Change: Theory and Practice

January 31, 2009 — Leave a comment

Care For Souls

It may be best as this point to continue onward, having hopefully established an underlying philosophy to the counseling task.[1] In terms of counseling theory, it should be noted that at the bottom of every counseling theory is a theory of personality, and at the bottom of every personality theory is a theory of motivation.[2] Having been a psych major myself in undergraduate, I can easily attest to this, and the fact that every institution mandates taking a class on personality theory prior to counseling theory further illustrates this point. In answering the question though “Why do we do what we do?” a proposed solution to man’s core problem is not far around the corner.

Because every major personality theory from Freud onward has answered this basic question wrongly, every major subsequent counseling theory is inherently flawed in whatever solutions it offers.[3] When it comes to the question of integration, it is vital to consider this point. The value of integrating ideas from a flawed paradigm is rather dubious, and considering the fundamental disagreement between the modern psychologies and Christianity about the most basic questions of God and man, it is hard to imagine serious thought given to borrowing ideas from them.[4] Only when one answers this basic question in a Christian way can one actually be offering counseling that is Christian. So, in stating our theory of counseling, we must also answer the question of what our theory of personality and motivation is.

Interestingly enough, we find that motivational dynamics of human intention and desire cannot be defined in purely psychological terms since they do not operate simply between persons, but rather have to do chiefly with the person’s relationship with God.[5] Because of this, our desires are inherently morally freighted: we are either ruled by the lusts of our flesh or by repentance, faith and obedience to God’s desires and not our own.[6] The human heart[7] must be understood as an active source of motivation primarily before God himself[8], not first in relationship to others, and when get this straight, the grace of Jesus is more evidently seen as the remedy to human need.[9]

When the proper view of human nature and motivation are seen, we discover rather quickly that man’s basic problem is that he is desperately sin-sick[10], that is, the core insanity of the human heart is we seek to love anything other than God unless our madness is checked by grace.[11] The basic theory of counseling then could be summed up in communicating the grace of Christ to sin-sick souls. When the problem is defined as it is above, there is not a single area of life that the grace of Christ does not reach to and speak to the problem, for no matter what biological complications[12] may or may not be present, there is some way in which presenting the person and work of Christ can be brought directly to bear on the fundamental problem. This of course does not mean that the person will be immediately healed and all of the problems will vanish, but does mean that in this approach to counseling, the fundamental problem of how the person stands before God will be addressed and corrected where necessary before going further. This ailment (sin-sickness) must be addressed or else we are simply putting band-aids on bullet wounds. Maybe an outer bandage is needed later on, but unless the bullet is removed, the “cure” really has accomplished nothing in the way of fixing the real problem.[13]

This leads right into discussing the practice of Christian counseling, for if we define counseling in terms of understanding and resolving the human condition, if counseling deals with the real problems of real people and makes consistent mention of the name of Jesus Christ, then it traffics in theology and care for the souls and therefore is primarily the work of and under the church’s authority and orthodoxy.[14]

In short, if what we believe about counseling maps onto what we believe to be the process of progressive sanctification then the above conclusion is rather obvious. But when the waters become muddied by less than consistently Christian thinking about the matter, we may be tempted to think that the care of souls can be outsourced to professional psychotherapists, or too a lightly Christianized version of the same method and the same philosophy that does not adequately address the human condition and then offer the grace of Christ as the only starting point for a cure. The practice then of counseling must start with regeneration of the soul.

In order to see this, outlined below we will see how individual change is facilitated within the model we have elucidated above. In regards to the class material, this would fall under the pastoral model, but not in the way it was conceived in class. The lay model, when the pastoral model is probably executed, should arise within the context of the particular community of believers, that is, good pastoral care of souls in counseling should create a community of counselors able to effectively help the whole body grow together in love.[15]

Ultimately, we have covered much ground. We have defined counseling in terms of a lifestyle of face to face ministry of the Word. We have briefly articulated a theory of human nature and motivation which led to a theory of counseling. Hopefully it was clearly evidenced the necessity of establishing the underlying Christian philosophy of counseling and change before even asking the questions about counseling theory or practice. Too often, the wrong questions get asked at the philosophical level and with wrong answers further skewing the endeavor, the counseling theory and practice are hopelessly un-Christian in their approach, no matter how Christian they may sound on first examination.

I still have much to learn and much to grow in as I am continually renewed in knowledge after Christ. If I err, I would hope to err on being too radically Christ-centered in my approach to the expense of neglecting the secular “insights” that might be available. I think that when we really reframe the question of counseling in terms of growing more Christ-like and being more ardently in love with Him, there is very little the world can add to our paradigm. It really comes down to an issue of epistemology, that is, unbelievers working in the field of psychology do not study man in his proper context (i.e. in a derivative relation to God) therefore while they may stumble across truth in some ways, it is much like the way that blind squirrels still manage to find nuts. It is not because of their sight, but in spite of their blindness that they see the truth from time to time, but they do not see it for what it is, not explain it in its proper context.

On the flipside, coming from the perspective I have outlined above does not absolve one of error, but it starts in the right point and is still only by grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that the Word is brought to bear on the problems that come up in counseling the grace of Christ to people. Where the biological overlaps the problem, we should seek wisdom, but no matter what the problem, there is always some way in which the person seeking counsel can be brought into a deeper, more experiential knowledge of God, and that is what I endeavor to through a counseling ministry

[1]The rationale may not be completely developed that the Bible is specifically about the same thing that counseling is about, but it is seen borne out much more thoroughly in the articles quoted thus far.

[2] Powlison, “Questions at the Crossroads,” 42.

[3] Notice I am not saying that every counseling theory is completely wrong, I am simply positing, and from a Christian perspective irrefutably so, that every major counseling theory that originates from a secular, a-theistic perspective is fatally flawed in such a way that is it incompetent to truly address the human condition or prescribe a solution to the problem. While it may have scant insights that could be appropriated by the Christian seeking to counsel effectively, they will have to be drastically re-tooled since they have arisen in a milieu that is in contradiction at every major point with Christian doctrine regarding humanity and sin.

[4] The overwhelming take-a-way from my Abnormal Psychology class in undergrad was that the secularized field of psychology not only had no clue what was the underlying cause of man’s problems, but was generally clueless to in regards to how to solve those problems. This was best illustrated by the fact that each major field of disorders had to be looked at from 5 different vantage point explaining the origin of the malady (many times offering mutual exclusive explanations) and then a solution was also proposed by each sub-discipline most with rather horrible effectiveness (i.e. offering solutions that almost always worked less than 50% of the time). In other words, they offer no explanatory power for the root of our problems, nor any hope for a cure. See Ronald J. Comer, Fundamental of Abnormal Psychology, (New York: Worth, 2005), for more info.

[5] Powlison, “Questions at the Crossroads,” 46.

[6] Ibid.

[7] All of the ways in which the Bible speaks of the inner man (mind, emotions, spirit, soul, will) are summed up in term heart, and it is the heart that is the locus of change in a person’s life as the heart’s desires shape and control what every individual does Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change, (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2006), 14.

[8] Mark 7:21-23

[9] Powlison, “Questions at the Crossroads,” 47.

[10] To say that man is basically sin-sick is a different way of describing the problem than simply saying all problems result from sin, implying that a change of behavior into conscious obedience to the Word of God will fix the problem. That particular notion reeks of Pelagianism, a rather ancient heresy that dates back to St. Augustine’s time. Rather, in saying that man is basically sin-sick one is saying that man is unconsciously and semi-consciously steeped in sin and thus thinks, wants, and acts sin-like by nature, nurture, and practice. It is how the sinner works, perceives, wants and interprets things. Ibid., 48-49.

[11] Ibid., 47-48.

[12] It should always be noted that there are no biological causes for most of the major disorders that bring people into counseling, there are only biological correlates found present after symptoms manifest. One chief tenet of the scientific method is to remember that correlation does not equal causation, so much as we are quick to jump to that conclusion. In this light, it is just as plausible to argue that the behavioral issue caused the biological. Correlation does not establish which came first, so to always assume biology predates behavior shows a very clear bias in one’s thought process that smacks of classic behaviorism which happens to be very opposed to thinking with the mind of Christ. I’m not just shifting the pendulum the other way and saying behavior always causes biology problems for that would be to commit the same error. Rather, I’m just pointing out that we tend to quickly accept wholesale any biological explanation for a disorder as superior to others even though there is no basis for this. See Edward T. Welch, Blame It on the Brain: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishers, 1998). For more helpful insights in distinguishing true biological problems from simple smokescreens for issue that are more behavioral than we tend to realize.

[13] Because the modern psychology theories do not understand this, nor do they want to (for to do so would admit God, our status as Creatures, and our responsibility before Him), all they ever really come up with is really elaborate and well-thought out ways to bandage the wound and stop the bleeding so that everything “appears” to be satisfactory. Only counseling that is from a proper Christian perspective addressed the bullet that is lodge deep within and seeks to apply the grace of Christ there first before moving outward to deal with the surface problems (behavioral/emotional maladjustments).

[14] Powlison, “Questions at the Crossroads,” 55.

[15] This does not of course mean that every member of the church is potential counselor as professionally conceived or even that every has the spiritual gift of counseling or something like that. Rather it means that all the member of the body should be able to offer competent, Biblically based lay counseling to one another as they grow together as the Body of Christ.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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