Archives For Biblical Counseling

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I’ve had an interest in counseling ever since I took a class on biblical counseling at Word of Life. Then, I majored in psychology at Liberty University. Ever since then, I’ve come back frequently to think through issues of integrating psychology and theology and how counseling works in the local church. Along the latter lines, I was able to get a review copy of Paul Tautges’ Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship. This is a slightly revised and expanded version of the 2009 book by the almost same title (and different publisher). In it, Paul Tautges argues for not just biblical counseling over against integrated models of counseling, but also for the importance of one another counseling in the local church.

Helpfully, Tautges begins each chapter with a thesis about authentic biblical counseling. In his estimation it:

  • Is nothing more, and surely nothing less, than the fulfillment of the Great Command to make disciples of Jesus Christ by the delegated authority of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (23).
  • Stands in awe of the power of God’s gospel to convert thoroughly sinful men and women from thoroughly sinful thoughts, actions, motives, emotions, and desires to Spirit-generated new creations that reflect the beautiful love and holiness of Jesus Christ – the Lord we are now called to follow (41).
  • Recognizes God’s holy calling for the believer and the disciple’s personal responsibility for self-discipline, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in a manner worthy of his or her high position as a new creature in Christ (67).
  • Lives out God’s redeeming love through believers as we take initiative to restore brothers and sisters who are experiencing spiritual defeat in the battle with indwelling sin (99).
  • Chooses no other foundation to build its philosophy and practice upon than the Scriptures: the will of God faithfully revealed to man by the Spirit from the living Word, Jesus Christ (113).
  • Grips the wisdom of God embodied and revealed in Jesus Christ and refuses to surrender the higher ground of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Truth in the gospel to the inferior wisdom of man (133).
  • Requires the nurturing power of stimulating relationships with other Spirit-indwelt believers in the context of a community of living faith that pursues the beauty of God’s holiness and revolves around the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ (157).

On a positive note, I think this book is useful for giving an account of how discipleship can incorporate the one-anothers of the New Testament. As believers in the local church are better equipped to give wisdom counsel in the mundane moments of everyday life, crisis counseling might be less needed. The meat of the book (chapters 2-6) covers this and because of the follow up discussion questions in each chapter, might make a good small group resource.

On a negative note, I think too much is made in this book of the dangers of secular psychology. It is cited as a main motivation for the writing of the book (detailed in chapter 1) and then fleshed out in more detail later (chapter 7). The stance is rather combative and probably won’t convince anyone who is on the other side. I am generally sympathetic to biblical counseling models over against some integrationist accounts and I found some of the rhetoric kind of off-putting and unnecessary (not to mention philosophically problematic). I think the book could have lacked this material and still fulfilled the vision of the title and provided an excellent resource to help small groups disciple their members better.


Paul Tautges, Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, February 2016. 195 pp. Paperback, $14.95.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Shepherd Press for the review copy!

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About a month ago I told you about Bob Kellemen’s new book, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ. It was a follow up to a book he published last year, Gospel-Centered Counseling. Along the same time that book was released, a volume of essays on the relationship of Scripture and counseling also came out. That was the second book that the Biblical Counseling Coalition published (this was the first). Now, they’ve recently published Biblical Counseling and The Church: God’s Care Through God’s People which is edited by Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson.

If you look at the titles of the books, there is a nice progression. The first focused on defining counseling, specifically what biblical counseling is and isn’t. The second was essentially asking whether Scripture is generally sufficient for the counseling enterprise. Now, this volume is looking at the relationship of counseling to the local church. As such, it’s not necessarily a read straight thru sort of book. Rather, it is a useful reference for someone who is involved in the shepherding and care of their particular local church. Pastors would do well to have this on their shelf, but so would many small group leaders if they take their role seriously and also want to grow in their ability to shepherd well.

The first part of the book casts the vision for counseling within the local church. A key idea is that if your people are trained well in one-anothering and offering informal biblical counsel, your overall need for serious counseling is diminished (but will never go away because life). In the second part of the book the relationship of counseling and small group ministry is assessed. I found the chapter here on redemption groups particularly interesting since they have recently been implemented in our church by our pastoral resident (who came from Mars Hill and was in a group with the author of this chapter and the book Redemption, Mike Wilkerson). I suppose I could have asked Justin (the resident about the details), but reading this helped me understand the role these groups play in the local church and what their ultimate goal is.

The third part of the book has two chapters dealing with the relationship of biblical counseling, conflict resolution, and church discipline. While brief, this section I’m sure will prove helpful as a reference. The next part of the book is on actually equipping biblical counselors in the local church. An initial chapter casts vision and then the successive chapters offer advice and insight for implementing this kind of ministry in a large church, a midsize church, and then a “smaller” church. The chapters that follows this address implementing the ministry in a more predominantly multicultural church, with a final chapter on ethical concerns. The fifth part of the book is on the relationship of counseling and church outreach, which includes the academy and parachurch organizations.The final part of the book wraps up with a single chapter on biblical counseling in historical perspective and future prospects.

Overall, I think this is a helpful resource for primarily pastors and small group leaders to make use of. Doing counseling is unavoidable if you spend any time involved in discipleship or shepherding small to large groups of people. Because of that, we ought to be equipped to know how to do it well, and many best practices are outlined in the essays in this book. Especially when complimented by the other resources the Biblical Counseling Coalition has released, this book has the depth and accessibility to effectively shape whatever kind of counseling ministry is developing in your local church.


Bob Kellemen (general editor) & Kevin Carson (managing editor), Biblical Counseling and The Church: God’s Care Through God’s PeopleGrand Rapids: Zondervan, November 2015. 496 pp. Hardcover, $32.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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Thanks to Baker Books, I was able to get a copy of William Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of The Book of Revelation. Right now I’m looking at launching a Revelation Bible study in January for college and high school students. I’ve read a few shorter works on Revelation (Poythress and Gorman), as well as Morris’ commentary. I’m planning to use Beale, Mounce, Osborne, Keener, Wright, and Aune for the actual study. Given all that, I thought I’d take advantage of an opportunity to read a short commentary from a well respected and prolific commentator.

Hendrinksen lays out several propositions about the book of Revelation in his introductory chapters:

  • The book of Revelation consists of seven sections. They are parallel and each spans the entire new dispensation, form the first to the second coming of Christ. (28)
  • The seven sections may be grouped into two major divisions. The first major division (chapters 1-11) consists of three sections. The second major division (chapters 12-22) consists of four sections. These two major divisions reveal a progress in depth or intensity of spiritual conflict. (30)
  • The book is one. The principles of human conduct and divine moral government are progressively revealed; the lampstands give rise to the seals, the seals to the trumpets, etc. (41)
  • The seven sections of the Apocalypse are arranged in an ascending, climactic order. There is progress in eschatological emphasis. The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, and finally described. Similarly, the new heaven and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those that precede it. (44)
  • The fabric of the book consists of moving pictures. The details that pertain to the picture should be interpreted in harmony with its central thought. We should ask two questions. First, what is the entire picture? Second, what is its predominant idea? (48)
  • The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles – of human conduct and of divine moral government – that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new dispensation. (51)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in contemporaneous events and circumstances. Its symbols should be interpreted in the light of conditions that prevailed when the book was written. (54)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the sacred Scriptures. It should be interpreted in harmony with the teachings of the entire Bible. (58)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the mind and revelation of God. God in Christ is the real Author, and this book contains the purpose of God concerning the history of the Church. (59)

These propositions are stated and defended in the first 6 chapters. Then, Hendriksen validates them further in his commentary proper, which runs for the next 8 chapters. After the first chapters that covers Revelation 1, each successive chapter deals with one of the seven sections that Hendriksen mentions above (2-3; 4-7; 8-11; 12-14; 15-16; 17-19; 20-22). I like his idea that they are parallel, but I’ll need to do a bit more study to be fully convinced. All in all, I’m glad I was able to get a hold of this and start my study early.

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Zondervan sent along the next volume in the 5 Solas Series, David Vandrunen’s God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life. This volume is about 100 pages shorted than Schreiner’s. At the same time, there isn’t much present controversy attached to Soli Deo Gloria as there is with Sola Fide. Perhaps some of that is due to it being the overlooked sola of the five. Regardless, readers would do well to explore it using Vandrunen’s work here as a guide.

His book has three sections. The first is a kind of historical survey of the Glory of God in Reformed Theology. The second provides a biblical theology of the Glory of God in Scripture starting with the cloud in Exodus and moving to the incarnation and ultimately the glorification of God’s people. The final part tackles some practical concerns. The first two, Prayer and Worship in an Age of Distraction and The Fear of The Lord in an Age of Narcissism are particularly relevant and may constitute the chief contribution of this book to your thinking. The final chapter moves into some of the two kingdoms theology that comes from Westminster West and of which Vandrunen has previously written on (here for instance). I’m not a fan, but it doesn’t detract from the overall value of Vandrunen’s contribution to this promising series.

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Finally, thanks to Crossway’s eBook program, I was able to get The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (you can read a sample here). Drawing on years of pastoral experience, author R. Kent Hughes and contributing editor Douglas Sean O’Donnell offer exactly what the subtitle of the book suggests. This fairly large (almost 600 pg) volume is divided into three parts. The first focuses on Christian gatherings with chapters on Sunday worship, annual services, weddings, and funerals. Each chapter is a balanced combination of theoretical foundations and actual practical advice and resources. So for instance, the chapter on weddings not only gives tips for how to structure a wedding service, readers are provided with 10 sample wedding homilies as well as a short guide on implementing pre-marital counseling.

In the second part of the book, the focus shifts to the various parts of a public worship service. Here, readers are given chapters on public prayer, Christian creeds, hymns and songs, baptism, and communion. Once again, and especially in the latter two, readers have strong theological foundations coupled with nuts and bolts advice for leading well. This continues into the final part of the book on ministerial duties. Two in particular are highlighted: pastoral counseling and hospital visitations. An appendix returns to weddings and offers sample wedding services from various church contexts.

There is certainly much to glean and use in this book. Large sections of it could be profitably read for theological development. However most of it is more obviously reference type material that would be consulted as needed. I wish I had a book like this when I was preparing to officiate a wedding for the first time. I had somewhat of a blank slate to work with and think I put together a fairly good wedding homily that I can re-use and adapt as needed. But, I would have put together an even better one had I had the chapter in here with all the wisdom for not only the wedding service itself, but the pre-marital counseling leading up to the marriage. I will most definitely come back and consult this before officiating or counseling again.

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About a year ago, I was able to get the first volume in Bob Kellemen’s Equipping Biblical Counselors series. That volume, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, was a kind of systematic theology of counseling. In that book, he mentions an additional volume, which has thankfully just been released. While the previous volume was more on the theoretical side, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ moves into the overtly practical side.

Bob has been concerned to equip the local church’s counselors for quite some time now. He personally reached out to me a few years back and sent me his Equipping Counselors For Your Church, which I devoted three posts to interacting with (here, here, and here). Since then, I’ve done some reviews for a site The Biblical Counseling Coalition and Bob has continued to send me books he publishes or edits.

One thing that immediately stands out on browsing through this book is that Bob likes lists. I like lists too, so we’re set. The opening chapters in Section 1 provide 5 portraits of the biblical counselor, 8 ultimate life questions, 4 resume qualifications of the biblical counselor and 2 guideposts and 4 compass points of biblical counseling. Those four compass points are unpacked in successive sections in the remainder of the book. They are (16-17):

  • Sustaining: “It’s Normal to Hurt”—Learning how to weep with those who weep by offering biblical sustaining care for hurting people.
  • Healing: “It’s Possible to Hope”—Learning how to give hope to the hurting by offering biblical healing comfort and encouragement for suffering people.
  • Reconciling: “It’s Horrible to Sin, but Wonderful to Be Forgiven”—Learning how to be a dispenser of Christ’s grace by offering biblical reconciling for people struggling against besetting sins.
  • Guiding: It’s Supernatural to Mature”—Learning how to disciple, coach, and mentor by offering guiding wisdom for people growing in Christ.

Each of these compass points is unpacked in a list. To give an example of one, here are the 5 healing relational competencies:

  • Redemptive, Relational Mind and Soul Renewal (Cropping Christ Back into the Picture)
  • Encouraging Communication (Celebrating the Empty Tomb)
  • Scriptural Treatment Planning (Pursuing Christlikeness)
  • Theo-Dramatic Spiritual Conversations (Healing Theological Trialogues)
  • Stretching Scriptural Explorations (Healing Biblical Trialogues)

Alert readers will notice that this spells RESTS and that Kevin Vanhoozer is involved to some extent. You may also wonder what a trialogue is, but you could probably figure that it is a dialogue between counselor and counselee but with the intent of involving the Holy Spirit and Scripture in the conversation.

While this gives you an idea of the content, the layout focuses the material into a workbook rather than a textbook. As Bob explains, “We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community” (17). He goes on to explain,

We don’t learn to be effective counselors simply by reading a book—no matter how profound the book. We don’t learn to be skilled people-helpers simply by engaging in role-play scenarios or even by watching experienced counselors—though both of these are very helpful methods. We learn to be effective biblical counselors through face-to-face gospel ministry where we speak the truth in love to one another.

Here’s the most important piece of advice I can offer you as you work your way through Gospel Conversations: do not try to use Gospel Conversations simply as text to read or a lecture to give. That’s not how I designed it. I’ve designed Gospel Conversations as an experiential training manual that promotes real and raw, vulnerable and open relationships among your equipping group members (17).

With that in mind, it is probably best to use this book as the focus of a book club with leaders in your church. I am hoping to do that with the small group leaders that I coach, probably starting in the new year. We could all use some growth in this area and Bob has provided an excellent resource. Each chapter has several sections of workbook like questions that readers can go through, but they are aimed at being used in community. In that way, Bob doesn’t simply provide a resource that is helping you grow your factual knowledge, but one that is helping to expand your experiential knowledge of what it means to truly care like Christ. I’m looking forward to diving in more fully and guiding some others along in the process. I’d highly recommend trying to do the same if you can.


Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like ChristGrand Rapids: Zondervan, September 2015. 400 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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Earlier this fall, Tim Challies went through John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, one of three works collected together in Overcoming Sin & Temptation recently updated and published by Crossway. If you missed out, here’s his list of posts:

You Must Put Sin to Death

Owen says that Christians—the choicest Christians—hate sin and pursue it to its death. Could there be a conclusion that is farther from the world around us? The world, the flesh, and the devil tell us to pursue our sin, to enjoy our sin, to go deeper and deeper into our sin, to identify ourselves by our sin, to become our sin. God’s Word tells us to identify our sin, to hate our sin, to destroy our sin. And by God’s grace we can do that very thing. He can give us a revulsion toward our sin, and then empower us to kill it. Praise God!

Christian, Do You Make It Your Daily Work?

Here is Owen’s thesis for the chapter: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify [“kill” or “put to death”] the indwelling power of sin.” In other words, Christians battle sin and put it to death. They battle sin every day until the day they die. They never stop. They never let up.

You Need The Power of The Holy Spirit

Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.

6 Evil Effects of Sin

In chapter four of his book, Owen wants the reader to think about this: A God-honoring life is one in which we constantly wage war against sin. He says it like this: “The life, vigor and comfort of our spiritual life depend much upon our mortification of sin.” I take life to be the existence of spiritual life, vigor to be the extent of it, and comfort to be the Holy Spirit’s assurance of its existence. All of these are imperiled by the existence of sin. He will give six consequences of sin in our lives, but first he has a couple of foundational points to make.

5 Ways to Lose The Battle Against Sin

The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort. John Owen is a steady guide in the battle against sin, and in chapter 5 of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation he deals with misconceptions about what it means to put sin to death.

What To Expect When Battling Sin

Owen says that putting sin to death consists of “a habitual weakening of sin,” and I take this to mean that over time and through our habits we chip away at our sin bit-by-bit and day-by-day. Rather than expecting sin to be destroyed in a moment, we expect that it will take time and focused effort. In this way putting sin to death is relative to our maturity as Christians and to the amount of time we have dedicated to battling a particular sin.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers

So often I see Christians acting surprised that their non-Christian friends or family members are acting like non-Christians. John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The book deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.

A Deeper and Wider Obedience

It is an experience every Christian knows. You become aware of a sin and come to fear and hate it. You focus all kinds of attention on that sin and on putting it to death. You ask friends to pray for you, and you cry out to God for deliverance. Well and good, right? Well, not necessarily. John Owen has something to say to you: You will not be delivered from this sin until you pursue a much deeper and wider obedience.

7 Marks of a Deeply Deadly Sin

In chapter 9 of his work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen wants you to think about that besetting sin in your life to consider if it is an “ordinary” sin, or if it is one that is particularly deadly and that, therefore, requires something more than the usual pattern of putting sin to death. The deadliness of a sin is not related so much to the category of that sin, but to how deeply-rooted it is in your life, and to how you have responded to God as he has revealed it to you.

3 Things to Consider Before That Next Big Sin

Sin promises so much but delivers so little. Sin always amplifies its benefits and minimizes its cost. Sin always aims at the uttermost, always nudging toward utter death and destruction. And yet we love our sin, and secretly harbor it, and grieve to turn aside from it.

John Owen has a challenge for you. Before that next big sin you are pondering, he wants you to simply consider three things.

9 Steps to Putting Sin to Death

All throughout the New Testament we are told to put our sin to death. For example, in Colossians 3 Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do you do that? How do you stop a sin, and how do you stop an especially stubborn and deep-rooted sin? Is there any hope? I want to track with John Owen here (via his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation) and give a list of 9 things you need to do to overcome sin. Consider that sin that is prevalent in your life and then consider each of these 9 steps.

A Debate I Would Watch

I would pay good money to watch a debate between John Owen and Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t you? I have read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation many times now, and have benefited with every reading. It just never gets old and it just never stops sounding so counter-cultural, countering both the wider culture and even the going Christian culture.

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

True Peace With God Comes on God’s Terms

We all long for peace. We all want to be at peace with God and men. The problem is that we usually want that peace to be on our terms. So we strive against men and battle against God until we feel that we have achieved what feels to us like peace.

John Owen knows this temptation and in his great book Overcoming Sin and Temptation he includes an entire chapter on the theme. He gives his reader this charge: “Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul.”

The Theory, The Practice

Putting sin to death is at once so simple and so excruciatingly difficult. The theory of it is simple enough, but the practice takes a lifetime. It is fascinating to me that in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation he dedicates thirteen chapters to the preparatory work of putting sin to death, but just one chapter to the actual practice of it. That fact alone is worth pondering.

As he comes to that one chapter, Owen has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

A resource that will prove helpful if you’d like to apply some of the wisdom from Owen’s work to your life is this Battle Plan chart.

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On the one hand, I’m kind of tired of the whole “gospel-centered” usage. On the other hand, I believe in the gospel and am generally for the things that the adjective gets attached to. Counseling is one of those things and I am all for counseling that is gospel-centered, or Christ-centered. I’m also all for “gospel-centered” when it is an accurate description instead of a gimmicky buzzword. Thankfully, the former is exactly what Bob Kellemen offers readers in Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (and he even deals with the whole buzzword problem in his introduction).

In many ways, the book is a kind of systematic theology, but applied to counseling. Kellemen follows a general outline of Word, Trinity, creation, fall, redemption, church, consummation, sanctification to organize the chapters. These chapters are answering the following questions:

  • Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?
  • What comes into our mind when we think about God? Whose view of God will be believe – Christ’s or Satan’s?
  • Whose are we? In what story do we find ourselves?
  • What’s the root source of our problem? What went wrong?
  • How does Christ bring us peace with God? How does Christ change people?
  • Where can we find a place to belong and become?
  • How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference in our lives today as saints who struggle against suffering and sin?
  • Why are we here? How do we become like Jesus? How can our inner life increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ?

Now, I could go chapter by chapter and show how Kellemen answers these question. But, Gospel-Centered Counseling is probably the first book I’ve gotten for review that offers its own Tweet-sized summary. Rather than try to re-summarize the book for you, here are 20 Tweet-sized summaries provided by Kellemen. They roughly move chapter to chapter (the first one is from chapter 1 and the last is from chapter 16):

  1. To view the Bible accurately and use the Bible competently we must understand the Bible’s story the way God tells it—as a gospel victory narrative.
  2. The supremacy of Christ’s gospel, the sufficiency of Christ’s wisdom, and the superiority of Christ’s Church provide the wisdom we need for counseling in a broken world.
  3. We discover wisdom for how to live life in a broken world from the wisest person who ever lived—Christ!
  4. We must know the Trinitarian Soul Physician personally to be a powerful soul physician.
  5. To know the God of peace and the peace of God we must know our Triune God in the fullness of His holy love demonstrated in the cross of Christ
  6. Because Satan attempts to plant seeds of doubt about God’s good heart, God calls us to crop the Christ of the cross back into the picture.
  7. The whole, healthy, holy person’s inner life increasingly reflects the inner life of Christ—relationally, rationally, volitionally, and emotionally.
  8. Biblical counselors pursue compassionate and wise counseling where our love abounds in depth of knowledge about the heart in the world 
  9. The essence of sin is spiritual adultery—choosing to love anyone or anything more than God.
  10. Sin is not just a thief caught in a crime; sin is an adulterer caught in the act.
  11. Apart from Christ we’re condemned as adulterous spouses, dead in sin, separated from the life of God with depraved heart capacities enslaved to sin.
  12. Sin is what personal beings imagine, think, choose, do, and feel as they desire and love anything or anyone more than Christ.
  13. Fully biblical gospel-centered counseling deals thoroughly both with the sins we have committed and with the evils we have suffered.
  14. We must build our biblical counseling models of change on Christ’s gospel applied to Christians—justified, reconciled, regenerated, and redeemed people.
  15. Through regeneration our new heart has a new want to; through redemption our new heart has a new can do.
  16. Together with all the saints the church is the place to belong to Christ and the Body of Christ and to become like Christ.
  17. Sanctification is a community journey.
  18. As saints who struggle with suffering and sin, we must crop back into the picture our future purity (the wedding) and future victory (the final war).
  19. Sanctification is the art of applying our complete salvation by God’s grace, Spirit, Word, people, and future hope so we increasingly reflect Christ.
  20. Gospel-motivated and empowered heart change puts off and puts on affections, mindsets, purposes, and mood states so we increasingly reflect the heart of Christ.

Reading through these will give a general snapshot of the main propositions of the book. One hallmark of Kellemen’s writing style is his clarity of expression and organizational prowess. This book is tightly organized and very clearly thought through. Some readers may be put off by some turns of phrase by Kellemen (like talking about “soul-u-tions”), but it is clear they always have a pedagogical goal in mind. Kellemen doesn’t just want to present truth from Scripture for informed biblical counseling. He wants to present truth in a way that is understandable and that sticks. I think he succeeds on both counts.

I think this is a book that every pastor should read. While the book I talked about yesterday deals with a single, but still multifaceted issue, Gospel-Centered Counseling gives a foundational and broad understanding of theology for a sound personal ministry of the Word. It shows how the truths from a systematic theology have practical application in the lives of everyday believers. In fact, it might be good reading for someone who is interested in systematic theology but put off by the breadth and dryness of many actual systematic theologies. It would also serve well for someone who wonders if theology is actually practical. Because Kellemen’s writing style is conversational and engaging, it makes the book ideal for a wide audience. And when it comes down to it, we all counsel each other to some extent as we give advice and listen to each other. We would do well then to make sure our advice grow from a biblical foundation and taking the time to read a book like this can help ensure that happens.


Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Equipping Biblical Counselors Series)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 320 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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When it comes to counseling and the local church, the role of the Bible figures prominently. For some people, Scripture is sufficient for many problems in life, but not necessarily some of the major issues counselors face. For others, Scripture’s sufficiency is applied more broadly, but questions remain. Addressing many of those questions is Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, a generous collection of essays on the topic. As Bob Kellemen explains, “Scripture and Counseling encourages these individuals – people like you – to regain their confidence in God’s Word for real-life issues and equips them to grow in their competence in using God’s Word to tackle the complex issues of life” (13).

The italicized words in the previous quote help outline the two major parts of the book. The first, “How We View The Bible for Life in a Broken World,” is aimed at building confidence in the mind of the reader. The second, “How We Use The Bible for Life in a Broken World,” is clearly competence focused. Each part contains 10 essays, written by contributors asking themselves, “How can my chapter encourage and equip pastors, small group leaders, biblical counselors, one-another ministers, and spiritual friends to trust God’s Word and to use God’s Word to minister to broken people?” (14). The result, I think, is a solid work that helps to alleviate concerns that biblical counseling amounts to throwing a Bible verse at whatever problems a person might have.

The major concerns I would have when looking through a book like this is how they deal with the question of truth from other sources (like psychology) and the role of the body. Thankfully, there are chapters on both. For the former, there are actually two chapters, both written by Jeffery Forrey. Presented in the frame of a fictional dialogue, in chapters 3 and 4, Forrey tackles the question of how mainstream psychological research relates to revelation and truth. In short, truth may be found in these sources, but that is not the same as treating psychological research as general revelation. As one of the characters in the dialogue says, “Scientific research – even research done within the boundaries of biblical truth – is not itself revelation, and therefore, it must not be viewed as having the same purpose or authority as revelation” (71-72).

From this point of view, one could return to the question of how to integrate psychology and theology. In the perspective articulated in this book, scientific/psychological research is not on the same footing as the special revelation we have in Scripture. The latter takes precedence and is used as an interpretive grid for evaluating the former. They are not two streams of thought to be integrated as equals. Granted, when I speak of “theology” that is not synonymous with “special revelation.” But, the point remains that truth is to be found in scientific research, but it is evaluated from a biblical perspective and will ultimately not conflict with anything clearly taught in Scripture. Unpacking how this might work is the focus of the second chapter in Forrey’s dialogical analysis.

When it comes to the question of the body, Sam Williams offers a chapter answering just that question. His basic guidelines to help determine whether to refer a counselee to get medically evaluated are worth noting (157):

  • When non-medication approaches have not resulted in the remission of significant symptoms
  • When these symptoms are impairing the person’s capacity to function and fulfill their primary roles and responsibilities
  • Or symptoms are so severe the person cannot cognitively process biblical truth
  • Or symptoms are so severe that the functioning of the body is significantly impaired
  • Or when symptoms result from organic/medical causes and safe non-medication approaches have not result in sufficient symptom remission

As you can see, much of this advice is driven by the idea that people need non-medicated approaches no matter what, but there are also serious bodily malfunctions that should be taken into account. Williams notes that “Medicine can facilitate cognitive, emotional, and behavioral change – which is good – but can’t change the human heart – which is eternally significant” (158). It would seem then that the perspective offered here is not anti-medication nor loathe to make medical referrals. Rather, it takes seriously the role of the body without treating medication as a wonder cure for psychological ailments.

Other highlights of the book include Ernie Baker and Howard Eyrich’s chapter reminding us that counseling systems are also belief systems; Kellemen’s several chapters (reminding us of the Bible’s relevance as the end of part 1 and beginning of part 2); and the closing chapters that unpack using different parts of Scripture in personal ministry of the Word (using biblical narrative, wisdom literature, the Gospels, and the Epistles). The several appendices that follow the essays give a thorough overview of the mission, vision, passion, and beliefs of the The Biblical Counseling Coalition.

In the end, I would say this book is good for any pastor to consider adding to his library. I can’t imagine being a pastor and not doing some level of counseling on a regular basis. Since most seminary curricula do not adequately prepare pastors for a counseling ministry, there will often be a need for remedial reading. This book provides both perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture in real life counseling situations as well as guidance for being a better counselor of the Word. The theoretical essays always retain a practical focal point and the more applicational essays grow out of a good theoretical base. That base, in Kellemen’s view, is the robust biblical approach to personal ministry of the Word that is a hallmark of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and is now being articulated well in resources like this. If you’re heavily involved in personal ministry, this is a resource you’ll likely want to explore.


Bob Kellemen (General Ed.) & Jeff Forrey (Managing Ed.), Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken WorldGrand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 480 pp. Hardcover, $32.99.

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James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, and Sexuality: Reframing The Church’s Debate on Same Sex RelationshipsGrand Rapids: Eerdmans, February, 2013. 312 pp. Paperback, $29.00.

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James Brownson is the James and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan. He is also an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America. In Bible, Gender, and Sexuality he is attempting to look at the issue of same sex from a fresh angle.

The reason Brownson wants to look at the issue from a fresh angle is twofold. First, there are “gay and lesbian Christians who exhibit many gifts and fruits of the Spirit and who seek to live in deep obedience to Christ (11).” While Brownson was able to engage this issue from a “moderate, traditionalist position,” he was unable to continue doing so when his son announced he was gay.The second motivating factor made Brownson realize his former work “had stayed at a level of abstraction that wasn’t helpful when it came to the concrete and specific questions” he now faced with his son. His own son didn’t seem to fit the typical narrative used by traditionalists to explain homosexual orientation (and divide orientation from behavior). Likewise, his son seemed to him like a normal and healthy high school senior, in need of the grace of God, but not particularly or deeply troubled (12).

As a result, Brownson wanted to discern “what the most central and truest message of Scripture” was for his son, and “not to justify a certain conclusion” but discern as best the truth as best he could. In other words, because of personal issues, Brownson felt the strong need to go back and ask “Does Scripture really say homosexuality is wrong?”

Predictably, Brownson comes to the conclusion that Scripture doesn’t really say that. Once Brownson shared his personal motivations in his book project, I knew immediately this was the conclusion he would come to. That I read the rest of the book, I didn’t need to in order to see that Brownson would conclude from his study that same-sex relationships would be ok if they follow the same guidelines as opposite-sex relationships (sexual activity only within marriage). Having spent time depressed “grieving the loss of the heterosexual future” his son would miss (12), it was only natural that Brownson would now envision a “healthy” homosexual one instead.

To get there, Brownson concludes that same-sex relationships are not condemned by Scripture primarily by digging into what he calls “the moral logic” of what Scripture means by what it says. To be honest, it felt very much like the idea was to see if we could get behind what the text plainly says in order to see if actually applies to our modern situation. Lo and behold, it we dig deep enough we find that behaviors that are condemned in no uncertain terms can actually be morally acceptable in a different cultural context (if you also think that context isn’t anticipated by the biblical authors).

To make this case stick, Brownson has to argue several things. To begin, he denies that Scripture teaches gender complementarity (chapter 2). He focuses almost exclusively on Genesis 1-2 to prove this. Interestingly, he does not interact with any major commentary on Genesis in his interpretive efforts, nor does he really present a case from biblical theology. He simply examines the text for himself and finds it wanting.

Having done this, he then proceeds to try to distance himself from revisionist interpreters (chapter 3).Though it might appear like he is distinguishing himself from both traditionalists (complementarians) and revisionists by critiquing both camps, as mentioned above, he is ultimately part of the latter. He just thinks he is not as extreme. But, since he comes to more or less the same conclusions, that is really a hard sell to the reader.

After this preliminary ground clearing in the first part of the book, Brownson turns to four crucial topics in the second:

  • Patriarchy (chapter 4)
  • The one-flesh union of marriage (chapter 5)
  • Procreation (chapter 6)
  • Celibacy (chapter 7)

To summarize briefly, Brownson argues that the rules of a patriarchal culture are not normative (this builds on the denial of gender complementarity). Then, he says that the one-flesh union of marriage is primarily a kinship bond (and so not necessarily sexual). Given this, procreation may be part of marriage but not the ultimate goal, and so is not necessary. Lastly, it is wrong to argue that all people who want to gay or lesbian and Christian must be celibate because it is a gift not given to all.

This is all done without really engaging Romans 1:24-27 because Brownson devotes the entire third part of the book to this passage. He is concerned to understand what Paul means by lust and desire (chapter 8), purity and impurity (chapter 9), the dishonorable use of the body (chapter 10), and finally the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality (chapter 11). Briefly summarized, Brownson concludes that Paul condemns homosexual behavior that is driven by unrestrained lust. Then he suggests that for Paul and the rest of the NT authors, purity moves away from actions toward attitudes and dispositions. Next, if gender roles evolve, certain sexual behaviors that violate those gender roles may be acceptable. Lastly, in light of all this, there is no objective basis on which to classify homosexual behavior as “unnatural” and hence in the proper moral framework (marriage or civil union), the church should be open to accepting it.

In all this, no major Romans commentaries are consulted in reference to Romans 1. It is frequently asserted that neither Paul nor the other biblical writers were aware of something like sexual orientation. Frequently, sociological and psychological research in the abstract is referenced if it helps make the point and overlooked if it doesn’t. Speculative background contexts are used to try to reframe what Paul is saying.

But all of that pales in light of what Brownson says way back in chapter 5:

The fact that the Bible uses the language of “one flesh” to refer to male-female unions normally does not inherently, and of itself, indicate that it views such linkages normatively. (105)

This allows him to later make the following expanded conclusion:

It is clear that Scripture assumes that this one-flesh bond only takes place between a man and a woman. Yet there is nothing inherent in the biblical usage that would necessarily exclude committed gay or lesbian unions from consideration as one-flesh unions, when the essential characteristics of one-flesh unions as kinship bonds are held clearly in view. (109)

In other words, “what is normal in the biblical witness may not necessarily be normative in different cultural settings that are not envisioned by the biblical writers.” This is essentially a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture may depict certain cultural relationships as normal, but it is not our norm for understanding cultural relationships. That “norm” is whatever the deeper moral logic of Scripture is, which from Brownson’s point of view, seems to be an almost entirely cultural human product. Brownson is only interested in the moral logic of the biblical writer, as understood only as the text’s human author.

There is no concern for God’s moral logic and what might bring him glory through our sexual relationships. There is only the deeply personal experience of gay and lesbian persons that forces us to reinterpret what Scripture means by what it says. There is no recognition that we are all sexually broken in way or another and that homosexual patterns of desire represent one type of brokenness that needs the grace of God just as much as every other kind of brokenness.

In the end, there is book is a father’s attempt to affirm his son by re-reading Scripture and re-imagining a future for his son that can include a valid, church approved same-sex union. To do this, he must fight against the tide of traditional biblical interpretation and consult outlying sources to support the conclusion he was inevitably moving toward when he went back to “see what Scripture really means by what it says.” On the one hand, this book shows how tightly inter-related the case for traditional gender role is with the case for traditional marriage, and for that we should be grateful. But on the other hand, it shows what happens when experience becomes normative over and above Scripture, and for that we should take warning. Many people will find Brownson’s case compelling. Those same people may claim sola Scriptura, but approving the argument of this book requires affirming sola experientia instead.

What Is The Meaning of Sex?

December 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

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Denny Burk, What Is The Meaning of Sex? Wheaton: Crossway, October, 2013. 262 pp. Paperback, $17.99.

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Denny Burk is associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, which is the undergraduate arm of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, edits the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, speaks on gender and sexuality (among other things), and blogs frequently.

In a kind of culmination of all those activities, Burk has written a book on the meaning, or purpose, of sex. Think of it as a kind of theology/philosophy of sex. Certainly this is a combination most would scratch their heads at, and this my friends is part of what’s wrong with our culture.

As Burk explains in his preface,

This book is an attempt to show from the Bible what the meaning of sex is and thereby how we ought to order our sexual lives under God. Having said that, it will be useful to set forth some parameters about what this book is and what it is not (12).

Those parameters, are as follows:

  • This book is a primer (not a comprehensive treatment, but “enough interaction with the sources to give the reader a basic idea of how the issues are being discussed and enough principles to guide the reader to make sound ethical judgments about the issues covered” 13)
  • This book is biblical (“not philosophical” as Burk says, though I’ve already called it philosophical. We’re both right since Burk means he is not interacting with actual philosophical arguments, and I’m right because he is having a second order conversation about the nature and purpose of sex, which though based on Scripture, is a kind of philosophical discourse)
  • This is a book for sinners (this is kind of self-explanatory. Burk doesn’t claim to have sexuality figured out and mastered. He does however hope to explain from Scripture what our sexuality is all about, and though he is just one sinner talking to another, he is hopefully doing so in the light of Scripture, instead of groping in the dark)

With all that in mind, the introduction begins with a vignette that explains some of the motivation behind the book. I had actually already read this from an ETS paper Burk delivered last year (2012) and the challenge of intersex (people who are born with a biological condition making it difficult to determine their sex, and who typically have corrective surgery, but can often later feel the wrong choice was made). The incident in question prompted Burk to dig deeper into the telos of sex itself, and the result is the book in question.

The initial question is the title of the book: “What is the meaning of sex?” This leads to a discussion of ethical theories to determine the purpose. Burk opts for a nice blended approach and mentions Frame’s triperspectivalism in a footnote so he gets mega-bonus points. Using this blended approach and Scripture, Burk identifies the ultimate purpose of sex as “the glory of God,” but then lists four subordinate purposes of sex, whereby it will ultimately glorify God:

  • Consummation of marriage
  • Procreation
  • Expression of love
  • Pleasure

These of course are not mutually exclusive but work together in tandem. You could say that the biblical ideal is that sex would glorify God by being the consummate expression of love in a marriage that brings pleasure to both parties and overflows into the procreation of new life. Anything less than that is intentionally less than that is not glorifying God to the fullest extent.

Because we live in a less than ideal world and have a less than ideal culture, most people do not think of sex this way (much less as a picture of the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity, but that’s another story). To unpack his identified purpose of sex, Burk spends chapter 1 in 1 Corinthians, and explains how the individual can glorify God with his or her body. Chapter 2 is a kind of aside, though an important one, concerning how we read the New Testament. His main argument is that we should not pit Jesus against Paul, and he draws several examples from popular culture of people doing just that. Burk explains an alternate route, which amounts to a more sound hermeneutical approach.

These first two chapters then buttress the topics covered in chapters 3-8. You can if you like, read these chapters in order of interest (that’s what I did). Chapter 3-5 deal with marriage, conjugal union (married sex as most people would say), and family planning. Readers will find much better biblical advice and sound teaching here than in say Real Marriage (which is a real waste of a book), which is pretty good since this isn’t a marriage book per se. However, Burk covers sex within marriage, divorce, and the wise use of birth control, and I found much helpful advice.

Chapters 6 and 7 are where things get controversial. And by that I mean, you can see why Rachel Held Evans didn’t blurb the book, and why this might get classified as “hate speech” in the wider culture. In chapter 6, Burk takes the complementarian stance he is well-known for, and deals with both traditional gender roles, as well as how to address questions linked with transgender and intersex. 1 In chapter 7, Burk discusses sexuality, and gives a biblical defense of the sinfulness of homosexual acts (via Romans and 1 Corinthians), noting that even commentators who do not agree with the ethical position, do agree that it is what Paul means. I think it would have been more helpful to distinguish between same sex attraction and homosexual orientation versus living the homosexual lifestyle. The latter is overtly sinful according to Scripture, but the former falls into the same category as inappropriate heterosexual lust. Which is to say, it is still wrong to have sexual thought about someone not your spouse, but you could live a single, chaste life as a committed Christian who experiences same-sex attraction, but could not do the same as someone who lives the gay lifestyle. You can glorify God with your body/gender/sexuality in the midst of living with same-sex attractions, but you cannot glorify God by living in the midst of the gay lifestyle, even a committed monogamous gay relationship. Burk I think would agree with all of this, but it could have been spelled out a bit better in his treatment.Overall though, I think it is better to frame it the way he does though, that is, the question rests more on what is glorifying to God, not on condemning certain variants as sinful.

The final chapter is on glorifying God in your singleness, and I’m glad Burk included it in his book instead of just ending with sexuality. In the end, the book is well designed in that Burk introduces the problem when it comes to thinking theologically about intersex, but then spends an introduction and 5 chapters talking about more foundational issues before coming back to it, and only deals with the question of homosexuality in the second to last chapter. This I think is an important lesson for the conversations need to go. We don’t start with the discussion of homosexuality, we start with God’s design and intentions for sex and marriage. Once those are spelled out, we are ready to discuss the other issues. In the absence of a solid, biblical framework for dealing with those questions, we are bound to be driven about by every wind of bad doctrine and sloppy thinking. If you want to think biblically about sex from the ground up, then pick up Burk’s book and give it a read.

Notes:

  1. the difference between these is that the former is a person who feels the actual way they were born is “wrong” and that they are really the opposite sex. The latter is someone who is born with ambiguous genitalia, has an operation to go with one gender, and later feels the wrong choice was made (and in some cases, it can be chromosomally proven that that is the case)

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Jamin Goggin is a pastor at Saddleback Church, while Kyle Strobel is a professor of theology at Grand Canyon University. Together, they have edited together a collection of essays from a wide range of scholars. The focus in Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide For Evangelicals is to give an overview and introduction to this collection of classic literature from the people who know the material best.

The book is split into four parts. The first, not surprisingly, provides a foundation for the importance of the spiritual classics. Readers are introduced to the motivations for reading spiritual classics (chapter 1), temptations and dangers that come with the territory (chapter 2), and the value they could have in your ministry (chapter 3).

The second part of the book gives a 30,000 foot overview of the spiritual classics themselves. The different schools of Christian spirituality are laid out (chapter 4), as well as a historical overview of the development of spiritual theology (chapter 5). The last essay in this section offers words of wisdom for engaging older literature in general, but the spiritual classics in particular.

The third part of the book is on reading the spiritual classics from an evangelical perspective. A trio of chapters digs into Catholic spiritual classics (chapter 7), Orthodox spiritual classics (chapter 8), and more traditional spiritual classics in the Protestant tradition (chapter 9). Each author in this section does an excellent job of explaining their own personal engagement, as well as some potential cautions in the particular stream they are commenting on.

Finally, the fourth part details actually reading the spiritual classics and is structured historically. First, we are introduced to key works in the church fathers and mothers (chapter 10). Then comes the desert fathers (chapter 11), the medieval traditions (chapter 12), the Reformation (chapter 13), and finally the Puritan and pietistic traditions (chapter 14). Each of these chapters follows the same general outline that explains the historical circumstances, theological context and assumptions, the hermeneutical framework, and the tradition’s possible use for the church today. The end of each chapter lists the important works in that era for readers to interact with, and the book itself comes to an end with a suggested reading list.

Conclusion

While I don’t have any detailed critical or constructive interactions to give you for this book, I can say that it hits its mark of being a “guide” that is clearly aimed at evangelicals. It is not exhaustive, but it doesn’t need or intent to be. It is an excellent overview for uninitiated readers, and even a guy like me who’s been around his share of old books. I think the forethought put into the shape of the book is what makes is useful for the average evangelical reader. If you were to compare the landscape of spiritual classics to a national park (one impervious to government shutdowns of course), then this is a book put together by knowledgeable park rangers who know the best trails and the best vistas, but also know what kind of dangers lurk in the woods and how you can best avoid them. If you’re interested in getting out into nature (i.e. profiting from the spiritual classics), then this is the guidebook that you need to add to your library first.


Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, eds., Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide For EvangelicalsDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, June 2013. 333 pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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