Tag Archives: Frame

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)

John Frame and the Definition of Theology

One of my most cherished moments in seminary was to be exposed to John Frame’s definition of theology. For Frame, theology was defined as “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.” a This definition is helpful because “Theology is thus freed from any false intellectualism or academicism. It is able to use scientific methods and academic knowledge where they are helpful, but it can also speak in nonacademic ways, as Scripture itself does – exhorting, questioning, telling parables, fashioning allegories and poems and proverbs and songs, expressing love, joy, patience . . . the list is without limit.”

I have since used this definition again and again and have learned to appreciate it even more as a pastor. Contrary to pietism, the Spirit does not implant in us an application, rather theology is applicable and needs to be made applicable by pastors and parishioners. It is also freeing to consider this definition in light of the theological illiteracy in our day. Certainly we wish to see the church grow in biblical knowledge, but this definition means that a pastor can instruct even the newest convert in the way he ought to live.

Frame’s definition accentuates the pastoral task in that it calls pastors to ask consistently How Now Shall We Then Live? In this sense, as Frame has argued elsewhere, unless theology is practically applied it has not become true theology. On the other hand, the one doing theology must first understand it before applying it. We have seen our share of faulty applications in the realm of the home and the church. Therefore, to properly grasp this definition one needs to be familiar with theology. David’s battle with Goliath was more than a remarkable example for how we can overcome difficulties in our lives, but also how God can use the weak to defeat the strong, and how a nation needs to put their trust in God, rather than chariots. There are individual and corporate obligations involved in that simple narrative.

Theology prepares us to ascend with our Lord, and in that reign we can learn to apply this rulership in all areas of life.

Another dimension to this conversation is that in applying our theology we become ambassadors for our theology. When our lives are poorly lived out we do shame to our theology. When sins are left un-confessed we are asserting that our theology does not have an answer for sin, or that it is flexible toward certain sins.  Theology needs to be lived out consistently, and when it is not, we need to confess that is has not been consistent.

Theology is life and life is theological.

  1. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 81.  (back)