There are many caricatures of Biblical Counseling. One popular caricature paints practitioners of Biblical Counseling as offering simplistic explanations, pad answers, and little sympathy. The caricature is just that, a caricature, and yet it arises because there is some hint of truth to it. There have been practitioners of this kind of counseling which offer simplistic explanations of problems and of people. Jeremy Pierre has written a fantastic book to help Biblical Counselors develop a more full theology of human experience, which will help them to be better counselors. The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life is a needed corrective to simplistic models of Biblical Counseling.
The way we counsel one another reveals what we really think about our nature, experiences, and capabilities. Often Biblical Counseling can look a bit like a sanctified form of cognitive behavior therapy, a reduction of the human person to “brains on a stick,” as James K.A. Smith has said. We are more complex than just our minds, and our problems are more than just shortcomings in our cognitive processes. Jeremy Pierre knows this, and yet he recognizes the ways in which we can oversimplify people. He writes:
Imagine flying high above the Midwestern countryside. Anyone seeing the rolling fields squared off by hedges would recognize it as farmland – simple farmland. However, to understand the way the land drains out, the appropriate crops to plant, or the land’s likely yield, a person would have to inspect more closely than a fly-over. Similarly, people’s lives may look simple without a closer look. People in crisis might appear to be simply in need of trusting God more, but a closer look reveals they experience feelings they cannot explain, have intrusive thoughts they never had before, or find themselves perplexed by an unpredictable ebb and flow of motivation. (4)
We need, then, a theology of human experience which recognizes the diversity and variety of dynamic within the human heart. The ministry of counseling needs to be “directed to the full breadth of how the heart functions” (5).
Pierre breaks this theme down into three sections that make up the divisions of his book. Section 1 covers “How the Heart Responds Dynamically.” He develops for readers a “three-dimensional” exploration of the human heart. We are designed by God to respond cognitively, affectively, and volitionally. The first five chapters of the book explain how this three-fold dimension plays out in our daily lives. He explores the intuitive responses of the heart, how sin, God, and the world impact our responses. Pierre gives readers a wonderful introduction to the complexity of human experience in these chapters, one that is both more developed than either Freudian models or simple “Christian” concepts.
In Section 2 he develops “What the Heart Dynamically Responds To.” Chapters 6-9 put the heart in context. Pierre discusses our interaction with God, ourselves, others, and circumstances in these chapters. “Understanding the heart’s internal response system is not enough,” says Pierre. “We also have to pay attention to the external factors that are unique to every individual” (101).
Section 3 gets down to actual methodology. Chapters 10-13 explore a four-stage process of helping that engages people at the cognitive, affective, and volitional levels and encourages their relating rightly to God. Pierre’s model of change is simple, accessible, and yet not simplistic. It helps counselors understand their role as well as orienting them rightly to the complexity of the person. Change is not simple, and transformation involves more than just giving information. Pierre understands that and provides a comprehensive methodology built on his theology of human experience.
There is much to praise about this book. It is a great corrective to simplistic models of counseling that either reduce people to one element of their experience (thoughts, emotions, or choices). It is also a great corrective to the poor practices of some Biblical counselors who simply point out sin and call people to repentance. That is not a comprehensive model of care that helps people to wrestle with themselves, their commitments, values, and beliefs. The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life is just what the counseling community needs.
Pierre is an accessible writer with a great use of illustration and explanation. He interacts with leading theologians and psychologists and develops for us a book that synthesizes loads of diverse content. He has a good sense of humor and an evident grasp on his subject material. Readers will be encouraged by the amount of interaction with Scripture he provides across the book’s 239 pages. This work can truly be called a “theology of human experience.”
This is a phenomenal book and may, over time, come to replace the popular classic How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. That book has been the standard gold in counseling training in many contexts, and we have used it for several years in our training. As I continue to explore the usefulness of Pierre’s work, however, it may become my new go-to textbook. But, however you use it, The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life is a great resource and a much-needed one within the Biblical Counseling community.