Posted by: thefourwinds | November 8, 2014

The Sufficiency of Scripture for counseling hard cases

As a graduate student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I am currently taking a class in Biblical Counseling, for which I had to read and review the book Counseling the Hard Cases:  True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture, edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert.  My review follows.  I highly commend this book to you, as it shows how even the most severe cases of many “disorders” (anorexia, bipolar, dissociative identity disorder, and more) can be alleviated by bringing God’s Word to bear on the situation in a loving and patient manner.

Incidentally, the review was limited to 1000 words.  Hence the brevity.

Scott, Stuart and Heath Lambert, eds. Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012.

Introduction

In this eye-opening compilation of case studies, Scott and Lambert set out to concretely demonstrate the sufficiency of Scripture in helping real people overcome real problems. All the individual contributors are active counselors; some are even pastors and professors as well. This compilation of real life encounters will encourage Christians struggling to help others facing their own unique (yet all too similar) life problems. At the same time, the book will challenge those who take different approaches to counseling.

Summary

From the outset, Scott and Lambert declare their purpose: to encourage ministers of the gospel and students of biblical counseling “that Jesus Christ always has sufficient power to help, no matter how severe the difficulty” and that “the Word of God is indeed adequate to help even the most troubled” (xii). Additionally, they address others who disagree with their position. On the one hand, they rejoice in their shared unity in the blood of Christ with those with whom they disagree (xii), but as they are attempting to build such relationships, they also build some intentional fences. Such fences “keep things organized, and you can always talk over them and build strong relationships despite the divide” (xiii).

While setting forth an academic defense of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling is not the book’s main purpose, nevertheless Lambert’s introductory chapter provides a necessary foundation for what follows. He outlines the major reasons for Scripture’s sufficiency and counters many of the principle objections laid out by opponents of the biblical counseling position. Lambert does this while simultaneously tracing some of these reasons and objections through the history of biblical counseling, beginning with Jay Adams’ work in the 1960s. Lambert addresses such topics as redefining secular psychological diagnoses (7-9) and paying careful attention to the contents of Scripture, including the texts themselves (10-15), the form of Scripture (15-18), God’s language for problems (18-20), and the positive aspects of Scripture’s comprehensive, not exhaustive, nature (20-23). Regarding the form of Scripture, Lambert particularly challenges the reader: “The dynamic forms of Scripture make the Bible much more interesting to read. Why is it that far more people sit in their living rooms and read the Bible than will ever read The Journal of Psychology?…Texts do not need to be scientific to be authoritative, profound, precise, and relevant for counseling. Such a sense…is only lost to those who come to the text with an a priori belief that unscientific forms of discourse are inherently less valuable” (18).

Following this introduction are ten case studies that extensively display the sufficiency of God’s Word to help people in even the bleakest of life’s circumstances. In psychologist vocabulary, one woman had endured sexual abuse as a child and was subsequently diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (26-28), a man displayed an extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder, refusing to drive on odd-numbered streets (60), another woman was anorexic (142), one man had been diagnosed as bipolar (175), another man even struggled with homosexuality (227). None of these situations (nor the other case studies shared) are cases many Christians or even pastors would rejoice in facing. Yet each case outlines how that particular counselor talked with the counselee, listened, taught, prayed with, and loved that counselee, using the principles taught in Scripture: that all people are sinners, that exterior issues (other than truly organic medical conditions) are almost always some manifestation of sin or sinful response amid hard circumstances, and that real growth (sanctification) takes time, prayer, hard work, patience, and usually requires others in the church to come alongside the counselee.

Scott and Lambert finish the book with some concluding remarks that, like many good biblical exhortations, come across as being whacked by a baseball bat wrapped in velvet. Particularly they describe two kinds of Christians who neglect to use the Scriptures in counseling. Each kind receives a paragraph description (302), then Scott and Lambert summarize them as follows: “The first kind of person does not understand, and the second kind does not care” (303). Thus they pray and hope that reading these stories encourages people to grow in the wisdom of God’s Word and in the care for God’s people (307).

Critical Evaluation

Overall the contributors to this book have made a powerful statement for the sufficiency of Scripture, lovingly and patiently applied, to help people with even the hardest problems. Such examples of drastic “disorders” alleviated by in-depth biblical counseling are difficult to contradict, especially when most of those counselees had previously tried numerous other counselors, doctors, medications, and therapies. Often those initial counseling methods had actually worsened the situation.

One of this book’s strengths is that each counselor communicates in his or her own distinctive voice. Each tells his story in a unique way, though using similar key themes: listen well, look for heart issues, lovingly, patiently, and firmly bring Scripture to bear on the relevant sins or sinful responses, and seek assistance within the church for others to come alongside the counselee. Despite the familiar themes, each story comes across as a powerful example of Christ’s ability to invade people’s lives for their good and for His glory.

One area in which this book might be criticized involves the methodology of communicating some of the case studies, “[some of which are] composites. In these case studies the counselor has helped a number of different people with the same problem and has chosen to show their approach to the issue by blending the stories of several different counselees” (xiii). Without knowing what details were combined, a reader on the other side of the fence might perceive evidence of disingenuousness, perhaps even deception on the part of the contributors.

Conclusion

Anyone interested in helping people with life’s problems should read Counseling the Hard Cases. If one already supports the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling, then this book will greatly encourage such a reader. If one reads this book coming from a different counseling perspective, Counseling the Hard Cases will provide a massive challenge to reevaluate that position.

 

Posted by: thefourwinds | March 23, 2011

A tremendous word from my greatest “hero of the faith”

George Mueller is the one man outside of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets, who has given me daily inspiration in walking along the narrow way.  His nearly unparalleled trust in God for daily provision led him to amazing works of sacrificial love, charity, and gospel ministry to many thousands of orphans (and to thousands of other people as well) during his lifetime of ministry. 

So it may surprise some (though not I) that Mueller’s walk with Christ was profoundly buoyed by a distinct alteration in his theology, brought upon by simple study of the Scriptures themselves.  If anything speaks to the “eminent practicality of right theology” (as my pastor says), it’s this quote from Mueller’s autobiography:

 “Before this period I had been much opposed to the doctrines of election, particular redemption and final persevering grace.  But now I was brought to examine these precious truths by the Word of God.  Being made willing to have no glory of my own in the conversion of sinners, but to consider myself merely an instrument; and being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said, I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths.

 “To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.

  “As to the effect which my belief in these doctrines had on me, I am constrained to state for God’s glory, that though I am still exceedingly weak, and by no means so dead to the lusts of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, as I might be, and as I ought to be, yet, by the grace of God, I have walked more closely with Him since that period.  My life has not been so variable, and I may say that I have lived much more for God than before.”

George Mueller, Autobiography of George Mueller, (London: J. Nisbet and Co., 1906), 33-34, as quoted in John Piper, The Pleasures of God, (Multnomah Books, 2000), 122-123. 

What is shocking to me, but not at all surprising, is that the current, popular, abridged version of this autobiography has nothing of this information about Mueller, such that an entire generation of American Baptists (in a general sense, not a denominational sense) who revere Mueller, have no idea

1.  that he believed the doctrines of grace;

2.  that he came to his conclusions (and was even driven to the study itself) simply and finally from the Word of God; and

3.  that it had a tremendous impact for the good on his walk with Christ and his ministry for the rest of his life.

Posted by: thefourwinds | November 27, 2010

Why the Term “Analogy of Faith”?

To my fellow Reformed believers, I have a question.  Why do we continue to use the term “analogy of faith”? 

Let me preface this by saying I am not afraid of large words in general or specifically theological vocabulary.  For example, I am interested by debates on the difference between propitiation and expiation.  Rather, I’m coming from a pedagogical perspective.

The concept “Scripture interprets Scripture” (which is what the analogy of faith refers to, as I understand it) is a readily understood concept, and the title makes intuitive sense.  Nevertheless, even if I thoroughly understand the principle “Scripture interprets Scripture,” I may have no idea what someone may mean by the term “analogy of faith.”  It’s not an intuitive term. 

So I must create a new neural pathway that indicates “analogy of faith” = “Scripture interprets Scripture.”  But what is the value of doing this?  Is it only so that I can understand what the Reformers meant when they spoke of the analogy of faith?  Or is there another purpose I’m missing?

My 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter are growing up learning the concept “Scripture interprets Scripture.”  They can easily understand it (as could my 6-year-old, I expect, if I outlined it for her), and the 13-year-old could probably explain it pretty clearly if asked.  So why should I teach them the term “analogy of faith”?  Is the reasoning strictly historical?

As I begin, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not at all a fan of President Obama’s politics or policies, but I have to wonder how many Christians who routinely bash him publicly, using what they consider to be witty epithets, are at the same time obeying the command of our Lord through the apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 2:1-2, which calls us to give “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (emphasis mine).  These sorts of epithets do not become us as believers, and they certainly don’t give any glory to God, who is sovereignly responsible for Barack Obama being the current president of the U.S. (Daniel 4:25 – “… the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will”). This is all the more important for believers who have extensive influence, but anyone with a blog or a facebook account can have a wide reach, if not tremendous influence.

I am not saying we shouldn’t criticize his policies if we disagree with him. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work to get others elected we agree with more. Our form of government gives us great power and responsibility, and we need to be responsible. What I am saying is that Christians who do these sorts of things publicly ought also to be following 1 Tim 2:1-2 publicly at least as much as they follow the other practices, since 1 Tim 2:1-2 is actually a written command of God. And even though many might be saying, “I already do those things in private,” even if you are, I certainly don’t see anywhere near as much giving thanks and prayers for President Obama in public by believers as I see vehement invective. This is how we lead by example as believers, and it is why people with influence are held to a stricter account (James 3:1). Maybe you are praying as much in private as you insult in public, but for those you have influence over, what are they seeing? What is done privately or what is done publicly? Jesus Himself said it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to lead one of His little ones astray.

I also believe that people who compare themselves to Christ and His rebukes of the Pharisees are missing that He rebuked the Pharisees directly, in person, not passively, in such indirect mass comments on Facebook. The language Christ spoke directly to them was a rebuke only after calling on them directly many times to repent.

Many would also say Martin Luther used far harsher language in criticizing leaders of his day than any believers today are using. Those people would be correct. However, in the same way that we cannot hold Luther and others of his day to our cultural standards today, by the same logic we cannot appropriate standards that were accepted in his culture and unilaterally claim they’re acceptable in our culture. One cannot have it both ways. At any rate, though I don’t have a primary source reference for this, I believe Luther had repented of having written too harshly of individuals.

Finally, here is a question for any professing Christian – which do you care about more? The U.S. Constitution, an excellent though man-made document, or the Holy Word of God, breathed by the Holy Spirit, a Word that cannot be broken? It seems to me we shouldn’t be compromising the Word for the sake of anything else, even the safety of the U.S. Constitution. If we cannot save the Constitution without breaking the Word of God, I’d have to say God cares more about us following His Word.

Posted by: thefourwinds | November 16, 2009

Inextricably linked

A concept to absorb:

“No truth more loudly calls for pastoral holiness than the linkage of a preacher’s character and the sermon’s reception.  I must recognize that if I were to return to churches I have pastored it is unlikely that people will remember many specifics I said.  They may remember a particularly vivid illustration, the way a verse had a telling effect at some crisis moment in their lives, or the impression a particular message left on their minds.  Yet, not one person will remember a dozen words of the thousands I have spoken through the years.  The people will not remember what I said, they will remember me and whether my life gave credence to the message of Scripture.”

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (p.29)

Posted by: thefourwinds | November 5, 2009

Jesus came to be our bread, not to give us bread

I just heard the most succinct and beautiful condemnation of the prosperity gospel in John Piper’s sermon, “The All-Providing King Who Would Not Be King.”  (You have to listen to the sermon to get this exact quote).

Referencing John 6:26, Piper says,

“The essence of the prosperity gospel of every shade is that it leaves people unchanged in their old appetites and then provides Jesus to meet them, which is what the gospel of John is all about not doing.   God help us.  Are your existing appetites just the same as they always were before you came to Jesus, and He’s just useful now?  Better business, better marriage, better kids, better everything I wanted before?!  Then you don’t know Him.  He didn’t come to serve your unregenerate appetites; He came to give you new appetites.  That’s the meaning of being ‘born again.'” 

“…And so many leave people untransformed in what they crave, and then add the power of Jesus to get it.  That’s not the gospel.  It’s the kind of acclamation that Jesus walks away from.”

I’ve never heard it said better.

Posted by: thefourwinds | October 29, 2009

Evolutionary Equivocation

Haven’t had much of an opportunity to write for CMI in a long while.  Here’s my latest article on the PZ Myers talk I attended in Minot, ND, a few weeks ago. 

Evolutionary Equivocation

Posted by: thefourwinds | October 24, 2009

Why creation evangelism?

That’s the question I was asked by an online friend/acquaintance yesterday.  It was a sincere attempt from another Christian believer to understand why I feel called to focus on creation evangelism.  Why not just evangelism? 

I’ve included my response just after the break.  Of course, I’ve edited out a few personal comments and the dreaded typo (one of which drastically changed the meaning of what I had intended to say!), and done some editorial cleaning up here and there.  There are few passions as near and dear to my heart as this one. Read More…

Posted by: thefourwinds | September 15, 2009

Not your average seminary training!

For the last week, I’ve been reading The Heavenly Man, by Brother Yun, an amazing story of God’s miraculous provision and sustaining power in the lives of some truly heroic believers in the Chinese house churches. 

There have been many times while reading this book when I’ve had to put it down to pray, thank the Lord, and then pray again.  But tonight, while reading, I just had to put it down after being completely overwhelmed, not emotionally, but intellectually, by this section, in which Brother Yun is describing the training certain missionaries receive from their efforts:

Each…missionary receives training in several main subjects.  These include:

1.  How to suffer and die for the Lord.  We examine what the Bible says about suffering, and look at how the Lord’s people have laid down their lives for the advance of the gospel throughout history.

2.  How to witness for the Lord.  We teach how to witness for the Lord under any circumstance, on trains or buses, or even in the back of a police van on our way to the execution ground.

3.  How to escape for the Lord.  We know that sometimes it is the Lord who sends us to prison to witness for him, but we also believe the devil sometimes wants us to go to prison to stop the ministry God has called us to do.  We teach the missionaries special skills such as how to free themselves from handcuffs, and how to jump from second-storey [sic] windows without injuring themselves.

This is not a normal seminary or Bible College!
(p. 290)

I should say not!  I literally had to put the book down at this point because I just couldn’t get my mind around the difference between this training and what the typical Western seminary training involves.  Is there any wonder why their lives are filled with the awesome power of the Holy Spirit and the rapid spread of the gospel?  Their hearts are set on the spread of the gospel no matter the cost to themselves.  This is a far cry from most American Christianity, especially the health/wealth gospel.

However, I don’t want to just take shots at the health/wealth folks here.  All American Christians need a healthy dose of seeing what being a Christian means in many parts of the world.  This book has been eye-opening in that regard, and for some reason, it hit home to me in the above section.

Posted by: thefourwinds | September 5, 2009

All I can say is, “Wow.”

This is, in one way, one of the most encouraging aritcles I’ve read in a while.  I’m not sure this is the absolute best way of solving this problem, but it appears to be a huge leap in the right direction.

Wrongly Convicted in Texas Paid $80G for Each Year Spent in Prison Under New State Law

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.