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Counseling and the Spirit

Counseling and the Spirit

Theology is intensely intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God.” We have deeply engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a particular type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has mostly become a rarely pursued journey by the typical parishioner, has fallen into the hands of armchair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be used at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not bear fruit unless applied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God.

Counseling is necessary for theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Trinitarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter and our advocate. When others drive us to madness, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above, and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

To a great measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to enter the process. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have to be transformed from glory to glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit. It is there we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
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Creational Model for Counseling

My friend Dustin Messer offers a healthy way of considering Christians in need of counseling help.

He says that,

…instead of merely “seeing through sin lens” we should also consider a a “creational lense.” That is, instead of the first question of a person being “where are they depraved?” perhaps it should be “where are they dignified?” Maybe one reason the fundamentalists liked Adams was because he too viewed the world through a “fall, redemption” paradigm. I think it is imperative that we recover “creation” and “new-creation” in our worldview visavis counseling.

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How Can I Understand? Thoughts on Counseling from Acts 8

How Can I Understand? Thoughts on Counseling from Acts 8

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

In Acts 8, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The wealthy Ethiopian had been worshipping in Jerusalem.  Upon his return home he began to read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah. Intrigued by them, he sought the help of someone who was capable of interpreting that text. The Ethiopian found an interpreter of Scripture, but also an interpreter of life. Philip’s interpretation was not only a Messianic interpretation, but also a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:14-15, which promised that Yahweh would sprinkle the nations. The Ethiopian was sprinkled/washed clean from his transgressions. He began to see that Messiah suffered so that he might have life.

This passage establishes in many ways the need for biblical counseling. Counselees are asking Philip’s questions. Their lives torn by a host of events have clouded their understanding of life, and sometimes even the Bible itself. It is incumbent then, for counselors, to come alongside the hurting and the needy and provide an accurate view of their lives through the lens of the Bible.

Jesus is the starting point of all healing. He is the suffering servant, who received no justice, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. The interpreter/counselor begins by pointing to Jesus. He guides the counselee to see that Jesus is the answer to his despair. But he is not simply pointing him to a concept, but to a Person. Jesus, as Person, died and suffered. Jesus, as concept, offers no hope.

Notice that Philip ran to him. Philip understood the pain and despair of the eunuch. Philip was troubled by the eunuch’s lack of knowledge. The Spirit guides us to those who are most troubled, whether rich or poor. Philip, the counselor, then asked a question.

A few observations concerning the text above:

Notice that Philip asked him a question. Counselors are in the question-asking business. A porn-addict may benefit from a stern rebuke, but the porn addict has already been rebuked by his own conscience, which is why he is seeking interpreation. A porn addict needs to probe his motivations and his justifications behind seeking his sinful habits. He needs to think through his worldview before he can see that it is deeply flawed. Questions will bring these assumptions to the surface.

Notice that the counselee needed help. Counselors cannot help those who do not wish to be helped. The counselee acknowledged that his answers, his attempts to be good, his efforts to get away from certain habits were not paying off. He realized that unless someone guides him his efforts will all be in vain.

Guiding someone is a form of life interpretation. The counselor needs to take the counselees’ assumptions about the world and dissect them, so that the counselee can see the context surrounding his sins. He may be oblivious to his own environment. He may not know that the culture he is imbibing is causing a greater urge to immerse himself in those sins. He needs guidance to see that his interpretation is flawed.

Finally, notice that the eunuch invites the counselor to come and sit by him. This is not always the case. The work of the Spirit, of course, was already humbling the eunuch. His worship experience had already softened his own mind to seek wisdom. In some cases, the counselor needs to make aware to the counselee that he needs help and guidance. At times pride will keep the individual from seeking any help. He is certain that his lack of knowledge of the text and of his own life is not a problem and that in time he will learn to deal with it. This is where community life becomes crucial to the individual. If sins are simply seen as separated acts from the community, then they bear no weight on anyone else besides the individual. If, however, sins are communal by nature, then making known to the addicted man that he needs guidance becomes a necessary component of community life. The hurting has little hope of finding a right interpretation if he has no one willing to point out his need of one.

The eunuch was baptized. Philip’s interpretation offered him a perspective that changed him and caused him to act upon it. Counselors offer interpretation that will change the course of action of the counselee. Counselors, by God’s grace, will offer a message of hope. Jesus is that hope. The One who received no justice offers justice in the sight of God to those who humble themselves and seek his guidance. Jesus sat with us and offered us an interpretation of our lives that made us whole.

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Everybody Needs Counseling

I sat to counsel someone recently. And he stated the obvious to me: “If everyone,” he said, “really thought about it they would be sitting right here.” The truth was pure and simple. It was refreshing to hear it. We all need counseling. I need counseling. You need counseling. We may need professional counseling from trained individuals, or we may need a shoulder to cry from our neighbor. God has given us two or three friends in a lifetime to fulfill that role. It is a powerful role. I am grateful if you have that function in someone’s life or if someone has that role in yours.

If that is the case, and if the biblical record affirms the “one-anothers” again and again, what keeps us from seeking counseling? Basically, pride. What Augustine referred to as the first and last sin to overcome man. We are too big to need others or the counsel of others. Most of us will rather endure the pain of day-to-day by ourselves than open ourselves to others. This is remarkably inhuman. God created us to need others, to depend on others, to serve others, to be faithful to others, to submit to others, to be humbled by others, to confess our sins to others. In short, God created us to never face anything alone. Yet, again and again, many do. Many prefer to do it this way. They prefer to suffer the agony of pain in the high of self-absorption.

The individual I met recently was very aware of his need. His self-awareness made him an easy person to counsel. His attentiveness and lack of need to defend himself or his own actions made him an easy target for the Spirit of God to work. His life is finding redemption. It is a slow process, but that’s ok, because in counseling this person sees that his sins were many, so time is the least of worries, rather the individual wants to know that he is re-structuring his thinking after the thoughts of God. He doesn’t want to miss a point. He wants to hear every angle and every perspective. It matters to him. His assumption that he needs counseling is the key to his success.

New Year Resolutions

If 2015 is going to be successful, and I pray it is, seek counseling. If your marriage is in trouble, abandon your pride and seek help from a pastor or a qualified Christian counselor in the area. If your pornography problem has been knocking at your door daily or consistently and you no longer fear opening the door, seek counseling. Seek confession and help. If relational problems are overwhelming, seek reconciliation. Do not allow this new year to become another year of self-absorbtion, self-pity, and self-help. Seek and you shall find.

Make your new year’s resolution to be a resolution of repentance; repentance for believing the lie that you can self-medicate your problems without others; repentance for trusting your expertise and your sophisticated ability to justify before a court of your imagination your sins and to continue in them. Here’s the honest truth: you and I need counseling.

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God’s View of Counseling

God’s View of Counseling

Counseling doesn’t just inhabit clinical settings, nor is
it the property of several upstart professions practicing
in the wealthier countries. God’s view of counseling
cuts deeper, applies wider, aims different, lasts longer,
matters more. You live or die based on the counsel you
listen to—and the counsel you give. Counseling is not
just for those who “need counseling.” It’s not just something
that “professional counselors” do with “counselees.”
You can’t escape being involved in the Bible’s
view of the counseling process. It’s happening all the
time, whether you know it or not, whether you want it
or not. You are doing it to others; others are doing it to
you—today, every day, informally, and (very occasionally)
formally. – David Powlison

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Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Theology is deeply intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a certain type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has largely become a rarely pursued journey by the common parishioner, has fallen into the hands of arm-chair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be exercised at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not  bear fruit unapplied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God. Jesus’ works on earth were all practically aimed at restoring flesh-beings to a more fulfilling humanity, even to the point of restoring a man to life (Jn. 11).

Counseling is necessary in theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Triniarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter, and our advocate. When others abuse us, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

In large measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have in order to be transformed from glory into glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit, for in it we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
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NANC no more? The Future of Nouthetic Counseling

NANC no more? The Future of Nouthetic Counseling

In my earlier years (the cage stage, as one wise author puts it), I supported the NCN, which stands for No Counseling Necessary. Why don’t people just get their act together and get on with it? My senior year in high-school was filled with empty zeal. I was zealous about many things, but knew little of anything.

In college as I pursued my degree in Pastoral Studies I noticed a strange bunch of people pursuing a degree in counseling. They did not look particularly different from anyone else in the school, but their vocabulary was foreign to me. I would often hear of Rogerian and Jungian methods. These were considered distinct from the truly Christian view referred to as Nouthetic Counseling. NANC, as it is known, was founded by Dr. Jay Adams. My father was reading Jay Adams early on in his pastoral career. There were Portuguese copies of Adams’ books on my father’s shelf. When he came to the United States, the university he attended was fully engaged in the NANC world bringing Dr. Adams to speak numerous times.

I attended a small Christian college. The school was essentially a mini-version of Bob Jones University. The counseling professors, though committed to Baptist theology, were quite fond of Jay Adams, a Presbyterian. a I don’t know what attracted them to Adams, but I have my suspicions. Adams’ straightforward, no non-sense style was certainly an attractive picture.

I have the deepest respect for Jay Adams. I have called him on numerous occasions to help me with specific counseling issues. I remember his advice being very helpful. The caricature of Adams, however, is certainly not a pleasant one. As I have said many times, Adams can be extremely helpful, but put him in the hands of a theologically illiterate pastor or parishioner and he can be dangerous; almost abusive. This may be in itself a problem with the system, and I have argued to many that Nouthetic Counseling is not the end all of Christian counseling.

Adams’ labors continues on through the Institute of Nouthetic Studies. Donn Arms seems to have taken on the role of continuing to provide Jay Adams’ titanic labors (over 100 books and hundreds of lectures) to a new technological audience.

Recently, however, I discovered that there is turmoil in the camp. The debate centers around whether the word “nouthetic” should continue to be used. The NANC board had originally asserted that the change to the term “biblical” instead of “nouthetic” would be more reflective of the diversity within NANC. And they also affirmed that the change is not meant as a repudiation of Jay Adams’ teaching. At this stage, Donn Arms, noting that NANC is no longer what it once was when it started in 1975 said that he would favor the change. If NANC is headed where he sees it heading then the name change is necessary. He elaborated on how NANC has changed over the years:

The orthodox doctrine of progressive sanctification, a cornerstone of nouthetic counseling, is no longer essential. Many NANC members have replaced it with a doctrine commonly labeled as Gospel Sanctification which teaches that loving Christ and contemplating all that He has done for us on the cross is sufficient for our sanctification.

NANC membership now includes counselors who are members of churches in charismatic and liberal denominations.

NANC has held “On the Road” training conferences in charismatic churches.

The training requirement for NANC certification has become insignificant. Several years ago John Street, the NANC president speaking at a Shepherd’s Conference, taught that pastors should require a minimumof 115 hours of training before allowing people to counsel in their churches. Yet all NANC now requires is attendance at three weekends of classes or a one week conference.

The NANC board gave $30,000 to help establish a coalition of biblical counselors whose stated goal is to “foster collaborative relationships” among all who call themselves biblical counselors.

Donn Arms sees a wide split in the NANC movement. He is a purist when it comes to NANC’s original intent, and to see these “compromises” take place in the name of NANC seems disingenuous.

But to strengthen Arms’ resolve, the NANC board further explained why using “nouthetic” is not helpful:

First, the word nouthetic is a perfectly good Greek word, which most people simply do not understand.  Most of us in NANC spend more time explaining the meaning of a Greek word than we intend to when we mention the name of our organization. Once people understand the meaning of the term it does not help us that much.  The term means “to confront or admonish,” and this only describes a narrow slice of the kind of counseling endorsed by NANC.  Of course biblical counselors admonish people in their sin, but at NANC we also encourage our counselors to comfort the fainthearted, help the weak, pray, encourage, instruct, take care of their physical bodies, and 101 other things the Bible says to do.  In its precise meaning the word nouthetic is a truncated expression of the many and varied counseling styles that God communicates in Scripture.

Donn Arms responded to each line. b But the question of the future of NANC remains. Will NANC and its forefathers, Wayne Mack and Jay Adams, lose their footing in the movement they started or will a new generation of counselors take that vision in a new direction?

  1. I asked Adams this question when I interviewed him – download information forthcoming for the interview  (back)
  2. You can read the response here: http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=6220  (back)
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Assurance and Counseling

I have been reading through Jay Adam’s 1975 The Use of the Scriptures in Counseling. I have interviewed him at Trinity Talk (See interviews here), and beyond that, I have also sought his counsel in a few counseling situations in my flock. In discussing a section on assurance, Adams offers a sharp critique of pastors that use I John to destroy what they perceive to be false assurance (28). Adams sees a new kind of legalistic Gnosticism that teaches that “only a small group of persons has a right to assurance.” He elaborates:

” Characteristically, such preachers use I John not to bring assurance but to destroy what they believe to be false assurance. God’s purpose in the book is positive, theirs negative(28).”

This is probably at the heart of Jay Adams’ critique of the Puritans in the book, and in the interview (though, I find much to commend in Puritan literature). For Adams, preaching that is continually tempting parishioners to doubt their salvation is actually offering a message rarely stressed in the Scriptures. Of course, doubting occurs, and we are called to examine ourselves, but when this becomes the overarching theme of our preaching and counseling, then Christians lose their joy. They enter the abyss of introspection; an introspection that is largely unhelpful.

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Tenacious Biblical Fellowship

Tenacious Biblical Fellowship

Paul Tautges in his Counseling One Another observes that one of the affects of relying on secular psychology has been the internalizing of the faith, thus leading to a departure from the Church. He writes that the early church would never have entertained such a strange notion. The Church was tenacious about its biblical fellowship. He observes:

Whichever surface motivations are involved, what should be of great concern are the immature, fleshly priorities that seem to drive too many of today’s Christians.

Instead of running from fellowship, Christian counseling draws the individual to the body where soul care and soul cure are the transforming features of the church. Therefore, to depart from church is to depart from healing.

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Steps to becoming a better counselor in the Church

Steps to becoming a better counselor in the Church

In a recent interview, Deepak Reju offered some helpful steps for those who would like to be better equipped to counsel:

First, find a discipler and a good, Bible-preaching, gospel-centered church. There is no legitimate substitute for living the Christian life out with a body of committed believers. As you grow and mature in the Christian life, so also will you be able and ready to help others grow, too.

Second, read a few basic biblical counseling books, articles or booklets that deal with a problem that you struggle with. You need to see how a profoundly biblical approach to problems stands as a stark contrast to how most of the world deals with sin and suffering.

Third, if you haven’t lost interest just yet, then read Paul Tripp & Tim Lane’s How People Change and Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. The former describes a theology of sanctification; the later describes a theology and methodology for counseling. Both are good intro texts into the movement.

Lastly, if you still want more, then pursue lay certification or formal educational training through the manifold of organizations or educational institutions that provide instruction and training in biblical counseling.

 

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