FWIW: I’m all for Biblically-based counseling; I provide it myself. At the same time, I have significant reservations with the Jay Adams crowd, which is driving the BC movement, which–I would contend–is corrupting Biblically-based counseling (BBC).
In this installment, I am going to address the premise that opens up BBC to pretty much any Christian. From PastoralCounseling.org (emphasis added):
Who Can Be a Biblical Counselor?
Quite simply, anyone who wants to be a Biblical counselor can consider themselves one. Biblical counseling is based on the idea that all one needs is a deep understanding of the scripture to offer counseling. While it’s true that many who consider themselves Biblical counselors are ministers or other types of church leaders, this isn’t a requirement. Any person who feels as though they have been called to offer Biblical counseling to another may do so.
Without a doubt, that is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read.
Quoting James 3:1-2:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways.
Teaching is a role that carries great importance and great responsibility (1 Corinthians 12). And according to James, the penalty for straying is stricter for teachers than those who are not teachers.
And make no mistake: Biblical counseling is a form of teaching.
If you aspire to be a Biblical counselor, you are aspiring to a teaching role.
That means you are going to need to be very knowledgeable in the Scriptures. And I’m not just talking about knowing the narrative flow of the Bible, although the average Joe doesn’t even know that.
What I mean by being knowledgeable in the Scriptures?
- Understanding the way God worked in the lives of people in the Bible. What warnings did God give? What issues kept coming back up over and over? How did God deliver providentially? How does this point to the Gospel?
- Understanding how people responded to God and to each other.
- The characteristics of different types of people (Proverbs).
I also believe that there is a practical body of knowledge that people need to have. There are particular dynamics of human behavior that are important to know: how different personalities respond to different questions and circumstances; what kinds of things are going to drive people in particular situations, and how may that play out.
I’ll give you a good example: myself and MrsLarijani during our 2-month ordeal, as Abigail spent her first two months in the NICU, 5 of those days on ECMO (the heart-lung machine, which is last-ditch life support).
Did I mention that, during that time, I had nasty deadlines at work, which meant that–even though I had plenty of leave time accumulated–I was not able to use much of it? In fact, I racked in substantial overtime during those two months. I also spent at least two hours every day with Abigail. MrsLarijani rarely left the hospital. Oh, and one of our cars broke down during that time.
Helping a couple navigate through that is not just a matter of being able to recite Bible verses; trust me: MrsLarijani and I understood those already. This isn’t about giving someone a Bible verse or even a Biblical principle, but rather a practical matter of how to flesh it out.
Knowing what the Bible says is often the easy part. Sometimes, the fleshing out of those truths isn’t as easy. That part often requires a counselor with some spiritual mileage.
Does the Bible command, “Thou must exercise to get stress relief?” No. But you know what? We know, from a scientific standpoint, that high stress creates inflammation, which contributes to both weight issues and heart disease as well as diabetes risk. We also know that proper diet and exercise–and having a good circle of friends–helps relieve the stress, which reduces inflammation, which contributes greatly to coping skills.
That is why I made it a point to sign myself and MrsLarijani in at Planet Fitness–which is right down the road from the hospital–after the first week. I used that membership diligently: I worked out an average of 7 hours per week. In spite of the high-carb dietary madness at the Ronald McDonald House, I managed to generate enough endorphins that I otherwise felt good in spite of the situation.
Here’s another case: how do you counsel someone who is trying to make a complex business decision that can have big implications? What happens if you have someone who needs medical or legal help?
I once had a pastor who was excellent in terms of practical advice. He knew the best people to call, he knew how certain attorneys and counselors operated, he understood who the best car mechanics were, he knew the best docs, he knew the docs to avoid. If you wanted to buy a house, he could guide you through the issues like no one else. If you were going through a very hard time, he understood the issues that you would be wrestling with, and provided practical advice as to how to think, how to act, how to pray, and–when necessary–what repentance looked like.
As a counselor, he helped people make good decisions, or at least helped them avoid making bad ones. And if he didn’t have the answer, he could direct you to someone who did.
But he was able to do that because he had a lot of spiritual mileage: he wasn’t a spring chicken. He knew the Scriptures, and he also understood different schools of thought about tough issues. While he had an MDiv–he was pursuing doctoral studies on the side–his body of knowledge was the kind you didn’t just get with a degree.