Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, by Heath Lambert

Book Review by Chris Haven

Having taken a number of biblical counseling courses in seminary through the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) and having read quite a bit of literature produced from biblical counseling figures like Powlison, Tripp, Welch, et al, I was highly anticipating receiving my advance copy from Crossway to read for this review. I was not disappointed.

The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams has six chapters. The first chapter focuses briefly on the history of “soul care.” Lambert points out that the care of souls was exclusively the domain of the church up through the mid nineteenth century, and for various reasons, the church gradually abdicated this activity to secular purveyors.  Jay Adams is then presented as the pioneer of the biblical counseling movement in the late 1960’s. Lambert shows his genuine appreciation for Adams in his groundbreaking work, while also making clear that Adams and his perspective were not without flaws. Adams' views on biblical counseling are defined as the “first generation” of biblical counseling.

In chapters two through five, Lambert shows how a “second generation” of biblical counselors, led by David Powlison of CCEF in the late 1980’s, “advanced” the movement in the specific areas of how biblical counselors think about counseling (chapter 2), how they do counseling (chapter 3), how they talk about counseling (chapter 4), and how they think about the Bible (chapter 5).  In the final chapter, Lambert sets forth his own proposal for an area where biblical counseling is still in need of further advancement.

Having read (and enjoyed) David Powlison’s recent book, The Biblical Counseling Movement (New Growth Press, 2010), I was not quite sure how this new book with a similar title would compare. After reading Lambert’s book, I realized that the two books, while dealing with a lot of similar information and history, were quite different. One of the advantages of Lambert’s book is that it could unapologetically identify David Powlison as the uncontested “second generation” leader of the biblical counseling movement in a way that Powlison could not do in his own book for obvious reasons. 

There are many virtues of this book. Let me provide just three. First, I greatly appreciated the clarity with which the advancements between first and second generation counselors were presented. Let me provide a synopsis of the advancements of the second generation proposed by Lambert:

  1. The making explicit that suffering (not just sin) is part of the counseling equation.
  2. A shift in emphasis on behavior (habits) to inner motivation (“idols of the heart”).
  3. A shift from rigid authoritarian counseling method to a paradigm of mutual position before God.
  4. A greater focus on empathy of a counselee’s situation.
  5. The development of an apologetic for biblical counseling with priorities of constructing a biblical model, confronting secular models, and considering what there is to learn from secular models.
  6. Significantly, Lambert shows quite convincingly in chapter five (contra author Eric Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care) that the first and second generation of biblical counselors have no disagreement as to the issue of the sufficiency of the Scriptures in counseling.  This chapter was extremely helpful in defining just what sufficiency really means (and does not mean). This chapter will hopefully be useful in identifying some of the “straw men” that Integrationists often put forward in opposition to the arguments for biblical sufficiency in the task of counseling/psychology.
Second, I admire the charity with which Lambert deals with those who are in the “first generation,” or outside the biblical counseling movement altogether. The prime example is his dealing with Adams, whom he portrays as a pioneer to be commended for his work, even while disagreeing with him in some measure and sometimes questioning his manner in dealing with those outside the his movement. Lambert views Adams as a Luther-like figure in church history, who, like Martin Luther, stood almost alone in advancing his views and in many ways was tremendously shaped by the theological battles he fought in the early days of the movement. Many of Adams’s weaknesses are presented as over-compensation resulting from his attempts to definitively distinguish himself from opposing viewpoints. 

Finally, the last chapter is worth the price of the book in my opinion. Having been reared in biblical counseling upon Powlison’s motivational theory, “idols of the heart,” I found it very exciting that Lambert attempted to dig even deeper into the biblical idolatry motif. Through some very sound exegesis, Lambert shows that at the very bottom of our motivation lies our longing "for the glory that is due to God. A heart that longs for this glory lusts after idols that provide it" (151). That is what idols were all about for people that constructed them in the Old Testament.  It is also at the root of the inordinate desires that the New Testament authors warn about. Lambert explains that this deeper level has not been completely unaddressed by biblical counselors, but is an example of an area that needs further development.

There are two minor things that might improve this book. First, it would have been helpful to include a one-page chart that would have summarized the advancements of the second generation of biblical counseling along with references to where such advancements were documented in the literature. Second, I would really have liked Lambert to provide some other examples of areas that still need further development in the biblical counseling movement beyond the one area he cites concerning "idols of the heart." Powlison often refers in his writing and speaking to a need for more “R&D” within the movement, but I have not seen a cataloging of areas in need of further advancement. Both of these deficiencies are minor in comparison to the great strengths of this book.

As both secular and Integrationist psychologies are proving to be foundationally bankrupt and proscriptively shallow, the biblical counseling movement provides a breath of fresh air and hope for hurting and imperfect people who need change. I heartily recommend this book to a broad readership, especially pastors, lay church leaders, and those in higher education.

I received this book for free from Crossway Publishing for this review.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Culture of Therapy

A recent Wall Street Journal article caught my attention with the title "Help Wanted: a Good Therapist." The image next to the title showed three separate pictures. The first picture featured a very sterile looking office with a stern faced therapist behind a hard wooden desk. The caption next to this first picture read, "Too Hard?". The second picture depicted two people sitting on cushions in eastern meditation poses. The caption here, "Too Soft?". The third picture showcased two people, smiling at one another, sitting in overstuffed chairs. The caption? You guessed it, "Just Right?".

In Goldie-Locks-esque fashion, the three pictures illustrated the main thrust of the article, namely, that there are different kinds of therapists for different kinds of people seeking therapy. The encouragement from the article is that "patients" should be proactive in interviewing and trying out various therapists and therapy styles and methods to determine which combinations are right for them. The article mentions three popular therapeutic approaches, among many others, that a therapy consumer could choose: the cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, and the psychoanalytical. Some therapists, the article goes on to say, are beginning to collaborate more with patients on developing treatment plans.

What is the Christian to think of the culture's fascination with therapists, therapeutic methods, and the desire to control treatment options? In his forthcoming book, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, Heath Lambert states that "counseling is the word our culture uses to describe what happens when people with questions, problems, and trouble have a conversation with someone they think has answers, solutions, and help." I think that captures well the longing that drives people to therapy, aka counseling. The article highlights the desire many people have to find someone with whom they can "converse." However, it also highlights the confusion that arises when the outcomes of therapy are left to the personal preferences of those seeking therapy. People naturally want to deal with their questions, problems and trouble on their own terms. When we pursue life on our own terms to the exclusion of God's standards, the Bible calls this "doing what is right in [our] own eyes" (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

The article also highlights the great diversity of approaches to identifying what a person's problem is and how to deal with it. As David Powlison writes in the Forward to The Biblical Counseling Movement, "There is something essentially autobiographical about every counseling model ever proposed.... Each counseling theory and practice reveals its author's core personal faith." Perhaps that is why there are roughly as many psychological theories and therapies as there are Hindu gods. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the point. In addition, followers of Freud, Jung, Rogers, and the like can be every bit as zealous for their founder's vision as the proverbial religious fundamentalist.

What quickly becomes apparent is that there is not really one single discipline called "Psychology," but rather hundreds of differing psychologies, each of which has its own theory of personality, change and counseling.

Let me propose what is increasing gaining momentum in the Christian world. It is the (correct, in my view) idea that the Scriptures teach what we might call a biblical psychology.  As David Powlison points out in his article, "Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies)":
The Christian faith contains comprehensive internal resources to enable us to construct a Christian model of personality, change, and counseling. While the modern psychologies will stimulate and inform, they do not play a constitutive role in building a robust model. The operating premise of [this view] is that the Faith’s psychology offers a take on the human condition essentially different from any of the other contemporary psychologies. The living Christ working in his people through his Word is the engine producing depth of insight, accurate theory, and effective practice. The counseling that Christians do must orient to and take its cues from our own source. Practical theological development is the cutting edge. The modern psychologies and psychotherapies are relatively dull, shallow, and misleading in comparison.
This is exciting news for "people with questions, problems, and trouble." The person looking for help need not wade through the mire of one human opinion after another in seeking to discern if a particular theory or therapy "works" for them (whatever that means). The omniscient, omni-benevolent God of the Universe knows the human heart, the suffering of people, and the sin that so easily entangles. It is God the Son, Jesus Christ, who gives the call,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Objective Search for Truth

I recently had a discussion with an engineer friend of mine about whether a Christian can truly “do science” when his conclusions are predetermined based upon his faith commitments.

At the outset, I must confess. I am not a scientist. The closest I ever came to it was a semester of engineering in college when I took some college-level science and math courses. I knew I was in trouble when my mouse trap car got negative yardage in the mandatory mouse trap car race for first year engineering students. The advanced math class taught by a non-native English-speaking professor was the final nail in the coffin for a career in any of these related fields.

Fortunately, the question raised by my friend is actually not a scientific question at all. It is rather a question related to epistemology (how one comes to know something) and metaphics (what is ultimate reality).  Epistemology and metaphysics are two subject areas within the classic disciplines of philosophy, which are, thankfully, within the boundaries of my educational bailiwick. 

Often, science is pitted against Christianity as a bitter enemy. What is missed when the issue is framed as “Science v. Christianity” is that it is not actually science that is opposed to Christianity. History shows us that great scientific minds of the past, like Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, operated within a Christian Worldview (CW) while at the same time being brilliant men of science. The real conflict is between Naturalism and Christianity. The “Naturalistic Worldview” (NW) asserts, a priori, that nothing outside the physical, or natural, world exists.

“Science” can be done through the lens of either the CW or the NW. The question that interests me as a non-scientist is this: “Does the NW provide the requisite preconditions for doing science?”  In other words, does the NW provide the necessary starting point to make possible the scientific enterprise which all scientists agree to be legitimate? When the NW is examined objectively, it fails the test.

The reality is that Naturalistic scientists have to operate on “borrow capital” (to use Cornelius Van Til’s terminology).  They function under the assumption of an ordered universe with predictable laws. They unquestionably trust their senses. They interpret and rely upon complex “information” that is undeniably encoded within living organism. They utilize the immaterial laws of logic in their hypotheses. And yet, under the NW, they have no such intellectual warrant for doing so. A Naturalistic universe would not lead to order, information, or predictability, but rather chaos, randomness, and unpredictability.

On the other hand, the CW does provide a basis for the scientific enterprise. There is a consistency for the scientist who is a Christian between his foundational beliefs (i.e., CW) and his scientific method used in the laboratory. He has answers for all the questions for which the Naturalist can provide no answers. Why is there an orderly universe upon which we can “do science”? Why can we generally trust our senses? Why is there information encoded in living things? Why can we utilize inductive and deductive reasoning to lead us to objective truth claims? The answer to all of these foundational questions is that a being outside of nature provided those preconditions for science. This is no “God in the gaps” hypothesis. For no matter how long the Naturalist searches for alternatives to supernatural provision, it is logically impossible for purely naturalistic processes to provide these requisite preconditions for science.So in the final analysis, perhaps the question should be posed: “Is the Naturalistic scientist being objective when she vigorously defends a worldview that undercuts the scientific enterprise at its root?”

In closing this post, let me place before us the reality that only God can bring a person from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Eph. 2:1-10). He is ultimately the One who establishes the CW in the minds of believers. As John Calvin states:

The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his word, the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded...because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts! –Institutes, I, vii, 4

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Healthy Numerical Church Growth

What does healthy numerical growth in a church look like? Dennis McCallum in his book, Organic Disciplemaking, examines the exceptional numerical growth of the early church:
The period from the death of Christ until the end of the first century was the most fruitful in the history of the church. During these few decades, Christianity spread clear across the Roman Empire and even penetrated deeper into Africa, the Parthian Empire, and India. The best estimates put the number of Christians at the end of first century at around 1 million. That’s an increase of 2000 times the number of Christians before Pentecost (perhaps 500). And all of this growth was facilitated by the process of discipleship. Without mass media, advertising, church buildings or seminaries, the primitive church expanded at a rate never equaled in the nineteen centuries (28).

McCallum then goes on to provide a helpful illustration of what I believe to be a healthy church growth model that happens through exponential multiplication:
Consider the following scenario: No one would feel bad about a church that could win fifty thousand people in two years. In fact, we know of no church that has down so well. And if they won an additional fifty thousand each two years thereafter, such a church could win 1.5 million people during a sixty-year period. Remarkable indeed! This would truly be a super church.
On the other hand, a single house church of thirty people, where the average member did nothing but win and disciple one other person during a two-year period would seem rather unremarkable. They would have a mere sixty people after two years, and would become two home churches. But if the original group and the new group both did the same thing during the following two years, and this process continued for the next sixty years, the result would be far more remarkable than that of the super church. In fact the duplicating group would have won 16 million people! They would, in fact, have out-performed the super church by more than ten times! Not only that, but within another twenty-five year, this duplicating group would have won every person on earth (28-29).

McCallum admits that these are not realistic numbers to actually achieve for a single local congregation. But the contrast is striking. What if we were to ask the Lord to allow us the opportunity for one such redemptive relationship over the next 24 months? This is a very realistic and, by God’s grace, achievable goal.  Will you take up the challenge?