I’ve been a bit concerned about some biblical counselors posting “95 Theses For Biblical Counseling,” not least for the (hopefully unintentional) implication that those who might disagree with them are in the same category as Roman Catholics and their indulgences were in Luther’s time.

Having said that, there are saner versions of this approach, a welcome contrast to the attempted return to the medieval times of biblical counseling which is undoing much of the wonderful reformation in biblical counseling that has been going on over the past 10-15 years.

I’ve written before about the mistake of equating the Reformation doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture with what some are arguing for in the biblical counseling movement. I’ve also highlighted how some modern versions of the sufficiency of Scripture are not just contrary to what the Reformers taught but actually end up unintentionally undermining the sufficiency of Scripture (here and here).

I’ve been close to entering this debate, not only to express concern about the damage that the aggressive tone and personal targeting is doing to the biblical counseling movement and its relationship with other Christians, but also to expose the internal confusion and inconsistency of some of the content. However, I discovered that Brad Hambrick, a biblical counselor that I highly respect, has decided to interact with Heath Lambert’s “95 Theses” and I’d commend this series to you. I’ll try to keep you updated as Brad posts subsequent articles.

In the meantime, you might want to have a look at these pages that present the case that Luther and Calvin were more “integrationist” than some would like to admit (see especially Table 1-2d). It looks like some versions of biblical counseling have more in common with Zwingli than with Calvin and Luther.

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  • David J. Conroy

    Greetings, Dr. Murray. Your books and videos have been a blessing to many, including myself. I get a little confused at times when the discussion of Integrationism and Biblical Counseling come into discussion. To me, Biblical Counseling has always been present, even before the Puritans, and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura has always been the principle to direct Biblical Counseling. I read your links to the book “Caring for Souls” and the parts about Luther and Calvin being considered “Integrationists”. But, what is confusing me is the idea that these great Reformers would consider teachings that were clearly antithetical to Scripture as teachings that believers should assimilate into their own beliefs. Much of what the modern Biblical Counseling movement has pressed against is this very concept. I’m not saying that I believe that we as believers cannot glean scientific and practical insight from secular counselors (under Sola Scriptura), but I am saying that we should not accept their teachings when they are clearly against the Word of God. Please help me to understand your point of view, dear brother.

    • David Murray

      David, Thanks for your kind words and for your comment and questions. I think we’re mainly in agreement. I agree with you that counseling with the Bible has always been present to some degree. As a unqualified subscriber to the Westminster Confession of Faith I also agree with the biblical doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I agree with you that Luther and Calvin would not embrace teachings that were contrary to Scripture and that neither would assimilate such into their own beliefs. I am with them, with you, and with the Biblical Counseling movement in pressing against the integration of anything that is contrary to Scripture. I agree with you that believers can glean scientific and practical insight from secular counselors. And I agree with you that we should not accept their teachings when these teachings are clearly against the Word of God. I hope that sets your mind at ease.

      Every biblical and Christian counselor I know is an integrationist to some degree. Even Jay Adams allowed for some scientific input. The only questions about the integration that everyone is doing are:

      1. How open and transparent are we about it?

      2. How consistent are we with our presuppositions?

      3. To what degree do we integrate biblical knowledge with other knowledge?

      4. What criteria do we use to decide the degree of integration?

      5. How do we control the integration? Above Scripture, beside Scripture, or under Scripture?

  • Dave Hughes

    Dr. Murray,

    Thank you for your thoughts on this (and for the hat tip to my counseling pastor). I’ve been reading Brad’s responses and keeping an eye to the situation at SBTS with regard to the ongoing discussion on Biblical counseling. Although it’s not entirely my arena, it certainly pertains to me and it’s left me with a few thoughts. Not sure if you will find them helpful or thought-provoking, but here they are:

    Brad mentioned in one post (I think his most recent) that there are some mental health professionals who are believers, living much in the way of the business-as-missions movement. As an emerging professional myself, I wonder what we are to take from such conversations as we watch from the sidelines.

    What role, if any, do those of us who are clinicians play in this conversation?

    Should I be seeking out Biblical counselors as mentors, colleagues, and potential referrals?

    What does this discussion say about what my relationship should be toward the church vs. the scientific community?

    I am encouraged by your writing, as well as that of others who are bringing needed perspective to this conversation. I am lucky to have started my education at a university that required a theological integration section at the end of every paper as I studied theories of personality and theories of therapy. I was forced early on to start from my theology and filter everything from that point, and I can tell you that starting and ending with scripture really does make all the difference in how you understand the science. I’m just not always sure that we are considering the fact that there ARE Christians doing just that in this and other scientific communities. This blog post made me feel a bit closer to the conversation, thank you.

    • David Murray

      Dave, thanks for writing. I’ve really appreciate Brad’s writing ministry over the years. You are very blessed to have him as your counseling pastor. I must admit that I’ve not given much thought to the challenge of believers working as mental health professionals. Your model of “business-as-missions” may indeed be applicable but I’d need to think more about it. I suppose the biggest challenge is speaking the truth when it needs to be spoken, no matter the cost.

      I would love to see clinicians involved in this conversation, especially in demonstrating how insights from psychology can be incorporated into biblical counseling. Some biblical counselors do accept the input of empirical psychology (things like sleep science, impact of digital technology, etc). However, most are resistant to learning from things like CBT, DBT, etc. I would like to see evidence of the necessity/helpfulness of such therapies working under the same model as I’ve outlined in my conversations with Pastor N. T. Grayshon.

      And yes, I would encourage you to seek out biblical counselors as mentors, colleagues, and potential referrals. I know of many who do excellent work and I would always regard them as an important ally in many counseling situations. I’ve learned a ton from them. I am one! Although some do not like me claiming that label :(

      I’ve found very few who subscribe to the current direction/rhetoric/tone of some of the BC leadership.

      • Dave Hughes

        Dr. Murray,

        I am indeed pretty lucky to have a counseling pastor and infrastructure like we do here at Summit. I think your point about speaking the truth may illuminate one of the critical fault lines in the conversation around clinical/Biblical/integrationist counseling in terms of the end state and therefore trajectory and process of said counseling.

        I do wonder whether this conversation really pertains to me and others like me and if so, to what degree. It’s encouraging to hear you welcome a clinical perspective. I have a small blog I’m starting mostly for my professional identity but have started putting my foot in the water of discussing the church and mental health and have been wondering whether topics like this are ones I ought to engage.

        As for structured medical model ‘therapies’ like CBT and DBT, not even all clinicians agree on which are truly helpful at the deepest levels as opposed to being quick ‘symptom reduction’ fixes. I personally don’t see a truly Biblical view of the change process being easily confined to a medical model approach, but in fairness I’m not a medical model guy so I’m biased.

        Your encouragement is appreciated and I hope that I can enjoy many positive and life giving relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ who are Biblical counselors in the future. Take care and God bless!

        Dave Hughes