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.

1 comment:

Christina said...

Super review, Chris! For some time I've wondered at the differences in a couple of familiar biblical counselors. Really happy to know the book that explains some of this is out there! Thanks. That was helpful.