Counseling is a Theological Discipline

"Teach what accords with sound doctrine." Titus 2:1

In recent days, a popular Christian pastor published video on social media of a controversial sermon he preached in his large Southern Baptist church (I don't publish his name here because his personality isn't the subject of this post).

The sermon raised eyebrows because of a critically important theological point that he made by way of metaphor. A metaphor which was woefully inadequate at best, and blasphemous at worst: God broke the law for love.

After watching the video, I commented publicly (and harshly, I will admit) on my own social media channels concerning the troubling implications of what this pastor preached with passion and authority to literally thousands of people--even people I know, care for, and counsel. I will not address here the specific difficulties of what was said because others have already done so here and here.

While I received positive feedback on my short reply, it has come to mind that some may not have understood why issues like this (matters that accord with sound doctrine) are of any particular concern to me as a biblical counselor

Someone who watched the video and/or read my comments may have wondered, "He's a counselor, not a theologian. Shouldn't he (or any biblical counselor) concern themselves only with issues pertaining to depression, anxiety, OCD, and the like?"

This isn't an inconsequential matter. The question, if anyone asked, is legitimate, and so I think it's one that deserves at least some attention. 

The benefit I hope for in writing this post is the clarification of why theological issues are of central concern to the biblical counselor and why any such counselor would comment on related matters.

It is my contention that the biblical counselor's role begins in Scripture and therefore requires that he or she take seriously their own responsibility of  "rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). To borrow from John Piper, I could say, "Brothers, we are theologians."

Theology Matters

In his latest book, "A Theology of Biblical Counseling," Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the point which is the title of this post: Counseling is a theological discipline (p.11).

Lambert devotes the entirety of the book's first chapter to a discussion about why and how this proposition is true. In fact, he wrote that, "You are simply not ready to think about counseling--let alone practice it--until you have thought long and hard about theology" (emphasis mine; p.32). 

With the apparent support of Lambert and other leaders in the greater biblical counseling movement, it may be rightly said that because counseling is theological, its success or failure, as judged by Scripture, rests upon the presence of sound doctrine which is the foundation, instrument, and fuel for Christian faith (justification) and change (sanctification).

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (emphasis mine; John 17:17).

A Troubling Trend

It has been my experience that the findings of the recent report on the state of theology in the American church, as issued by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research is unfortunately quite accurate. 

It is not uncommon for professing believers to come into counseling without even the ability to accurately and with confidence state what they believe and why they believe it. Other times, there is a clear influence of prosperity or other types of shallow or false gospel teaching.

There are of course many reasons for this sad state of affairs, but for the biblical counselor, it means that often times counseling issues can not only be tied to theological concerns (i.e. sin issues), but progress is then hampered by a lack of theological familiarity on the part of the counselee. 

In these cases, the initial thrust of counseling may very well begin with a lengthy discussion and introduction to the basics of the Christian message (i.e. justification by faith alone).  

While any good biblical counselor welcomes these opportunities to help form a person's faith (or lead them to the Lord, even), it is a discipleship issue for the church at large and underscores the importance of theology to the counseling task.

Lingering Effects

The church at large, I believe, is still hampered by that former doctrinal commitment of the postmodern movement which declared, contra the explicit teaching and nature of Scripture, that doctrine doesn't matter. 

In the judgment of many, what matters is niceness and sincerity, yet we know that hell will be teeming with the souls of those who rejected sound doctrine, that is, truth, and yet were some of the nicest folks anyone could meet on this side of glory.

The biblical counselor cares deeply about theology because they are disturbed by the words of Christ, "I never knew you; depart from me" (Matt. 7:23).

In this we see why theology is of great concern to the biblical counselor. Their task is not to merely help the counselee relieve troubling symptoms or behaviors (even though we pray for that). Their mission is to avail themselves of God as instruments in the Redeemer's hands for the sake of Gospel-driven, Christ-saturated life transformation.

And that life-transformation comes uniquely through the written word of God which leads all who believe into a saving relationship with the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Join the Conversation

1. If counseling is a theological task, what are the implications for the church (i.e. who should be involved in counseling)?

2. What effects of the well-documented theological downgrade in the church have you witnessed in counseling?

3. How can the biblical counseling movement promote theological wellness in the church?