By Jill Freeman
Biblical counseling is defined by its commitment not only to the inerrancy but also the sufficiency of Scripture to counsel people through life. While the psychological counselor would say that the Bible does not address many modern-day problems, Biblical Counseling boldly proclaims that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
However, this stands in contrast not only with secular psychology but with integrationist “Christian psychology”. MacArthur notes, “In recent years…there has been a strong and very influential movement within the church attempting to replace biblical counseling in the church body with ‘Christina psychology’—techniques and wisdom gleaned from secular therapies and dispensed primarily by paid professionals. That is, they quote Scripture and often blend theological ideas with the teachings of Freud, Rogers, Jung, or whatever school of secular psychology they follow.” These integrationists would claim that biblical counseling believes “God has allowed human beings to discover truth in almost every filed of human study except psychology.” However, our ultimate source of truth must always be the Bible. Paul is pretty clear when he says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Bulkley asks, “Am I misreading Paul? Is he in error to suggest that we can find all wisdom in Christ?”
MacArthur gives a list of ideas that “many Christians are zealously attempting to synthesize with biblical truth”:
Human nature is basically good.
People have the answers to their problems inside them.
The key to understanding and correcting a person’s attitudes and actions lies somewhere in that person’s past.
Individuals’ problems are the result of what someone else has done to them.
Human problems can be purely psychological in nature, unrelated to any spiritual or physical condition.
Deep-seated problems can be solved only by professional counselors using therapy.
Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit are inadequate and simplistic resources for solving certain types of problems.
In contrast, the truly biblical counselor would not affirm these anti-biblical truths. But, are we then throwing away the whole of psychology? MacArthur answers this by saying that “Certainly it is reasonable for people to seek medical help for medical problems…It is also sensible for someone who is alcoholic, drug addicted, learning disabled, traumatized by rape, incest, or severe battering, to seek help in trying to cope with their trauma…In extreme situations medication might be needed to stabilize an otherwise dangerous person.” However, he points out that these are not the norm and should not be the norm for dealing with spiritual problems.
If biblical counseling is not these things, what is it? MacArthur defines the common commitments of Biblical Counseling below:
- God is at the center of counseling.
- Commitment to God has epistemological consequences.
- Sin, in all its dimensions
- The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.
- The biblical change process which counseling must aim at is progressive sanctification.
- The situational difficulties people face are not the random cause of problems of living.
- Counseling is fundamentally a pastoral activity and must be church-based.
Macarthur notes that “These seven commitments have unified the biblical counseling movement … but there are numerous other issues that demand clear biblical thinking and firm commitment…”
II. History & Impact
The Biblical Counseling movement sprang up in the 1970’s; “that rediscovery is linked primarily to the life and efforts of one man: Jay E. Adams.” Adams became a believer in high school and in college earned a Bachelor of Arts in classics and a Bachelor of Divinity. In 1952, Adams was ordained and pastored for the next thirteen years; yet he was troubled by his inability to help people solve their problems. Then, in 1965, Adams began a fellowship program with O. Hobart Mowrer, who influenced Adams greatly as he observed Mowrer dealing with people’s problems as moral issues. Although Mowrer did not follow a biblical approach, through working with him, Adams was persuaded to begin much study on the conscience, guilt, anthropology, and change. In 1970, after much study, “Adams’ personal rediscovery of biblical counseling initiated a widespread rediscovery for the entire church.” Powlison notes that, “The publication of Competent to Counsel (CtC) in 1970 marked the inception of a discernible nouthetic counseling movement and triggered lively controversy in the evangelical community.”
In the time leading up to the Biblical counseling movement, several factors stood as a backdrop to the movement. First, revivalism had sprung up, in which the primary goal was to draw a crowd and convert them to Christ. Neither of these are bad things, yet revivalism tends to focus on the masses, conversion, and instant change, while Biblical counseling focuses on individuals, conversion and discipleship, and the change process. Another factor which had major significance in relation to Biblical Counseling was modernism: “In this controversy higher criticism and Darwinism worked to undercut the confidence that many ministers and ordinary Christians had in the authority of the biblical text. The Bible’s teaching on the origins of the world, its understanding of the problems of people, and even the words of Scripture itself all came under fire.” Modernism obviously played a major role in undermining the belief that Scripture is sufficient in counseling. In addition to this, the psychological revolution, including Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud propelled the culture into a greater need for truly Biblical Counseling. Lambert notes that Freud actually “argued for a class of ‘secular pastoral workers’ with the goal of secularizing the counseling task.” Wundt’s belief that all psychological problems stemmed from physiological problems had great impact on the church, which began to follow Wundt’s persuasion that psychology was merely a scientific (and not theological) field. Lambert notes, “The absence of theology in counseling was the order of the day when, in 1970, Jay Adams published Competent to Counsel. In that book and many others in the 1970s Adams sought to alert Christians to their failures in the area of counseling and began pointing the way to the resources laid out in Scripture for helping people.”
In 1966, Adams started a counseling center with Gardner McBride, called the Christian Counseling and Educational Center (CCEC). Then in 1968, the ministry was expanded and the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) was formed, which became a source not only of counseling, but also of training and published resources. CCEF continued to grow, hiring its first full-time employee in 1974, and expanding its sites across the country. Soon, “the need for a professional association became evident. Concerns for the growing group of practitioners included certification for biblical counselors, accountability for standards of biblical commitment and ethics, fellowship and interaction among biblical counselors, ongoing in-service training, and protection from lawsuits. To meet these and other needs, Adams joined with several men to found the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) in 1976.”
Since the founding of NANC (now known as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors: ACBC), several other biblical counseling resources, ministries, and educational programs have sprung up. These include The Journal of Biblical Counseling (originally known as The Journal of Pastoral Practice), Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries (FBCM), and The Master’s University and Seminary. Meanwhile, several Christian organizations have continued down the path of secular psychology and integration, hiring psychologists and teaching psychology in their colleges and seminaries.
Powlison explains that, “The nouthetic counseling movement entered the 1980s full of optimism. Jay Adams’s ‘counseling revolution’ had enjoyed a rapid and clamorous expansion.” However, “Nouthetic counseling’s popularity plateaued by 1980. During the decade that followed, momentum stalled, while the evangelical psychotherapists enjoyed spectacular success in capturing the mind, the respect, and the institutions of conservative Protestantism.” Yet, “around 1990, even as the therapeutic movement among evangelicals came into full flower, nouthetic counseling institutions began to grow, and doubts about psychotherapy became increasingly evident among conservative Protestants.”
Bulkley, Ed, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1993.
Lambert, Heath. The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Forward by David Powlison). E-book. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzExNDA0NjhfX0FO0?sid=d98e0c80-83a7-4f47-8a46-926e1f54fd78@sessionmgr101&vid=0&format=EK&rid=1
Macarthur, John. Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically., Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005.
Powlison, David. The Biblical Counseling Movement., Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2010.
 Ed Bulkley, Ph. D. Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 258
 Ibid. 258, quoting 2 Peter 1:3 NIV
 As defended throughout Ibid.
 John MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 3
 Bulkley, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, 26: quoting Gary R. Collins, Can You Trust Psychology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 94
 Ibid. 25 quoting Col. 2:8 NIV
 Ibid. 25
 MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, 7
 List from Ibid. 7
 Ibid. 8
 Ibid. 8-9
 Ibid. 27-29
 Ibid. 29
 Ibid. 23
 Ibid. 21-22
 Ibid. 22. Also supported in: Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2010), chapter 2
 MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, 22
 Ibid. 23
 Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement, 51
 Heath Lambert. The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Forward by David Powlison)., E-book, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011) chapter 1
 Ibid. 24
 David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement, 201-202
 Ibid. 219