Heath Lambert: I want to just kick off our time together tonight by letting you know how we got here and how we arrived at the conversation that we are having right now. I think it’d be fair to say, if you are a Christian who’s paying attention to the conversation that other Christians are having online, certainly in the biblical counseling world, you’re going to be aware that there is something of a disagreement, a little bit of a fight among Christians who love counseling, and that is unpleasant. Nobody wants to be locked in a disagreement. I hate disagreement, but I have been involved in the disagreement and perhaps even responsible for some of it. And so, it seemed appropriate that we would come here and just in a very special event try to take some of your questions that you’ve been asking. There’s no possible way for me to respond individually to all the things that we hear about in the office at ACBC and so we just kind of wanted to do this and knock out a few of your questions and your concerns.
I want to let you know a little bit of the context about this. It started, I think it’d be fair to say, around the theme of the ACBC Annual Conference for 2017. The theme of our annual conference was Faithfully Protestant: Biblical Counseling and the Reformation. We always select our Annual Conference based on themes that we think are in need of great attention by biblical counselors. And we thought that the Protestant Reformation would be something that we could talk about as biblical counselors and add a very unique flavor, a counseling spin, if you will, on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Our conferences at ACBC are often controversial. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, if you can believe it, this ACBC Annual Conference has been a little less controversial than others. I got a couple of death threats on the homosexuality conference a few years ago. So, no death threats this year yet.
Sean Perron: Yet.
Heath Lambert: Hopefully we won’t give anybody any ideas, but what we wanted to do was make a contribution to the celebration of the 500th anniversary that was uniquely biblical counseling in nature. And we felt like we could really do that. We felt like we had the opportunity to show how the truths of the Protestant Reformation and the five solas of the Reformation had a unique application to counseling ministry and how in the view of ACBC the biblical counseling movement was the most faithful to uphold those Solas. I think our conversation as we were preparing for the conference and in the actual days of the conference, I believe that what happened is that we exposed some fault lines that have been in the biblical counseling movement for some time. And I think those fault lines are only showing. I don’t think they’ve been created. I think the exposure of those fault lines, it seems to me, have revolved around The 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling that I wrote and also have focused, at least as it seems today, on the plenary address that I gave at our 2017 Annual Conference a couple of weeks ago.
Because of a lot of the controversy that surrounds some of the things that I say and because of the intensity of some of the controversy and some of the things that people will say, we actually have a special process to deal with criticism and controversy in the office. I’m not usually the first person to find out about controversy and conflict. There are people on our staff that know about that, and they tell me what I need to know and what I don’t need to know. And today, as I was preparing for this time together, some staff members at ACBC placed a big old pile of stuff that has been written about me and some things that I have said and some things that I have written, and I’ve spent a large portion of the day reading some of that stuff.
I think it’d be fair to say, and we’re going to get to your questions here in just a minute, I want to hear what you have to say and what you have to ask, but I want you to know as I have read what has been written about me in the last couple of weeks, I have not recognized the view of biblical counseling that I hold. I have not recognized the view of biblical counseling that I have tried to very carefully write about. I haven’t recognized the view of biblical counseling that I’ve spoken about all over the world, all over the country, and even particular in my Annual Conference address at ACBC ‘17.
It seems that the sort of caricature that’s being portrayed out there is that, “Boy, ACBC and the 95 Theses and this plenary address, these are way out in left field and this is not the mainstream of evangelicalism. It is not the mainstream of the biblical counseling movement. We’re just desperate to know that there are other people out there committed to biblical counseling who are different than this sort of theological redneck out there.” And what I want to do is just let you know that I think actually what is happening in this last month is actually very similar to battles that the biblical counseling movement has faced since the 1970s. I wrote a dissertation that Crossway publishes, a book called The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams, and I describe some of the history that led to the founding of the biblical counseling movement in the 1960s and the 1970s. And I charted shifts in the biblical counseling movement. I talked about Jay Adams being the founder of the first generation of biblical counseling. And I talked about David Powlison being the leader of the second generation of biblical counseling and bring more nuance to the counseling conversation about sin and suffering, about motivation and behavior. And one of the things that I argue in that book is that there was one thing that has united the first and the second generation of biblical counseling, and that is their commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for counseling ministry.
And just as we kind of get off on this together here tonight, I wanted to quote from David Powlison, who has been a leader in biblical counseling for a couple of decades, and I want you to hear what he wrote about Jay Adams in an article called “Does the Shoe Fit?” He’s describing how Adams thinks about counseling and ministry and Powlison says, “Adams’s formal epistemology is a rather typical reformed transformationist position toward the observations and ideas of secular disciplines. He denied their necessity for constructing a systematic pastoral theology but affirmed their potential usefulness when appropriated through Christian eyes. Epistemologically, Adams is a radical Christianizer of secularity. Not a Biblicistic-xenophobe. He’s no triumphalist, believing that Christian faith has already arrived at the sum of all wisdom, but believes that secular disciplines can both challenge and inform us. But Adams was sharply against psychology when it came to dubious theoretical models and when it came to giving state-licensed secularly trained mental health professions the reins to the face-to-face care of souls.” Powlison wrote that when he was under attack from an integrationist in the 1990’s who was kind of lumping biblical counselors together as these people who are just Bible thumpers and just give people a Bible verse and ignore all knowledge that comes from outside of Scripture. Powlison denied that from Adams’s perspective, but he also denied that from his own perspective, and I want you to listen to Powlison’s defense of his own view as he was under attack from this integrationist.
He says, “But what about the specific charges against us? We’re Biblicistic, anti-science, and a moralizing reductionism of the human condition. Let me attempt a simple answer. I think that God intends Scripture to serve as the orienting and reorienting wellspring of all wisdom. The faith psychology we might call it. Scripture gives a vista, not a straitjacket. Other systems, philosophies in the Colossians 2:8 sense, give distorted lenses and compasses skewed away from North. They don’t give us straight facts or a good sense of direction. God intends to teach us how to rightly understand and properly use anything in the whole world without being mis-converted. Everything is fair game from your own life story to today’s weather, from something a counselee said yesterday to a research study of 829,000 students, from a guru’s comment to war in the Middle East, from him to Zeus, to the observations of behaviors that never appear in Scripture. All of this is a far cob both from Biblicistic anti-science and from syncretistic integrationism. The way this integrationist puts it has the ring of his own prejudices. I hope we can replace the caricature with an accurate photograph. This man did not evaluate what was actually written in my articles or what has been written over the past 30 years. In the book that he’s talking about, I openly criticized biblicism and distanced biblical counseling’s epistemology from the notion that the Bible was intended or was to be treated as an exhaustive encyclopedia containing all truth. I might be wrong in my view of the issues in question and this man might be right, but he savaged a view that I don’t hold and neither does Jay Adams.”
I want you to know that as I hear David Powlison, who was my personal mentor, who is a friend to this day, who supervised my dissertation, I hear today’s battles in the words that he is talking about. And so, I just want to say that I think that where we are today is where the biblical counseling movement has been. And something has happened that has made what I have said sound foreign to people who want to be committed to biblical counseling. So, I want to try to hear what you have to say tonight. I want to try to take it by the horns. I want to try to be humble. I want to learn from you. I don’t have all the answers to all this figured out. I would just ask that for those of you who are frustrated by what I have said, who are concerned about what I’ve said, I would just ask that you would help me by framing your comments and your criticisms about me in the terms that I have written and in the terms that I would recognize.
Actually, this would be a plug, but I think it’ll be helpful, I wrote a book called A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. And as I read at my desk today this stuff that you guys put on my desk, I just found myself saying, “I’ve answered this and addressed this already in the theology book.” And so, probably a lot of times tonight I’ll be referring to that, and I hope we can have a fruitful conversation. So, I told Sean Perron, who is the Operations Director—we believe so much in the importance of knowledge about the Bible here at ACBC that we have an Operations Director. He is in charge of all the surgeries that happen at ACBC—and so, Sean, in your capacity as Operations Director, I want you to ask away and I told you, did I not, no easy questions.
Sean Perron: That’s right.
Heath Lambert: So, ask the hard ones.
Sean Perron: Okay. I have a list of 20 questions, and I got rid of a whole bunch of other questions. So, these are the only 20 that made it and there’s no way we can cover all 20 here.
Heath Lambert: So, we got a lot more than 20?
Sean Perron: Oh, yeah. These are just the 20 that made the cut. So, people have expressed various concerns about the tone of the 95 Theses. What would you have to say about the tone throughout that booklet?
Heath Lambert: Yeah, so tone is an interesting question. I’ve read some about that today. And for those of you who are asking questions about tone or expressing concerns about tone, I think it’s probably not the most helpful way to talk about this. My understanding would be that what you think of someone’s tone is predicated on what you think about their convictions about an issue. So, Jesus Christ walked into a temple, turned over the tables, and started cracking a whip, ordering a bunch of people out of the temple. My guess is that some of the Pharisees could have said, “You know, I don’t like His tone.” And there we’d have to say, “Well, the issue is not Jesus’s tone, but are His convictions correct?” So, when I hear people say, “Well, we don’t like your tone.” I hear people saying, “We don’t like your argument. We don’t like your convictions.” So, let me just tell you what my tone is. Here’s what my desire is: I desire for lost people to know Jesus Christ. I desire for saved people to be built up in Jesus Christ. I think one of the key ways that that happens is in counseling ministry. I think counseling ministry is in desperate need of being more sufficiently and authentically biblical and Christian. I am for peace and harmony. I don’t want people to disagree. I mean, if you talk to the people who know me, if you talk to the people on our staff at ACBC, the people on our staff at First Baptist, the people that I go home to, I love peace and harmony. I do think that peace is going to have to be gathered around truth. I think unity has to be gathered around a common purpose and a common understanding and I don’t think we have that.
And so, I would just say if you’re concerned about my tone, here’s my heart. My heart is that we would be biblical. My heart is that we would be Christ-honoring. My heart is that broken and troubled people would know the healing and the comfort that comes in Christ, and I want to do anything we can to help them get better at that. I think we have carved out Christian counseling as, we’ll just say counseling, I think we’ve carved out counseling ministry as a place where it’s cool to have a choice not to talk about Jesus Christ, and I’m upset about that. And if you’re upset about that, then you’ll tend to think my tone is appropriate. And if you’re not upset, then you probably think I’m too harsh and too edgy, but I would just say, we’re speaking to you. I’m not only the Executive Director of ACBC. I also am happy to serve as the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. I’m talking to you tonight from one of our auditoriums in that church. And last night, I preached in this church. I preached right here in this room to the room as it was filled up with people and I plead with all of these people to be busy opening their mouths and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. I made that appeal to engineers who were sitting over here and stay-at-home moms who are sitting up there and nurses who were sitting over here and middle school and high school students that were sitting in the back. And I want to make that appeal to counselors too. And I want to say if you’re writing or if you are in a professional guild that gives you an out from speaking about Jesus Christ, then I want to say that’s wrong. With all the compassion for you that I can muster and with all the compassion I can muster for hurting and troubled people that need to hear about Jesus Christ, they need counseling that matters for a trillion years. And if we have counseling that offers tips that can make your marriage a little better, if we have counseling that offers budgeting advice that can get the checkbook back lined up, but we’ve got souls calling out, I mean, Luke 16, “Put some water on my tongue because I’m in agony in this fire.” If we have counseling that doesn’t address Luke 16, then I don’t think our counseling matters for much and so that’s what drives my tone. And so, I think the issue is not what people think about my tone. I think the issue is what do people think the issues are? So, I think we’re just going to have to talk about that.
Sean Perron: So, I have a lot of questions on counseling and sharing the gospel and state licensure. I was going to save them for the end. Let’s, first off, talk about something that’s a little more introductory to frame the conversation and it is a couple of questions that we’ve gotten. One is from a lady named Kelly and she writes, “How can we as biblical counselors make sure that our stance is Sola Scriptura, we are not going too far resulting in solo Scriptura, both in theory and in practice?” And then a similar question comes in and it says, they didn’t give their name, “You seem to have a fundamentalist view of Sola Scriptura. In fact, many more developed theologians make the charge that you promote a doctrine of solo Scriptura when it comes to counseling. How would you define Sola Scriptura?” And then there’s some more questions, but that’s good for the moment.
Heath Lambert: Okay, so this is really helpful. There is a distinction here between Sola Scriptura and solo Scriptura as the question is being asked but the Latin would be Nuda Scriptura. So, the distinction is between Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, and Nuda Scriptura, nothing but Scripture. Solo Scriptura, Nuda Scriptura, has a tradition in the Christian faith, but I do not espouse it. I don’t know a biblical counselor in print who espouses Nuda Scriptura, nothing but Scripture. What I would say is Sola Scriptura has to do with what we mean when we talk about the authority of Scripture. When we talk about Sola Scriptura, we’re talking about Scripture’s authority, we’re talking about the role or the status of Scripture, and that is that Scripture stands above all resources. It’s not the only resource. I deny that Scripture is the only resource that should be used by Christians, that should be used in ministry, and that should be used in counseling ministry. I’ve never argued that. I’ve argued the opposite of it. In A Theology of Biblical Counseling in the chapter on the doctrine of Scripture and in the chapter on common grace I deny Nuda Scriptura, that we don’t use anything else but Scripture, and in fact, I say we need other sources of information and I say that because of God’s common grace we have to be thankful for our use of those other resources. So, I deny Nuda Scriptura, but I affirm Sola Scriptura, that Scripture is in authority over all of those other resources. That’s a little different than sufficiency. I don’t know if you’re ready to talk about sufficiency yet, but so Sola Scriptura has to do with the fact that Scripture is our authority. It doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we can use. I don’t think that is a biblical position. And sola Scriptura, Scripture is the authority in its role and in its status as the gatekeeper, is different than the sufficiency of Scripture, which has to do with the contents of what Scripture actually addresses. Does that answer the question?
Sean Perron: It’s getting close at it. Here’s a connected one. So, the question is along the lines of, “Do you agree with John Calvin’s statement?” And then I’ll quote John Calvin’s statement. And if you needed me to repeat it, let me know. The quote is, “The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator,” it goes on, “We will be careful not to reject or condemn truth whenever it appears.” it continues, “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject truth itself nor despise it wherever it shall appear unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation of the artful description of nature? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other disciplines by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer the just punishment for our sloths.”
Heath Lambert: All right.
Sean Perron: Do you agree?
Heath Lambert: Do I agree? And so, do we know who asked that? Are you not saying who asked the question?
Sean Perron: Not on that one, no.
Heath Lambert: Okay, you don’t know who asked, they don’t identify themselves?
Sean Perron: I think it comes from a blog. Yes, it’s a quote from a blog. That’s right.
Heath Lambert: Okay, and somebody’s asking if I agree with it. So, basically, the quote is Calvin saying, “Hey, we believe in a biblical view of common grace. We have to believe that there’s all this information that is true and helpful outside the Bible. And if we don’t affirm it, we’re the worse for it.”
Sean Perron: I assume so. Do you agree with John Calvin’s statement?
Heath Lambert: Sure, I agree with that statement. So, I believe I quote that statement in A Theology of Biblical Counseling, if I don’t quote it in the book, I can’t remember. I know if I didn’t quote it in there, I’m sorry. I’ve interacted with that quote in some other place. I believe it’s in A Theology of Biblical Counseling. If it’s not in A Theology of Biblical Counseling, then a quote very similar from Abraham Kuyper is in A Theology of Biblical Counseling where I’m talking about the same exact thing from common grace. So yes, I completely affirm that quotation.
Sean Perron: This is also related from the same vein. Do Christians in churches need secular wisdom when it comes to counseling cases and abuse?
Heath Lambert: Do we need secular wisdom when it comes to counseling cases and abuse? So, that’s a tricky question, if for no other reason than the secular wisdom, that wisdom language, I’m nervous about it, because wisdom in the Old and the New Testament is fraught with such biblical and theological significance. So, I’m nervous about wisdom. Maybe they just mean, “Hey, I’m just talking about information and knowledge.” and if they’re talking about information and knowledge, let me put it this way. I talk about, in A Theology of Biblical Counseling when I’m addressing these things, I talk about three different kinds of knowledge that we can learn from secular resources from secular psychology. I talk about observations, that’s what people see and know, experts in the field. I talk about interpretations. I interact with John Frame at this point and say that nobody just observes and sees bare facts, but they’re always interpreting those facts. So, there’s observations, there’s secular interpretations of those observations, and then there are secular interventions based on those observations that have been interpreted. Talking about those three kinds of findings, I then talk about three responses that Christians can have. And I say that that secular information, particularly observations, that’s the safest kind, that’s where the empirical research is, that’s where case wisdom is, I say that kind of information can inform Christians as they do counseling ministry. I also say it can provoke them to go back to Scripture and do a better job than what secular people have done. And then I also say it can demonstrate the reliability of biblical interventions.
So, just with that sort of brief sketch laid out, I would say that there are people in the world who are not Christians who have observations about how to care for abuse victims that are crucially important in informing how a Christian can be involved in an abuse case. We don’t leave our Bible at the door. This is where we move from the sufficiency of Scripture, the contents of Scripture, to the authority of Scripture, the role of Scripture, and I would say Sola Scriptura says we don’t just take any wisdom that comes from secular sources about how to care for abuse victims. We take what the Bible teaches about how to help the weak and about how to punish the guilty and we use that as the banner over our interpretation of secular knowledge, let’s call it knowledge and information and data, let’s not call it wisdom. The Bible, in its role as authority, gives us the wisdom to interpret that information. There’s going to be some secular people who have horrible things to say about abuse victims, but then there’s going to be people who are really loving and tender and who are really case-wise. And they’ve talked with five hundred women who have been victims of abuse, and they’ve talked with a thousand men who have been abusers. And they’re going to say, “Hey, in our experience, here is what we’ve learned are some really smart things to do and here’s what we’ve learned are some really stupid things to do.” Christians with their Bible in their hand would listen to that information and be very, very thankful for it.
Sean Perron: This is related to the next follow-up questions. How do you define sufficiency and how do you define psychology in the 95 Theses?
Heath Lambert: Okay. Well, so there aren’t definitions in the 95 Theses. So, in fact, I was involved in drafting the Nashville Statement and one of the things that those of us who were on the draft committee for the Nashville Statement did is we were trying to figure out in a summary document like this, how much definition do you need? And so, there were a couple of points when the issue of transgenderism came up, and when the actual plenary group was together, there was a discussion on the floor, “Hey, we haven’t defined transgenderism and we need to put a definition in here.” And the conversation with those of us again on the draft committee was, well, do we really need a definition in the document? Or can we just let a common understanding of these things carry the day? The committee was unanimous that we don’t need a definition in order for the document to make sense. So, I behaved the same way in the drafting of the 95 Theses. It’s a summary document. I was trying to have each document be one sentence. And so, I would say that with respect to definitions the document could be more precise.
So, if people want to give a criticism about a lack of precision, then I think that there’s a criticism in there, but I would also argue that a lack of precision does not amount to a lack of accuracy. And so, my understanding of psychology, if you’ve had me for Intro to Psych through the years at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, if you’ve heard me teach on these things at various ACBC events across the world, you know that I think that psychology is a very broad label for a very broad set of disciplines and there’s all sorts of things underneath there. Things like empirical research that we are very, very thankful for, things like case wisdom that we’re very, very thankful for, and then there’s things that we’re concerned about and that is where we get into secular therapy, which again, in A Theology of Biblical Counseling, that’s the talking intervention. That’s the secular wisdom for here’s how to say things to people. Here’s what to do. That is where you’re starting to get at odds with Scripture and that’s where we have a problem. And so, I would say if you read the 95 Theses, you’ll see that that’s my understanding and if you map that on there, I think I’m consistent. So, here’s what I would say, I don’t have a definition. So, if you want a definition, you’d be upset. If you want more definition, you can read A Theology of Biblical Counseling where I have a hundred thousand words instead of three thousand. And so, what I would say is, yeah, there’s no definition, but in my use of the terms, I’m consistent and clear. And I think accurate.
Sean Perron: So, this question is anonymous, and it asks, “Scripture is sufficient for everything that God has intended to be sufficient for. So, that begs this obvious but critical question, what has God intended the Scriptures for? Conversely, what has He not intended the Scriptures for?” And then last part, “Is there room in your theology for people to learn anything from sources external to the Scriptures about biopsychosocial disorders?” Do you want me to repeat?
Heath Lambert: No, I got it. I think. So, I can answer the second part of the question. Is there room in your theology for people to learn anything about biopsychosocial disorders? Quick answer, the answer is yes. I’m in print numerous places affirming that. I’ve never rejected it. I have never questioned it. I got a whole chapter on it, and I got two whole chapters on it in A Theology of Biblical Counseling. I affirm it in the 95 Theses. I have affirmed it in my plenary address at the 2017 ACBC annual conference. So, I have affirmed that every place I know how to affirm it. I’m affirming it now.
Sufficiency is a little bit of a harder question to answer, and this has come up a couple times. So, I’ll point you to A Theology of Biblical Counseling where I explain this in a lot of detail. There has been some pushback as I was reading today on the view that the biblical counseling movement has about sufficiency. It’s very important to be clear here, by the way, the confusion between sola Scriptura and sufficiency is confusion that I see when I read people critiquing the biblical counseling movement. I have not been able to find this evening a place where I have conflated the sufficiency of Scripture with the authority of Scripture. I made very careful distinction about that in my ACBC plenary address. I point to the distinction in 95 Theses. I make a very clear distinction in A Theology of Biblical Counseling. But when people are critiquing, it sounds like they’re saying they don’t hear the distinction. They hear me when I’m saying sola Scriptura, they don’t hear the division between that and sufficiency. There is a difference, and I’m just appealing to people to listen carefully to the arguments that have been made and that are in print. And so, let me say sufficiency has to do with content of Scripture and in A Theology of Biblical Counseling I talk about four different kinds of sufficiency. I talk about completed sufficiency, I talk about progressive sufficiency, I talk about formal sufficiency, and I talk about material sufficiency. The real issue on the line in the counseling debates right now has to do with material sufficiency and that is what are the contents of Scripture?
Biblical counseling in applying the sufficiency of Scripture to counseling is saying some things that are atypical. This is a criticism that I hear. I hear, “Well, you guys are saying stuff that’s atypical.” And I’m going, “Okay. Sure. Okay, yes. We’re saying some things that are new and some things that are different.” But atypical doesn’t mean wrong. So, just think about this, Martin Luther was writing about justification in the 16th century in a way that was atypical to what was out there. It didn’t mean his view of justification was wrong. His atypical view of justification was more faithful to the Scriptures than what was common. And so, the issue isn’t is it common? The issue is is it right? And what the biblical counseling movement is trying to do is take the argument about sufficiency that we’ve been talking about since the Reformation and apply it to new threats in the 20th and 21st century that the church has never faced before.
There’s a sense in which the material sufficiency of Scripture extends to everything. This is what John Frame argues. This is what Wayne Grudem argues. That the Bible is sufficient for counselors. It’s sufficient for plumbers. It’s sufficient for car mechanics. But it’s sufficient in a very general sense so that we have all of the divine words that we need to understand any issue. What I talk about in A Theology of Biblical Counseling is that there’s also the material extent of sufficiency in the particular sense. And that is that there are some issues where the Bible is specifically and particularly relevant. And I’m arguing with everybody else that has been faithfully a part of the biblical counseling movement that one of the issues that the Scriptures are particularly relevant for are the counseling problems that people face. I think the Bible is all about the turmoil that people go through when they’re overcome with anxiety. I think it’s all about the pain they experience when sorrow overwhelms. I think it’s about their anger. I think it’s about their decision making. I think it’s about their heartbreak when they lose a child. I think it’s about the confusion and the pain that they experience when their husband abuses them. In fact, if you tell me, the Bible isn’t about those things, if you tell me the Bible doesn’t have the resources to address those things, then I will have to say number one I don’t know what the Bible is about, and I’ll say number two, what were Christians supposed to do before we had 20th century psychology? What are they supposed to do right now today in most places in the world where that doesn’t exist?
My goodness. I want to say Charles Spurgeon had God’s words to him in his dark nights of the soul. I want to say Augustine had God’s good words to him that were more than enough, that were sufficient, when he was struggling with lust. Do we have some more information about that now that we’re thankful to have? Absolutely, yes. But I think in this issue of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling, what is on the line is the care of God and has He given His people enough, or do we as Christians have to go and master the corpus of secular psychology? Do we have to go read every empirical research study? Do we have to impose that on our Christian forebearers who have come before us in the centuries in the past? Do we have to impose that on Christians in other places in the world who don’t have access to these things like we do? And I think the answer to that is no. And so, what is the Scripture sufficient for? It’s sufficient for a lot of things. I talk about how you can know what it’s sufficient for in A Theology of Biblical Counseling but it’s certainly sufficient for the pain we’re trying to help people with in counseling.
Sean Perron: Moving towards questions about your address at the annual conference, your plenary session, I’m not sure where this question comes from, but someone wrote in, “In your keynote message, you brought to the forefront of the conversation various integrationists claiming that they had a sufficiency problem and therefore an authority problem. You then proceed to indict them and their ilk in your closing comments. Comments in which you equate yourself and ACBC as a Paul offering a rebuke and calling them to repent. What type of repentance were you calling them to?” Do you need me to repeat that?
Heath Lambert: No, I think I got it. There’s a lot there. Okay, let me say, first of all, I do not equate myself with the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul saw the Lord Jesus Christ with his eyes. He wrote under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. He is a better man than I. I mean, he was taught by Jesus Christ. I’m light years away from the Apostle Paul. I don’t equate myself with the Apostle Paul. I do not equate myself. I don’t equate ACBC with the Apostle Paul, as thankful as I am for ACBC, I do not equate what we’re doing in our ministry with the ministry of the Apostle Paul. I’m kind of caught off guard by the question actually because what I was doing is I was using the Bible as the rule for faith and practice. What I was establishing is that if the Apostle Paul did it and recorded it in the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Spirit, then it’s a good thing. And what Paul did was rebuke a very good man who behaved in a way that was not in keeping with the truth of the Gospel. So, I think that sets a standard for us. I think that Christians ought to rebuke other Christians whose behavior is not in keeping with the truth of the Gospel. And if we can’t do that because, well, every time you do that, you’re going to come off like the Apostle Paul. No, not at all. In fact, I was just reading in Philippians earlier today and Paul says something like, “What you have seen in me, go do it.” essentially. And so, I think I’m behaving in a very consistently Christian way to say, “Hey, let’s use the Bible to norm our behavior. And what’s good for Paul is good for us.”
You talked about I said they had a sufficiency problem and an authority problem. So, I’m not going to repeat that talk but I just refer you to it, it’s on biblicalcounseling.com. It’s free at biblicalcounseling.com. And I would ask you to go listen to it. And what I’m doing is I’m making a very careful argument about the relationship between the sufficiency of Scripture and the authority of Scripture, sola Scriptura. And in making the distinction, I’m making clear that the two items are not the same thing. They’re not. Sufficiency is different than sola Scriptura. Sufficiency is different than authority. We’ve got to be really clear on this because there’s a lot of confusion online about it. But in the Christian faith, there are no disconnected doctrines. Christian theology is a web, not a list, and I make that comment in the talk with regard to the Solas. And so, I’m charting a very careful connection between the sufficiency of Scripture and the authority of Scripture and what I’m expressing concern about is in some very specific examples I am concerned that people who have abandoned the sufficiency of Scripture, also in very specific areas that I was very careful to document, have also abdicated the authority of Scripture.
Here’s the thing, I was reading this stuff that you guys gave me. I’ve never called anybody to repentance for using outside information. I tell people you’ve got to use outside information in my book A Theology of Biblical Counseling. I tell people you have to be thankful for outside information in the 95 Theses. So, I’d completely affirm the importance of outside information. I’ve never rebuked anybody for using it. What I specifically offered a rebuke for was to people who are in print saying that it is not a first priority to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the counseling room. And some of those people that I quoted are members of organizations like CAPS and AACC, where in their ethical documents they give Christians a choice, they give them wiggle room about whether and how they’ll do this. I think there is a lot of wisdom that Christians need to learn and think through and pray about about how we will share the gospel in counseling. In the same way, there’s a lot of wisdom and a lot of need for prayer in how we will share the gospel in our backyard with our next-door neighbor, and in the same way about how we will share the gospel with an unbeliever in a closed country. But Christians cannot have a debate about whether we will share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This goes back to what I was saying at the beginning. If we say that Christian counselors are allowed to have a debate at their job about whether they’ll share the gospel or not, then why not say it with auto mechanics? Why not say it to nurses? Why not say it to teachers? All of us in our various positions have challenges in sharing the gospel. I’m a pastor, I’m an executive director of a parachurch ministry, and I have challenges in sharing the gospel with people because people hear me and their eyes glaze over and the barriers go up. It’s my job to figure out how to get through that. And I want to say to anybody, if you’re a Christian, you’re called to talk to people about Jesus Christ, and that’s not my idea. It’s not ACBC’s idea. It’s Jesus Christ’s idea. It’s the Apostle Paul’s idea. You read the Bible and it’s just completely foreign that a Christian would say, “No, nah, I’m not going to talk about Jesus to this person. I might talk about Him with that person. I’d get to it with that person if everything goes all right.” There’s just no room in the Bible for that. And so, I was very, very specific and very, very clear that people who behave that way ought to repent. And I would say it again.
Sean Perron: I have more questions about that, but we’re going to keep going here on this related to your plenary talk. This question comes in, “Your plenary address at ACBC emphasized the disparities between biblical counselors and integrationists. What possibilities do you see for conciliation and cooperation between the two groups?”
Heath Lambert: Great question. You know, before I can answer that question, it’s predicated. Those questions seem like, “You call these people to repentance!” And “Do you think there’s any way forward?” I don’t know if they come from the same person or what the deal is.
Sean Perron: No, they’re different people.
Heath Lambert: Okay. So yes, I do see a way forward. Let me just say about that call to repentance, you would think by some of the things I have been reading today and a few of the emails I’ve received, I will also say, I was kind of caught off guard that there was a controversy because when I look at my email inbox, which I don’t do very often but Amy Evanson does, and when I look at my text messages and when I answer the phone, I mean, 10 to 1, what I’m hearing is a lot of encouragement about the 95 Theses, a lot of encouragement about what I said that night at the annual conference. But then when I go, and you guys give me the stuff that’s online, and I’m going, “Whoa, people are really upset.” And for the people that are upset, you would think repentance is a bad word and it’s not. The irony is I’m being called to repentance for calling people to repentance. So, everybody has convictions, and everybody wants somebody to repent. The issue is whose convictions are more lined up with the Bible? And that’s what we’ve got to figure out. So, maybe if somebody calls me to repent, I can say, “I don’t like your tone”, you know, I don’t know how that works. But look, everybody has got their convictions. Everybody wants somebody to repent. Repentance is a sweet thing as long as the call to repentance is a good thing. Jesus says if you don’t repent, you’re going to perish. And so, I mean to be a friend to people, I mean to be a Christian brother, when I say you should turn from what you’re doing and be a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ. So, when I say to somebody “Repent.” I think I’m doing you a kindness. And if somebody hears meanness in that I don’t know what to say. That’s not what’s in my heart and it’s not what’s in the Bible. So, I don’t know where that accusation that it’s just mean, it’s a bad tone, don’t call people to repent, we have to quit doing that. I don’t know where that comes from. Repentance is a sweet thing according to Jesus Christ. Repentance is the way we lay hold of grace. So, my goodness, would for more and more repentance in my life, in your life, in the life of anybody who’s watching. If somebody knows you’re wrong and they come up to you and say, “Brother, you need to repent.” That’s a good thing. They’ve given you a gift and you ought to listen. Be sure they’re right. So, if you’re going to call somebody to repent, you better be right, but the call to repentance is a sweet thing.
And so, I say all that to say is I want to partner with people. I want to get along. We’re going to have a lot of disagreements about how to work that out in counseling. We’re going to have a lot of disagreements about what we say in counseling if we can’t even agree that, hey, Jesus is front and center. Everybody wants to be Christ-centered in evangelicalism today. I want us to be Christ-centered in counseling, okay? And so, if we can’t even agree on that, then we’re going to have a lot of disagreements about how this counseling thing is supposed to work, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for cooperation. And so, I would say, actually, it’s interesting, one of the things that I’ve discovered as I’ve been reading some of this stuff is that we’re just concerned about two separate audiences: Christian counselors, integrationists, Christian psychologists, transformational psychologists. They are in the academy. They’re doing research and reading research a lot more than biblical counselors are. I think because of the helpfulness of that kind of extra biblical information, the helpfulness and the importance of that kind of observation. I think we can learn from them. I also think that they could learn from biblical counselors about how to have the Scriptures spring to life. So often when I read integrationists, Christian psychologists, Christian counselors, the Bible seems like this stale, abstract, good for preaching and generalizations, but not good for the specifics of life, it’s not the kind of tangible care we need to offer in counseling. And then I go to a biblical counseling conference like one at ACBC or I read a good biblical counseling book and I see Scripture springing to life. So, I think biblical counselors could learn from Christian psychologists and those in that crowd about some good information and observation that we can learn from as it exists under the authority of Scripture, and I think they could learn from us about how to bring life to texts of Scripture that can be so transformational in the lives of hurting people.
Sean Perron: We had someone submit several questions and instead of doing anonymous or putting their name they submitted them as every single board member of ACBC. So, they wrote like “from Steve Viars”, “from Ron Allchin” …
Heath Lambert: So, they signed off as board members of ACBC.
Sean Perron: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. Okay, so which I thought was actually kind of humorous, but it leads to this question. “You spoke with authoritative passion at the conference. I appreciate the confidence you exuded. The fact that there is this follow-up on the controversy is telling, does the entire ACBC board agree with your statements?” related back to the plenary session.
Heath Lambert: Now, that is a particularly juicy question that, Sean, I could imagine you relish asking. How much joy does it give you to ask that question?
Sean Perron: A significant amount.
Heath Lambert: Okay, that’s what I would have expected, that’s what I would have thought.
Sean Perron: Especially if Steve Viars submitted it.
Heath Lambert: Steve Viars did not submit that question. You know what? I said no easy questions and I don’t think that’s an easy question, and so, I’m happy to answer it. I think it’s right that everybody know that I have had a lot of conversations with the ACBC board about these issues and these disagreements. The ACBC board is made up of leaders in biblical counseling from all over the country. They teach at seminaries. They lead churches. They lead counseling ministries. And the ACBC board has given their full and unqualified endorsement to the things I have said. So, I have, in ways that it wouldn’t even be helpful for me to communicate in this environment, received nothing but the fullest support and encouragement from the ACBC board. So, those biblical counseling leaders from across the country.
Sean Perron: So, we have only a few minutes left here, and I have a series of questions on counseling and sharing the gospel. A lot of these questions I’m assuming center around thesis seventy-three. One question is related to it and essentially the question is, “What you’re arguing about state licensure and sharing the gospel, how does this compare with the Business as Mission movement?” Okay, another question in the same vein, “Are you opposed to Christians being in the public-school systems when they aren’t allowed to share Christ there?” I have a couple more just I’ll squeeze them in for time and then you can answer them however you’d like. “If all the Christians leave the secular workforce, won’t we be worse off than before? Is that what you want?”
Heath Lambert: Yes, and no. Yes, it will be worse. And no, that’s not what I want.
Sean Perron: Okay, so the other questions.
Heath Lambert: Okay. One of the things that I was shocked to discover is that I don’t think counselors who are Christians should be licensed by the state. I was shocked to discover that because I don’t actually believe it and I have never taught it. I’ve never said that Christians should not be licensed by the state. I want Christians to be licensed by the state. This is what thesis affirms, “The only authentically Christian motivation for pursuing a state license to counsel is the missional desire of making Christ known to all people in all places, especially in those places where the authority of the state allows only licensed individuals to talk to troubled people.” There are doors that are closed to you as a counselor unless you’ve got a state license. That means there are people who need to hear the gospel who are dying in their sins and they will never hear about Jesus unless somebody gets behind that closed door, that locked ward on a mental institution, or in that counseling center that only hires people who are licensed by the state, there are people who are dying in trespasses and sins who will never hear the gospel if you don’t get back there. So, I want Christians to do what it takes to get behind that closed door, but I want them to be motivated by missions. In fact, if you would say, “Well, I just want to be a presence of Christ, but I’m never going to talk about Christ.”, then you’re not really being a presence of Christ.
I think this is very closely related to Business as Mission or to what we do when we go into a closed country. The reason a missionary goes into a closed country as a businessman or as an English teacher or whatever is not just so they can play by the rules of the state. “I’m going to go to China,” let’s say, “and I’m going to play by the rules and never preach Jesus, but we’re going to teach English to the glory of Jesus Christ.” Well, you can do that, and nobody will ever hear the saving message of Jesus Christ. How are they to believe unless they hear and how are they to hear without a preacher? Nobody does Business as Mission without thinking about the mission. They’re not just thinking about business. They’re thinking of business as mission. So, let’s think about counseling as mission. Let’s do state licensure. But please, for the love of God, do not play by secular rules about whether you can speak of Jesus Christ. This is what has me upset. Not that people would be licensed any more than that people would go to China, but that they would agree to play by the rules of a wicked state or secular ethics boards when they get to those places.
Brothers and sisters, we are Christians. We have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. And here’s the irony, here is the potential hypocrisy, if I can use such a word, the potential hypocrisy is that I have been saved by Jesus Christ and the way the grace of Jesus touched me is a Southern Baptist woman named Sue Baumgardner who looked at me and said I was a sinner, and I needed the grace of Jesus to save me from sin and death and hell, and when she said it, the Spirit exploded in my heart, and I believed. I could not have believed. Jesus has so set it up that people believe when they hear us preach and I think it’s hypocrisy for Christians to depend on other folks to tell us about the message of Jesus Christ, but then we don’t turn and tell other folks about the message of Jesus Christ. And so, I would say what I said at the beginning, just like I stood in this room last night and prevailed upon engineers, and auto mechanics, and stay-at-home moms, and nurses to preach the gospel, I’m just doing what I do everywhere else when I say, “Counselors, preach the gospel. Tell people about Jesus Christ.” Look some of us have a hard way to go when we do that. A Christian who is a schoolteacher in the public school has a difficult road to figure out, “How am I going to preach the gospel in ways that are wise and careful?” Let’s have that conversation. It’s the same conversation that a missionary in China has to figure out, “How am I going to preach the gospel in ways that are wise and don’t get me kicked out of here?” But the point is not to be silent. The point is to be able to stay there as long as possible and strategically tell the gospel to as many people as possible. That’s what motivates the conversation, not playing by the secular rules. And Jesus says, “You’re either for me or against me.” My passion is that people would preach the gospel and that we as Christians would not carve out counseling ministry as the one place where it’s okay that we not do that.
I wonder about what kind of account we will have to give as Christians if we’ve had the kind of counseling practice where we love Jesus and we were sitting there talking about, you know, financial advice and sex tips, and all the rest, but we never got around to Jesus. I wonder how much blood is on our hands in the Ezekiel sense. If you know the truth and you don’t tell them, their blood is on your hands. We’re going to have to give an account to Jesus Christ for whether we gave faithful testimony to Him. And it’s not going to be good enough to say, “Well, there was this ethics requirement, and I was a member of this association, and a member of this state, and they don’t let you do that, Jesus.” There’s going to be people in hell in the Luke 16 sense who want a drop of water on their tongue because they’re aflame in this fire. The kind of counseling we are trying to create, the kind of counselors we are trying to create at ACBC are the kind of counselors who offer counsel that matters a trillion years from now.
Sean Perron: Well, on that note, we actually ended on the dot on time. Before people go, you mentioned a couple of resources during the Q&A. One of them was your plenary talk. If you want to find that, you can find that on our website, biblicalcounseling.com, by searching “Faithfully Protestant Heath Lambert”. So, if you just type in the search bar “Faithfully Protestant” it pops up there. You can also search on our Vimeo account. If you are interested in attending our annual conference next year, it’s on the topic of abuse and counseling and the best rate is right now so the price is increasing on the 31st. So, if you register today and tomorrow, by November 1st, you’ll be able to get the lowest rate. And then if you have questions about ACBC certification, there is a webinar link on our homepage under the certification tab. It says, “live certification webinar” and that webinar is taking place next Monday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and we’d love to see you there.
Heath Lambert: God bless you guys.