T4L: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with Theology for Life Magazine, Dr. Newheiser. Can you tell us a bit about your life, the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship, and the counseling program at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte Campus?

Jim Newheiser: My wife and I spent six years (1982-1987) in Saudi Arabia where I pastored an underground church for expatriates. This is where I first started practicing biblical counseling as I relied upon books by Jay Adams and Wayne Mack.

I then went to Westminster Seminary in California where I had the privilege of studying under George Scipione (the founder of Institute of Biblical Counseling and Discipleship, formerly CCEF) and Jay Adams. After completing my Doctor of Ministry Degree (1993) I started counseling for IBCD. In 2006, I was made the Executive Director. IBCD has evolved into a ministry whose primary focus has become making useful biblical counseling training resources available online and via DVD. We also continue to hold an annual conference in June in the San Diego area.

I was preaching pastor at Grace Bible Church in Escondido, CA from 1990-2016, at which time we moved to Charlotte, NC, where I now serve as the Director of the Christian (biblical) Counseling Program at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Charlotte.

RTS offers a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling, which equips men and women to serve in church and parachurch ministries. Our rigorous curriculum includes every Bible and Theology course future pastors take in their MDiv programs, which provides a foundation for training in biblical counseling. This includes classroom instruction and counseling experience under the supervision of experienced mentors. RTS also offers an MDiv degree with a counseling emphasis. Some students choose to enroll in a dual degree (MDiv and MACC) program.

We are very thankful to God for blessing our first three years at RTS. We have some wonderful students and we are excited to see our graduates being placed in ministries where they are doing wonderful things for God’s kingdom.

T4L: What is biblical counseling and what separates it from other approaches to counseling?

Jim Newheiser: Here are ten characteristics of biblical counseling.

  1. Biblical counseling is God-centered (2nd Corinthians 5:9; 1st Timothy 1:5; Colossians 1:28-29). The goal of Biblical counseling is to give instruction from the Bible so that the counselee can achieve God’s goals in his/her life.
  2. Biblical counseling is founded on sound theology.
  3. Biblical counseling is rooted in sound anthropology.
    1. Mankind is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
    2. Mankind is a duplex being—body and soul (2nd Corinthians 5:8).
    3. Mankind is sinful and fallen, which is the source of soul problems (Romans 3:10).
  4. Biblical counseling is Christ-centered and redemptive (2nd Corinthians 5:21; 1st John 1:8-2:2; Romans 6:1; Ephesians 4:32 5:1-2, 25). Imperatives (what Christ commands) are grounded in the indicative (what Christ has done in His finished and sufficient work).
  5. Biblical counseling aims at the heart (Mark 7:20; Matthew 12:33; Proverbs 4:23). We are not behaviorists.
  6. Biblical counseling is based upon the all-sufficient and infallible Scripture (2nd Timothy 3:16-17; 2nd Peter 1:3; Psalm 119:24). Heath Lambert summed it up this way, “The sufficiency of Scripture means there will always be a passage of God’s Word you can use to meet someone in their hour of need.”
  7. Biblical counseling relies upon the Holy Spirit (1st Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:5-11, 15:13; Philippians 4:13; John 14:16-17; Galatians 5:16).
  8. Biblical counseling is gentle and compassionate (Galatians 6:1; 1st Thessalonians 5:14; Matthew 9:35-36).
  9. Biblical counseling is not merely for an elite group of professionals (Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; Galatians 6:1-2).
  10. Biblical counseling ideally takes place within the context of the local church (1st Peter 5:1; Titus 2:3-5; Hebrews 13:17).

Biblical counseling differs from other approaches in these ways.

  1. Authority – God’s Word versus human wisdom.
  2. View of man – in God’s image, body/soul, fallen versus evolutionary or neutral view.
  3. View of man’s problem – sin versus ignorance, nature or nurture.
  4. Goal – God’s glory versus the client’s happiness.
  5. Solution – redemption found in the gospel versus humanistic band-aids which only deal with symptoms/felt needs.

Humanistic psychology can be good a description of some problems, but they fall short in their prescription of solutions.

T4L: Thank you for that excellent clarifying summary. How does the sufficiency of Scripture relate to the work of the biblical counselor?

Jim Newheiser: God’s Word contains wisdom, which surpasses all earthly wisdom (Psalm 19:7-10). No other wisdom is perfect; restoring the soul, rejoicing the heart. God’s Word is also powerful, as John Frame states, “God’s Word does what only God can do.”

Here is a link to a talk I have given on the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling:  https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=10291718224210.

T4L: Perfect! Thanks for sharing that link. So, what (in your opinion) are the most common challenges facing biblical counselors?

Jim Newheiser: People have heard untrue things about us: that we deny that some problems are physical and require medical intervention (including medication). Or that we bash people with Bible verses without caring and listening first (Proverbs 20:5).

Because our knowledge is limited, and because body and soul are interrelated, it is hard to know what is (primarily) physical and/or medical, and what is merely spiritual.

T4L: Very true. Do you see any helpful developments in the biblical counseling field today?

Jim Newheiser: I started in the early 1980s when all of the books on biblical counseling could fit on one shelf. The resources available today are wonderful. Godly wise men and women are doing great work applying God’s Word to many different issues. If I run into a “new” problem, I can be confident that someone in our field has addressed it with God’s Word.

I think that the emphasis upon the gospel indicatives as the foundation for the biblical imperatives has been a blessing. Every counseling session should point the counselee to Christ. But we should not ignore the imperatives. Anyone involved in biblical counseling should see my mini-book, Help! I Want to Change. The Biblical Counseling Coalition has given many of us an opportunity to network, to build relationships, and to learn from each other.

T4L: Networking is so important in this field, and in ministry in general. How can churches best train counselors and implement the biblical counseling ministry in their church?

Jim Newheiser: I am convinced that this is a priority for our church leaders (Ephesians 4:11; Romans 15:14). I often run into pastors who want to outsource their counseling. Counseling is not a distraction from pastoral work. Shepherds are called upon to care for sheep (1st Peter 5:1ff). The following is a link where I talk more about this: https://ibcd.org/the-necessity-of-the-church-in-counseling/.

There are many good programs which can help churches to move forward. One such program is from IBCD which has built a curriculum, Care and Discipleship, which many churches are using to equip leaders to participate in one-another care. It includes instruction along with videos demonstrating what live counseling looks like. This curriculum can prepare students for ACBC certification. It also offers IBCD certificates in Care and Discipleship, which are less demanding than ACBC training, but more attainable for many students.

T4L: What great information! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, Dr. Newheiser.