Today we’re going to be discussing an important topic and one that Stuart has witnessed over his involvement in ACBC, NANC historically, and then in the biblical counseling movement at large. Today, Stuart, we want to talk about some of the caricatures that we still hear consistently about ACBC in particular and the way that people see our counseling. Can you identify what some of those caricatures might be, and the ways that we hear them?
Stuart Scott: Sure Dale, and thank you again for having me on the podcast. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be here with you. I continually hear these brought up in different venues, whether it’s school among students or faculty, or just out and about. Someone will bring something up and I’m always puzzled because we’ve already addressed it, it’s a caricature, it’s not true, but these caricatures continue to be issues that we need to address. Some of them that I continually hear is that the nouthetic, ACBC, or biblical counseling alone is only focused on behavior and misses the heart—misses worship and love for Christ.
“All you deal with is sin and you don’t ever address suffering. You’re against true science and medicine and only use the Bible for everything. You think the Bible is sufficient for car mechanics and everything else.” It’s a misunderstanding of sufficiency. “You’re not gospel-oriented,” or “All you are is gospel-oriented,” “It’s all truth and you don’t have any grace.” These are some of the caricatures I hear from time to time.
Dale Johnson: Some people get this perception—and that’s exactly what a caricature is: A perception of the way we think something might be that has some sort of likeness, but it’s distorted in quite a few ways. It’s not the full way we would understand something. Like you, I’ve heard this while teaching in seminary for quite some time and in conversation at large. People want to attack in specific ways some caricatures that I think often are quite unfair. They’re not looking at the fullness of things that are written or taught within the biblical counseling movement and specifically the way that we think about some of these issues here at ACBC.
One of those that you mentioned that I think is really interesting is the way we think about the Bible and science. That’s a really hot topic even now, especially in the area of psychiatry. I’m looking forward to when we’re actually going to address that very issue with leaders in the biblical counseling movement at a Colloquium later this year. These are not issues that we’re afraid to speak of or to learn in and grow in. I’m excited about those times, and that’s just another way that shows we’re growing through some of those faulty perceptions that people have had for years.
You’ve witnessed this over a long period of time. You’ve been a part of the inside discussions of the organization of ACBC and you’ve heard some of these things continually. From your perspective, you hear these caricatures on the outside, but then you hear exactly what’s being discussed in very real terms on the inside of ACBC and how we as an organization have grown to address these concerns. Talk about some of the ways that you’ve witnessed us growing through some of these caricatures that are proposed about biblical counseling and specifically about ACBC.
Stuart Scott: I would consider myself in the second generation of biblical counseling—with Jay Adams and Wayne Mack back in their era being the first generation. I’ve known these men, worked alongside these men, listened to them teach, read what they’ve written. Some of them have written over 100 books. I think Jay Adams has written over 100 and Wayne Mack is probably close to that.
Having read what they have written, there’s no way you can come out with these caricatures. If you read a sentence somewhere, an obscure sentence or how one of them may have treated a particular topic, maybe it was a little imbalanced, but not in the full scope of all that they’ve written and have spoken. Over the years I’ve seen the topics that they’ve addressed. They’re always talking about real issues that real people are facing. They’re using the Scriptures. They’re alluding to real science, not speculation, not the soft sciences, but when there’s hard data. They realize that we’re composed of an inner man and outer man. It’s all through the seminars and through the books.
But the people who usually bring up these statements or caricatures are individuals who have not really read the amount of material that’s out there. They have not listened. They have not talked to these men. There’s an agenda with those who are most vocal on these caricatures and they don’t take a high view of Christ, his Word, and his Church. They have accommodated the Bible with something else, whether it’s psychology, psychiatry, or something else. I read a book recently on true devotion by Dr. Alan Chapel. He said you add to Scripture or you subtract from it. Whenever you add to Scripture, he calls it the Second Law of Theological Hermeneutics: Whatever you add to Scripture will be more weighty and more important to you than Scripture. That is what has happened. Either science or psychology, and I say speculation and science, has become more important than the Bible when you add it to the Bible.
Dale Johnson: Maybe that’s why reading some of the old guys in our movement is quite distasteful. We’re not trying to defend Dr. Adams or Dr. Mack. Before you accept some of these criticisms, my encouragement to you is: Don’t believe what I’m saying. Go and read Dr. Adams for yourself, go and read Dr. Mack in wholeness. It’s vital that we not mischaracterize someone when they write and when they talk about subjects, to not extrapolate one particular thing that they may have said in a given situation, but to look at the full body of their work, to consider the time in which they’re writing it, and what they’re up against in their particular day. I would simply encourage people to look back and to read more broadly before you run into some sort of caricature that fits a narrative that you want to move into with the acceptance of psychology or some of the misnomers of psychiatry as well.
What’s interesting is that as “scientism” moves in the direction with psychology and psychiatry, what we’re seeing is that maybe some of the things Dr. Adams and Dr. Mack suggested were healthy cautions. It’s interesting to me, as we move forward, that some of the things that they were quite cautious about, even the secular “scientific world” is giving caution to even as we speak. Let’s talk specifically about one or two of these caricatures. Discuss one or two of these caricatures and how you’ve seen these things become more balanced. How have you seen some of these become more balanced in the way that we discuss them at ACBC?
Stuart Scott: One area where I have seen growth is the balance between sin and suffering. When you get the two themes of sin and suffering running through the Scriptures, from Genesis 3 on, there’s no question. The redemptive theme is the large theme. It’s the bigger theme. We may even say up to 70 percent of that theme is sin and redemption. Suffering is another theme running through the Scriptures, but not on the same level as the sin theme. I’ve not only read what’s written but also have seen over the years, especially with the third generation now in biblical counseling, that there’s a good wedding of the ideas that all sufferers sin and all sinners suffer. In what I’ve read and seminars I’ve heard, there is a really good balance, a maturity now in dealing with both suffering and sin without taking the weight off the major theme, but not missing the minor theme.
Dale Johnson: That’s important and I wish we had time to work through all of these caricatures. I do want to always be self-evaluative as we think about our organization. That’s important as well. We can speak positively about some of the ways in which these caricatures are misnomers, but it’s also important that we are aware of ways that we still need to grow. What are some ways, Stuart, that you can see we need to still continue to grow and mature? As human beings we are imperfect. Sometimes we express things imperfectly. We certainly, in humility, need to consistently grow until Jesus comes.
Stuart Scott: One of the ways, as I’ve read even through church history, is the tendency to have a knee-jerk reaction and overcorrect. That is a common tendency of someone who is all into the law and into practice and even into legalism. You often see people go completely over into the other ditch of license freedom. Not biblical freedom, but freedom to do whatever the flesh wants. There tends to be this overcorrection. I have been at fault at this as well. I’ve found myself when I’m teaching sometimes, if someone’s holding a particular issue and it’s imbalanced, I go over in a completely opposite direction to get them back in the middle of the road and be balanced. As a movement, as we continue to grow, you don’t correct an imbalance with another imbalance. You don’t correct an error with an error. You correct any imbalance or error with God’s truth properly handled.
Dale Johnson: That’s really good, Stuart. That’s a warning for all of us that we need to be paying attention to. That’s a way that we can certainly grow to be more biblical and not be so culturally appraised whenever we think about some of the issues that we’re facing which are major problems. One of the final things I want to do, as we bring this to a close, is add some warnings as we think toward the future, some warnings about unnecessary progression. When I say that I mean areas where we would expand the biblical counseling ideals, not in a mature way, but in a progressive way. What are some of the warnings that would keep us maturing instead of diluting in progression?
Stuart Scott: The term “biblical counseling” has become so broad now, almost on par as some would say an “evangelical.” I’m an “evangelical.” I’m not sure what that means anymore, and there are people who say they’re evangelical who deny cardinal doctrines. In biblical counseling that’s become very popular now, where in the past people would say they’re a Christian counselor, or would even say they’re an integrationist, but not anymore. This has become the popular title to have, and because of that we have to be cautious about who we’re reading and not accepting whatever they say without being a good Berean and studying Scripture. We may have to come up with another name. I don’t know, but it’s become very popular now among individuals who don’t hold to the sufficiency of Scripture.
Dale Johnson: That’s a good word. I encourage you to take some of the things that Stuart has discussed today and utilize it as food for thought. Don’t be quick to judge on previous perceptions, but I encourage you to take to heart some of the things that he’s mentioned today. May it drive you to be a Berean as he suggested, to be one who looks at the Scriptures and discerns as the Bible tells us. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 5:14 that that’s the way that we grow in maturity as we learn to discern good from evil. That’s a part of the process that we’re all involved in now. I encourage you to be a discerner, to take some of the things we’ve talked about today and to make it food for thought as you move forward in thinking about biblical counseling and even ACBC at large.