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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"A Theology of Biblical Counseling" (Heath Lambert)

TITLE: A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry
AUTHOR: Heath Lambert
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (352 pages).

Is Christian counseling compatible with secular psychotherapy techniques? Some would say yes. Others say no. When it comes to counseling, most people would accept all kinds of techniques, be it scientific or religious, as long as it works. This pragmatic approach is not necessarily compatible with Church teachings about counseling. For many years, Jay Adams has been one of the pioneers for Christian counseling that is centered on the Bible and dependent wholly on the Word of God revealed. With the rise of psychology and psychotherapy treatments used together with the Bible, more people are preferring to use not only the Bible but modern sciences in counseling approaches. Adams develops ten classic doctrines of the Christian faith before applying them to counseling. Thirty years later, as new scholars, theologians, and teachers rise up from the ranks, we have an updated version by Heath Lambert who raises the bar by insisting that the Bible alone is the full and final word on matters of counseling.  For Lambert, "counseling is a theological discipline." Right from the start, he admits that this is a controversial statement. Throughout the book, the author asserts that theology informs counseling and all matters pertaining to counseling. Lambert's definition of counseling is this: "Counseling is a conversation where one party with questions, problems, and trouble seeks assistance from someone they believe has answers, solutions, and help." The counselee comes with problems, questions, and need for some help. The counselor is supposed to be the agent with answers, solutions, or some ability to help. Believing that secular forms of counseling are never neutral by themselves, Lambert prefers to be upfront on the risks of secular counseling. He critiques "cognitive behavior therapy" that measures success on the basis of emotional well-being. The danger is one becomes a worshiper of self and feelings. He does not minces his words for conservative Christians trying to introduce secular psychology into their counseling practice.  Key to his criticism is the fundamental basis of counseling success: Is it human-centered or God-centered?

He distinguishes biblical counseling from Christian counseling in the sense that while the former is strictly Bible-only, the latter comprises the Bible + psychological principles and secular techniques. Key to his argument is the word "sufficiency." Is the Bible alone sufficient for all matters of counseling? Lambert says absolutely. The basis is theological, not practical. This is something that takes a while to sink in. If techniques are theologically based on God, this is ok. He unpacks this by applying it to eleven theological disciplines. On the Bible, he highlights the sufficiency of Scripture in its authority; clarity; necessity; and sufficiency of Scripture for all things. He spends some time dealing with the various categories of sufficiency: progressive; completed; formal; and material. On common grace, he tackles the arguments many Christian counselors highlight with regard to the free gift of God for everybody, both believers and non-believers. Lambert's response is that there are three types of common grace. The "Divine Moral Provision" is about God restraining the sinfulness of man to prevent us from hurting ourselves more. The "Divine Physical Provision" is about God providing for us for our physical needs. It is the "Divine Intellectual Provision" that Lambert uses to distinguish God's wisdom from worldly wisdom. On God, Lambert shares the story of a troubled and abused girl named Jenny, and expands on God being Self-Sufficient; our dependence on God; and our acknowledgement that we need God. Knowing the attributes of God is a powerful counseling tool. On Christology, we take comfort that Jesus being both Divine and Human, is able to understand us at our deepest core. On Pneumatology, or the Theology of the Holy Spirit, we learn about the Holy Spirit's role in convicting; in indwelling; Teaching; Empowering; Gifting; and Counseling. On Humanity, we learn about the nature of humans being made in the image of God. We learn about the relationship of the body and the soul, and counseling implications for us as male and female. On Sin, we learn about the Fall, the way sin impacts all of life, and how we need to respond with the help of God. On Suffering, we learn of the several categories of suffering. There is the pain caused by sin, the world, and death. On Salvation, we learn about election, calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. On the Church, we learn about Church leadership, the role of the community in healing, and how the people of God can help one another. All of these point to the sufficiency of the Bible in dealing with biblical counseling.

Heath Lambert is Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors the largest of its kind in the world. He is also Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Let me offer three thoughts on this book.

So What?

First, it would seem that Lambert is a hyper-conservative, as he dismisses the need for extra-biblical or other material to be used in conjunction with Scripture. That is not correct. What Lambert is insisting is that the foundational position of the biblical counselor is absolute faith in God alone. It is a theological posture, not a technical or practical one. This means that as long as one confesses to the supremacy and sufficiency of the Scriptures in all areas of counseling, one can still adopt other non-explicitly Christian materials. These are to be considered supplementary materials and not fundamental. In other words, Lambert is arguing from a theological position more than anything else.

Second, Lambert's thesis is still controversial. It could be mere semantics in some ways, or the inability to nuance the appropriate use of non-biblical resources. If the Bible is all sufficient, is it not possible then to use other techniques and methods as long as we subject everything under the scrutiny of the Bible. Having said that, what about the definition of sufficiency? Just because someone does not subscribe to Lambert's definition does not mean that someone does not believe that Scripture is sufficient. It is a difficult area to nuance.

Third, I am not so sure about Lambert's sacred-secular distinction. I appreciate the fact that Lambert has a high view of Scripture. He believes wholeheartedly that the Bible is sufficient grounds not just for the Christian faith but for the good of all mankind. Having said that, I think there is too much of a sacred-secular divide. The moment Lambert mentions secular, it makes me wonder if he has become too binary in his thinking. Is that not a form of unhealthy dualism taking place?

I think Lambert has a lot of good ideas and biblical pointers in this book. In expressing his conviction about the sufficiency of Scriptures, I fear that Lambert may be more easily misunderstood. Just by saying that Lambert's position is more "theological" can create at best confusion and at worse, an accusation of some hyper-conservatism. While I may not agree fully with Lambert's position in this book, I must say his attempt to bring us closer to the Bible is a worthy endeavor.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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