Charity and Clarity in Counseling

Review of Chapter 2: The Power of the Redeemer by Ernie Baker and Jonathan Holmes in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling.

The core of this chapter is a beautiful exposition of Isaiah 61:1-2 in which Christ is presented as an incredible person, with a definite pattern to His ministry, and a purpose for coming. Thus, if we are to be Christ-centered in our counseling, we must demonstrate and incarnate His person, purpose, and pattern.

The authors use Christ’s counseling of the Samaritan woman in John 4 as a pattern for our own.

  • Intentional: Christ’s conversations have a purpose. Every question probes for an answer.
  • Interactive: Jesus asks questions, engages, listens, and offers wise counsel.
  • Illustrative: Jesus uses everyday objects, such as water, to open the floodgates of Old Testament imagery.
  • Insightful: Jesus helps the woman see her heart needs are more important than her bodily needs.

Jesus’ unmistakeable goal was not primarily to advise her how to improve her living arrangements but to restore her to what she was truly designed for – to be a true worshiper of God.

Charity and Clarity

The “Three P’s” are memorable foundational principles and the “Four I’s” are unforgettable foundational practices for every counseling situation. This chapter brought me to love my powerful Redeemer more, and to pray for help to communicate more of His redeeming love in my counseling.

But I was left with an unanswered question at the end of the chapter: “Is Biblical Counseling an alternative to cognitive behavior therapy and medication, or can these all work together?”

The chapter opened by describing the failure of cognitive behavior therapy and medication in Kelli’s life, and goes on to narrate the contrasting success of biblical counseling in her situation.

Implied conclusion? We should use biblical counseling and not cognitive behavior therapy or medication.

That seems to be confirmed by the way that the authors ask at the end of the chapter: “What had been missing in her sessions of cognitive behavior therapy? Why was she left unsatisfied and empty?”

Or is that question suggesting that cognitive behavior therapy and medication are OK as long as Christ-centered Biblical Counseling is used as well, or primarily? It’s not clear.

Then Kelli is quoted as saying: “While the techniques practiced in therapy had great potential to be helpful, they lacked the substance that was able to make the program effective. Only Jesus through the power of His Word was able to break down my walls…”

There Kelli could be read as saying that her previous program was good but lacking, and only when Biblical Counseling was added to the mix did she experience healing.

This kind of vague ambiguity is common, unhelpful, and potentially damaging. If CBT and medication are always wrong in these situation, then let this be clearly stated. But, if they may be viewed as part of a holistic package of care, with Biblical Counseling as the organizing priority (which is my own view), then let’s say that clearly too.

I don’t know what’s so difficult about that.


The gospel is not just a message to believe; it is a person to follow.

We are sent on a mission to “make disciples,’ not just to proclaim a message.

Biblical counseling is broken people helping other broken people find healing through the power of the gospel and in the power of the Spirit as they apply the living principles of Scripture to life.

God not only wants to bring us to Himself, He desires to make us into the image of His Son.

[Therapy seeks] to help people become an improved version of themselves.

Previous Posts in this Series

Introduction to Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling
John Piper on Biblical Counseling 

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Dan Phillips Appreciation Day

Dan Phillips is a Pyromaniac. He’s also a pastor of Copperfield Bible Church in Texas and the author of two books, The World Tilting Gospel and God’s Wisdom in Proverbs. Although I’ve never met him, I’ve got to know and appreciate him through his lively online presence and these two books.

The World Tilting Gospel is one of the best “popular” presentations of the Bible’s message and theology I’ve come across. By “popular” I mean accessible and enjoyable. Dan has not written just to pass on facts, but to stir our feelings, and prod us into vigorous response. The language is fresh, pacey, gripping, sometimes combative, and often startling.

The book is divided into four sections: (1) Who are we? (2) What has God done for us? (3) How do we get in? (4) How do we get going? Kind of like a “Biblical Theology for the rest of us.” Although it’s quite lengthy (300 pages), that’s like a tabloid compared to most Biblical Theologies.  And the style of writing is also much more New York Post than Seminarese.

It’s not a book I would give to someone with no church background as it assumes some biblical literacy, but it’s certainly a book I would give to young believers who need a quick tour de force of biblical doctrine or ballast to prevent them being tossed to and fro by modern falsehoods. And if you know a lethargic Christian who needs electrocuted electrified, plug this into his life and watch the sparks fly.

My only quibble is I wouldn’t contrast the Old and New Covenant so starkly as Dan does in some places, especially  when thinking about the Spirit’s work in Old Testament believers. Maybe a case of good biblical theology needing a shot of good systematic theology.

You’ll find lots more of Dan’s zippy and memorable prose in God’s Wisdom in Proverbs. This isn’t a commentary on Proverbs, going verse by verse from start to finish. It’s more “A Practical Theology of Proverbs,” and at 430 pages it’s one of the most thorough treatments of Proverbs I’ve come across.

Pastors and scholars will be benefit from the significant chunks devoted to issues such as authorship, Hebrew poetry, and the various proverbial forms. However, the more general reader will find a ton of helpful material in the major sections on worship, relationships, marriage, and parenting – the best treatments of these Proverbial themes I’ve encountered. I’ll be re-reading them many times and encouraging my wife to do so too. Dan’s explanation and application of “the fear of the Lord” was the highlight of the book for me. Absolutely outstanding.

I’d go further than Dan in his Christology. He seems to see Proverbs as revealing Christ retrospectively rather than prospectively. He would say that we can see Christ looking back, but there’s little indication that Solomon and his fellow-Israelites had much of a Messianic clue looking forward. More canonical contextualization (Dan would never write that phrase) would have helped. By that, I mean seeing the book as part of the unfolding Messianic momentum of the whole Old Testament. Also, Proverbs 8, and its pivotal Christological role in the book, was left screaming out for attention.

As in The World Tilting Gospel, the writing is clear, snappy, punchy, Solomonic even! As I finished these books I couldn’t but thank and praise God for blessing His church in our day with such gifted, godly, and gracious authors. Gritty too. It takes huge effort, discipline, and perseverance to write books such as these. Thank you, Dan, for the thousands of hours you sacrificed to bless us with these books. Deeply, deeply appreciated.

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Haters Gonna Hate: How to deal with three kinds of hate mail

If you want to avoid hate mail, simply avoid any public leadership role. Yes, pastors receive their “fair share” of hate mail, but so also do politicians, business owners, teachers, and many others.

That said, there are seasons when pastors receive more hate mail than normal, and now is probably one of them, when churches and pastors are taking courageous yet unpopular stands on numerous moral issues. So what should we do when the haters start hating?

Let’s first recognize the difference between hate mail and appropriate criticism. Hate mail is motivated by hate, a desire to harm and hurt. It is usually insensitive in tone and content, and intends to discourage, damage, dishearten, and demoralize.Appropriate criticism is motivated by love, by a desire to help and grow a person. It is expressed with kindness, wisdom, and balance. Unless we have a particularly thin skin, or have developed a martyr complex, it’s usually quite easy to distinguish hate mail from constructive criticism.

Anonymous Hate Mail

Second, let’s distinguish anonymous from signed hate mail. My practice used to be that if there was no identifying name on the envelope or letter, that I would trash it once I had read enough to recognize it as hate mail (usually the first couple of sentences was enough to identify the characteristic abusive and threatening language).

I still recommend reading no further than necessary to discern the hostile nature of the communication; there’s no point in letting the author achieve his or her aim of upsetting or frightening you at no cost to themselves. However, instead of trashing them, I now suggest giving any such letters to an experienced Christian in your congregation, probably to an elder, and ask him to read them and keep them secure.

The advantage of this approach is that someone who is not the target of the hate can read the letters more objectively to see if there is any personal safety issue involved, and also to find out if one person is doing this repeatedly. If there are threats to personal safety, or if the letters are repeatedly coming from the same unidentified author, it may eventually be necessary to put them in the hands of the police.

Signed Hate Mail

But let’s leave anonymous communications and look now at how to deal with hate mail where the authors identify themselves but you do not know them personally. If you can find out a bit more about them, that should help you decide if it’s worth replying in a constructive way. Sometimes I have attempted to start a constructive dialogue—usually without success.

Most of the time, I decide that I just have too much important work to do than to give any time to modern-day Sanballats (Neh. 6:3). Usually I follow Hezekiah’s model of prayerfully placing the letter or e-mail before the Lord and ask for guidance as to whether or how to reply (2 Kings 19:14-16). I also ask the Lord to help me not to be intimidated or distracted and that the language and threats would not linger with me to disturb my peace.

‘Friendly Fire’

The most difficult of all is signed hate mail from someone you know in your congregation. That’s not something you can ignore or dismiss. You will probably want to ask an elder or trusted Christian friend to read the letter with you in a more dispassionate and objective way and to give counsel about how to reply in a way that will maximize the hope of peacemaking.

Unless the letters are coming regularly from one source, I’m not for reporting them to the church leadership, as people can often fire off a letter in a bad temper and come to regret it later. There’s no point in damaging a person’s reputation or relationships with everyone else due to one foolish mistake.

When deciding how to respond, ask the following questions:

  • Is it true? Is it even slightly true? Try to find a grain of truth in it if you can and acknowledge that in any reply.
  • Is it proportionate? Is the writer blowing a small matter into a huge issue? Is this making a mountain out of a molehill?
  • Is it specific? Is it addressing one issue or is it shooting buckshot at everything?
  • Is it a godly Christian? If it is a mature and faithful Christian, then you will pay much more attention to it than to someone who is not a Christian, or who is an immature or unstable Christian.
  • Is there something else behind the criticism? Could there be stress or trouble at home or at work that’s making someone lash out?

There’s often debate over the next step—how to communicate your response. Should you write a letter, e-mail, phone, or visit the person? I usually write briefly back noting receipt of the letter, and expressing a desire to meet soon to discuss its contents. I then let that sit for a couple of days before making contact by phone to arrange a meeting. I don’t recommend turning up on the person’s doorstep unannounced, nor do I recommend a phone call or e-mail as a first response. If the person’s emotions are still on the boil, then beware the potential for catastrophic confrontation. A letter, ideally handwritten, communicates that you are taking the criticism seriously but also allows feelings time to moderate.

Love Your Enemies

Pray for your haters, ask God to help you love them, and take every opportunity to do them good. Don’t avoid them and don’t take sneaky swipes at them from the pulpit. One of the wonders of the gospel is that God can make the worst of enemies the best of friends. View this as a massive opportunity to display the power of the gospel.

And even if the person remains hostile, we still have opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ (John 15:18-25) and to demonstrate the love of Christ (1 Peter 2:20-23). Let your haters drive you to the Lover.

This article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition.

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