Recently, I’ve noticed more conversations about who is and who isn’t a biblical counselor. With that comes conversations about how to define biblical counseling and whether there are different types of biblical counselors. My hope for this article is to offer a classification system that fosters these important conversations.
I’ll start by suggesting five types of biblical counselors. As with any list of this nature, I acknowledge this one could be condensed or expanded.
First, Expository Biblical Counselors – Often these individuals are referred to as “Traditional Biblical Counselors.” But I think the adjective “Expository” captures their key distinctive better. They want each counseling session to explore, explain, and apply one or more Bible passages. For these individuals, counseling and discipleship are almost complete synonyms. Holiness (character) and healthiness (functioning), at least in the emotional and relational spheres, are also considered synonyms by Expository Biblical Counselors. The dominant question for this group is, “How do we remain faithful to the Bible?”
Second, Shepherding Biblical Counselors – These individuals share much in common with Expository Biblical Counselors, but these pastors are more concerned with their church than the biblical counseling movement. They want to faithfully care for their congregation and view many of the debates within biblical counseling a distraction from what they are most passionate about. When Shepherding Biblical Counselors read resources from Professional Biblical Counselors (see fifth type), the difference in setting and role makes it feel like these highly formalized counselors are doing something different from their day-to-day pastoral care. It feels foreign and, therefore, can create a sense of suspicion.
Third, Peer-Based Biblical Counselors – These individuals are mobilizers who are passionate about one another care within a local church. Their style of counseling doesn’t happen in a professional’s office or a pastor’s. It happens in living rooms and coffee shops. They want to deepen friendships within the church and equip small group leaders to be more effective care givers. They “just want to help people,” and want the resources they read to sound like something they would say in an everyday conversation.
Fourth, Biblical Counseling Explorers – Often these individuals are referred to as “Progressive Biblical Counselors.” But I think “Explorers” captures their key distinctive better. They love biblical counseling but are focused on what’s “next” for the movement. Their driving questions are, “What hasn’t been covered in our theory and practice? What needs do we currently not address well? What models of care and counseling need to be developed?” Biblical Counseling Explorers view integrationist and Christian Psychologists as people-helping neighbors who offer a different type of care but make valuable conversation partners for sharpening skills and identifying blind spots in biblical counseling.
Fifth, Professional Biblical Counselors – These individuals have biblical counseling as their base theory of counseling but operate as licensed counselors and/or in professional settings. They accept the limitations that come with honoring a state licensing board’s ethical code for the additional opportunities to serve their clients. Biblical counselors who minister in a church setting often view these limitations as unnecessary obstacles (at best) or compromises (at worst).
It is not my intent to try to name which authors and counselors goes in which category. I’ll leave that matching quiz up to you. Personally, I am a Biblical Counseling Explorer who spent 10 years as a Professional Biblical Counselor but is now focused on developing Peer-Based biblical counseling resources. As you can see from my background, these categories aren’t mutually exclusive and many of us bridge or transition categories.
But I hope these categories allow you to ask two important questions.
- Where do you fit? What is your passion and calling? What kind of biblical counselor are you?
- When you can tell something is “off” in a conversation with a fellow biblical counselor, consider whether it’s because they are a different type of biblical counselor?
Four Core Values of Biblical Counseling
Five types of biblical counselors assume that there is some common core that defines what it means to be a biblical counselor. There are different types of dogs, but we can differentiate dogs from cats or rats (admittedly, chihuahuas can blur this line). With that in mind, here are four convictions I believe someone should be able to affirm to legitimately identify as a biblical counselor.
First, the Primacy and Finality of Scripture – Biblical counselors believe Scripture gets the first and last word on any subject to which the Bible speaks. Some biblical counselors prefer to work exclusively from the Bible, but the Bible does not portray special revelation and general revelation as being in competition with one another. Instead, special revelation is clearer and helps us rightly interpret general revelation. But honoring the Bible does not mean disavowing things like evidenced-based practices for counseling. However, Expository, Shepherding, and Peer-Based Biblical Counselors are unlikely to find the biblically legitimate versions of these practices a good fit (because they’re too formal) for their setting.
Second, the Necessity of the Gospel – Biblical counselors believe that any change that effects the heart and has eternal significance must be rooted in the gospel. This does not mean that change is impossible apart from the gospel, but that improvements at the cognitive, emotional, or relational level do not change our standing before God. They make us more functional, but do not remove the barrier to our relationship with God (i.e., sin). Biblical counselors want to see their work move from temporal change to change of ultimate significance. Some view offering temporal change methods as “offering a cup of therapeutic water in Jesus’ name,” others view it as “air conditioning the trains to hell” by turning off life’s alarm system without addressing someone’s ultimate need.
Third, a Balanced View of Sin and Suffering – Biblical counselors believe that the origin of all human struggles began in Genesis 3. Both sin and suffering emanate from the marring effect of Adam and Eve’s original sin. While individual counselors – both secular and Christian – typically lean towards either a sin (responsibility) or suffering perspective, the gospel does not. The gospel offers forgiveness and freedom from sin, and comfort and meaning amid suffering. Counselors that are accurate ambassadors of the gospel are equally competent to care for both and do not allow their natural inclination to overshadow the needs of each counselee.
Fourth, the Centrality of the Local Church – Biblical counselors want to see the church have the full redemptive impact God intended. Biblical counselors who work in the church, fulfill this purpose through their preaching, teaching, equipping, and counseling. Biblical counselors who work in private practice, fulfill this purpose by being a place for believers to step out of the flow of life and work on their challenges to engage life in their Christian community more fully. Either way, a biblical counselor recognizes that God made people for community and encourage participation in the local church as part of God’s design for a healthy, flourishing life.
After reading this article, I would encourage you to reflect on two sets of questions.
- What type of biblical counselor are you? Is there a type of biblical counselor that should be on this list that I omitted?
- Do these four convictions capture who you want to be as a counselor? How do each of these convictions express themselves in the setting where you provide care?