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The Shifting Definition of Biblical Counseling

Truth in Love 265

How do we help our people discern what is biblical counseling, as the definition is changing all around?

Jul 13, 2020

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast we have with us Dr. Stuart Scott. Stuart is a professor at the Master’s University, he is also on staff here with us at ACBC as our Director of Membership Services. I’ll just tell you that the last several years that I’ve gotten to know Stuart on a more personal level, outside of his writings, and I have been so blessed. It’s been like that cool uncle that you get to hang out with, ask questions, and hear stories about the biblical counseling movement. As a matter of fact, we were at my house last night and he was telling us a little bit about how the Lord brought him into the biblical counseling movement many years ago. What a fun time that was to sit down and listen, and really from some of that conversation Stuart, we begin thinking about what’s going on in the movement today.

With your historical perspective, you’re seeing shifts and changes. That’s not just in people who are influential, but also in the explanations of biblical counseling, and maybe even the definition of biblical counseling. Honestly, the term biblical counseling is used far and wide—it’s used by so many people. I think you and I are burdened to some degree to ask: How do we help our people think in this direction to know and to be able to do what the Scriptures call us to do to be good to discerners?” Stuart, how do we help our people discern, as the language of biblical counseling is flying around all around them? Maybe we should teach them to be cautious in their discernment when people use the phrase biblical counseling, to ask: Are we all really meaning the same thing?

Stuart Scott: Well, thank you Dale and it’s been a joy to to hang out these past few days. What a blessing to be part of ACBC. Thank you for your leadership in the organization, as well as even in the movement. I think just recently—in the past few years—I’ll hear people say, “Well, she or he is a biblical counselor.” Or I’ll get emails telling me of new schools that are offering a biblical counseling degree. And they have the name biblical counseling, but when I look at their program, or listen to the things they do in their counseling process, it doesn’t square up with Scripture.

This has been going on for a long time. We can even go back to the early church when Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, saying, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

Even back then, the name Jesus and the gospel meant something, but there are always counterfeits coming in. Counterfeit Jesus and counterfeit gospels were being promoted.

Counseling is theology applied. We would want them to be probing—more than just accepting the name. Click To Tweet

That hasn’t stopped. It continues to be a concern that we don’t have a Trojan Horse moving into the evangelical church today. It’s sort of already moved in. We’re trying to help our people to love one another, but be discerning as to not just the words they’re saying but the meaning of their words, and that they have a proper view of doctrine. Counseling is theology applied. We would want them to be probing—more than just accepting the name.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and I think you make a great point talking about Jesus. Many, even in our day, certainly use the name Jesus, but when we start to get under the hood and ask, “What do you mean when you talk about Jesus?” the definition starts to get quite varied. We’re saying biblically, and what Paul is arguing here, is the way you define that name matters tremendously. If you define that person wrongly, it changes the gospel. It changes the definition of how we think about the gospel.

We're just saying if you pay attention to the ways these terms are used—don't be blindly accepting that language of biblical counseling because the truth of the matter is it's not all equal. Click To Tweet

I think that’s a part of what we’re trying to say here. We’re not trying to make biblical counseling equivalent to the gospel. We’re just saying if you pay attention to the ways these terms are used—don’t be blindly accepting that language of biblical counseling because the truth of the matter is it’s not all equal. As I think about people who have written books that have that title, and they’re clearly in an integrationist perspective, I don’t have anything personal against them. As a matter of fact, I could probably go to lunch and we could have a wonderful meal and actually quite a fun conversation, but I think the distinction that needs to be made. They wouldn’t want to be put in my camp and I wouldn’t want to be put in their camp. Part of what’s happening is a confusion of terms. There’s nothing sinister or wrong with saying on these particular points that we disagree.

We think the Bible, as it’s exegeted, calls us to this type and style of ministry. The way that we see problems and remedies is more clearly defined, at least from our perspective, and has a distinguished parameter. We don’t want there to be confusion for our people, so that they begin to confuse what this person—who’s in an obviously different camp than I am—would say and confuse that with what I’m articulating.

That happens all the time. As we think about here in the modern, what are some of the ways we can help our people be discerning when they hear this language of biblical counseling? You even referenced some schools that are now using the term because of the popularity of the idea of biblical counseling. People are seeing all around them the deficit that’s happening in our world with secular psychology. They’re seeing some of the concerns, even from seculars about psychiatry. People are now using the language of “biblical counseling” and if we think historically there was a distinction between Christian Counseling, which was more of an integration style, and nouthetic or biblical counseling. Those corridors were clear, but we’re seeing some of that merging where there’s confusion. Can you speak to some of that?

Stuart Scott: Even back four decades ago when I went to seminary, they brought in a “biblical counselor” to teach biblical counseling. Even the title of his book mentioned biblical counseling. Yet, when you read the book and when he began teaching, it wasn’t exegesis. It wasn’t coming out of the Scripture. It was actually eisegesis, it was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs read into the Scripture with proof texting throughout. That’s where I think our people, who love Jesus and want to grow in their faith, need to listen carefully. Are we using the terms that the Spirit has taught us in His Word? Are the counselors taking people to the Word? We’re sanctified by God’s truth. Are we lifting up Christ in their life, or is it more about man-centered happiness?

If you get man wrong, if you get the man's problem wrong, you're going to get the solution wrong. Click To Tweet

I see more and more sin issues that the Bible clearly defines as sin are being relabeled to sickness and suffering, and almost veering away from sin. If you get man wrong, if you get the man’s problem wrong, you’re going to get the solution wrong.

Dale Johnson: That’s the perfect implication. The reason we’re articulating it this way I think is to help people to see the implication. We’re not saying, “Hey, you need to be looking around the corner for someone who’s trying to deceive you.” The evil one, the Scripture says is, is plenty good at trying to deceive us. Paul consistently warns us to make sure that we’re anchored to the truth of the Scriptures because of how easy it is for the evil one to deceive us. When we start mixing language like that, it does become confusing. We have to begin to do the hard work of asking, “Okay, what do we mean by that? What is it that we mean when we’re saying biblical counseling and how are we articulating the problems that a person is facing? What are we saying the solutions are?” Then, we ask, “What does the Scripture say? And how does the Scripture tell us to pursue biblical solutions in these cases?”

Not that we don’t believe the Bible talks about suffering and sickness, but what we do see is that the Bible certainly talks about sin in a primary sense. For us to divorce ourselves from that language, it really begins to dismiss Christ as the primary aim and the primary means by which we are restored. That becomes a problem biblically speaking. I think part of the primary caution is hearing biblical language and some biblical words, but paying attention to how that’s infused. In which order are we talking about these things being infused? Are we talking about Scripture defining the categories we think in? Or are we talking about the secular world defines the categories and we’re just trying to cut and paste passages of Scripture over the top of it?

That gets back to how you talked about eisegesis versus exegesis. Stuart, it’s interesting when we think about where we are in the biblical counseling movement. It’s going to be that way long after you and I are gone, where we’re going to continue to have discussion and prayerfully move forward in how we think about things. Certainly after you and I are dead and gone, we’re not going to be perfect. People are going to say, “Man, they really messed this up here or there.” And I get that—we’re fallen human beings, but we want to continue striving to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus.

I think in all of this discussion, part of my concern is there aren’t people twiddling their thumbs thinking about how sinister they can be and and going in this direction intentionally. I think people are desiring to move the biblical counseling movement forward. The posture at which people focus is they pitch their tent in a certain direction, almost as if to say, “What does the secular world have to offer that we need? Let me grab that and take that to the Scripture.” As opposed to moving in the opposite direction, which I think is critical. If we were to give some key advice on how our people can grow in their ability to discern, what would that advice be?

I might would just start by saying—and let you expound upon it—our posture needs to be first and primarily the Scriptures.

Stuart Scott: When Jesus was asked often questions, either being tested by the Pharisees, trying to get Him to pivot one way or the other, numerous times throughout the gospels, His reply started with, “What does the Scripture say?” Or He would say, “Don’t you know the Scriptures?” Almost a rebuke to the religious leaders.

Then when Paul was asked certain questions in the book of Acts, his reply was “What does the Scripture say?” It’s a clarion call back to study carefully the word of God and then meditate on it as Paul told Timothy, not a very surfacy read of Scripture.

The Lord has given us His Word and it's not only profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, but it was sufficient for the believers at any age that revelation was given. Click To Tweet

Think, “How does the Scripture I just read and studied apply to my life and issues that we’re facing?” The Lord has given us His Word and it’s not only profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, but it was sufficient for the believers at any age that revelation was given. The Lord knew for 2020—or whatever year it is—that His Word still addressed whatever issues they were facing.

Dale Johnson: That’s so critical. I really think that’s going to help us in this discussion for us to know and to press pause and help us to grow in our discernment as we posture ourselves toward the Scriptures. Stuart, this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate your time.

Stuart Scott: Thank you, Dale.

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