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Caring for Souls
Counseling Under the Authority of Scripture
By Harry Shields, Gary Bredfeldt
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2001 Harry Shields and Gary Bredfeldt
All rights reserved.
The Matter of Biblical Authority
The teacher's appraisal read with a clarity that Kathy and John Carpenter could not ignore.
Matthew fails to give attention to details and makes careless mistakes. He fidgets and squirms excessively in his seat. Matthew often blurts out answers before questions have been completed. He has a problem of talking excessively and he often loses things necessary for daily tasks. Matthew often leaves his seat when remaining in his seat is expected, has difficulty waiting his turn, and sometimes bullies others.
The assessment went on to recommend testing for ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder. Matthew's teacher explained to Kathy and John that no medical tests exist for ADD, but various diagnostic guidelines have been established. She showed them the guidelines. Comparing Matthew's behavior to those guidelines, it seemed to Kathy and John that their son might have ADD. In order to find out, the teacher encouraged them to visit the school psychologist. But the Carpenters remained unsure how to proceed. They were aware that a debate over ADD was raging—a debate over its existence, diagnosis, and treatment. Given the generic nature of the guidelines for determining ADD, they were concerned that their son could be misdiagnosed and wrongly labeled.
They were concerned also about the treatment that Matthew would receive. Ritalin is a drug used to treat children and adults with ADD. Although they knew that Ritalin enables individuals to focus their attention, they also had read of its side effects that alter mood and temperament. Not knowing the long-term effects of the drug, they were uncertain that they wanted to pursue a personality-altering remedy.
As evangelical Christians, they had another concern, the use of a secular school psychologist and psychological treatment. Would their acceptance of Matthew's diagnosis and the use of Ritalin be consistent with their stance that Christ and His Word are sufficient, or would they be compromising with the world by accepting a secular solution to Matthew's problems? How exactly should Christians relate to the research, findings, theories, and treatments of psychology? These questions motivated the Carpenters to contact their pastor. With a sincere longing for answers, the Carpenters sought his advice. Unfortunately, the conversation that followed left them even more confused.
After hearing their concerns, he turned in his Bible to 2 Peter 1:3–4, where he read,
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
He then asked, "Kathy and John, I know you believe God's Word and seek to follow it. Let me ask you, do you believe that when God said 'everything' in this passage He meant everything?" John and Kathy nodded in agreement. He proceeded to tell them that they "should not pollute the pure stream of God's Word with the impure stream of secular psychological ideas." Instead, he told them, they should find the work of Christ and His Word sufficient for their son's scholastic problems. Finally, he said, "Matthew's behavior is a problem of disobedience to authority and a lack of self-discipline." He then gave them a book on child discipline that he said advocated a biblical approach to their son's problems.
At first his words sounded logical. Certainly, Christ is the sufficient answer to all human need. What Christian could or would question that? And, of course, they believed the Bible was relevant to their lives. Still they could not avoid a deep sense that his comments were overly simplistic and had a pat-answer tone to them. Furthermore, something was lacking in his reasoning and in the consistency of his actions. On the one hand, he advised them not to take the counsel of the secular school psychologist, yet, only moments before, they had watched him take a drug called dihydroergotamine (DHE) used in the treatment of migraine headaches. Sure, the tablet of DHE was only for a headache, but was not his use of this pain reliever similar to their son's potential use of Ritalin? Both drugs help to maintain concentration in order to deal with daily tasks.
As they glanced around the room, another inconsistency struck them. They noted that one of their pastor's bookcases stored several books on management, communication theory, and sermon delivery. Nearby, in another bookcase, were books dealing with group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. They wondered how he could justify his use of "secular psychological theorists" when it came to managing the church, leading a small group Bible study, or delivering his weekly message. How could he use these practical applications of psychological research while claiming that everything he needed for his life is contained in the pages of Scripture? Didn't he just say that everything meant everything? How did he deal with this contradiction? Surely, he could not deny that truth is found outside the Bible, for he was employing extra-biblical truth in his own life and ministry. Maybe he just wasn't aware of the inconsistencies between his actions and his position when it came to the matter of psychology and its use by Christians.
Although names have been changed in this story, it is true. And it is a good illustration of the confusion brought out by questions of psychology and counseling in the church.
As another example of how theories play out in the real world, meet Carl Hartman, lone pastor at a Midwestern church of one hundred and fifty attendees located on the edge of one of the largest communities in his state. While joined by many laypersons in the work of the ministry, Carl still finds that serving as a pastor is stretching. As solo pastor, Carl must wear several hats—teacher, preacher, leader, administrator, and counselor to name a few. Preaching demands that he be a Bible scholar and communicator. Teaching ministry requires that he be both a student of the Bible and capable facilitator of learning. Administrative tasks and organizational leadership duties necessitate effective management skills. In each of these areas, Carl has gained some measure of confidence and competence. But it is his role as counselor that presents the greatest challenge.
There are simply more human struggles and tales of tragedy than Carl feels equipped to address. He hears of so many needs and broken lives, so many stressed marriages and shattered families, so many neglected children and wayward adolescents that his heart is burdened daily. He wonders how to help—how to bring counsel to those whom he serves. How will he give the spiritual counsel they require to reorder their chaotic and sorrowful lives? Of course there is one thing of which Carl is certain: The truth that gives sure direction is found in the pages of his Bible. He is equally certain of his commitment to the authority of the Bible in his ministry of providing spiritual counsel.
In an effort to more effectively care for his congregation, Carl read several books on counseling. Some offered helpful insights into the pastoral care of people. But others concerned him. One book in particular caused him to contemplate. In it, the author questioned the validity of using the tools and theories of psychology in counseling ministry. Although Carl recognized that this author was advocating an extreme position, he did raise an important issue—the appropriate use of the social science field of psychology in caring for people. From his reading, Carl came to understand that several views exist on this topic. Some writers advocated an almost indiscriminate use of psychology within a counseling ministry. Others proposed a more moderate view in which psychological theories and treatments are selected within the parameters of biblical teaching. Still others entirely opposed any use of psychology in the emotional and spiritual healing of people. For them, only the Bible is to be used.
As a pastor dedicated to the goal of being thoroughly biblical in his ministry, what viewpoint should he adopt? He is committed to serve Christ and His church and to faithfully submit his ministry to the authority of God's Word, so how should he proceed? Should he take the "antipsychology" view of the so-called "biblical counseling" apologists, which, on the surface, appears to be the least risky position because of its Bible-only stance? Or should he adopt the "integrationist" position of the "Christian counseling" authors with its wide array of people-helping techniques and practical methods, many of which are drawn from the research of secular psychologists?
THE ISSUE OF BIBLICAL AUTHORITY
The case studies of Matthew Carpenter and Carl Hartman raise some important questions. What exactly does it mean to live one's life under the authority of Scripture? Does it mean that we are to find all truth for life in the Bible alone? What does it mean to embrace the doctrine of biblical authority? How is a commitment to biblical authority relevant to the ministry of counseling? Does it mean that the Bible alone is our basis for counseling? Could there be some other understanding of biblical authority that would lead to greater consistency in daily living and counseling ministry? Is there a way to tap the many sources of human knowledge and use those understandings in ministry while, at the same time, remaining true to God's Word? These are among the foundational questions that those who seek to provide spiritual counsel to others must consider.
The debate over how to address human needs and how to counsel people in a way that is consistent with Scripture is not simply a theoretical matter. It is a human issue. We must first recognize that real people with real problems come to pastoral or lay counselors seeking spiritual counsel, biblical wisdom, and practical solutions to life's many hurts and stresses. What may seem simply an interesting debate in an Internet chat room or an "Introduction to Counseling" course at a Christian seminary is, in reality, a highly practical and people-impacting concern.
We offer this book as a practical resource for those who seek to help and counsel others. We begin with a chapter on the authority of the Bible because, first and foremost, we are committed to the authority of Scripture. In fact, we have subtitled this book Counseling Under the Authority of Scripture because of the supreme place we give to God's Word in doing the work of ministry. What we offer in this chapter is a review of the doctrine of biblical authority and practical help in applying that doctrine in the care of God's people. We believe that this is the correct starting point for those of us who desire to give spiritual counsel to the men and women who attend our churches. By beginning with the subject of biblical authority, clearly defined and illustrated, the lines of demarcation necessary for the evaluation, selection, and employment of various approaches to counseling and treatment can be established. To do this with accuracy will require a brief but enlightening look into history.
A Historic Debate: The Compatibility of Human Reason and Divine Revelation
As strange as it may seem, we will find the clearest direction for our thinking regarding the matter of psychology and its use in counseling ministry not in books written in the field of counseling, but in church history and theology textbooks. This is because, while the debate over the use of modern psychological theory and therapy methods in counseling God's people is a contemporary issue, the fundamental questions behind that debate are actually centuries old. We would frame these questions as follows:.
How should knowledge gained through human reasoning be related to the truths communicated in the sacred Scriptures?
What measure of authority should be granted to knowledge derived from such extrabiblical sources as philosophy, the church, personal experience, science, or, in our day, the social sciences?
How should such knowledge be used in ministry?
A brief survey of church history reveals that these questions have troubled Christians in other times as well. Since the very early years of the church, Christians have had to wrestle with the issue of how human reason relates to matters of faith. Is there a place for human reasoning in addressing human problems, or are the only true answers found in the realm of faith and the pages of the Bible? Can we rely on human reason, or is it deceptive, leading only to a devilish wisdom and to corrupt misunderstandings? Three perspectives have been proposed.
Reason Corrupts Faith
Some have held that human reasoning and learning are the polar opposites of divine knowledge and faith. They would suggest that human reasoning corrupts a pure faith. Speaking specifically of the relationship of secular philosophical thought to Christian theological understanding, Tertullian (160–230) expressed a view that no relationship could exist between Christianity and Greek philosophy. He wrote:
What is there in common between Athens and Jerusalem?
What between the Academy and the Church?
What between heretics and Christians? (7)
For Tertullian, human reasoning and learning, as expressed in philosophy, had nothing to contribute to Christianity and the Christian life. It was plain to him that the Christian should completely avoid dialogue with the philosopher. Christian theology was seen as heavenly and full of truth, whereas philosophy was deemed to be worldly and empty of truth. To use secular thinking in any form was to pollute the pure message of Scripture and to cavort with paganism (Erickson 40).
Trained in speaking and law, Tertullian was a great apologist for the early Western church. From his pen came passionate defenses of the persecuted Christians. Probably his most famous observation was with regard to the ineffectiveness of the martyrdom of Christians by the Romans. Tertullian wrote "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." But it is also true that Tertullian often wrote with what one author calls "a fiery and fighting spirit" that sometimes skewed his thinking toward intolerance. At times he took a militant separationist approach to the world and to those with whom he disagreed (Cairns 22, 117).
Later the reason corrupts faith position was reaffirmed, albeit with more grace, in the theology of Kuyper (1837–1920), Berkouwer (1903–1996), and Van Til (1895–1987), all of whom believed that sinful man was incapable of any knowledge, spiritual or scientific, and that the only facts that exist are "theistic facts." They held that human reasoning leads nowhere but to error. Facts derived from the natural world are isolated and futile. Because of the human tendencies toward self-centeredness, self-worship, and corruption, such facts merely generate a human wisdom—the antithesis of divine truth. So men, professing to be wise, become as fools (Rom. 1:22). Only divine revelation, made known specifically in the pages of Scripture, could be trusted to give valid understanding. Human reasoning is, from this viewpoint, hopelessly distorted and erroneous. On this basis, Christians should have nothing to do with the world's wisdom and claims to truth (Demarest 135–56).
Reason Supports Faith
Some have argued that reason can serve to support faith and that a place exists for human learning apart from the study of the Bible alone. This view, while recognizing the primacy of special revelation, also recognized a valid place for knowledge gained through natural revelation. Aurelius Augustine, bishop of Hippo (3 54–430), espoused this alternative to Tertullian's antagonistic understanding of the relationship of human reason to divine revelation.
Augustine acknowledged the presence of considerable truth in Greek philosophy. He believed truth was present there because of the universal disclosure of God through general revelation or things that are made. For Augustine, human reasoning served to elucidate and support Christian theological understandings. Augustine considered human intellect to be a divine gift that could be used to better understand the Christian faith. For Augustine, reason is an essential support to genuine faith, but it is faith that is foundational to ultimate understanding. To put it another way, "thinking is prior to believing" and "believing prior to understanding." Augustine saw an interrelationship between reason and faith. Both were to play an essential role. Reason leads to faith and faith completes reason by granting understanding (Demarest 34–42).
Excerpted from Caring for Souls by Harry Shields, Gary Bredfeldt. Copyright © 2001 Harry Shields and Gary Bredfeldt. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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