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.
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!