Biblical Preaching and Biblical Counseling: What’s Makes Them “Biblical”?

Note from Theron: This article is by Dr. Bob Kellemen. It was originally posted on Dr. Bob Kellemen’s site, RPM Ministries. Entrusted By God is re-posting it with Bob’s permission. The original blog post can be found here.

My friend, David Murray, wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition in 2012 that was re-posted this past week: How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling? In it, David shares the following analogy about what makes biblical preaching “biblical.”

Take, for example, “biblical preaching.” “Biblical” here does not mean we only use the Bible in sermons. Biblical preaching expounds the Bible, but it also draws from non-biblical sources—some of them authored by unbelievers—such as syntactical, grammatical, lexical, and textual guides and commentaries. We often incorporate historical, geographical, sociological, and cultural research. We regularly draw from current scientific findings and the modern media to teach, explain, or illustrate a point. Even the form and communication style of most modern sermons has been derived largely from ancient and modern philosophical and political speech forms. However, although some of the content and form of biblical preaching is drawn from outside the Bible, we believe that God has provided a Bible that is up to the task of filtering out the false and admitting the truth of God that he has graciously placed in the world.

Related to this analogy, David writes:

For some in our family, “biblical” means “Bible only.” For them, biblical counseling could be more accurately renamed “Bible counseling.” In principle, it means they use only the Bible in counseling people; nothing else is helpful, and anything else is compromise.

The Ministry of the Word

In the spirit of friendly dialogue, I’d like to follow-up on David’s analogy. I don’t believe his analogy captures the concerns of biblical counselors. Before I make that analogy, consider a comparison: both biblical counseling and biblical preaching are ministries of the Word.

  • Biblical Preaching: The pulpit ministry of the Word, the public ministry of the Word.
  • Biblical Counseling: The private ministry of the Word, the personal ministry of the Word.

When the pastor preaches from the pulpit, he focuses on relating God’s truth to life. When the pastor shares in interactive, conversational ways in the pastoral counseling office, he focuses on relating God’s truth to life.

The question I want us to consider is, “Should extra-biblical worldviews have a role in biblical preaching or biblical counseling?”

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the Content, Foundation, and Worldview Is 95% Secular?

Here’s the first analogy that biblical counselors would use. Some counselors say they are doing Christian counseling when they open and close in prayer and perhaps sprinkle in one verse during the 60-minute meeting. To use the preaching analogy, is it biblical preaching if the content, foundation, and communication of the message is composed of 95% secular worldview with an opening and closing prayer and one verse mentioned but never developed? If 95% of the message contains the viewpoints of 20th Century atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell, and Gandhi, and liberal theologians, is it biblical preaching?

This is the concern of biblical counselors: is the authority basis for the Christian life built upon biblical theology? Or, is the authority basis for the Christian life built upon the theories of secular philosophy, secular psychology, and secular sociology? The key word here is theories—worldview, the source of understanding of people, problems, and solutions.

Now, some may say, “You’re using an outlier, Bob. No Christian counselor would be 95% secular.” I recently read a major Christian Integrative Counseling text. The index of sources was multiple pages—with the majority of those sources being secular. The Scripture index consisted of 3 verses—covering over 750 pages of text. I love my Christian Integrative Counseling friends, but I would humbly encourage them to consider if sometimes there is a lack of theological richness and biblical robustness.

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the World’s Authority and Wisdom Is Placed Over the Word’s Authority and Wisdom?

But let’s assume the first analogy is an outlier. Here’s a second question: “Is it biblical preaching if the secular worldview holds sway over the Bible’s worldview?” Both are quoted in a sermon (the world’s wisdom and the Word’s wisdom), but when there’s a discrepancy, the world’s wisdom trumps the Word’s wisdom. How many of us would attend a church where an entire 12-week series placed the world’s authority over the Word’s authority?

And yet, some models of integrative counseling do that. This is where biblical counselors are concerned. The analogy is not about syntax, but about worldview and the source of authoritative wisdom for life.

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the World’s Authority and Wisdom Are Seen as Equal to the Word’s Authority and Wisdom?

Again, David or others may say, “But the committed, well-trained Christian Integrative Counselor is not going to place the world over the Word.” So, let’s ask another question. “Is it biblical preaching if the world’s authority and wisdom are seen as equal to the Word’s authority and wisdom?” Both are quoted an equal amount. Both are seen to have areas or spheres of authority. Bertrand Russell’s secular worldview is given equal credence in matters of faith and practice as Peter, Paul, James, John, or Jesus.

How many of us would listen to sermons for 12 weeks when worldly wisdom for living is given equal footing with the wisdom of the Word? How many of us should attend 12 counseling sessions where the counselor gives worldly wisdom for living equal footing with the Word’s wisdom for living?

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the Word’s Authority and Wisdom Are Seen As Superior to the World’s Authority and Wisdom, Yet the World’s Wisdom for Living Is Still a Major Foundation and Component of the Preaching?

Again, David and others may say, “Wait, Bob. The Christian Integrative Counselor uses God’s Word as the grid by which anything from the world is evaluated.” I would respond, “Remember, we’re not talking about syntax. We’re talking about worldview. We’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain people—humanity, anthropology, who we are, and how we are designed in our souls in relationship to God.”

I’d continue, “And we’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain sin—the fall, hamartiology, what went wrong, how our souls are in rebellion before God and lack shalom.”

And I’d keep going, “We’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain solutions—salvation, reconciliation, sanctification, recovery from suffering, victory over sin, who God is, who Christ is, what the gospel is and how it makes a daily difference.”

So, yes, a preacher might quote from a movie—but illustratively to help describe a biblical principle. But if that preacher, even if he talks about the authority of the Word over the world, builds the thesis of his sermon from the movie, or builds major points of his sermon from a liberal theologian’s understanding of life, or builds components of his sermon from a secular philosopher’s worldview—for 12 weeks in a row—how many of us would keep attending that church?

This moves us to the heart of the issue. Do we have confidence that God’s Word has robust, rich, relevant, relational, profound wisdom and insight for the soul issues we face every day? Or, do we believe that the fallen world, in rebellion against God, has robust, rich, relevant, relational, profound wisdom and insight for the soul issues we face every day?

Biblical Counselors and Biblical Worldviews

Biblical counselors are concerned about a biblical worldview—about building our understanding of people, problems, and solutions from a rich, robust, Christo-centric, gospel-centered, God-glorifying foundation. We are “Bible only counselors” when it comes to biblical worldviews about people, problems, and solutions—living whole, healthy, and holy lives in a fallen and broken world.

Biblical counselors are not “Bible only counselors” when it comes to understanding medical science, neurological research, or descriptive psychological research. (For a robust presentation of the biblical counseling view, see the Biblical Counseling Coalition book Scripture and Counseling, and for a summary statement see the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement). A couple of examples might help—first, neuroscience. Dr. Charles Hodges, an MD and a biblical counselor, wrote the book, Good Mood Bad Mood where he quotes many neuroscience articles. They were all placed under a biblical grid. Neuroscience, when it “stays in its lane” of doing neurological research, is not a “worldview.” There’s a worldview behind it (often an evolutionary one) that must always be considered. But neither Dr. Hodges nor I would have a problem with a legitimate neurological finding being shared with a counselee. That may be more like the syntax analogy that David Murray uses.

What about psychological research? Again, even worldview perspectives creep into how one does research. Yet, biblical counselors have expressed openness to descriptive psychology—a description of what happens, not a diagnosis of why and not a prescription of what to do. When descriptive psychology “stays in its lane,” I could potentially use a finding under the authority of Scripture. For example, in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I briefly introduce one descriptive model of the grief process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s one way of describing how people stereotypically respond to loss in a fallen world. It is not prescriptive. In the rest of God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I explore what the Bible’s wisdom communicates to us about a Christ-centered way of moving through grief—prescriptive, theoretical, theological biblical counseling. The description comes from research. The diagnosis and prescription comes from the Word.

The Takeaway

Biblical counselors do not want to integrate a biblical worldview with a secular worldview. Neither does a biblical preacher. That’s the central analogy. That’s the central message of Colossians 2:8:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

Biblical counselors do not want to integrate biblical counseling theory with secular counseling theory—ideas about people, problems, and solutions—because those are fundamentally theological issues—yes, biblical issues. In theory-building (theology-building), yes, biblical counselors are “Bible only” without apology. Just like preachers who build their messages on the exegesis of the text of Scripture and on a comprehensive biblical worldview are “Bible only” preachers—without apology.

Join the Conversation:
So, what do you think—what makes biblical preaching and biblical counseling biblical?

Note: As my post was going “live,” I noticed that David also has a more recent post on this topic: Do We Need More Than the Bible for Biblical Counseling? I think his argument in this more recent post is similar to the analogy David used in his 2012 TGC post.

Who Titles Your Life Story?

ourstoryThis blog was originally posted on Dr. Bob Kellemen’s site, RPM Ministries. Entrusted By God is re-posting it with Bob’s permission. The original post can be found here.

Two Editors to Your Life Story 

Your life is a story.

And two people seek to write the title to your story.

Satan’s Shaming Story

Satan seeks to title your life story using the lens of shame, guilt, sin, and condemnation.

Satan’s story is the story of the law…which condemns.

Christ’s Grace Story

The Author of Life is the only One with the right to name your story.

He—Christ Jesus—names your story through the lens of grace, forgiveness, the cross, justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption.

Christ’s story is the story of the gospel…that forgives and makes all things new.

Consider David—Through Satan’s Law Lens

If King David were to allow Satan to write the title to his life story, what would that title be?

“The King of Sin and Shame!”

“Adulterer!”

“Murderer!”

“Hypocrite!”

“Shameful Failure!”

Consider David—Through Christ’s Gospel Lens

Instead…Christ titles King David’s story. David ends up not in Satan’s Hall of Shame.

No. David ends up in Christ’s Faith Hall of Fame.

“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, and about David and Samuel and the prophets. who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (Hebrews 11:31-34).

Did you catch who made Christ’s Faith Hall of Fame?

Rahab—the prostitute—is there—by faith.

David—the Adulterer-Murderer—is there—by faith.

That’s not enough? Here’s Christ’s title to David’s life story:
“Man After God’s Own Heart.”

Here it is, right in inspired, inerrant Scripture:

“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (Acts 13:22-23).

David’s life story is sandwiched by grace. By grace he is a man after God’s own heart. In the flesh he sins gravely. By grace from David’s descendants God brings forth the Savior Jesus.

Let the Gospel Rewrite the Title to Your Life Story

Martin Luther understood how Christ’s gospel of grace rewrites our sinful, shameful life story. Luther points us to the center of Scripture—the comfort of the gospel.

“It is a falsehood, that God is an enemy of sinners, for Christ roundly and plainly declares, by commandment of the Father: ‘I am come to save sinners.’”

When we are tempted by the devil to doubt the grace of God, Luther encourages us to fight Satan’s condemning lies with gospel-grace truth.

“When the devil casts up to us our sin, and declares us unworthy of death and hell, we must say: ‘I confess that I am worthy of death and hell. What more have you to say?’ ‘Then you will be lost forever!’ ‘Not in the least: for I know One who suffered for me and made satisfaction for my sins, and his name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So long as he shall live, I shall live also.’”

Spit on the Devil

Luther continues…

“Therefore treat the devil thus: Spit on him, and say: ‘Have I sinned? Well, then I have sinned, and I am sorry; but I will not on that account despair, for Christ has borne and taken away all my sin, yes, and the sin of the whole world, if it will only confess its sin and believe on Christ. What should I do if I had committed murder or adultery, or even crucified Christ? Why, even then, I should be forgiven, as he prayed on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke xxiii. 34). This I am in duty bound to believe. I have been acquitted. Then away with you, devil!’”

Luther urges us to “depend boldly upon this” in order to experience peace with God.

“Christ is not the one who accuses or threatens us, but he reconciles and intercedes for us by his own death and by his shed blood for us, that we may not be afraid of him, but draw near to him with all confidence.”

Luther counsels us to draw near to Christ with full confidence and assurance of his love. Awareness of God’s grace friendship has the power to entice prodigals to return home to the Father.

“Believe that he esteems and loves you more than does Dr. Luther or any other Christian. The conscience, spurred by the devil, the flesh, and the fallen world; says, “God is your enemy. Give up in despair.” God, in His own Fatherly love and through His Son’s grace and through His Word and through the witness of His people; says, “I have no wrath. You are accepted in the beloved. I am not angry with you. We are reconciled!”

Title Your Story through the Lens of the Gospelthestory

Who is writing the title to your life story?

Is it Satan—through his condemning/law narrative?

Or…

Is it Christ—through His grace/gospel narrative?

Join the Conversation: What is Christ’s grace-gospel title to your life story?

bob_kellemenBob Kellemen, Th.M., Ph.D. is the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling and Equipping Department at Crossroads Bible College. Bob was the Founding Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and is the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. For seventeen years Dr. Kellemen served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. Bob has pastored three churches and equipped biblical counselors in each church. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-six years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, one daughter-in-law, Andi, and three granddaughters, Naomi, Penny, and Phoebe. Dr. Kellemen is the author of thirteen books including Gospel-Centered Counseling.