This article offers a definition of biblical counselling, and explains its benefits. It also considers what secular counselling looks like.

Source: The Outlook, 1993. 4 pages.

Whom Are You Going to Call?

You or one of your loved ones runs into difficulty in life or in solving problems. Maybe it is a marriage or family problem, maybe a personal problem. Whom are you going to call for help? A friend? A relative? Your pastor? A professional coun­selor? In our secularized and psychologized culture and churches,1 it is imperative that you know both the integrity of heart and the theology of the person to whom you bare your soul and whose advice you em­brace. Because there are only two kinds of counsel and God insists that you listen to His counsel and not to that of His rival, you need discernment (Psalm 1).2 What Biblical counseling is and why it is important are ques­tions you need to ponder before you pick up the phone.

Let's define what Biblical counseling is, as over against secular approaches or those religious approaches that attempt to integrate religious truth with secular psychologies, because definitions are foundational to discernment. Secular psychiatrist Thomas Szasz perceptively points out:

Definitions, especially the power to construct definitions and to impose them on oth­ers, are of great importance in all aspects of human life. In psychiatry and psycho­therapy, because these dis­ciplines deal with human re­lations and with the influ­ence of persons and groups on one another, how words are used is extremely impor­tant.3

Your definitions of the process of counseling and the problems to be addressed and solved will largely determine the methods used and advice offered. If your foundation is not Jesus Christ and Scripture, your system will be corrupt; if your foundation is Christ but your materials are non-Biblical and secular, your edifice will burn (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:6-8).

As Szasz and others note, un­til recently counseling was de­fined as giving advice; but now all sorts of activities are viewed as therapeutic or counseling.4 In western culture, especially due to secularized philosophy and science, there are 250+ recognizable counseling systems.5

But God's Word6 and history point to counseling as giving ad­vice in the form of a plan to accomplish goals. Biblical Coun­seling is giving Biblical advice in the form of a Biblical plan to accomplish God's revealed goals. Jesus was called the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) and the Holy Spirit the Other Counselor (John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-11, 1 John 2:1).7 Paul viewed coun­seling as a necessary part of his ministry of God's Word (Colossians 1:27-29; Acts 20:20-21, 31).8 Therefore, the activity of coun­seling is a subset of the Chris­tian ministry. Biblical counsel­ing is ministering God's Word in a discipleship relationship.

Secular counseling is viewed as the application of a natural science which can and should function totally apart from God and His Word. All secular sys­tems are purportedly self-con­tained and reject the necessity of revelatory references: materi­alism, naturalism and human­ism reign supreme.

The presuppositions of Biblical counseling are those of the Bible. This extensive data about God, creation, the world, the fall, God's promise of salvation in the covenant of grace, the history of God's redemption, salvation by sovereign grace, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the necessity of special verbal revelation from God, the written canon and its infallibility, sufficiency, clar­ity and comprehensiveness in all areas of ethics (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4) is the mother-lode from which we mine the pure ore of truth that is re­fined and forged into a counsel­ing system.9

Every variety of secular coun­seling builds its system on non-Biblical presuppositions: evolu­tionary materialism, mystical pantheism or some other pagan world and life view. In secular circles the definitions of the na­ture of man, his problems and their solutions are hotly debated. Even the very validity of many psychological concepts are under heavy fire: self-esteem,10 mental illness,11 the medical model of addiction and recovery,12 psycho­therapy,13 the precision of the psy­chiatric bible, i.e. the DSM.14 Why would Christians want to buy into this cacophony of conceptual con­fusion?

The goal of Biblical counseling is to counsel and teach every man so that he might be pre­sented complete in Christ (Colossians 1:27-29). Christ-like maturity or holiness is the goal of Paul's instruction so that the counselee will love God and his neighbor (1 Timothy 1:5). Such godly disciples glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Cat­echism, question and answer #1).

Secular counseling has a plethora of goals, usually cen­tered around personal wellbeing or happiness. The coun­selor and counselee, in some combination, determine the goals for the counselee. Such man-centered decisions amount to man making himself into his own image or imaginations and therefore, is a form of idolatry (2 Corinthians 10:7-12) from which Chris­tians must guard themselves and flee (1 Corinthians. 10:14; 1 John 5:21). Unregenerate counselors will never aid Christian counselees in their efforts to con­form to the image of Jesus Christ.15

The method of Biblical counsel­ing flows from the presupposi­tions and nature of counseling. The model of a shepherd minis­tering the Word of God to a dis­ciple is normative. The counselee is to become like his teacher-counselor (Matthew 10:24­25; Luke 6:40).

The secular model revolves around a professional medical practitioner-patient relationship. While not totally devoid of per­sonal elements, this mechanical model is not pastoral, nor is the populist model of the self-help group movement.

The organizational and func­tional control over Biblical coun­seling is the church. Because counseling is a ministry of the Word, the ordained elders are to oversee the process. While much informal counseling and care come under the "one-mothering" of the New Testament, when counseling moves into the for­mal stages the elders must take charge (Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 20:17-35; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-5).16

State licensed and controlled counseling takes away preroga­tives of the family and church. This state directed monopoly is fraught with many negative im­plications; only the state and third-party payment supported therapists gain. While seemingly benign, this secular model robs the church of her God-given duty and vitiates its authority. Secu­lar self-help groups often avoid state control, but still rob the church by substituting them­selves for her.

The participants in Biblical counseling are ordained elders and men and women under their oversight (Titus 2:1-8). This model has implications for evan­gelism as well as pastoral care. Just as the church's loss of deaconal ministry to the state's socialized welfare system means that the culture looks to the heart of the government for compassion and not to the family and church, so too state licensed counselors are the chief advice givers and helpers and not the family and church. Womb-to-­tomb, the state becomes the ex­clusive father and mother of all. Germany and Russia are grim reminders of the bitter fruits of such a system.

Secular licensing replaces or­dination as the guarantee of quality help. Today, while church discipline of elders and parishioners is often neglected or botched, state oversight of li­censed counselors is even worse. This statist system rivals God's church. As Jay Adams says, God does not bless His competi­tion. Jeroboam found that modi­fying God's ordained methods brings His wrath. God not only judges gross manifestations of sinful rebellion, e.g. abortion, adultery and homosexuality, but also more subtle usurpation of His ordained ways, e.g. femi­nism, egalitarianism and state encroachment on the authority of the family and the church.

Biblical counseling trains be­lievers to use their spiritual gifts through discipleship. The pas­tor-teacher should discover, de­velop and deploy those with the gift of counseling (Romans 12:8). While all Christians counsel, just as all evangelize, not all are gifted to evangelize or counsel as a call­ing within the body of Christ. Since the Holy Spirit gifts some, formal training and use of these gifts should be available in eve­ry believing congregation. For example, trained couples could do the bulk of the pre-marital counseling and older women could do the bulk of the coun­seling with women (Titus 2:3-5). This would also help the marital fidelity of elders and parishion­ers alike.

The secular model is one of professional graduate education. While graduate work is not wrong per se, a pagan-Greek academic model, coupled with modern humanistic content does not produce godly counselors. The local congregation following the Biblical model of intense discipleship will produce godly counselors. Secular graduate school in the social sciences in general and psychology in par­ticular, is like a mine field booby-trapped with pagan religious assumptions and pleasant pagans with an abundance of superfi­cial substitutes for the fruit of the Spirit. Every graduate school of psychology or psychiatry should have inscribed above its portal: WARNING: The Good Shepherd has determined that graduate school in psychology can be dangerous to your spiri­tual health.

Is this an overreaction? Listen again to secularist Szasz:

In short, psychotherapy is secular ethics. It is the reli­gion of the formally irreli­gious — with its language, which is not Latin but medi­cal jargon; with its codes of conduct, which are not ethi­cal but legalistic; and with its theology, which is not Chris­tianity but positivism.17

This then is WHAT Biblical counseling is: a radical return to a Biblical model and method of dealing with moral ethical is­sues. The physician works with the body; the pastoral counselor with the spirit or soul. But WHY is it important?

The Westminster Shorter Cat­echism question 1 gives us our answer: What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to en­joy Him forever. Nothing less than God's glory is at stake in Biblical counseling. God's char­acter is impugned if we do not believe that His counsel and His method of counseling in the Bible are sufficient. Has or has not God given us everything pertain­ing to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4)? God has not revealed everything that we need for physics or auto mechanics, but He has in the area of holiness in our relationship with Him, oth­ers and ourselves. God's Word brings about conversion, sanc­tification and wisdom that can come through no other instrument (Psalms 19; Romans 1-2; Hebrews 4:12-13; Hebrews. 5:11-14). The in­errancy, infallibility and suffi­ciency of Scripture are at stake. General revelation, common grace and general wisdom can never replace the Word of God.

We live in an age of apostasy. Harold O. J. Brown points to the near death of orthodoxy.18 The great battles early in this cen­tury between liberals and con­servatives over Biblical inerrancy have become the battles over the Bible's sufficiency,19 between neo-evangelical and historically reformed people and true Bibli­cal scholars and believers. Bib­lical counseling is at the center of this battle.20

Man's enjoyment is inextrica­bly bound to God's glory. Indi­viduals will not become Christ-like except through the Word (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Families will not be strong covenantal units without God's Word (Psalms 127; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Our churches will continue to mime the world un­til God's Word once again be­comes the true foundation of Christian scholarship.

Most undergraduate and graduate programs at Christian institutions are as bad or worse than their secular counterparts. Neither Biblical fish - in the ex­egetical Augustinian, Reformed tradition - nor humanistic fowl - in the enlightenment critical tra­dition - they become more and more like Jesuit institutions ra­tionalizing all kinds of integra­tion of paganism into the church. Therefore, they do justice to nei­ther general revelation and scientific study nor to special rev­elation and Biblical theology. Modeled upon secular education, they are worldly clones in the deepest sense. Most Christian hospitals and counseling centers fall into this paganized pattern. Reformed groups are no better. The meaning, model and meth­ods of the church have lost their saltiness and light. Exaggerated? No.

The history of Holland's slide from the day of Abraham Kuyper into its present socialized pa­ganism is being repeated in the U.S.A. and Canada. While each country differs significantly, the demise of Reformed churches in each has lead to cultural de­cline. The very future of west­ern civilization hinges on Chris­tianity. Biblical counseling is one key factor in this war to preserve Biblical orthodoxy and western culture.

The church at the end of the twentieth century must decide between the City of God and the City of Man. Which will it be? Reformed churches must decide who is Lord and Master. Choose this day whom you will serve. Whom are you going to call?


  1. ^  For proof of this trend within the church as well as the general culture see David A. Powlison, "Integration or Inunda­tion," Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?, ed. M.S. Horton (Moody, 1992), 191-218 
  2. ^ Jay E. Adams, A Theology of Counsel­ing (Zondervan, 1979).
  3. ^ Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Psycho­therapy: Mental Healing as Religion, Rhetoric and Repression (Oxford U. Press, 1979), 4.
  4. ^ Idem, xii
  5. ^ R. A. Harper, Psychoanalysis and Psy­chotherapy: 36 Systems (Jason Aronson, 1974) is a good overview of some.
  6. ^ G.C. Scipione, "The Wonderful Coun­selor, The Other Counselor and Chris­tian Counseling," Westminster Theo­logical Journal, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, 174­-197; No. 3, 261-389  
  7. ^ Idem.
  8. ^ Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Zondervan, 1970)
  9. ^ David A. Powlison, "Which Presuppo­sitions: Secular Psychology and the Categories of Biblical Thought," Jour­nal of Psychology and Theology, 1984, Vol. 12, No. 4, 270-278.
    Jay Adams says the Bible designates three things that can go wrong in man: physical, spiritual, demonic. For ex­ample, the concept of mental illness is not Biblical. This article is too short to deal with such issues. See Competent to Counsel.
  10. ^ Newsweek, Vol. CXIX, No. 7, Feb. 17, 1992. The front cover bears the title, "The Curse of Self-Esteem"; J. Adler, P. Wingert, L. Wright, P. Houston, H. Manley, A. D. Cohen, "Hey I'm Ter­rific," 46-51.
  11. ^ T. Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness (Harper & Row, 1984). 
  12. ^ H. Fingarette, Heavy Drinking (U. of California Press, 1988); S. Peele, Diseasing of America: Addiction Treat­ment Out of Control (Lexington Books, 1989); S. J. Katz, A. G. Liu, The Co-Dependency Conspiracy: How to Break the Recovery Habit and Take Charge of Your Life (Warner, 1992); W. Kaminar, I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional (Addison-Wesley, 1992).
  13. ^ T. Szasz, The Myth of Psychotherapy.  
  14. ^ E. E. Goode, "Sick of just quirky?: Psy­chiatrists are labeling more and more human behaviors abnormal." U.S. News and World Report. Feb. 10, 1992, Vol. 112, No. 5, 49-50; T. Szasz, "Diagnoses are not diseases," Lancet, Vol. 338, Dec. 21/28, 1992, 1954-1976. The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statisti­cal Manual of Mental Disorders which is going through its fourth revision.
  15. ^ Jay Adams, Change Them - Into What? Counseling in America Today (CCEF, 1978).
    Adams gave this lecture at the Univer­sity Psychiatric Clinic in Vienna, Aus­tria.
  16. ^ Jay Adams, Handbook of Church Dis­cipline (Zondervan, 1986).
  17. ^ Szasz, Myth of Psychotherapy, 9-10.
  18. ^ Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies: The Im­age of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy (Baker, 1984).
  19. ^ Noel Weeks, Sufficiency (Banner of Truth, 1988).
  20. ^ John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ (Word, 1991).

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