Five Distinctive Qualities of Biblical Counseling


The Apostle Peter writes:

“But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, CSB).

As a biblical counselor, I am always appreciative of counselees who take their counseling process seriously. Recently, I had a potential counselee ask a provocative question:

What makes your counseling model different from anyone else’s?

Biblical Counseling: Our Difference Is in Our Distinctives

My first instinct was to revert to a simple definition of what biblical counseling is, rather than offering up examples of what makes it distinct. My answer probably sounded something like:

We will hold an ongoing conversation focused upon the concerns that brought you in, and seek to apply biblical wisdom toward a successful, gospel-centered resolution.

This was not a bad answer, but I could tell that this counselee wanted more. Frankly, I believed that they deserved more and that as a biblical counselor I should be prepared to offer it.

Be Prepared to Give a Humble Defense

Our conversation led me to this idea:

Biblical counselors must be prepared to give a defense for the hope they have in a counseling ministry of the Word—especially when working in communities not familiar with the model.

In response, I began thinking critically about the building blocks that make biblical counseling both biblical and hopeful. While I do not intend to make a habit of engaging in comparative discussions about why I disagree with secular counseling theory, some amount of conflict on this level is both inevitable (there are real differences) and necessary (people want answers).

As biblical counseling has the Great Commission and disciple-making in view, I recognized that I would have to be willing to do the work of an apologist in order to win pastors, ministry leaders, and future counselees who, in my particular metropolitan context, are largely unfamiliar with the biblical counseling movement.

5 Distinctives

While an Internet search will provide a variety of definitions for biblical counseling, I want to go a step further by sharing five distinctives that I believe will help engender the confidence of those who are investigating biblical counseling.

1. Biblical Worldview vs. Secular Worldview

It is no secret that biblical counseling uses the Bible as its source for wisdom and truth. But, biblical counseling does not merely use the Bible for this purpose, as if it were the best option among many. Every counselor and counseling theory comes packed with presuppositions of the nature of man and the nature and existence (or non-existence) of God.

Biblical counseling uniquely draws its view of these foundational matters from the inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. All that biblical counseling is and seeks to accomplish flows from this deep well, and in the end forms a worldview that is Theo-centric. By comparison, secular counseling theory is undeniably anthropocentric (Matthew 22:37; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 1:15-20).

2. Redemptive Relationships vs. Professional Relationships

While maintaining appropriate emotional boundaries, the biblical counselor does not present as the classical, dispassionate therapist who is somehow super-human. Instead, the biblical counselor functions according to the “one-another” passages of Scripture, keenly aware of their own sinfulness and need of the same Gospel they preach. Biblical counselors are called of God to guide, instruct, and even admonish when necessary—all for the glory of God and the joy of the counselee (Matthew 22:39; John 13:34; Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

3. Transformative Outcomes vs. Prescribed Outcomes

Cultural Christianity in America has come to be identified with, among other things, what sociologist Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This speaks to that trend in the church to pursue good, virtuous morals above God’s call to holiness. Similarly, secular counseling, devoid of the gospel, ultimately calls people to a subjective pattern of behavior modification. Biblical counseling’s aim is not to merely help people “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” but to point them to the living God so that through a saving relationship with Him, they might experience true and lasting heart transformation (Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 1:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

4. Biblical Comprehensiveness vs. Philosophical Eclecticism

This is a category that I am describing here in response to my study of secular counseling theory known as the “Integrative Perspective.” Many counselees are unaware that on the secular side of things, there is not one “psychology,” but many. Over time, secular therapists have grown accustomed to blending their favorite techniques from these ever evolving disciplines into one “integrated approach.” By comparison, there is just one gospel, but that gospel is as diverse as the problems faced by humanity. Even the Bible itself is comprised of various types of literature, written by a multitude of authors with distinct personalities. (Psalm 119:105; Galatians 1:6-7; Hebrews 1:1-2; 13:9).

5. Christ-Centered Confidence vs. Statistical Confidence

If there is one area I admire in secular counseling, it is in the plethora of statistics—both compiled and analyzed. I make use of this data in my own counseling whenever the data appears to be biblically faithful, at least in how it was collected and presented.

The trouble is that the presence of statistics alone gives the appearance of authority in the eyes of many. Some in the church are carried away by arguments rooted in numbers, without any thought given to Scripture. Christians cannot live or counsel in this way. After all, we follow a Savior who defeated the 1:1 ratio of deaths per person. While we applaud good statistics and learn from them, our confidence is ultimately in Christ and the power of His Word (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Hebrews 4:12).

Join the Discussion

As you consider the many ways in which biblical counseling offers real hope to the hurting, can you think of any other distinctives that counselors can share with counselees to build trust and confidence?