• Incompetent to Counsel

    Posted on June 22nd, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical

    Addendum: Incompetent to Counsel

     

    *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: Half Biblical Counseling

     

    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.

     

    Let’s Play, “Can You Top This?”

     

    I have suggested that counseling that is truly biblical could be defined as:

     

    Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling depends upon the Holy Spirit to relate God’s inspired truth about people, problems, and solutions to human suffering (through the Christian soul care arts of sustaining and healing) and sin (through the Christian spiritual direction arts of reconciling and guiding) to empower people to exalt and enjoy God and to love others (Matthew 22:35-40) by cultivating conformity to Christ and communion with Christ and the Body of Christ.

     

    If this is true, why then do some biblical counselors minimize suffering? Why do they ignore large tracks of biblical data about “sufferology”?

     

    Throughout this blog mini-series I’ve suggested several answers to those questions. In this post we consider another reason—this one a personal reason.

     

    I believe that there’s great pressure in the biblical counseling “movement” and in the Evangelical world to “prove” one’s “credentials” as a biblical counselor. There’s so much venom out there and false accusations of “psycho-heresy” that some counselors may be tempted to play, “Can You Top This?”

     

    One “biblical counselor” says, “Biblical counseling is about confronting behavioral sin.”

     

    The next counselor, going a step further proclaims, “That’s shallow. Biblical counseling is actually about confronting motivational sins.”

     

    Another counselor responds, “That’s still not deep enough, you have to confront hidden idols of the heart and false lovers of the soul.”

     

    Each counselor “proves” his or her right to claim the mantle of “biblical counselor” because of an ever-deepening emphasis on the depth of sin. Each counselor seems to think that the right pedigree for comprehensive biblical counseling is met through depth confrontation of sin.

     

    Now, please hear me clearly. I believe in a depth of exposure of sin.

     

    In Soul Physicians and in Spiritual Friends, I show that in biblical and historical reconciling we help one another to understand that it’s horrible to sin and it’s wonderful to be forgiven.

     

    Yes, truly biblical counseling exposes sin comprehensively: relationally, spiritually, socially, rationally, volitionally, and emotionally. I have no qualms with that whatsoever.

     

    Incompetent to Counsel

     

    There seems to be a false assumption that the person who exposes sin the most comprehensively is the person with the most comprehensive model of biblical counseling.

     

    That’s like asking:

     

    “Of Job’s three miserable counselors, who was the most comprehensive biblical counselor—Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar?”

     

    Well, duh! None of the above!

     

    They each exposed sin. In fact, they competed with one another to be named the champion sin-spotter. Yet God said they did not speak right of Job nor of God.  

     

    In the name of trying to be comprehensively biblical, they became incompetent to counsel.

     

     

     

    The Fear of Man

     

    Let’s be honest, in Evangelical circles, we get quite competitive about proving our bona fides (supplying evidence that serves to guarantee a person’s good standing, reputation, and authentic credentials).

     

    If I am a Reformed Calvinist, then I’m going to out-Calvin Calvin! “A five-point Calvinist? No way, I’m a 5.5 pointer!” (If you don’t get that, it’s okay.)

     

    Sad to say, in Evangelical circles we succumb to the pressure to out-do one another in order to prove that we have cornered the market on the current “in” issue. “I’m more biblical than you are because . . .”

     

    For counselors today, is it possible that our egos get involved? Is it possible that “eye service as men pleasers” (as the King James puts it) gets involved? Is it possible that the “fear of man” tempts us to become like Job’s counselors?

     

    Nobody wants to be an “outsider.” Nobody wants to be called “weak on sin.” Nobody wants to be labeled a “psycho-heretic.”

     

    So, to be an “insider,” to be called “strong against sin,” to be labeled a “biblical counselor,” we yield to the temptation to bark louder than the next guy about sin’s depths, while rarely addressing suffering’s depths.

     

    We yield to the temptation to minimize suffering because we fear that someone will call us weak on sin. We fear that we’ll be accused of making excuses for sin by talking about suffering.

     

    Let’s refuse to give into the temptation to prove our credentials, to brandish our pedigree, or to please men, by outdoing one another in pitting sin against suffering.

     

    Biblical counseling is rightly big on confronting sin. Hopefully, it is rightly even bigger on sharing grace (where sin abounds, grace super-abounds—Romans 5:20). And hopefully, it is equally big on dealing with suffering.

     

    If we truly want to be comprehensively biblical, then let’s be sure that we address sin comprehensively and that we address suffering comprehensively.

     

  • Sin-Colored Glasses

    Posted on June 20th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Twelve: Sin-Colored Glasses

    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.

     

    Sin-Colored Glasses

     

    Some pastors, in arguing against making suffering a formal aspect of biblical counseling definitions, training, and practice, have said, “But Bob, my people don’t come to me with suffering issues. They come with sin issues!”

     

    What are we to make of this?

     

    First, let me be honest, having pastored three churches, when I hear such statements, I have to pick my jaw off the table. Parishioners have come to me with every conceivable issue of sin and of suffering.

     

    Second, I wonder how much this might have to do with the “enculturation” of these particular parishioners. Have these individuals learned that it is appropriate to bring “sin issues” to their pastors, but that it is not appropriate for them to bring “suffering issues” to their pastors?

     

    Third, is it possible that these pastors see all of life with “sin-colored lenses”? So that even if a parishioner comes with a life hurt, perhaps the pastor sees the hurt as an opportunity to expose sinful responses.

     

    Fourth, I have found that in a local church, when the message of the pulpit clearly communicates that “it’s normal to hurt,” “it’s possible to hope,” “it’s horrible to sin and wonderful to be forgiven,” and “it’s supernatural to mature,” that the entire congregation feels free to openly discuss all of life. And they do so both with the pastor and with one another. When we preach and teach the whole counsel of God, which includes sin and suffering, then the Body of Christ freely relates with one another about all of life.

  • 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.

     

  • How Biblical Counseling Lost Its Way

    Posted on June 17th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Nine: How Biblical Counseling Lost Its Way

    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.

     

    Pulling Back the Pendulum . . . Too Far . . . One Way

     

    Recall the situation pastors faced in the 1960s when hurting parishioners walked into their pastoral office. You could turn to secular psychology to address their personal issues. Or, you could ignore their personal issues and just keep preaching from the pulpit theology unrelated to life.

     

    Those individuals who revived modern biblical counseling returned to the shepherding task of the personal ministry of the Word. However, when they pulled back the pendulum:

     

    1. They feared that anything other than confronting sin would be a return to the social gospel.

     

    2. They feared that focusing on life’s hardships might easily encourage evasion of moral responsibility and blame-shifting.

     

    3. They feared that “empathy,” “non-directive responses,” and “passive listening” would be a capitulation to liberalism and secular psychology.

     

    They pulled back the pendulum to the shepherding task of the personal ministry of the Word and to a focus on moral responsibility and sin—for which we all should be thankful.

     

    Their pull went too far, was one-dimensional, and fear-based—from which we should all learn.

     

    It is never biblical to ignore any part of our biblical calling out of fear that someone might respond in an unbiblical manner to our biblical ministry.

     

    We do not have to shift blame to past traumatic experiences in order to be a biblical emphathizer, encourager, and hope-giver. It is not blame-shifting to recognize the biblical truth that being sinned against causes pain (2 Samuel 13, the lament Psalms, etc.). It is not blame-shifting to empathize with, console, and comfort our suffering parishioners and spiritual friends.

     

    Our Calling to a Fuller Shepherding Response

     

    Given the climate in which they lived, pioneers of the return to biblical counseling saw suffering as an occasion for revealing either faithfulness or sinfulness. That much we can applaud.

     

    Their response, however, was primarily one-dimensional. They exhorted moral responsibility through the directive teaching of biblical principles. They viewed suffering exclusively as an occasion to warn against sinning. They explored suffering chiefly to discover sinful responses, to determine what responses would be morally appropriate, and to exhort such morally appropriate actions and behaviors.

     

    However, the Bible and Church history demand a much fuller shepherding response to suffering and sufferers. It includes, but is not limited to:

     

    1. Weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

     

    2. Comforting those who hurt (2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and over 100 occurrences in the New Testament of parakaleo—comfort and encouragement).

     

    3. Sharing not only Scriptures but our very own souls—our selves—relational connection (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

     

    4. Relating with the mutual care modeled within the Trinity (John 1, John 17).

     

    5. Bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-4).

     

    6. Encouraging one another and scores of other compassionate “one another” passages.

     

    7. Sustaining empathy and compassionate commiseration (the opposite of Job’s miserable counselors—Job 3-42) modeled by the Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, women throughout Church history, African American soul care-givers, etc.

     

    8. The collaborative application of Scripture emphasizing the use of passages such as the Psalms of Lament in a consolatory manner as Martin Luther and countless heroes of the faith did.

     

    9. The healing permission to and encouragement to grieve as those who have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

     

    It is simply not biblical enough to say, “Oh, of course we deal with suffering,” and then to “deal with it” simply by exhortation to moral behavior. Such is not a comprehensive, compassionate, biblical, historical shepherding response.

     

  • Why Male Biblical Counselors Need the Perspective of Female Biblical Counselors

    Posted on June 16th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Seven: Why Male Biblical Counselors

    Need the Perspective of Female Biblical Counselors

    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.

     

    How We Lost Our Way

     

    Yesterday’s post (http://tinyurl.com/m945pr) explained that the failure to integrate the African American comprehensive perspective of suffering and sin is one reason why White Evangelical biblical counselors lost their way.

     

    Today we add another example of intercultural dearth: the failure to focus on the contribution of Christian women soul care-givers and spiritual directors.

     

    This dearth is why RPM Ministries is so passionate about Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling. When our counseling is predominantly taught by one segment of one cultural group (in this case, White males like myself), we lose the comprehensive perspective.

     

    In the new book released later this summer, Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith (http://tinyurl.com/ql8fqc), Susan Ellis and I share life-changing and ministry-altering narratives from 52 Christian women in Church history. Consistently they unite biblical ministry for suffering and sin.

     

    Following Christian Women’s Historical Compass

     

    The biblical counseling approach of women in Church history is holistic, comprehensive. They practice sustaining and healing soul care for suffering and reconciling and guiding spiritual direction for sin. As Susan and I show in our Introduction:

     

    Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of Wesleyan pioneers John and Charles, exemplifies in one breath these four interrelated callings. “We are to be instructed, because we are ignorant [guiding]; and healed, because we are sick [healing]; and disciplined, because so apt to wander and go astray [reconciling]; and succored and supported, because we are so often tempted [sustaining].”[i] Susanna Wesley and uncountable Christian women like her followed a spiritual compass. Instead of N-S-E-W, their soul care and spiritual direction compass points read S-H-R-G: Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. Throughout Sacred Friendships, they will gift us with their wisdom—wisdom for ministry today to God’s glory forever.

     

    Don’t for a moment imagine that Christian women only focused on the “touchy-feely” area of suffering. Read Sacred Friendships and you will see that they out-confront the best male biblical counselor! It’s not that women provide the “softer side” of biblical counseling. It’s that women offer the comprehensive, non-compartmentalized “both sides” of biblical counseling.

     

    Conclusion

     

    Because we White Evangelical male biblical counselors pulled the pendulum back from a focus on self and because we did so with too little awareness of and connection with our sisters in Christ, we compartmentalized sin and suffering and minimized the development of biblical counseling approaches that produced comprehensive sacred friendships.

     

    Where Do We Go From Here?

     

    In my next post, we’ll explore additional reasons why some biblical counseling compartmentalized sin and suffering and focused too little on equipping God’s people to be a hospital for the hurting.

     



    [i]Clark, Memoirs of the Wesley Family, 398.

  • Why White Biblical Counselors Need the Black Church

    Posted on June 15th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Six: Why White Biblical Counselors Need the Black Church

     

    *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.

     

    Why and How We Lost Our Way

     

    So, why do I think biblical counseling lost its way? What historical, cultural, and personal realities help to explain why some modern biblical counseling is only half biblical?

     

    E. Brooks Holifield, in his excellent study, A History of Pastoral Care in America, demonstrates how pastoral ministry moved from a focus on salvation to a focus on self-realization. It moved from Christ to self, from Scripture to humanism.

     

    In my own study of pastoral counseling in America, I’ve found that biblical counseling from the end of the Civil War (1865) to the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) moved from a focus on suffering and sin to a focus on self.

     

    Interesting, isn’t it, that for these 100 years, framed by the Civil War and Civil Rights, we lost our way with Christian counseling and pastoral ministry.

     

    In coming posts, I’ll share about the impact of liberalism and fundamentalism on pastoral ministry during this era. I’ll also describe how the modern biblical counseling movement pulled the pendulum back to a focus on sin, but not always to an equal focus on suffering.

     

    Why White Biblical Counselors Need the Black Church

     

    Here’s my conviction about why pastoral ministry moved from suffering and sin to self, and why modern biblical counseling pulled the focus back to sin but not as much to suffering: church segregation.

     

    From the end of the Civil War to the Civil Rights Act, and continuing to today, Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour in America. We lose so much by this church segregation.

     

    White Evangelical biblical counselors lose the amazing, beautiful, biblical blending of suffering and sin that so characterizes the Black Evangelical Church from its inception in enslavement right up to our day.

     

    In my book, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, readers enjoy 100s of lively narratives that consistently depict how the Evangelical Black Church never compartmentalized suffering and sin. Instead, the Black Church consistently integrated, mingled, blended, and kept united soul care for suffering and spiritual direction for sinning.

     

    A Sampler

     

    If you want to read a free sample chapter on the Black Church’s personal ministry of the Word, go here: http://tinyurl.com/nykc3h.

     

    Conclusion

     

    Because we White Evangelical biblical counselors pulled the pendulum back from a focus on self and because we did so in segregation from our Black brothers and sisters, we compartmentalized sin and suffering and ignored the development of biblical counseling approaches that help us to move beyond the suffering.

     

    Where Do We Go From Here?

     

    In my next post, I’ll share what White Evangelical male biblical counselors lost when we minimized the contribution of female soul care-givers and spiritual directors.

  • Embracing the Legacy of Comforting Biblical Counseling

    Posted on June 12th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Three: Embracing the Legacy of Comforting Biblical Counseling

    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 I am of the conviction that such biblical counseling is only half biblical.

     

    The Myth: Dealing with “Suffering” Is Surely “Secular”

     

    Here’s the myth we face when we say that we must deal with suffering as well as with sin:

     

    “Oh, that’s just modern secular psychotherapy.” Or, “That’s obviously influenced by Freudianism.” Or, “No one ever said biblical counseling was about suffering until after the advent of modern humanism.”

     

    Those are each myths.

     

    Our first post in this series highlighted the theological necessity for dealing with suffering—failing to care for the suffering actually minimizes the universal impact of sin.

     

    Our second post pondered just a few of many of the biblical mandates for dealing with suffering—such as Job; John 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 1:3-11; Romans 12:15; and the occurrence of parakaleo over 100 times in the New Testament.

     

    We could also add the Lament Psalms, the very character of God as the Father of the fatherless, David, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul. (In Soul Physicians I present an entire biblical theology of suffering—sufferology. In Spiritual Friends I spend over 100 pages outlining the Bible’s approach to helping the hurting.)

     

    The Reality: Dealing with Suffering Is Certainly Biblical

     

    Dealing with suffering is certainly biblical.

     

    Of course, one could say, “That’s just your flawed interpretation of Scripture.”

     

    Could be. While God’s Word is inspired, perfect, and inerrant, none of our interpretations are.

     

    So I’ve also spent over a quarter-century studying Church history: the Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, African American believers (Beyond the Suffering), and women in Church history (Sacred Friendships).

     

    Then again, we could run into yet another false accusation: “So, you are saying that tradition is on the same par as inspired Scripture!”

     

    No. Not at all.

     

    I am simply saying that since all our interpretations of Scripture are errant, and since some claim that those who deal with suffering are unknowingly influenced by modern secular psychology, that turning to conservative believers pre-Freud could be a good reality check.

     

    Church History Samplers of Comforting Biblical Counseling for Suffering

     

    I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the great Reformer, Martin Luther. What many do not know is that Luther was also a master pastor. He left us 1000s of letters of spiritual consolation where he comforted his world-wide parishioners so they could face suffering face-to-face with God.

     

    In my 359-page dissertation, 104 pages explore Luther’s work focused on suffering and sanctification. By comparison, 71 pages examine Luther’s work dealing with sin and sanctification. Luther, unlike some modern Christian counselors, accurately and adequately blended counseling for suffering and for sin.

     

    In Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, we learn from the amazing legacy of Black heroes of the faith. As the title suggests, our brothers and sisters understood that biblical counseling must include comforting the suffering. Yes, they certainly care-fronted the sinning, also. Like we should, our African American great cloud of witnesses did both.

     

    In the forthcoming book Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith, we see women like Margaret Baxter, Susanna Wesley, Sarah Edwards, Susannah Spurgeon, and 47 others, consistently integrating comfort for the suffering and care-fronting for the sinning.

     

    Together this great cloud of witnesses insists that true, comprehensive biblical counseling has always been about the business of helping both hurting and hardened people through comforting and care-fronting with the goal of increased Christlikeness.

     

    Where Do We Go from Here?

     

    Tomorrow, I’ll provide an even broader Church history study, sharing briefly the works of Clebsch and Jaekle, McNeil, Oden, and other Church historians—who each conclude that comprehensive pastoral care has always dealt with both sin and suffering.

     

    The next blog post I’ll address the question, “What then might it look like to train pastors and lay people to be soul physicians and spiritual friends who deal with both suffering and sin?”

  • Whatever Happened to Suffering?

    Posted on June 11th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Why Some Biblical Counseling Is Only Half Biblical!

    Part Two: Whatever Happened to Suffering?

    by Bob 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 I am of the conviction that such biblical counseling is only half biblical!

     

    Whatever Happened to Sin?

     

    Some might object, “So, are you watering down sin? Are you saying that Christ came to heal our suffering and not to save us from our sin? Are you saying that our primary problem is our suffering rather than our sin?”

     

    No. Actually, anyone who omits suffering in their biblical counseling is watering down sin!

     

    Unlike the Church Fathers, unlike the Reformers, unlike the Puritans, and most importantly, unlike the Bible, we tend to make Christ’s victory over sin predominantly individual and personal, rather than also corporate and cosmic. Christ died to dethrone sin. Christ died to defeat every vestige of sin. Christ died to obliterate every effect of sin—individual, personal, corporate, and cosmic—including death and suffering, tears and sorrows, mourning, crying, and pain.

     

    That’s why twice in Revelation, John shares the blessed promise that, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4; see also Rev. 17:7). Christ died to defeat every enemy, every evil, including the devil who holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), and the last enemy—suffering and death (1 Corinthians 15:25).

     

    Yes, of course, in the evangelism and discipleship process, our first joy is helping someone who does not know Christ to surrender to Christ so his or her sins are forgiven. And, of course, as we disciple one another we want to help each other to grow in their victory over sin’s tentacles.

     

    Whatever Happened to Suffering?

     

    However, our calling from Christ is also to minister to one another concerning sin’s effects—including suffering. That’s why we are called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). That’s why we are called to comfort one another (nine times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). That’s why the New Testament calls us to a parakaletic ministry (to come alongside to help, comfort, and encourage one another in suffering). That’s why the New Testament uses the word parakaletic over 100 times!

     

    Christ’s Cross defeated our deprivations—the evils we suffer, and our depravity—the sins we commit. Frank Lake explains Christ’s victory over both:

     

    “The very powers of evil, standing in the shadows behind ‘the mystery of iniquity’ and ‘the mystery of suffering,’ were dethroned by Christ’s active, obedient submission to their onslaught. Therefore, He reconciles to God by His Cross not only sinners, but sufferers. Not only memories of culpable sin which condemn the conscience, but the memories of intolerable affliction which condemn faith as a delusion, these too are confronted by the fact of Christ’s Cross. These passive evils, which are not of the soul’s own making, are not accessible to a pastoral care which can talk only in terms of the forgiveness of sins. Such sufferers are usually not insensitive to their status as sinners. They have sought God’s forgiveness. But, like Job, they complain of the comforters whose one-track minds have considered only the seriousness of sin, and not the gravity of grinding affliction” (Lake, Clinical Theology, pp. 24-25, emphasis added). 

     

    Lake makes several astute points.

     

    1. Academic Theology: As we have said, Christ’s died to defeat sin and sins’ effect—death and suffering, depravity and deprivation.

     

    2. Spiritual Theology: “Passive evils” are what some today called “innocent suffering.” Not that anyone is innocent (or sinless), but that some suffering is not directly due to our own personal sin: the woman who is raped, the child who is abused, the cancer patient, the parents of a dying child, the victim of a drunk-driving accident, etc.

     

    3. Pastoral Theology: Counseling such individuals, they typically understand that they are sinners. They want to know if their pastors, counselors, and spiritual friends understand that they are sufferers! If we do not, if we preach them a sermon on sin, then we are like Job’s miserable counselors with their false theology that God is a tit-for-tat God and that every incident of suffering is directly related to one’s personal sin. (See John 9:1-3 for Jesus’ theology of innocent suffering/sufferers.) 

     

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be known as a miserable counselor. I want to be known as a Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counselor!

     

    Frank Lake again explains what that looks like.

     

    “Clinical pastoral care has, as its introduction, the task of listening to a story of human conflict and need. To the extent that our listening uncovers a situation which borders the abyss or lies broken within it, we are nearer to the place where the Cross of Christ is the only adequate interpretative concept” (Frank Lake, Clinical Theology, pp. 18-19).

     

    Sin and suffering—they both offer us the opportunity to provide wisdom found only in the Gospel. When we skirt our biblical counseling responsibility to minister to the suffering, we limit the limitless power and infinite relevancy of the Cross of Christ.

     

    When we talk about the sufficiency of Scripture but in practice deny the relevancy of Scripture to address human suffering, then we have watered down sin and we have diminished the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ!

     

    When we understand the Cross of Christ, then we practice biblical counseling that combines the sufficiency and the relevancy of Scripture and that unites counseling for the sufferer and for the sinner.

     

    Where Do We Go from Here?

     

    Tomorrow we’ll start addressing the following vital questions.

     

    *So, has anyone else in Church history ever said we must focus on both sin and suffering?

     

    *So, what would it look like to focus on both sin and suffering?

     

    *So, what’s your definition/description of truly biblical counseling?