I was recently listening to a leading proponent of Emotional Intelligence (Dr. Robert Solomon at The University of Texas at Austin) give a series of lectures. He did a great job articulating his views. As he did so, he made two points that are generally considered staples of the biblical counseling movement:

  1. Secular psychology, especially in its popular versions, is more philosophy than science.
  2. Emotions reveal our values and true self more than our biology or something that merely happen to us.

He made the points so well that I wanted to say “Amen!” but I’m not sure how he would have taken it. From other parts of his lectures it was clear that his view of God was very different from mine. Although he interacted with Christian thinkers, He did not think should God be used as our standard of “healthy emotions.”

As I’ve reflected for several months on the experience of hearing someone who would have a very low view of Christ’s relevance (no more than any other great moral teacher) for emotions make points that are so frequently echoed in biblical counseling talk, I’ve been left with two conclusions.

First, there were parts of his presentation that I liked better than ours. Because he was only taking one step forward (not trying to also gain adherence for the necessity of the gospel or Scripture), he devoted more time in his presentation to develop the points we share in common. He wasn’t in a hurry to get to “the main point” so I think many of his listeners would have heard him as being less biased and more informed than a biblical counselor making the same point.

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If the first part of effective teaching is to create doubt in confidently held inaccurate notions or raise questions in people who are unhealthily at rest, then, on these two points, I would say this man was better than I am at gaining a hearing with an audience skeptical to his message.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I think we (biblical counselors) can err on the side of being so excited about the punch line that we fail to develop the joke; we can be so excited about the answer that we don’t develop the question as well as we could; especially for those parts of our community who don’t share a large foundation of beliefs with us.

Second, I was disappointed in how little hope he had to offer. He could explain emotions vividly from internal motivation to social ramifications. I picked up many things that I have and will continue to use to help people see how they are doing / pursuing their emotions. I learned a great deal about the noetic effects of sin (how sin effects our thinking, although Dr. Solomon would not use that language).

But the prescription didn’t live up to the description. It was like a song with a great beginning that swells into a stellar middle and then falls flat. The excellence of the first two parts is not forgotten, but they do make the ending extra disappointing.

I was reminded that you can believe what biblical counseling believes about people (anthropology or theory of human motivation) and what biblical counseling believes about particular subjects (the limits of science), but that these things are not ultimately what defines biblical counseling.

Biblical counseling is ultimately about its hope – Christ. Unless what we believe about people makes Christ necessary, then our agreement is not as significant as it might appear.

But I don’t want to end this post negatively. As I tried to say by example earlier, the fact our agreements are not as significant as they initially sound, does not mean I cannot learn from you (if we currently disagree). In this case I learned a great deal. I believe these lectures made me a better counselor, teacher, and evangelist; husband, father, and friend. I want to learn and be challenged by those with extensive study, case experience, and teaching excellence.

However, as I learn (from both areas of agreement and disagreement), I hope the fairness and eagerness with which I listen to you will allow you to hear me say, “The area where our paths diverge is, in my opinion, the most important part of the counseling and our personal journey. It is obvious you care deeply for people and think well about what ails the human condition. I’d like to continue the conversation about why I think theology has to be added to philosophy if we are going to offer the kind of hope I hear you eager to give.”

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Counseling Theory” post which address other facets of this subject.