Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth, Gen. Ed.James MacDonald; managing ed. Bob Kellermen & Steve Viars
When I first heard about Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling I was not excited. The list of contributing authors was long and most of them I had never heard of. More importantly, some of the contributing authors are associated with groups that are of concern to many in the area of the sufficiency of Scripture. Even so, I tried to approach the book objectively. There are godly men for whom I have love and respect who have joined the Biblical Counsel Coalition (BCC) and are included in the long list of authors. Though I still have some concerns with the BCC, I trust the discernment of friends who support the BCC and have contributed to this work.
The BCC has created a sound doctrinal statement and an excellent confessional statement that all members must sign. While it is true in today’s world that people sign statements with little or no regard for the meaning of the statements, we must practice biblical love towards these brothers and sisters in Christ (bears, believes, hopes, endures all things; 1 Cor. 13:7) until there is sound reason to doubt. In the end, I am pleased with the book, except for the cost. I believe that the book would get into more hands if it were more affordable, perhaps $20 instead of $30.
The goal of the book is “to promote authentic spiritual growth among God’s people in ways that are grace-based and gospel-centered, relationally and theologically robust, grounded in the local church, and relevant to everyday life and ministry” (pp. 11-12). This goal was accomplished throughout the book. The grace of God and the true gospel of Jesus Christ are highlighted in each chapter. True biblical counseling has Christ as its center and the goal is to make others more like Him in the areas of life where they originally were not. The contributing authors understand this and clarified it well in their respective chapters. The editors emphasized this goal when stating, “It’s all about Him. As important as it is to develop collegial relationships that provide robust resources, if our focus is on us, then our focus is off base. Our prayer is that Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling will equip you to equip others also so that we bring Him glory through our individual and corporate growth in Christlikeness” (p. 19; emphasis theirs). The other elements of relational and theological robustness, staying grounded in the local church and staying relevant to everyday life and ministry, were all kept in focus by each of the authors.
The book is divided into two major sections, Theology and Methodology. In the first part, “A Practical Theology of Biblical Counseling,” the book follows the standard nine points of systematic theology; Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Trinitarian Theology, Bibliology, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Soteriology, and Eschatology. This focus was done by design, to help demonstrate the practical aspect of theology in the life of the believer.
I found nothing disturbing in the theological section, but some may struggle with certain points. For example, near the end of chapter 6 on the sufficiency of Scripture is the statement, “Some biblical counselors even recommend that some of their counselees seek a physician’s help for a possible prescription for a psychotropic medication not because it will necessarily address the cause of the problem, but because it may alleviate certain distressing symptoms” (p. 104). If not read carefully, or if taken out of context, this statement could be twisted to claim the authors are pushing the use of psychotropic medicines as a cure. That is neither the intent nor the focus of the paragraph, chapter, or book. In context this statement is seen to be more like the use of a tourniquet for a bleeding artery until the surgeon can repair the artery. The point is not to promote psychotropic medicines or their use, but to use them temporarily to alleviate certain symptoms so that the counselor and counselee are better able to work on the root of the problem for the cure. It is a temporary action to allow clarity of thought and reasoning for the purpose of addressing the problem without some of the symptoms that hinder the cognitive process. It is perhaps clear to most readers that this is a highly controversial topic and will illicit a wide range of responses but, when considered in the context of the chapter, and even the book, I think most readers will have few problems in these areas.
The strongest point of the book for me was in the second part, “A Practical Methodology of Biblical Counseling.” This is where the rubber meets the road and we see more practically how the theology is lived out. As with part one, I was well pleased. The methodologies presented held true to their theological foundations. Readers with a solid understanding of the theological foundations of biblical counseling may benefit from starting in part two and taking a look at specific areas of interest of their own ministry at the time of reading the book.
There were five chapters I found to be the strongest in the entire book:
Chapter 19, “The Goal and Focus of Spiritual Formation,” written by Robert Cheong and Heath Lambert. This chapter sets out what a true and biblical understanding of spiritual formation is. For those who are knowledgeable about current movements within the church, this is a hot topic. While the writers do not call out the modern spiritual formation movement, their treatment of what true, biblical spiritual formation is provides an inherent correction to the errors of the movement. The use of the phrase, “spiritual formation” will likely put some on the defensive but reading the chapter will set the defenses to rest. They clarify that most people take the phrase spiritual formation to be synonymous with spiritual disciplines such as journaling, fasting, Bible reading, prayer, etc. (p. 286). The overarching point in this chapter is stated clearly, “A conversation about such disciplines is important. Such a discussion, however, can sometimes lose sight of the fact that those disciplines are not goals in and of themselves. Instead, they are a means to something much greater – namely, Jesus Christ. The goal of the disciplines – of spiritual formation – is Christ Himself” (ibid.). This point is driven home throughout the chapter. The means given for individuals to be spiritually formed into Christlikeness is through abiding in Christ, and there are three essential elements to doing that: prayer, Bible reading, and obedience to Christ. These are the primary means presented whereby one grows close to Christ in personal relationship.
In addition to the rich content on spiritual formation, this chapter clearly shows the book’s goal of being “grace-based and gospel-centered, relationally and theologically robust, grounded in the local church, and relevant to everyday life and ministry” (p. 11-12).
Chapter 22, “The Central Elements of the Biblical Counseling Process,” written by Randy Patten and Mark Dutton. The writers give specific instructions for the reader as they open the chapter. This highlights the practical aspect of the book and also the writers’ desire to see people grow in their effectiveness for the cause of Christ through ministry in the local church. Their goal in the assignments is to help the reader identify areas of growth needed in his or her own life and learn how to work on these areas to become better counselors. This is a major element of the biblical counseling process. As Paul Tripp stated in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, “people in need of change helping others in need of change.”
Chapter 25, “The Power of Forgiveness,” written by James MacDonald and Garrett Higbee, presents the strongest point in the book, mainly because of the endemic abandonment for biblical forgiveness that infects the world. But it is not just the need for forgiveness in our world that makes this chapter so strong. It is the treatment which MacDonald and Higbee have given this topic. They addressed the gospel message in relation to forgiveness and how this fits in the biblical counseling context. They joined their discussion to previous chapters on repentance and confession of sin. They address apologies and saying “I’m sorry.” They discuss what forgiveness is not along with various hindrances to forgiveness. They tie in grieving the Holy Spirit with a failure to forgive, and the motive to forgive in order that we not grieve the Holy Spirit. I would say that most Christians are in need of reading this chapter and definitely all who come to biblical counseling.
The fourth strong point is offered in chapter 27, “The Biblical Understanding and Treatment of Emotions,” by Jeff Forrey. This chapter rates high in strengths because of its subject and its treatment of the subject. Trying to find a good, theologically-solid treatment of human emotions is like trying to find a needle in the galaxy. In my opinion Forrey has done an excellent job. He interacts with psychological views and holds firm to the sufficiency of Scripture. He provides material for the reader to adapt and use in personal ministry and provides a case study that clearly shows the reader how to use and apply the materials he’s given.
A fifth strong point is given in chapter 28, “The Complex Mind/Body Connection,” by Laura Hendrickson. This is another chapter that is strong due to subject matter, but again the treatment of the subject is excellently done. One of the greatest mysteries to man is how the material and immaterial parts of man are woven together and how they affect each other. Hendrickson has covered the issue well. In our day the hot topic here is the chemical imbalance theory and how it has overtaken our society, and perhaps the world. Hendrickson takes on this topic and effectively explains how it fits within a biblical worldview.
With so much praise about the book one might think there are no weaknesses. Perhaps the greatest weakness is that this is a summary book of each of the areas it treats. The church needs a good, biblically-solid treatment of human emotions. While Forrey has done a great job here, more is needed. The same can be said about many other chapters, such as Laura Hendrickson’s chapter on the mind/body connection. The church is in great need of clarity on this subject. Overall that is the greatest weakness I see in the book, but it was not intended to address these issues in detail, so one can’t really fault the editors and writers for this. For everyone who engages in counseling and seeks to do so from a biblical perspective, I believe this is a must read.
Reviewed by Pastor Richard Nix, Southern View Chapel