Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives

December 31, 2014 — 2 Comments

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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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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!

2 responses to Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives

  1. Thanks for the engaging review, Nate. I always appreciate how you review books–it’s obvious that you’ve read the book and thought it through, rather than simply a cursory engagement.

    • Thanks Bob! I actually have more to say, but I’m still mulling it over. I’ll let you know if I post additional thoughts!

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