying what the Bible says about parents and adult kids because not many people from our viewpoint have written on that. And I was amazed at how much there is. Even the most famous problems in the Bible with parents and children tend to be with adult kids, not with little kids. 

Dale Johnson: That’s interesting. I love hearing that. Talk a little bit about the fact that now you’re no longer involved in pastoral ministry, per se, but you’re a professor at RTS in Charlotte. Now talk about your biblical counseling ministry there at RTS. 

Jim Newheiser: Yes, leaving pastoral ministry to go to RTS was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, and that’s another example of biblical counseling applying to me. I’ve been teaching about decision-making for decades, and then I had a decision to make, and it was really hard; it took me a couple of years. We decided to go there because of the opportunity to establish a new program at a seminary that in the past has not promoted biblical counseling and have an influence upon a generation of future leaders. So at RTS, I’m very thankful to be able to teach the basic courses. We have built into our program what’s necessary for ACBC certification in terms of observation and supervised counseling. I also do a lot of counseling with students, and sometimes with students observing while I counsel people outside the school. Caroline has a major role as she does a lot of counseling along with me for couples and for the women, both student wives and students, and she mentors as an assistant supervisor to some of them as they’re working through their counseling experiences.

Dale Johnson: Well, listen, I’m grateful for your work at RTS Charlotte. I’m so grateful to Dr. Mike Krueger, I am grateful to Dr. Ligon Duncan, and their vision for RTS Charlotte and they’re allowing your influence, as well as their excitement about the program there. It’s encouraging to me to see how churches will be impacted in generations to come by your work there. 

Jim Newheiser: I’ve been so blessed as I came. I think people weren’t quite sure what to make of what I was trying to do, and now I think there really is on our campus just the aroma of the sufficiency of Scripture for helping people, many of whom are pastors that are getting their dual degree, as well as future pastors, or at least those getting a counseling emphasis, and people realize they need to study counseling in order to be effective in ministry. Another interesting thing at RTS is that we’ve brought in a lot of women into the program and it’s changed the make-up of the campus quite a bit. A unique thing about our program is our counseling students take all the same courses as the M.Div. students except for the languages, and that makes them well-trained in the Bible and theology. It’s also created some marriages as these single women studying counseling come in and these single men becoming pastors in the future, and what a combination! 

Dale Johnson: Well, I don’t know that I had on my bingo card Jim as the matchmaker at RTS. 

Jim Newheiser: We could do a whole other podcast between Caroline and me; I’ve got stories to tell that would almost sound mystical. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. I love it. That’s so great. Biblical counseling impacts all sorts of things, guys. Now one final question, Jim, and I think this is important: You serve on the board at ACBC, you teach literally all over the world. If you try to contact Jim he says, “Hold on. I’ll be back in the States in a day or so.” He’s everywhere in the world. You still remain fully convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture. Talk about why that still is today, late in your ministry years where you and Caroline both pour out your life to teach the Scriptures to prepare people in biblical counseling, and you’re doing the counseling yourself. Talk a little bit about why that’s so important to you. 

Jim Newheiser: So all the travel is really the blessing of being a professor and it gives me some flexibility, as well as being an empty nester who’s still healthy enough to go places. Psalm 19 is one of my favorite passages. After it talks about the heavens declaring the glory of God, it has this lengthy section of describing the word of God with, I think, 6 different words and then verbs of what It does and what the effects are. The word of God is what gives life and gives wisdom. There’s no source of knowledge or wisdom outside of Scripture that can compare with it, and so I will often use this passage even in contexts where people may not be committed to biblical counseling just to show them there is nothing else like this. So you may be studying this other thing, and I’m not going to try to take it away from you but use the Bible more because God has revealed this to meet the need for wisdom and fulfillment and even spiritual life. The Scriptures give life to the dead. And, as I said before, I’ve never come up with a case or problem where I didn’t see how the Scripture speaks wisely and powerfully to that situation. 

Dale Johnson: Jim, I really appreciate this. Just on a personal note, you’ve been a really good friend to me and I really appreciate all that the Lord has done in your story and how the Lord has used your wisdom by his providence as an encouragement to me. So I appreciate that. 

Jim Newheiser: Thank you. Well, maybe in the end my greatest claim to fame will be I cheered the committee that chose you to be our director. 

Dale Johnson: That’s very kind.

Helpful Resources:

Check out the ACBC Training Centers here. [1]