This is a guest post from Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director as the Association of Biblical Counselors. Heath is responding to a series of articles I wrote in reviewing his book, A Theology of Biblical Counseling. When I offered Heath an opportunity to respond he agreed to do so and requested that I send him some of the questions I posed. I sent him the first few questions I raised to get the dialogue started. I’m grateful for Heath’s willingness to engage, especially in the midst of a busy schedule. I’ve put my questions in blue, and Heath’s responses in black.
Heath’s Introductory Statement
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to some of the questions that David Murray has posed about my book, A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. I wrote this book because I think the theological foundations of counseling ministry are crucial, and must be carefully considered by the Christian community. David’s interaction with my book on his blog indicates that he is as serious about that consideration as I am. I pray that my answers to some of his questions advance a more thorough understanding of these issues that I know we both want.
His gracious offer allowing me to respond to a selection of his questions directly on his website is a demonstration of his Christian charity and his authentic desire for dialogue. I am grateful that he would extend this opportunity to me.
The format is (1) A quotation from your book, (2) Questions, (3) Suggested clarification. I hope the suggested clarifications will prove constructive.
Quotation 1: “Theology is what the whole Bible teaches us today about any given topic” (12). Therefore, “when we pay careful attention to every relevant passage in the Bible on a topic, we should know what God has revealed to us about that topic” (13).
Question #1: “Is there any revelation outside of the Bible? If so, how is that consistent with these statements?
Suggested Clarification: “When we pay careful attention to every relevant passage in the Bible on a topic, we should know what special revelation (or “spiritual truth”) God has given us about a topic.”
As I made clear in the immediate context of this quote, I did not endeavor to utilize any creativity in my definition of theology. The definition in this quotation is the definition of theology used by Wayne Grudem and John Frame. These are two luminaries in two different evangelical traditions (Baptist and Presbyterian) who have each influenced untold numbers of people with their teaching on biblical doctrine. It is significant that two individuals in two different Christian communities agree on the definition of theology. I saw no reason to innovate, and no way to improve on these straightforward definitions, so I merely borrowed.
Grudem and Frame believe, along with faithful systematicians since the Reformation, that God has revealed himself outside the Bible in the world through general revelation. They believe this because the Bible teaches it (e.g.,Rom 1:18-23). I believe this as well. That is why I unpack the concept of general revelation throughout my book (especially in Chapter 3) and devote an appendix to it (Appendix B).
Most faithful Christian theologians since the Reformation have believed theology to be an investigation of the biblical text. Grudem and Frame clearly operate within this tradition. My use of their definition demonstrates my agreement with them, and so I did not believe an adjustment was in order.
Quotation 2: “God knows what is wrong with us and diagnoses the problem in the Bible. God prescribes a solution to our problems – faith in Christ — and reveals him to us in the Scriptures” (17).
Question 2a. Does “problems” here mean all problems (such as autism, or those you mentioned a bit earlier — employment problems or choosing a college).
Question 2b. Is God’s prescribed solution (singular) to our problems (plural) always simply “faith in Christ”?
Question 2c. Is this the only solution to all our problems, as a following sentence seems to indicate: ““There is no other solution to our problem and no process of change other than the one God has provided” (17)?
Suggested Clarification 2: “God knows what is primarily wrong with us — sin — and that the solution to (and process of change for) our sin problems is repentance and faith in Christ.”
As with the previous question, the isolation of this short quote from the immediate context makes it harder to understand what I’m trying to say. This quote is the third sentence under a heading which reads: “Counseling Is Theological.” The first two sentences say, “Understanding that counseling requires some vision of life is crucial to understanding the theological nature of counseling. The reason is that such a vision of reality is always theological.” These statements are right in the middle of a larger section where I am defining counseling and explaining the elements of it. I am clearly talking about counseling here. Understanding that contextual reality helps to answer the questions.
So to answer the first question, no, “problems” here does not mean all problems because I am not talking about all problems. I am discussing counseling problems. The reason I used examples like employment problems and choosing a college (to mention a few of the examples I listed) is because they are counseling problems, which was the subject at hand. I did not raise the issue of autism because autism is not, properly speaking, a counseling problem. I do not, of course, mean to indicate that there would never be issues in the life of an autistic person that could benefit from counseling. That is not true. I mean that it is not the task of counseling to solve the problem of autism.
While the grace of Jesus will ultimately heal all physical problems in the next life through faith in him, we must be careful here not to mix obviously physical issues, which are the prerogative of medical professionals and other experts with the kinds of problems that counselors deal with in their work. Because these issues are of such crucial importance I spent the larger portion of a chapter on them (Chapter 7) and deal with crucial issues about the matter in two appendixes (Appendix A and C).
David’s second question is even more tricky. What makes it so complicated is the addition of his word “simply” to my words. It is one thing to say that God’s solution to our problems is faith in Christ. It is another thing to say that this solution is simple. Faith in Christ is the large master category that needs to be pressed down into a thousand different details in the lives of individuals struggling with countless problems. If faith in Christ were simple I could have quit writing the book after I wrote that sentence. But there are 318 pages that follow where I introduce readers to actual counselees who struggle with pain in the midst of broken marriages, homosexual lust, bitterness and heartbreak after rape, overwhelming sorrow in the death of a son, nagging worry, cutting, and more. Each of my counselees in the book would agree that they changed by faith in Christ. They would disagree that it was simple. This is also the reason the Bible is not just one page, and not even one book, but is a collection of 66 books. God takes dozens of authors writing across many centuries in numerous cultures to show the world how his solution to our problems—faith in Christ—gets worked out in the painful complications of a zillion details.
So I think I want to insist that God’s solution to our problems is faith in Christ. But, I also try to show in the larger context of the book that this faith is often complex and not usually simple.
The final question concerning the quotation that there is, “no solution to our problem and no process of change other than the one God has provided” is also clearly a reference to counseling. The position that I advance throughout the book is that God wrote the Bible to be about the problems we face in our lives before him. These are the kinds of problems that motivate people to look for counseling. The Bible’s own testimony is that it is a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path in the midst of a dark world that plagues us with apparently limitless problems (Pss 119:105). If God has gone to incredible effort to explain his solutions to our problems in living then I do believe it is unfaithful and unhelpful to pursue other solutions.
But I think David may be on to something with his question about this statement. Now that I’ve been pressed I would be forced to agree that there are other solutions to our counseling problems.
The example I always think of here is the one of my mother who was addicted to alcohol for decades. She was a promiscuous, dishonest, and violent woman. In God’s common grace she sobered up through the work of Alcoholics Anonymous. After her encounter with AA my mom was sober, but she was still mean, she still slept around, and she was still at war with God. If she were alive today, she would tell you that AA taught her to be a more successful worshiper of herself. She did not really change until she accessed God’s special grace by repenting of her sins and placing her faith in Christ. And she would deny that this was simple. I think she rather believed it was the hardest thing she ever did, and working out the implications of this faith in the details of her life took years.
So with this in mind I would revise the statement. There are, in fact, other solutions that lead to change, but these do not lead to changes that honor God. The statement would be more accurate if I had written, “There is no ultimate solution to our problem and no faithful process of change other than the one God has provided.”