Book Review: Scripture and Counseling: Introduction

The following is part one of a chapter-by-chapter review of "Scripture and Counseling: God's Word for Life in a Broken World." The book is the latest publication from the Biblical Counseling Coalition and Zondervan Publishing. Dr. Bob Kellemen is the General Editor, and Dr. Jeff Forrey is the Managing Editor. 

My intent for this review is to create a series that interacts with each of the book's chapters, and their main ideas. I've chosen this format because of the importance of each chapter. 

Scripture and Counseling is a book that draws upon the knowledge and expertise of twenty leaders from within the biblical counseling movement. It seeks to help the reader regain confidence in God's Word as sufficient to address life's issues. The book is a critical addition to the greater body of work concerning biblical counseling, and one that every counselor, pastor, and small group leader should possess.

Scripture and Counseling: Introduction: The Preacher, The Counselor, and The Congregation
by Kevin DeYoung and Pat Quinn

As the Founder and Executive Director of a still-new biblical counseling ministry, in an area relatively unfamiliar with biblical counseling, one of the most important tasks I've faced in introducing pastors to the ministry is sharing with them the ways in which biblical counseling complements their pre-existing pulpit and teaching ministries. 

In the Introduction to Scripture and Counseling, authors Kevin DeYoung  and Pat Quinn have provided not just another superfluous opening act to an otherwise good book, but a chapter that answers questions like how counseling and pulpit ministry coalesce in a local church, and, perhaps most importantly, what is the basis for counseling and pulpit ministry being joined together.

In the Introduction, DeYoung and Quinn provide the reader with four pillars upon which the partnership of pulpit and counseling rest. Concerning God's Word, those pillars are the necessity, authority, sufficiency, and relevance of Scripture. Each of these are explained in brief, and connections made between the office of preacher and counselor. 

In making their argument for the local church embracing biblical counseling ministry, DeYoung and Quinn show that, contrary to the common view that separates what the pastor does on Sunday, from what the counselor does on Monday, the work of these two disciple-making ministries are intricately linked because of their shared reliance upon Scripture, that is, where Scripture is in fact the basis for ministry.

In the opening paragraph, DeYoung and Quinn write that, "The ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the counselor are not different kinds of ministry, but rather the same ministry given in different ways in different settings. Both are fundamentally, thoroughly, and unapologetically Word ministries."

To this point, and within their explanation of the necessity of Scripture for preaching and biblical counseling, DeYoung and Quinn show that, "The care of souls requires revelation from the Maker of souls. We preach and we counsel from the Scriptures not simply because they help us see a few good insights, but because they are the spectacles through which we must see everything."

DeYoung and Quinn then share specific case examples of how their ministries have complemented one another in the local church where they serve, beginning with the preaching of DeYoung, followed by the one-another ministry of Quinn's counsel. 

DeYoung and Quinn write that their unique ministries have been mutually supportive because of a "shared commitment" to the pillars of Scripture for "helping people work through suffering and sin issues in a way that glorifies God and brings spiritual growth."

From my perspective, as someone who's reaching out to local pastors in a community not accustomed to church-based, clinically-informed biblical counseling, the Introduction to Scripture and Counseling serves as an excellent opportunity to encourage pastors and church leaders to consider how biblical counseling promises to enhance disciple-making, promote lasting life transformation within the congregation, and enhance existing pulpit ministry.

DeYoung and Quinn rightly point out, "We do not need to be afraid to preach and counsel from the Word of God into the deepest places of the human heart." And, through their Introduction to Scripture and Counseling, we also learn that the church can embrace preaching and counseling as complementary ministries of the Word, each emanating from confidence in the necessity, authority, sufficiency, and relevance of Scripture.

Kevin DeYoung is the Senior Pastor of University Reformed Church, serving alongside Pat Quinn, who is the Pastor of Counseling Ministries.

Book Review: Gospel Centered Counseling

The biblical counseling movement is drawing more attention these days than ever before, and deservedly so. As the American church leans into a post-Christian culture, where the church as we’ve known it for generations has lost influence, what we’re witnessing simultaneously are skyrocketing complaints, and diagnoses of problematic behaviors, and emotions. The promise of biblical counseling for those struggling with life dominating concerns is nothing less than the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, mediated through a loving, accountable, personal ministry of the word.

One of the most recent contributions to the growing dialogue that began with Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel” in 1970, is Dr. Bob Kellemen’s newest book, “Gospel Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives” (GCC). GCC is part of Kellemen’s “Equipping Biblical Counselors Series,” which is designed to provide counselors, pastors, and spiritual friends with the needed theological, and counseling related tools to further promote lasting, Gospel-centered life change.

Kellemen’s stated goal for GCC, and the forthcoming “Gospel Conversations,” is to, “further equip you for the gospel-centered process of seeing lives changed through the changeless truth of Christ’s gospel of grace” (p.21). He accomplishes this goal by presenting the reader with answers to what he calls “Eight Ultimate Life Questions.” These questions are (p.19):
  1. The Word: Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?
  2. The Trinity/Community: What comes into mind when we think about God?
  3. Creation: Whose are we?
  4. Fall: What’s the root source of our problem?
  5. Redemption: how does Christ bring us peace with God?
  6. Church: Where can we find a place to belong and become?
  7. Consummation: How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference?
  8. Sanctification: Why are we here?
Answering these questions, of course, is a monumental task that lies at the heart of all Christian ministry. Reflecting upon them we can see an outline of major biblical themes that Kellemen uses to help his audience answer the question, “What would a model of biblical counseling and discipleship look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?” With painstaking detail, Kellemen builds his answer to this question while always keeping the sufficiency of Scripture and progressive sanctification in full view.

GCC itself is divided into sixteen spiritually rich chapters that provide what Kellemen calls “Soul Physicians and Biblical Cardiologists” with the tools necessary to formulate a vision for holistic, biblical soul care. One of the common myths about biblical counseling is that the movement elevates personal sin as the root cause of all human suffering, thereby denying the reality of human suffering at the hands of others, or by what might be called natural causes. Kellemen argues against this by writing that, “God calls biblical counselors to join the sanctification journey with saints who struggle with suffering and sin” (p.254).

Throughout GCC, Kellemen provides the counselor with word-pictures that help the reader capture the biblical heartbeat of one-another ministry. In this way, Kellemen does not bore his audience with dry, academic counseling theory, but with language that captures the attention. Equally helpful for the new or intermediate counselor are the various case studies in which the principles set forth in the book are put on display in would-be conversations that guide the reader into thoughtful, imaginative application of the material being learned. These portions may be helpful in the classroom, as GCC is implemented in training.

One of the most helpful designs of the book that every counselor-in-training would do well to make use of are the various abbreviations that Kellemen provides to help divide and understand the human heart, and the way it relates to God and others. Kellemen provides these division-abbreviations, along with a helpful graphic in chapters six and seven. These divisions will help the counselor picture where they are in a counseling session, what parts of the heart their questions are targeting, and where the counselee’s answers are coming from. This information will be invaluable in moving toward a natural counseling style. What may be mechanical up front will eventually become intuitive, and when that happens, the biblical counselor will surely be a mighty conduit of God’s grace in the lives of sufferers and sinners.

The trajectory of GCC, like that of the Gospel upon which it’s built, is toward a progressive sanctification. Kellemen writes that, “Sanctification is the art of applying our justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption” (p.255). In this way, the reader is continuously presented with a biblically holistic view of what the Gospel does in the life of a redeemed person, and where the counselor must desire to lead their counselee. But, GCC will not only equip the counselor for the task, it will challenge and inspire the counselor to apply these great truths in their own lives, where biblical counseling must rightly begin.

I’m happy to commend GCC to any, and all biblical counselors, counselors-in-training, pastors, small group leaders, and anyone interested in learning how the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves in and through the human heart, reconciling man to God, and man to his neighbor. In the pages of this book, we’re given the gift of experiencing the rhythms of biblical heart change. The scaffolding that the counselor needs to climb toward Kellemen’s stated goal is provided. This is a tremendous grace of God in the church today, and one no spiritual friend should be without.

Kellemen convincingly writes in the conclusion to GCC, “As biblical counselors we need to add relational maturity and relational compassion so that we speak and live gospel truth in loving wisdom” (p.293). To the benefit of us all, and the church, Kellemen has achieved this.

Encourage the Fainthearted

Gérôme, The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, 1863
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the apostle Paul instructed his readers to, "...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." This verse is a rallying cry within the biblical counseling movement, and a pillar of the work we perform at Baylight.

Counseling those who suffer across a broad spectrum of issues, and conditions is at the heart of our mission. Helping them to patiently endure suffering as they learn, or are gently reminded that the sufferings of this present life are "not worthy of comparison to the weight of glory that is to come" (Rom. 8:18) is a privilege, and one that is undertaken with gentleness, care, and concern.

For those on the outside of God's kingdom, or perhaps even for those believers who have been persuaded by a prosperity view of the gospel that suffering is to be avoided at all costs, and at all times, the biblical message concerning suffering is simply untenable. The notion that a loving God would allow, much less bring a season of suffering to the door of his child makes him akin to a "cosmic child abuser," rather than a heavenly Father.

But, these and other similar views fail because they aren't developed out of an understanding of God's nature, as revealed in Scripture, or his purposes, and means in bringing about the end to sin, and death. They cannot see that it is through suffering, that redemptive history will reach its final destination.

So far as counseling is concerned, these under-developed, or even unbiblical views of human suffering threaten to rob the sufferer of the temporal, if not eternal rewards of suffering well, in the hope of the Gospel, and for the sake of Christ.

How then should we live? 

With the understanding that biblical counseling's goal is to shepherd the hurting heart into the arms of Jesus, it all depends on the individual circumstances. For example, the man who suffers from depression after losing his family to a sexual affair demands a response that is different from the child who has suffered abandonment. In both cases, the Gospel is the hope to which we call them, but the dialogue we engage in will look, and sound much different.

With gentleness, however, and in age-appropriate ways, we can help those who suffer find Christ in the middle of their storm, whether He chooses to calm it immediately, or deliver them through it. Our role as encouragers is to help the suffering lay hold of the promises of God, and in so doing, to experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and which will guard their hearts and minds from feelings of abandonment, hopelessness, and purposelessness (Phil.4:7).

This issue of suffering, taken to its logical end, will unfurl a conversation on the so-called "problem of evil." That's beyond the scope of this discussion. My point in this post is to help those of us who are encouragers to take greater care in developing our theology of suffering before we are actually called into duty. If we don't, we risk defaulting to Christian clichés that are more often than not unhelpful, if not untrue.

On the other hand, I want to encourage those who face suffering today of some timeless truths. While we cannot always say precisely why we suffer, we can say with confidence that God is with us, God is good, God is good to us, and God is up to something good in our lives through whatever trial we face. And, through it all, He is fashioning us into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29).

I don't recall where I heard this, but it is a true statement that we must all reconcile sooner, rather than later, that we come to know God more fully in this life in the context of suffering. The Bible teaches that we will enter the kingdom of heaven through "many tribulations" (Acts 14:22).

To be sure, Christians are not called to run toward suffering for the sake of suffering alone, or to somehow infuse our salvation with merit. The Bible knows of no such attitude. The ascetics were all wrong on this. But, the Christian faith has more to say about suffering than any other worldview. And, it is overflowing with hope, not only for today, but for eternity.

In his newer book on the subject, Tim Keller writes, "Suffering dispels the illusion that we have the strength and competence to rule our own lives and save ourselves. People 'become nothing through suffering' so that they can be filled with God and his grace." 

He then goes on to quote Martin Luther, who said:

It is God’s nature to make something out of nothing; hence one who is not yet nothing, out of him God cannot make anything, and therefore God accepts only the forsaken, cures only the sick, gives sight only to the blind, restores life only to the dead, sanctifies only the sinners, gives wisdom only to the unwise. In short, He has mercy only on those who are wretched.

So, today, whether you suffer because you are physically sick, or spiritually blind, Christ is the ultimate source of your hope, and mine. Rest in Him.

If, by God's grace, you are called to serve as an encourager to the sufferer, remember that at the point of crisis or trauma, your mere presence may be more valuable than your words of wisdom. Resist the urge to do all of the talking, but take the time to listen well. When the dust has settled, gently remind your friend of God's immanence, or presence, and be ready to provide logistical, practical support.

Keller, Timothy (2013-10-01). Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (pp. 49-50). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.