Book Review: Gospel Centered Counseling

The biblical counseling movement is drawing more attention these days than ever before, and deservedly so. As the American church leans into a post-Christian culture, where the church as we’ve known it for generations has lost influence, what we’re witnessing simultaneously are skyrocketing complaints, and diagnoses of problematic behaviors, and emotions. The promise of biblical counseling for those struggling with life dominating concerns is nothing less than the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, mediated through a loving, accountable, personal ministry of the word.

One of the most recent contributions to the growing dialogue that began with Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel” in 1970, is Dr. Bob Kellemen’s newest book, “Gospel Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives” (GCC). GCC is part of Kellemen’s “Equipping Biblical Counselors Series,” which is designed to provide counselors, pastors, and spiritual friends with the needed theological, and counseling related tools to further promote lasting, Gospel-centered life change.

Kellemen’s stated goal for GCC, and the forthcoming “Gospel Conversations,” is to, “further equip you for the gospel-centered process of seeing lives changed through the changeless truth of Christ’s gospel of grace” (p.21). He accomplishes this goal by presenting the reader with answers to what he calls “Eight Ultimate Life Questions.” These questions are (p.19):
  1. The Word: Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?
  2. The Trinity/Community: What comes into mind when we think about God?
  3. Creation: Whose are we?
  4. Fall: What’s the root source of our problem?
  5. Redemption: how does Christ bring us peace with God?
  6. Church: Where can we find a place to belong and become?
  7. Consummation: How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference?
  8. Sanctification: Why are we here?
Answering these questions, of course, is a monumental task that lies at the heart of all Christian ministry. Reflecting upon them we can see an outline of major biblical themes that Kellemen uses to help his audience answer the question, “What would a model of biblical counseling and discipleship look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?” With painstaking detail, Kellemen builds his answer to this question while always keeping the sufficiency of Scripture and progressive sanctification in full view.

GCC itself is divided into sixteen spiritually rich chapters that provide what Kellemen calls “Soul Physicians and Biblical Cardiologists” with the tools necessary to formulate a vision for holistic, biblical soul care. One of the common myths about biblical counseling is that the movement elevates personal sin as the root cause of all human suffering, thereby denying the reality of human suffering at the hands of others, or by what might be called natural causes. Kellemen argues against this by writing that, “God calls biblical counselors to join the sanctification journey with saints who struggle with suffering and sin” (p.254).

Throughout GCC, Kellemen provides the counselor with word-pictures that help the reader capture the biblical heartbeat of one-another ministry. In this way, Kellemen does not bore his audience with dry, academic counseling theory, but with language that captures the attention. Equally helpful for the new or intermediate counselor are the various case studies in which the principles set forth in the book are put on display in would-be conversations that guide the reader into thoughtful, imaginative application of the material being learned. These portions may be helpful in the classroom, as GCC is implemented in training.

One of the most helpful designs of the book that every counselor-in-training would do well to make use of are the various abbreviations that Kellemen provides to help divide and understand the human heart, and the way it relates to God and others. Kellemen provides these division-abbreviations, along with a helpful graphic in chapters six and seven. These divisions will help the counselor picture where they are in a counseling session, what parts of the heart their questions are targeting, and where the counselee’s answers are coming from. This information will be invaluable in moving toward a natural counseling style. What may be mechanical up front will eventually become intuitive, and when that happens, the biblical counselor will surely be a mighty conduit of God’s grace in the lives of sufferers and sinners.

The trajectory of GCC, like that of the Gospel upon which it’s built, is toward a progressive sanctification. Kellemen writes that, “Sanctification is the art of applying our justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption” (p.255). In this way, the reader is continuously presented with a biblically holistic view of what the Gospel does in the life of a redeemed person, and where the counselor must desire to lead their counselee. But, GCC will not only equip the counselor for the task, it will challenge and inspire the counselor to apply these great truths in their own lives, where biblical counseling must rightly begin.

I’m happy to commend GCC to any, and all biblical counselors, counselors-in-training, pastors, small group leaders, and anyone interested in learning how the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves in and through the human heart, reconciling man to God, and man to his neighbor. In the pages of this book, we’re given the gift of experiencing the rhythms of biblical heart change. The scaffolding that the counselor needs to climb toward Kellemen’s stated goal is provided. This is a tremendous grace of God in the church today, and one no spiritual friend should be without.

Kellemen convincingly writes in the conclusion to GCC, “As biblical counselors we need to add relational maturity and relational compassion so that we speak and live gospel truth in loving wisdom” (p.293). To the benefit of us all, and the church, Kellemen has achieved this.