This is the second post in a series through the 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling by Heath Lambert. The first post, with index to other posts, can be found here (index is at the bottom of the post).
How do you start a profitable conversation when you know there are going to be differences of opinion? You start where you agree. By starting where you are aligned, you accomplish two things: (a) you show that you are a fair-minded participant in the conversation, and (b) you can discern where differences would be most easily navigated.
In this post I will make a running commentary on many (not all) of Dr. Lambert’s Theses that I would affirm. I won’t quote them verbatim – you can read along at the link above – but paraphrase them and briefly expound upon the significance of our agreements. I am not inferring in this post that Dr. Lambert would agree with my commentary on the areas where we agree in principle.
Thesis 10 – Counseling is not fundamentally a scientific profession. Even in its most evidenced-based practices, the skill and art of the counselor and the therapeutic bond (trust) between the counselor and counselee are essential components of the helping process that cannot be reduced to science. This is true without mentioning the philosophical under-pinnings that are inherent in any counseling theory.
Thesis 15 – Jesus is the standard of healthy, optimal (holy) human functioning toward which a Christian counselor should desire to help a counselee make progress. On this I believe Millard Erickson speaks accurately and clearly.
“The Bible’s depiction of the human race is that it today is actually in an abnormal condition…. In a very real sense, the only true human beings were Adam and Eve before the fall, and Jesus. All the others are twisted, distorted, corrupted samples of humanity (p. 518).” Millard Erickson in Christian Theology
Thesis 22 – God equipped his people, the church, to care skillfully before the advent of modern therapies. However, this does not mean that the church cannot become more skilled and that we cannot learn from others. But any view of Christian counseling should have a high view of how God equipped his people prior to the last 100 years.
Theses 23 and 25 – Effective Christian counseling is dependent upon the life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit who points people to Jesus Christ. Christian counseling cannot be reduced to a set of theoretical presuppositions about people and practical techniques with which to approach problems. Christian counseling is Spirit-dependant and Christ-centered.
Theses 27 and 28 – The utilization of Scripture in counseling does not guarantee the success of counseling. Personally, I have frequently found myself to be unskillful with Scripture or ill-informed about the struggle of a counselee. My reliance upon and usage of Scripture did not erase these obstacles to effectiveness in counseling.
Thesis 31 – The Bible is authoritative on every issue it addresses. God is the author and designer of human beings – cognitions, bodies, affections, will, interpersonal protocols, and any other component relevant to the counseling endeavor. When God speaks to how we function or how we are to respond, He is right.
Thesis 33 – A resource does not have to be comprehensive or exhaustive in order to be sufficient for a given task. A resource does not have to address all neighboring subjects in order to be sufficient for a given task.
- Note: Here we have to be fair in the way the word “sufficient” is being used. In these sentences, it means something closer to “adequate for a given task” than “necessarily superior to any other resource.” While the latter might be true, it is not proven by the logic above. One of the concerns I have with Dr. Lambert’s 95 Theses is that, in my opinion, at times he uses words in multiple ways and then builds his point based upon interchanging these definitions.
Thesis 41 – Christians should be grateful for and willing to learn from the good work being done in secular psychology. While Dr. Lambert and I agree on this Thesis, from what I can tell, I am willing to give more weight to it – both in my personal practice of counseling and how I assess my evangelical Christian counseling peers – than he feels comfortable doing. It seems that this Thesis is out-numbered 94-1 by the others.
Thesis 42 – Sin impacts how we think. The “noetic effects of sin” has long been a concern for biblical counseling. Both at the personal and institutional level, I affirm that we need to be wary of how sin distorts what we believe to be “good thinking,” “sound logic,” and “common sense.”
Thesis 43 – When a counseling theory or practice is at odds with Scripture, the Christian counselor should abstain from it and seek, as agents of salt and light in their circles of influence, to use their influence to dissuade the popularity of that practice even in secular circles. The latter component is why I believe we need solid Christians in the secular fields of empirical psychology to serve as a redemptive-culture-preserving role in the secular counseling establishment – which has great influence on our society.
Thesis 45 – The Bible uses different language to name and describe the life difficulties found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This difference of language does not disqualify the Bible from effectively speaking to these life struggles. By the same token, the difference of language in the DSM does not disqualify it from recognizing helpful patterns and correlations that may assist in making more practical application of Scripture.
Thesis 47 – When secular therapies are effective we will find the same principles and practices in Scripture. The modern copyright principle would say that it is appropriate to give credit to the earlier resource; in this case, Scripture. However, the integrity principle would say that if someone or something has advanced utility of counseling practice or principle that credit should also be given to the latter developer.
Thesis 52 – All secular therapies have a major deficiency in their conceptualization of human beings because they do not recognize that we are beings created in the image of God for the purpose of worship. The implications of this are far-reaching and pervasive to the practice of counseling.
Thesis 54 – The more enamored we are by one thing the less attention we tend to give to another. The more “wow’ed” we are by the empirical, biological, and theoretical findings of psychology, the less investment of time and energy we tend to make in studying Scripture to understand human functioning, dysfunction, and restoration. This correlation is not absolute, but it is strong enough to be taken as a sober warning against becoming distracted from Scripture as our ultimate guide for life.
Theses 77 and 78 – Counseling is not just done by professionals; although I believe those with advanced training and experience can bring unique assets to the helping relationship (more on the advantages and disadvantage of thinking in terms of layers of competency can be found here). When we strictly professionalize helping conversations, we inadvertently stigmatize many life struggles. We also limit access to care for those who cannot afford professionals. These are significant reasons why God designed the church to be a redemptive community filled with “people in need of change helping people in need of change” (credit to Paul Tripp for this phrase).
Thesis 79 – A significant part of the pastoral ministry is equipping church members to care well for one another. Part of this equipping task is modeling excellent pastoral care as they care for members of the congregation.
Thesis 80 – The Bible is only authoritative when it is interpreted correctly. I am passionate enough about this point that I wrote my Th.M. Thesis (paper to culminate an advanced degree; not succinct point in a list of points) on “Exegetical Fallacies in Evangelical Christian Counseling.” I long to see Christian counselors become better interpreters of Scripture.
Theses 81 and 84 – There is no way to effectively care for the soul and not also skillfully care for the body. Any approach to Christian counseling that neglects good care for the body (practices like healthy diet, exercise, sleep, etc., or wise use of medication) is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, dangerous.
Theses 93, 94, and 95. People are sinful, sufferers, and weak. We do bad things. We have bad things done to us. We have aptitudes that are subpar and negatively impact our ability to enjoy life and love/serve others well. Counseling needs to be able to speak of the forgiveness of Christ for sin, the comfort of Christ for suffering, and the patience of Christ for weakness.
I hope in this post the reader is able to see that Dr. Lambert and I share much common ground in our views on biblical counseling. At places, even when we agree, we say and emphasize things differently. That is to be expected; we’re not clones or even identical twins separated at birth. In future posts I will begin to explore areas where it seems, at least to me, that Dr. Lambert and I differ on how we think about biblical counseling or how it should relate to its evangelical and secular counseling neighbors.