Some Clarification and Suggestions from a Theology of Biblical Counseling

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Post by Sean Perron
Yesterday I read David Murray’s blog post. Murray graciously asked for replies to his blog post and I hope these quotes are helpful.
Below are some of my suggestions and also some clarifications from Dr. Heath Lambert’s book A Theology of Biblical Counseling. My main suggestion is that Murray should have read the entirety of Lambert’s book before writing his post.
Murray Question 1: “Is there any revelation outside the Bible?”
Has God revealed any truth about these topics (information about obesity, nutrition, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.) outside the Bible?
Lambert’s clarification: 
Rich Resources Outside Scripture
Some believe that embrace of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling necessarily entails rejection of true information outside of the Bible. This is a fairly common objection to the kind of biblical sufficiency that I am discussing here…
…From the very beginning of the biblical counseling movement, leaders have made clear their belief in the legitimacy of sources of information outside of Scripture. Biblical counselors do not ignore or outright reject extra-biblical sources or counseling insights. In fact, I would argue that biblical counselors have demonstrated a high level of theological sophistication about the use of extra-biblical data, often greater than our brothers to the theological left. The biblical counseling position is that there is much true information that exists outside the Bible—that found in the sciences, for example. (53-54)
Murray’s Suggested Clarification: 
“Without the qualification of ‘special revelation’ (or spiritual truth), I think we risk being understood as saying that there is no general revelation, no truth, outside of Scripture on any topic.”
One of Lambert’s printed clarification in chapter two: 
The call to be compassionate counselors requires that a thoroughgoing theology of biblical counseling must not only address the sufficient resources for counseling within Scripture but must also address the relevance of resources that exist outside of Scripture. This is an issue that has the highest practical and personal implications for counselors. We must consider this matter very carefully if we are to be compassionate. Considering the matter in this way requires that we understand the doctrine of common grace. (66-67)
I began this chapter on the resources for counseling outside Scripture by asking what is necessary to help Rick, Wendy, Gail, Trenyan, Jenny, Scott, Drew, Amber, Sean, and Sarah. To answer that question, we examined common grace and saw that, indeed, God does allow unbelievers to come to know true principles that are helpful in counseling. (100)
The quotes that answer this question are too numerous for me to reproduce in this post.
I also want to point Murray and readers to
Appendix A: Statement from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors  Regarding Mental Disorders, Medicine, and Counseling

Appendix B: Biblical Counseling, General Revelation, and Common Grace

Murray writes: “I’m hopeful that Heath will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent chapters, but it’s unqualified generalizations like these that confuse people and have created justifiable resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. With just a couple of extra words, the potential confusion is avoided and understandable reasons to resist are removed.”
My Suggestion for Murray’s Post:
I’m hopeful that Murray will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent blog posts, but it’s blog posts like his review of first chapter of Lambert’s book that confuse people and have created resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. By waiting just a couple of extra pages, the potential confusion is avoided and reasons to resist are removed. I wish Murray had refrained from blogging before he finished A Theology of Biblical Counseling.
What Counseling Requires 
Murray’s Question 2: “Does ‘problems’ here mean all problems (such as autism, or those Heath mentioned earlier – employment problems or choosing a college)?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification: 
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 3: “Is God’s prescribed solution (singular) to our problems (plural) always simply ‘faith in Christ’?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 4: “Is this the only solution to all our problems?”
One Quote with Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
My Suggestion: Murray may consider being slow to blog and quick to read. Murray may consider if he is answering a matter before he hears all of the facts. I also pray that Murray would be more open to changing his position on counseling.
Other Minor Suggestions: 
  • Murray suggests Lambert should use the word “necessitates” instead of “requires.” We should not quibble over words that mean the same thing. Requires and necessitates are the same thing. These words are synonymous.
I close with this quote from Murray which I apply to this post and my suggestions:
I offer these questions and clarifications in the spirit of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17), and in the hope that my biblical counseling colleagues will see the need for much greater clarity, carefulness, and consistency, if we are to have a hope of building the credibility of our discipline and expanding the availability and usefulness of biblical counseling throughout the world. I’m looking forward to learning from any responses to the questions, further questions to me, and hopefully clearer and more consistent definitions at the foundational level. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything, please let me know as this was not my intention.
Sean Perron

2 thoughts on “Some Clarification and Suggestions from a Theology of Biblical Counseling

  1. Sean, thanks for your response. I think your main point is that I should read the whole book before responding. That’s a fair point if it was a normal book review. However, this is more of a read-along-with me. I’m trying to show how a reader’s thought processes work as they process a book. Which sentences lead to questions, which lead to desires for clarification, and which lead to head-scratching. If what you say is correct (and I believe you), and the later chapters start providing qualifications and clarifications along the lines you suggest, why not write the early chapters so that it is clearly consistent with the later part of the book? Look at the sentences I’ve highlighted and try to read them beside what you have quoted and ask yourself, “Is this consistent?” When I write a book, I try to make sure that chapter one can be read beside later chapters without the possibility of inconsistency. Just a few extra words in these early parts of Heath’s book could avoid this kind of inconsistency and confusion. I don’t see the point in saying in one chapter “Never X” or “Always Y” when a few chapters later you are saying “Sometimes X” or “Sometimes not Y.” Given the controversy that has gone on for many years, I’m just surprised that such sentences are still finding their way into biblical counseling books. Why not insert the few extra qualifying words I’ve suggested and then the problem will not exist? It would also have the additional benefit of reducing the heat of the debate as well as clarifying what is under debate. By the way, I teach Biblical Counseling courses here at PRTS and the main books I use are books by Biblical Counselors like Adams, Powlison, Welch, Kellemen, and Heath Lambert (and I’m planning to use Heath’s new book in my class). All that to say, I’m an ally not a foe. But sentences like the ones I have highlighted are a source of frustration to me personally, and, on a wider level, they raise unnecessary barriers between different counselors.

  2. Dr. Murray,

    Thank you for your kind response. I am thankful for you willingness to engage and take time to respond. As I have thought about your comment, here are my thoughts:

    First, it appears we disagree that Dr. Lambert contradicts himself. Having read his writings, I don’t think your assessment is a fair one. He does not make absolute statements that are not clarified later. While you might suggest that he clarify all his statements in chapter one of his book, it seems you are holding him to a standard that the majority of authors feel no need to meet. Good writing is such that it asks questions and clarifies at later points. This is the benefit of reading a book and not just one chapter.

    It seems to me that you are asking Dr. Lambert to do something that is not necessary or even reasonable. This is underscored to me because you are the only person I know of who has found this problem with Dr. Lambert’s book. Other notable authors such as John Frame, JI Packer, Jerry Bridges, etc., have not found his book to be contradictory or confusing.

    Secondly, you are certainly not a foe! I’m so thankful you are a brother in Christ and that it is because of the gospel we can even have this conversation in a gracious manner.
    We are not enemies and we both want the same goal for our counselees – to love God and receive help. I’m thankful you use many of the authors you mentioned.

    However, I must confess that I have a question mark over your friendliness to the doctrine of Sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to counseling. I have read the post today on your blog and I am concerned that you believe the Scripture is insufficient to counsel problems people face when it comes to life and godliness. My question is: Do you believe the Bible is sufficient to address the non-medical counseling issues people face? From my current position it seems you are unclear on the matter, but you may clarify in later blogs. (There is certainly room in the Biblical Counseling movement to disagree about which issues have a medical component that need a physician, but this is not the main issue at hand. The main issue is whether or not a counselor believes the Bible is sufficient to counsel non-medical problems).

    I want you to be best friends with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling. I want you to love it and this be evident to all. Perhaps you love it already and it is just unclear to me at the moment! I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this whether here or on your blog.

    – Sean

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