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.
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.
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).
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.
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.