• Secluded in Our Ivory Towers

    Posted on June 18th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Ten: Secluded in Our Ivory Towers

    By Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC


    *Note: If you’re disappointed that I’m saying that some biblical counseling is only half biblical, then please read my comments at the end of my first post in this series: http://tinyurl.com/n8k799.


    My Premise


    Some modern biblical counseling considers the seriousness of sin—sinning, but spends much less time equipping people to minister to the gravity of grinding affliction—suffering. When we provide counseling for sin, but fail to provide counseling and counselor training for suffering, then such biblical counseling is only half biblical.


    Secluded in Our Ivory Towers


    Though acknowledging suffering, it became an underdeveloped element of some biblical counselors. When they did address suffering, it often became “private preaching” with a moralistic, non-relational, directive bent.


    Why did this occur? Preaching training, theological perspectives, views of the image of God, and personal sin issues all combined with the historical setting to “set up” early biblical counseling for movement away from the Church’s historic practice and the Bible’s comprehensive focus on sustaining and healing for suffering.


    Non-Comprehensive Theological Training


    Frank Lake, who we quoted in post one of this series, traces the neglect of suffering to a shift in the focus of ministry training.


    “If theological training had not lost its Galilean accent on persons encountered by the roadside or on the roof tops, in favor of libraries and essays in the schools, it would be unnecessary to argue the case for pastoral listening (empathy) and dialogue (conversing with, not private preaching at).”


    Secluded in our ivory towers, far from the gravity of grinding affliction, we lose our perspective and our sensitivity. Pastors taught in such settings are trained to preach at people. They then enter a parish with suffering people—people like Job and the man born blind in John 9. Lake describes what stereotypically occurs when pastors trained to talk at sinners are forced to face sufferers.


    “The pastoral counselor, in spite of himself, finds himself tittering out his usual jocular reassuring prescriptions, minimizing the problem, and thumping in optimism or the need for further effort. He has the ingrained professional habit of filling every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of good advice.”


    Trained to preach, but not trained to counsel, many pastors, to this day, are ill-equipped to help the suffering. Theirs is an instinctive activism that revolts against a caring presence and words of comfort. They assume that a directive response is best for the pastor’s busy schedule, and that the preaching mode is best for the care and cure of souls. All of this, despite what the Bible and church history teaches.


    Non-Comprehensive Theology


    Another reason why some biblical counselors are ill-equipped to help the suffering relates to a non-comprehensive theological perspective. The early biblical counseling movement was launched based upon one version of Calvinistic, Reformed theology. However, it was not the comprehensive version practiced by the Reformers like Luther or by Calvin himself. Both Luther and Calvin had a comprehensive, compassionate theology that included a focus on sin and suffering and included a focus on creation, fall, and redemption.


    Early pioneers in biblical counseling, reacting against the pendulum of liberalism, the social gospel, and secular psychology, added to it their focus on the fall, sin, and depravity. Such factors were a recipe for biblical counseling that failed to address suffering biblically.


    Focusing on the fall, sin, and depravity, and not as much on creation and our original design, and not as much on redemption and dignity in Christ and deprivation and suffering, they defined and described counseling as confronting sin and minimized the scope of true pastoral ministry.


    Non-Comprehensive Image of God


    Additionally, some biblical counselors tended to focus on the “volitional” element in the Imago Dei. That is, when they considered the image of God in human beings, they focused on the will, actions, and behaviors (and in later years on motivation)—putting off and putting on right actions. As biblical counseling developed, it began to focus more on the mind—putting off and putting on a right thinking—mind renewal.


    However, to this day, there is not as much focus on the relational aspects that the Puritan Jonathan Edwards called “the religious affections”—longings, desires, thirsts, etc. And, to this day, some biblical counselors consider emotions to be “the black sheep of the image bearing family.”


    Valuing reason and action above affections and emotions, when they did address suffering, they did so with a focus on right actions and right responses in reaction to suffering, while minimizing the emotional and relational aspects of and responses to suffering.


    Personal Sin and Sinful Fear


    Since the Bible insists on comprehensive and compassionate ministry that both confronts the sinning and comforts the suffering, and we fail to do this, then part of the reason must be internal. That is, even given all the historical, cultural factors, we can’t blame externals for our failure to do what the Bible calls us to do—comfort the suffering.


    The personal sin of the fear of man is another reason that some biblical counselors fail to address suffering. Preachers and pastors (and lay people) are terrified, scared to death, to enter hurts deeply. They are much more comfy behind the pulpit generalizing about life, then facing suffering people face-to-face and moving into their hurting lives.


    If they do come face-to-face with a suffering soul, it is much easier, much safer, to see counseling as problem-solving and to treat the soul as if it is a car engine to be fixed or a computer virus to be eliminated, then it is to relate soul-to-soul. Teach truth. Exhort right response. Talk. But weep with those who weep? But listen empathetically? But enter deeply? But sustain? But climb in the casket?


    We can explore externals, but the reality is, the bottom line is, when pastors, spiritual friends, and biblical counselors fail to engage in biblical sustaining and healing for suffering—it is a sin.


    Where Do We Go From Here


    So far we’ve seen what we should do: care-front sinning and comfort suffering. So far we’ve seen why we have not done so: historical, cultural, theological, and personal factors that led to a minimizing of sustaining and healing for suffering.


    Next we’ll explore how the minimizing of suffering negatively impacts Body life—the natural, ongoing, daily one-another ministry of God’s people in the church.


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