Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CCEF Paper #1: Problems & Procedures - Features of Biblical Counseling

Features of Biblical Counseling

At its best, Biblical Counseling is:

Multi-Chromatic. Biblical Counseling addresses the whole person, body and soul. It recognizes both suffering (what comes at us) and sin (what comes out of us) as causes and effects in life-problems. Biblical counselors understand that life is not “thin” and always reducible to simple principles. Life is richly multi-layered and surprisingly complex. Not all worriers worry the same even though their anxiety is part of the same family of problems. Some depression stems from fear, some from anger, some from who-knows-where. Someone who cuts themselves may be saying something very different with their behavior than someone else.

Fearless. Biblical Counseling does not shy away from the “hard” problems. The gospel addresses things we’d rather run from, such as addictions, depression, anxiety, and self-injury. It is also not afraid of engaging with powerful secular theories (ex. addiction as disease) or half-truth Christian psychological theories (ex. “rest in God’s love so that you don’t have to rely on the affection and admiration of other people”). Because of common grace, Biblical Counselors can recognize and rejoice in the good of these other approaches while graciously and vigorously setting out the biblical alternative.

Realistic. Biblical Counselors recognize that change is progressive. Most often, life change is a process that can take time and involve setbacks. Change is possible (optimism), but change is difficult (realism). It helps that our goal is increasing conformity to the image of Christ, not well-oiled, functioning lives. Biblical Counselors (at their best) don’t aim at simply “making life work”–which, in some situations, could be an almost impossible goal.

Heart-Focused. Even though Biblical Counseling addresses the whole person, it is particularly focused on “the heart,” the spiritual control-center of our lives. Biblical Counselors know that we live “out of our hearts” and are driven, not by psychological “needs,” but by our worship, beliefs, inner motives, wants. Our hearts are “radically vertical.” All of life is worship–whether true or false. Biblical Counselors apply biblical categories to heart-motives. For example, “Kingdom allegiances” can drive our fear, worry, and anxiety, and “idolatry” is an helpful biblical category for understanding addiction. Biblical Counselors know that sin is not “thin” and can’t be reduced to our transgressive behaviors. Indwelling sin taints our whole person–desires, thoughts, attitudes, and all. The true and lasting solutions to our life problems have to address the heart with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Horizontal. Though our hearts are radically vertical, our lives are lived horizontally in community with other people. And we are all fellow sufferers and fellow sinners. Biblical Counselors know that there is no “us” and “them,” no “priestly counselor class.” Each believer is a priest, and each believer needs ministry. This actually helps the Biblical Counselor because he/she knows that they have a common experience of life with those they are helping. This horizontal dimension is simply a practical ecclesiology.

Truth-In-Love-Speaking. Biblical Counseling involves talking (note the speeches between the author and the addict named “Jim” in A Banquet in the Grave). The talking, however, is not just a Rogerian feeling-fest, but the speaking of biblical truth in love to the person caught in the problem. The content of the talking is the gospel displayed in its rich and manifold ways. Just as the Biblical Counselor knows that life is not “thin” and neither is sin, the counselor also knows that the Bible is not “thin.” The Bible, even with its one unified gospel message, is like a symphony carrying its melody into the variegated richness of everyday life. Biblical Counseling is biblical. It believes that the Scriptures sufficiently speak to everything–not saying everything there is to say about everything–but saying the most important things about everything that there is. The Bible does this in helpfully multi-chromatic ways. Biblical Counseling (at its best) does not say, “Take two Bible verses and call me in the morning.” Instead, it employs the rich and colorful depth of Scripture’s Big Story about Jesus and its multiple useful genres overlain on the vicissitudes of life.