Bob Kellemen, Charles Hodges, Heath Lambert and I have been having a somewhat lop-sided debate/discussion/disagreement (whatever you want to call it) about counseling over the past couple of weeks. Chris Bogosh has also weighed in with constructive and incisive comments and posts.
Although we may fail to communicate this at times, we are actually friends, and when friends disagree, it’s always worthwhile remembering the things we agree on, what we share in common.
First of all, we share the same core of Christian doctrine. I’m pretty sure we can all subscribe to the BCC doctrinal statement.
Second, we all regard one another as Christian brothers. More than that, I hold these men (and many more men and women they represent) in the highest possible regard. I use Bob and Heath’s resources, alongside multiple CCEF books, etc., in my counseling classes.
Third, we all share the same motivation – the desire to honor the Lord by helping suffering people with all the legitimate resources that God has placed at our disposal.
Fourth, although we differ in some important areas, we probably agree on at least 95% of counseling presuppositions and practice. If you were to compare the advice we would give to most counselees, while Bob, Heath, and Charles would no doubt be much more skillful and insightful than I, the general contours of our advice would overlap about 95% of the time. I’m pretty sure we use the Bible equally in our counseling.
So what explains our differences? I hope these answers might shed some light not only on our recent discussion but also help other Christians think differently about other debates they are involved in and those they are debating with.
(Slightly) Different Worldviews
First, we probably have slightly different worldviews. We are all trying to look at the same world through the same spectacles of the Word of God. However, we do seem to differ slightly in how we view certain areas of the world.
One of the challenges of the Christian life is to know how to balance the terrible impact of sin upon the world versus the wonderful impact of common grace. That balance or emphasis will determine how optimistic or pessimistic we are about learning from the world.
I think it would be fair to say that Bob, Heath, and Charles probably view some parts of the world (like psychology, pharmacology) through a more negative lens than I do. They approach these worlds with more caution and skepticism than I do. They may be right to do so, and I have to say I used to be much more skeptical myself (my Seminary dissertation defended Jay Adams to the hilt). However, for good or ill, I see more common grace in these areas than I used to. There’s danger at both extremes, and none of us are at either extreme, but we are at slightly different points in the reject all/embrace all spectrum, with hopefully all of us moving closer to the perfect balancing point.
As I interact with my biblical counseling friends I’m often struck by how much personal experience plays into our approach to counseling.
For example, if I’ve seen people run to pills way too quick, if I’ve witnessed friends and family suffering from the side-effects of some meds, if I’ve seen people messed up by weird psychology and worldly therapy, if I’ve seen nouthetic counseling save a life/family/congregation, etc., then I’m going to approach counseling with a certain bias.
On the other hand, if I’ve seen people helped by meds, if I’ve seen Christians’ lives transformed by CBT, if I’ve worked in tandem with gifted and godly Christian psychologists, if I’m in a context where pride or ignorance are preventing many suffering Christians from even considering meds (to their own and their family’s detriment), etc., then that too will lend a bias to my counseling.
Now, I’ve painted two extremes there, but I think part of the difference between my friends and I has to do with our different experiences. It looks as if Bob, Heath, and Charles’ experience has been more of the former and mine more of the latter. Although we try to be as objective as possible, we can’t deny that past experience influences present practice.
Bob and Heath have massively important roles in leading the Biblical Counseling Movement. They are not just writing as individuals but as leaders seeking to unite, guide, and equip thousands of men and women across the world. They are extremely gifted motivators and organizers with a huge responsibility to build understanding, cooperation, development, etc. That stewardship should and does influence their stances and words. I totally respect and admire that.
I’m more of a loose canon (or a pesky mozzie?)! I’m not that into labels or movements. I don’t have an official role or leadership position in any national organization, and I don’t seek that either – it’s not my gifting or calling. But I hope there’s a role for me too. I hope I can be a Biblical Counselor without being part of the Biblical Counseling Movement. I hope I can provoke reflection and reformation – maybe highlight areas from time to time that need more thought and action.
I do see myself as an advocate for Christians suffering with serious depression and other mental disorders, especially those who have suffered from a lack of sympathy and holistic care from other Christians.
I’m not saying that my friends are not; I’m pretty sure they see themselves also as advocates for depressed Christians, especially for those who have suffered at the hands of some over-prescribing doctors and some damaging psychology. But I believe one of my purposes in life is defending and caring for depressed Christians who have suffered from careless or ignorant words and actions from within the church.
It’s very difficult for us to engage in any controversy or debate without sinning. Sometimes pride, territorialism, ego, and competitiveness (we’re all Type A males I think!), produce exaggeration, misrepresentation, anger, defensiveness, excuses, false accusation, and so on. I’m as susceptible to that as the next guy. The result is that sometimes we magnify differences that are really quite small and we are sometimes reluctant to concede, “OK, I was wrong there.”
So why not just do this in private? Well, we have private discussions also. But public communication is good too, even if it’s sometimes tainted with sin, because hopefully it helps others too as they observe, read, weigh, and come to their own decisions about these matters.
We have to be careful it doesn’t get out of hand of course, but the church often benefits from disagreements. When conducted in the right spirit it can lead us all further into the truth, especially in this complicated area of the relationship between the body, the mind, and the soul, and what are the appropriate roles for biblical counseling, medicine, and psychology in each case.
Probably Bob, Heath, Charles, and Chris have other explanations for why we differ. But that’s my analysis, offered in a conciliatory and constructive spirit.