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 World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 480 pp. Hardcover, $32.99.
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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!