These two volumes advocate the views of the Christian Counseling Coalition, which sets out to “help us regain our confidence in God’s Word as sufficient to address the real life issues that we face today.” Mr. Kellemen, who authored Gospel-Centered Counseling and is the editor of Scripture and Counseling, is the Executive Director of that organization.
Mr. Kellemen, as well as the other authors represented here, is concerned that the church has unwisely turned over the care of souls to professionals outside the church. They contend that this capitulation to the philosophies and methodologies of modern psychology has at its root a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of scripture to provide what is necessary for life and godliness. While it is not denied that secular psychology produces research and ideas that can be valuable to the church, it is argued that it is important to recognize that many of the approaches developed by modern psychology rest on assumptions that contradict Christian teaching. As a result, while Christian counselors almost always claim to be integrating psychological insights with biblical Christianity, one often finds inundation rather than integration. With many well-meaning Christian counselors, a facile understanding of Christianity and advanced study in psychology results in an unhealthy syncretism in which Christian teaching takes a back seat. In addition, pastors who refer their church members to secular psychologists turn them over to those who often use treatment practices formed by philosophies that are foreign to Christian teaching.
In response, these volumes contend that the Bible contains adequate resources for counsel, and that pastors and lay people properly trained in the contents and teaching of the Bible can provide valuable counsel that greatly reduces the need to refer congregants to outside counseling resources. Models for using small groups and lay leaders along with church staff to provide varying layers of counseling are presented.
Gospel-Centered Counseling is the stronger of these two books, in part because it is the carefully organized work of a single author, Robert Kellemen. As stated frequently over the course of the work, it is the first in a projected two volume resource, with the yet unpublished book to have the title Gospel-Centered Conversations. Gospel-Centered Counseling is a sort of practical systematic theology centered around the goal of showing the sufficiency of a Bible based rubric for biblical counseling for those suffering and in need of a “soul physician.” Though the book is oriented toward theology, readers should not assume the book is impractical. It contains numerous real world examples of how biblical themes provide resources that impact the care of those suffering with mental health struggles.
Twenty-two authors contribute to Scripture and Counseling, with the most notable names being Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, who wrote the foreword, and Rev. Kevin DeYoung, who co-authored a chapter along with the Director of Counseling Ministries at their University Reformed Church.
As with most books with multiple authors, the contents of the volume are a bit uneven. Generally, the strongest chapters are those outlining the counselors preparation in terms of both knowledge of counseling situations and relevant biblical material. The portions of the book arguing for a biblical approach to counseling, and opposing an integrated approach that sometimes results in the inundation of Christian ideas with unbiblical ones, also tend to be strong. Some of the weaker chapters unfortunately tend to be those offering specific examples of biblical approaches, particularly those using examples from biblical narrative. Some of that is a matter of space, as quick summaries can come across as overly simplistic. However, some of the difficulty arises from the possible reduction of biblical biography to mere moralism, a potential concern that undoubtedly these authors would recognize, but none of them deal with in any significant way in these pages. When one writer states that “[t]he epistles are counseling,” he says something that may be true with proper qualification, but since no qualification is forthcoming, he comes across as reductionistic.
Indeed, both volumes are somewhat disconcerting in that they seem to define biblical counseling so broadly as to make it all encompassing: everything the church does is biblical counseling. In addition, whether a church member struggles with lustful thoughts or PTSD, it is all within the training of a minister with his Bible. While this reviewer wouldn’t deny that there are aspects of PTSD and other maladies such as this that can and should be addressed by a biblical counselor, one wonders whether the authors have adequately explained why these issues are not to at least some extent matters of common grace and creation gifts, just as medical doctors, whether Christian or not, are healers of the body. They certainly do admit that some mental health issues have underlying physical causes that require referral to medical doctors.
Those concerns aside, these volumes have significant value. Not all readers will be convinced completely by this approach, but nearly everyone would benefit from interacting with it. I know I did. The pull to approach counseling from various secular vantage points is strong, and this work provides a push in the right direction.