This is the eighth post in a series through the 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling by Heath Lambert. Previous posts are indexed here (bottom of the post).
On Monday evening Heath Lambert did a Q&A event on Facebook Live to respond to many of the concerns his recent statement and actions have created (in the video link Dr. Lambert and Sean Perron begin talking at about the 6 minute mark). In this post I want to offer my thoughts and takeaways from this event.
For the most part I will work chronologically through the presentation (time stamps are approximations) in order to make it easier for my readers to follow along (if you missed the live event and are watching for the first time via the link above). I have done my best to capture accurately any excerpts I put in quotes and apologize for any errors that emerged in my transcription.
9 Minute Mark – “The biblical counseling movement and ACBC are most faithful to the 5 Solas of the Reformation.” If this were all that was being said, I would have no problem. I believe biblical counseling, which seeks to be rooted in the church and base its practice in Scripture, is the most faithful to the Reformation. We do our counseling as ministry. Others do counseling as their profession. This results in very similar limitations and freedoms that emerge between teachers in public schools, Christian schools, or home school settings.
My concern is that the promotion for the conference and Dr. Lambert’s calls for repentance gives the distinct impression that being “Faithfully Protestant” is limited to ACBC’s approach to counseling – equating differing on the ACBC view of sufficiency of Scripture for counseling with the Catholic sale of indulgences prior to the Reformation. My readers can watch the ACBC conference promotion video and read the 95 Theses to determine if this is a legitimate concern on my part.
9:30 Mark – Recent events “exposed fault lines within biblical counseling… did not create them.” Again, I agree and believe that is why conversations like this blog series are beneficial, even necessary. Biblical counseling has grown to the point that there are different views on the best ways to express our core tenets. I believe this is progress. Dr. Lambert believes this is progress. Dr. Lambert has even faced significant criticism from within the biblical counseling movement for calling this progress.
I am writing this series to say, particularly for those outside our movement who only know our most prominent voices, that not everyone in the biblical counseling movement is in support of Dr. Lambert’s recent expressions and applications of our core tenets.
11 Minute Mark – “I haven’t recognized my view of biblical counseling in the critiques of my writings.” My first response would be a question: “Has my series on the 95 Theses represented you well?” It has been my intent. For the degree to which I have fallen short of that goal, I apologize.
My concern, however, is that Dr. Lambert has not paid this honor to those who are concerned with his views. This is why I sent him an e-mail before the Q&A, which I framed a question and raised a concern:
What do you [Dr. Lambert] think those who are upset about your recent comments and writings are upset about? Can you put their concern into words that they would recognize and allow them to feel like you understand their position?
As it stands now, it seems that you’ve postured those who have concerns about your recent actions as being against basic Christian teaching and as not wanting to point people to Jesus.
For reasons I will get to later in this post, I do not believe Dr. Lambert met this standard. But to his point, I will raise two possibilities that can account for someone feeling misunderstood by their critics.
- It may mean their critics have not read them well or assessed them fairly. I believe this often happens to biblical counseling. But I also believe we must take some responsibility for this. When our loudest statements (i.e., intensity, frequency, and application points) are not our most refined statements (i.e., sentences within a 300 page book), we tempt our critics to respond based on what is “most known” about us instead of what is “best said” by us.
- It may also mean that we do not perceive ourselves accurately. I also believe this to be the case in this circumstance. I do not believe Dr. Lambert perceives accurately how he treats those with whom he disagrees. From what I can tell, his self-perception is both sincere and, in places, sincerely in error. That is another reason I have taken the time to write this post (see the assessment of how Dr. Lambert addressed concerns about his tone below; 18 minute mark).
16:30 Mark – “I want to try to hear what you [critics] have to say… [but please] frame your criticisms of me in the terms of what I have written.” That was the second matter I addressed in my e-mail to Dr. Lambert prior to the Facebook Live Q&A. I believe he is asking for a form of honor which should be given both ways, but which he has not displayed in his assessment of those he critiques. I asked:
Do you feel like you honored the same level of interpretive integrity – meaning author’s original intent taken in full context of their writing – with Eric Johnson, Mark Yarhouse, Gary Moon, and Diane Langberg’s writing as you expected from their writings? If these counselors treated Scripture as you treated their writings, would you be satisfied with their exegetical integrity?
18 Minute Mark – “When people say I don’t like your tone, I hear that they don’t like my convictions.” This statement is often true, but I do not believe it is an accurate assessment of the reaction to Dr. Lambert. Here is where I would invite my brother to hear himself. Consistently, in more places than the five I will reference below, the concern of tone by those outside our movement is more than a difference in conviction.
- 21 Minute Mark – “We’ve carved out counseling ministry as a place where it’s cool to have a choice not to talk about Jesus Christ.” Dr. Lambert portrays those who do not share his views as having a middle school-esque motivation for wanting to be liked by others. This is a form of belittling and talking down that does not honor those with whom he disagrees. It is, at best, an ineffective means of persuasion, and, at worst, evidence of the kind of prideful superiority those outside the movement frequently say is the trademark of biblical counseling.
- 41 Minute Mark – “Do we have to master the entire corpus of secular psychology? Do we have to go read every empirical research study?” Dr. Lambert portrays those who do not share his views as having impossibly high expectations of biblical counselors. This comes across as uninformed about the differences between a general practitioner (which is what most biblical counselors are) and a specialist (who would have done this type of study in their area of expertise). This is a form of mocking and is unbecoming of how one believer should address another in private, much less in public, discourse.
- 51 Minute Mark – Based on the misrepresentation of those Dr. Lambert calls to repent, he defends his actions by saying, “repentance is a good thing… calling someone to repent is an act of love.” I agree that repentance is a good thing and calling someone to repentance, when needed, is an act of love. But to appeal to this truth comes across as tone deaf, especially when Dr. Lambert has not represented accurately those he is calling to repent and then continues to misrepresent those who would seek to point out his acts of dishonor (“The irony is that I’m being called to repentance for calling people to repentance”).
- 55 Minute Mark – “So often when I read Christian psychologists the Bible seems like this stale, abstract book that is good for preaching and generalizations… Then I go to an ACBC conference and I see Scripture spring to life.” I reference back to my assessment of Dr. Lambert’s comments at the 16:30 mark. I do not believe Dr. Lambert could have read books by Diane Langberg and Eric Johnson and say this is how they view the Bible. At best, this is an example of confirmation bias – finding what he expects to find when he reads a book or attends a conference. At worst, it is a form of dishonest slander against fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
- 1 Hour 5 Minute Mark – “I wonder what kind of account we will give as counselors if we talked about financial advice and sex tips, but never got around to Jesus.” This trivializes the type of conversations that occur in his critics’ counseling. It also implies that those Dr. Lambert is critiquing never talk about Jesus. However, if you read the books of Diane Langberg and Eric Johnson (the best representation we have of their counseling practice), you will see that they frequently speak of Jesus as the source of hope and healing for a sin-marred, suffering-laden world.
I believe these types of statements represent what is being referenced when people say they do not like Dr. Lambert’s tone. Even as someone who is part of the biblical counseling movement and wants to uphold the core tenets of biblical counseling, I also find these things unbecoming and out of place.
23 Minute Mark – Dr. Lambert appeals to Luke 16 and his desire that no one who sees a Christian counselor cry out from Hell in eternity that they never heard the gospel. I share this burden. My concern is that the messenger is getting in the way of the message.
I am encouraged by the number of licensed counselors I speak with who are finding ways to share the gospel in counseling, see people come to faith in the midst of their hardships, and use Scripture more frequently in their sessions or homework. These licensed counselors almost inevitably give thanks for the challenges they’ve received from the biblical counseling movement to move in this direction. But these same licensed counselors also frequently speak of their surprise that a biblical counselor would be cordial and genuinely inquisitive in their interactions, because the tone of our public discourse and writings has given them the impression that biblical counselors were against them.
25 to 32 Minute Mark – “We need sources of information other than just Scripture.” I was encouraged by the content in this section, although disappointed by the sense of exasperation that it needed to be said again. If, as a movement, we are not known for something, it likely means we need to do a better job of modeling what we believe.
48 Minute Mark – “Christians needs to grow in how to share the gospel in the counseling office.” Absolutely. But we need to develop this practice with the same skill and grace that we allow for teachers in public school systems (an example Dr. Lambert gives in his response, but doesn’t develop). As a movement, we need to help counselors think through informed consent to limit their liability. We need to raise up more entrepreneurial-minded counselors who will start counseling centers where they can set the policies. This will require us to become more informed about setting up formal counseling practices and counseling ethics when counseling is not done with or by members of the same congregation.
In conclusion, if we – the biblical counseling movement – are going to have influence in what Dr. Lambert wants – seeing the gospel become more overt in counseling conversations by Christian counselors of all stripes – we will have to (a) be more honoring in how we engage them in private and public discourse and (b) need to be a more active part of developing the best practices that fit well with a formal counseling environment. I am passionately for both of these things and pray that this series continues to be a part of seeing Christ and the gospel become more overt in counseling, from its most informal to formal expressions.