There are times in life where what you believe is tested by what you experience. If you believe the Bible is true, it is not too much later you will come across something or someone who calls that into question. We are used to people outside the Christian community doubting the Bible, but what about those who profess to be Christian? What about those who we know to be Christian? Their doubts may be more subtle, but that only makes it more dangerous. Their arguments will sound more convincing because they seem close to the truth, but come a little short of the whole truth. One area where this shows up is in the area of counseling. There are many believers, strong, faith-filled, Spirit-filled believers who doubt the Bible’s effectiveness in the counseling room. There are those who will preach on Sola Scriptura on Sunday, but on Tuesday in the counseling room, they are not even reaching for that Bible on their shelf. In this article, I hope to present a view that argues for the ultimate importance of bringing God’s Word to bear on the issues of life and that there is a vast reservoir of answers for us that help in all situations.
Before we dive in too deep, however, there are a couple caveats: first, this article is not saying that there is no knowledge we can gain from sources outside the Bible. Clearly, there are things we have learned through the various fields of study: science, math, literature, etc. We will not throw everything else out in place of the Bible, but we will seek to establish a working relationship with the Bible being first and foremost the final authority for faith and practice for the Christian, and then use extra-biblical knowledge as a guide for additional help.
Second caveat: this article recognizes the overreach of zealous people in all areas of belief, including within the Christian sphere. There are times when people believe something to their own detriment because they are not balanced in their approach. As such, the purpose of this article is to give a brief statement in support of biblical counseling, while recognizing that a balanced approach is needed, as no one is infallible other than God. We must stay humble and teachable, allowing the Spirit of God to teach and instruct us. I do not write as someone who has all the answers, but I write in defense of the One who wrote us a book, the Bible, and certainly the author of that book does have all the answers.
From here, I want to give several biblical, theological reasons why the Bible should be used prominently in biblical counseling. First, the Bible is God’s inspired, breathed-out word. When I was in college, back before the days of cell phones, I was always thrilled to get a letter from Heather, my wife now of many years. We had dated for several years in high school and were moving towards marriage, so those letters were very important and very special to me. The Bible is God’s letter to us. It displays His character, demonstrates His love, and defines what it means to follow Him. As such, the Bible should play a prominent role in the life of a believer, and perhaps never more so than in the counseling room.
Another reason why the Bible should be used prominently in counseling is that it is the only infallible source of information. As a society, we love to uphold those with degrees as being paragons of wisdom. The more letters that appear after your name, the more credence you will be likely to receive. But, no matter how many degrees you have, you will never have infinite, infallible wisdom. There is only one source that we can go to that is always true, never in error: the Bible. Some will say that the Bible does not give answers for everything, and that is correct. However, the answers we do find in the Bible are always right and sufficient for life and godliness (2nd Peter 1:3).
A third reason why the Bible should be used prominently in counseling is that the Bible is full of interactions between God and His people. One of the most powerful, impactful tools that is used is the personal story. The Olympics always have a great story to tell about their Olympians. Our politicians give speeches that tell of amazing examples of overcoming adversity. Books are written and movies are produced in such a way as to lead the reader/viewer into the teeth of a conflict only to have it resolved in the end.
We like stories. However, we often miss out on the wonderful reality that the Bible tells a story and the stories are not meant to be primarily a narrative of history. They are meant to be examples to us. They are meant to be teachable moments for God’s people. They are meant to instruct us in how to live rightly related to a holy God. To ignore how our story fits with God’s story is to miss a powerful opportunity to connect the Bible to life. When we place our story within the story of Scripture, we are given the great privilege of seeing our life through the lens of the infallible word of God. It takes the eyes off our limited scope, pulling the camera back to allow us to see the bigger picture. Scripture is God’s gift to us in allowing us to get a better, truer picture of life, rather than our limited and near-sighted view.
A fourth reason why the Bible should be used prominently in counseling is that the Bible reminds us of how great and awesome is our God. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), then it would be wise of us to drink deeply from the well of God’s word. To know that God is bigger than we realize will shrink the size of our problems and grow the size of our worship. We will be able to see, right in the midst of the battle, that God is right there with us and for us. The Bible is where we find this amazing God and where our minds should go first when the difficult trials of life come at us.
Lastly, the Bible should be used prominently in counseling because it is through the Bible that we learn the gospel. Much has been written in recent days about being gospel-centered, about how the gospel is more than the get out of Hell free card. This has been a great emphasis in the writing community and I have benefited greatly from seeing and reading more about the gospel. But often, even the most gospel-centered people go into the counseling room and look for answers in the wrong places. The gospel reminds us of a number of things that are vital to any believer, but perhaps even more to a believer in the counseling room. The gospel tells us that all have sinned, including us, but God has offered forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The gospel tells us that no matter we have done, there is hope in Christ. We can find forgiveness and healing through applying the truth of the gospel to situations in life. We need to have the Bible front and center in counseling.
To conclude, I will use an illustration from life. This is a composite sketch so does not arise from a particular person, but allows us to interact with how biblical counseling can help. John is a young adult with a clear and solid faith in Jesus. He has evidenced both a love for God and for people that gives clear testimony of his faith. Recently, however, his parents have informed them that they have separated and are proceeding with divorce.
For a time, he thought they were receptive to his suggestion about working out their problems, but once his dad connected with an old girlfriend, he knew his parents would not reconcile. John found comfort, however, in his girlfriend and the growing love they shared, a love that appeared to be leading towards marriage. Filled with nervous excitement, John presented her with a ring asking her to marry him, only to have his offer rejected and the relationship ended. Suddenly, he feels lost and alone. His work begins to suffer and his grades drop. His church attendance becomes sporadic as he struggles to get out of bed and struggles even more to be around people. He goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with depression and is given some medicine to help. The question we must interact with is what is the best way to help John.
Here are three possible approaches: first, we can seek to build John’s self-esteem, which certainly has taken a hit through all of the trouble he has experienced. So, we look to surround John with positive messages that remind him of how valuable he is, how much he is loved, how he has great potential in himself, that he needs to believe in himself. Certainly, there can be times when this is helpful to remind John that he is not defined by the damaged relationships. So, we don’t want to dismiss this entirely, but it should not be all of what we can offer John.
Second, we can seek the medical diagnosis and treatment. John is showing signs of what the medical community would diagnose as depression. Those signs are real and we should not ignore them. There is much we do not know about how the brain functions and how medicines can help. It is possible that the medicine that can be prescribed will help alleviate the symptoms and allow John to function in a more normal way. Many in biblical counseling have been very averse of using medicine, but we should not eliminate that as a possibility. However, again, it should not be all we can offer John.
Third, we encourage John to consider some biblical truth to apply to his situation. There is clearly grief on many levels for John. He has lost his family foundation with his parents divorcing. He has lost his future hope in the rejection of his proposed engagement. However, the dropoff in work performance is a result of how he is responding to the crises in his life. It is at this point we can help John to see that there are answers in Scripture. We can help John to place his story in the context of the story of the Bible. We can help John to apply the gospel to the relationships in his life and remember that he is loved by God. The self-esteem boosters are no match to the biblical truth that God loves John and God is working His plan in John’s life. We can help John to walk by faith in a God that leads people through valleys but never leaves them alone on the way.
In summary, we can find that God is still with him and still for him, but we can only find that through keeping the Bible prominent in the counseling room. We don’t have to throw away other knowledge or information, but we definitely should not expel the Bible from the counseling room. It is God’s Word.
Rick Hanna serves as Senior Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Guilderland, NY. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Heather, and is a father to ssevenchildren. He is passionate about international student ministry and adoption and enjoys reading, music, and sports (though as a Philly fan & Purdue alum, it usually means supporting the losing team).