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Counseling the Right Truths From the Right Texts

Truth In Love 341

We must guard against falling into the trap of being a biblical counselor who teaches the right doctrine from the wrong texts.

Dec 13, 2021

Dale Johnson: Once again this week, I’m joined by one of our board members, Lance Quinn. He has been around ACBC for a long time, and biblical counseling as well. He’s a pastor at Bethany Bible Church in Thousand Oaks, California, and he’s transitioning to move from California to Jupiter, Florida. He can’t get enough of the beach I suppose. He’s going to take on a new role there, Executive Vice President of the Expositors Seminary. I love what you guys are doing in the church and teaching and training young pastors. The experience, not just the depth of theological training that you guys do, but even the experience that these gentlemen get in the church I’m seeing up close and personal at the church that I attend, Mission Road Bible Church, here in Kansas City. So Lance, I’m glad that you’re here.

We have a task today that I think is important for us as counselors to consider. Especially we who are biblical counselors, obviously, should be using the Bible, and we sort of make that the litmus test. But we don’t want to just use the Bible, because you can use the Bible wrongly. We want to make sure that we’re using the Bible rightly. It is easy for us to make these mistakes where we see truths in the Scripture and we want to encourage our counselees with these truths, but sometimes, from a hermeneutical perspective, we’re using the wrong text to explain truths to a counselee. So I want you to sort of flesh that out for us. Give us some ideas of what are some of those common texts and what are some of the common mistakes that we see counselors make in using the wrong text at times? 

Lance Quinn: Well, it’s a joy to be with you, Dale. I so enjoy these podcasts because they give, in short order, an opportunity to spend a limited amount of time, but a packed time frame, to be able to talk about very important matters. What is more important than interpreting the Scripture, especially coming from ourselves as biblical counselors because we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, the superiority of Scripture, and of course, the right interpretation of Scripture. I thought it would be good for us if we took a few minutes to talk about a couple of passages that are very familiar with counselors, but perhaps sometimes we might fall into the trap of being a biblical counselor who teaches our counselees the right doctrine, but they might actually be teaching it from the wrong texts.

Here’s what I mean. If you have your Bible handy, you might turn over to Proverbs 3. In Proverbs chapter 3, you have this oft memorized passage, Proverbs 3:3-5, or if you just use the memory verses that most people do, verses 5 and 6. Here’s what it says—of course very familiar to believers of all ages and all over the world—Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, that is the Lord, and He will make straight your paths. Well, of course, that is a wonderful two-verse passage that speaks of what Christians ought to do. However, the whole of Proverbs 3, and what Solomon is doing for his son, is to challenge his son to know the Lord in a saving sense. We know that this is the context of this passage because verse 7, the very next verse after the ones I’ve just read, is this: Be not wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord. That’s a key phrase. Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Now, if you were to tell Christians to fear the Lord and turn away from evil, that’s a right truth, it’s just not from the right text because this text is what we might call an Old Testament evangelistic text. This is really telling an unbeliever to become a believer and the way you do it is to call out in an evangelistic way, even if it’s your own son, son, here’s my appeal to you. Fear the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not just fear the Lord as a Christian. We would tell a Christian, a believer, a righteous person, to continue to fear the Lord and if they are a believer, they will continue to fear the Lord, however, haltingly so at times. What we need to do is take this text and say, in its context, because context is king, what does this mean? It means that you are asking an unbeliever, you’re declaring to an unbeliever to turn away from their evil lifestyle and to fear the Lord. We might even say it like this, Dale, instead of being a man fearer be a God reverer. That’s what it’s talking about.

In fact, if you were to turn over to Proverbs 29, you have that very famous passage that says this, Proverbs 29:25—And frankly Dale, you know it as well as I do, biblical counselors will often turn to this passage to talk to Christians about not fearing man. In a sense, again, it’s the right truth, but perhaps from the wrong verse. Verse 25 says, the fear of man lays a snare, or a trap, but whoever—Notice the but. That’s what we call in Hebrew parallelism a contrasting parallel—but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe, or secure. This is again an evangelistic call. This is saying something like this, don’t be a man fearer, be a God fearer. Don’t revere what man thinks. Don’t worship man. Don’t worship yourself. Don’t worship idols. Don’t worship your money. Don’t worship your status, your power. Lay aside those things for the sake of trusting in the Lord, because in that kind of safety, you will have true salvation and not be entrapped in your own sin. That’s what that means. So, is it true to help Christians not to be fearing men? Yes, but there are hundred texts that talk about, don’t fear, don’t be anxious, don’t be worried. Those are the texts to go to counsel Christians. This is actually a text to go to to talk to a non-Christian about coming to Christ. 

Dale Johnson: Well, that’s so encouraging on a thousand levels. I want to mention a couple of things as you’re talking, just thoughts that I have. Well, first of all, the importance of hermeneutical training. Really, we could talk about this in terms of, not just biblical counseling, but expository counseling, right? Not so much in just explaining a text, but you as a counselor being prepared. You’ve exposited. You’ve exegeted the Word appropriately. You’ve worked through the passage to understand its meaning so that you can appropriately apply it in the person’s life who’s sitting in front of you, and this is as critical as anything. Listen, in biblical counseling—can I just be honest?—we make these types of mistakes a lot, to varying degrees, where we use the title of biblical, and if we just use the Bible at all, then we consider it biblical counseling. Then there’s sort of another degree where we’re wanting to use the Bible faithfully, but we’re misappropriating passages at times with the right truths, but sometimes the wrong texts of explanation.

So, what we’re trying to say is, how do we get back to center? How do we get back to a place where what’s driving our counsel is proper exegesis of the Word and proper applications of the proper passages that give the proper truths for this person’s need. The second thought that I had as you were talking is, people ask me all the time, Lance, should we counsel those who are unbelievers? The answer is, yes, we can offer counsel from the Scriptures that distinguish what a believer is called to think about right now. We can use examples of their life and how them pursuing or fearing man above anything is leading to a devastating life. It’s leading to a life of hopelessness and despair and their end is not blessing. We can talk through those and passages are very appropriately described in the Scriptures that help us to do that well with the centerpiece being the gospel, not giving them commands to do, because then you create pharisees. They don’t have the power of the Spirit to do that. We see the beauty of Scripture addresses whatever scenario the person is in in the counseling room, and it’s our job, in wisdom, to use the appropriate passages to accomplish that. So, thank you for challenging us on that.

I think there are a couple of more passages I’d like for you to work through that really help some of our counselors think through, how do I deal with this issue this person is dealing with? Let me mention one more thing before you get to the next passage.

It’s really important in your data gathering to make sure that you understand what’s going on in the person specifically. This will help you to make sure you understand an appropriate passage that addresses those types of problems. The Bible is full of different ways of explaining, like you mentioned, fear and worry and anxiety, to find the appropriate passages that address your interpretation of that person’s specific problem. What I’ve always found is, if we interpret a problem from a counselee in generic form, we’ll give generic counsel. We’re going to be vulnerable to misuse of a passage of Scripture if that’s what we do. So, you’re exegeting the person’s life, interpreting and understanding it well, but then the task is deeper in exegeting the Scripture appropriately, as you’ve talked about.

Give us at least one more example—I know you have a few to talk through—and help us understand a little bit more deeply why hermeneutics is such a valuable and important role, and maybe even talk through how you as a counselor—Maybe not so much anymore. You’ve been doing this a long time—But early on, how you would hear a counselee, you would go to the Scriptures and really work through Bible study to be able to know, okay, when they come in next time, how am I going to talk them through this? Help us to understand how you personally have done that. 

Lance Quinn: Well, you’re absolutely right, Dale, about what we might say is double exegesis or double interpretation. You’re not only being a student of the Scripture to interpret it accurately, to exegete it properly, but you’re also exegeting or interpreting your counselee, what they say, the data gathering that you’re talking about. So you’re really saying in your heart, Lord, give me, Holy Spirit, the opportunity to be illumined by the Scripture and then illumine my mind to help me understand this person. You know, the Proverbs is a great place to go because the Proverbs says that a man of understanding will draw out the deep things of the human heart. Man’s heart is like deep waters, the Proverbs say, but a man of understanding will draw it out. Well, you’re just trying to do what you can to understand the Scripture and how it relates to the life, your life first but then also the life of the counselee who could either be a believer or an unbeliever.

If you are gathering that information and you have reason to think that perhaps this person is not a true Christian, well, then you can go to the text like I shared in Proverbs 3 and Proverbs 29, but if they are a believer as much as you can determine, then you can take them to texts that show them how to love God and how to love others. I’ll give an example. In first John 3, you have a reference to the person of Cain. Cain and Abel—Probably those who are listening to the podcast are very familiar with these two names all the way back in Genesis 4—These are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain is born. Abel is born. Of course, if you know the Scripture, you know the Book of Genesis, you know that Cain slew his brother. He killed him. Yet the Bible, in sort of a biblical-theological way, goes all the way from Genesis to 1 John and talks about Cain as the paradigmatic example of a man fearer who slew his brother because he was angry and because he was, let’s call it, full of himself. In 1 John 3:12, it says, we should not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. Then notice the divine commentary on Genesis. It says, and why did he murder him? Well, the Apostle John says, because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Then he goes right into verse 13, do not be surprised brothers that the world hates you. So he’s using Cain as this ultimate example of a man fearer and then he’s using the opposite, his brother, Abel, as an example of a God fearer. Because of that, you have two classes in the world. You have the Cain followers and the Abel followers. You have the Cain haters and the Abel lovers.

So if you were to talk with a counselee who was not a Christian, take them to 1 John 3. Take them to Genesis 4 and show them these biblical texts and how across the spectrum of Scripture—and by the way, this is not the only place that Cain is mentioned. He’s mentioned also in the book of Hebrews, as is Abel, even in chapter 11, the hall of faith, and it’s talking about Cain as a hater of God and Abel as a lover of God who had faith in God, that is Yahweh God. Then you also have in Hebrews 2 the fear of death, not just the fear of man, but the fear of death. You’ve got these examples of these two ways of living life. You can live life the Cain way or you can live life the Abel way. Because of that, Dale, I think what we’re talking about is a kind of counseling that allows you to exegete the person to see where they are spiritually. If they are an Abel person, Abel in the sense that they’re following in the line of being righteous like Abel, you can counsel them in a way that I think is much more appropriate like this in chapter 4 of 1 John. It says, by this, this salvation that we have in Christ, love is perfected with us. Why? Because perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment—1 John 4:18-19—and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. Do you see that reference, that echo to Cain? He was fearful. He was a man fearer. Even when God gave him his punishment—he said, my punishment is too great for me in Genesis 4—he feared mankind. Abel was perfected in love, the love of God, and we would say in our new covenant eyes, the love of God in Christ. So that’s a way as a paradigm to talk to either unbeliever in your counseling or to believers in your counseling about fear, the fear of man, or the fear of God, and it becomes quite evangelistic, doesn’t it? 

Dale Johnson: This is really helpful, Lance, on multiple levels. So I would say as a seasoned counselor, we need this encouragement consistently. Sometimes we can get loose with the Scripture. Sometimes we think we’re more prepared than we are in a particular case when every case is quite different and we need to be very sharp and not loose with the passages of Scripture when we’re dealing with it.

I would say even early on as a counselor, learning good Bible study habits—I don’t know about you Lance, but for me, I can recall, first of all thinking, man, I’ve got to tell this person something. I don’t know what I’m going to say. Then, as they left after our first meeting and I’m data gathering—and then spending that week, really diving in to understand this person, and then begging the Lord in those early days, Lord help me to understand what’s going on and Lord what do I tell them from your Word? I want to give them your counsel. This is a really good habit for those of you who are young counselors to get in to. Make sure that you’re studying the passages of Scripture well to know what’s the right text for the right moment to give the right truth to this person in their time of need. That’s the counsel of God and that’s the essence of what we describe when we talk about biblical counseling. So Lance, thanks for giving us clarity on some of that, and a proper warning too.